§ 3.3 p.m.
§ The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Jay of Paddington)
My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee (on Recommitment) on this Bill.
§ Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee (on Recommitment).—(Baroness Jay of Paddington.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House in Committee (on Recommitment) accordingly.
§ [The CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES in the Chair.]
§ Clause 2 [Exception from section 1]:
§ Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank moved Amendment No. 1:
§ Page 1, line 8, leave out ("Standing Orders of the House") and insert ("subsection t 2) of this section")778
§ The noble Lord said: Two weeks ago to the day we had in effect a Second Reading debate on what is now new Clause 2; that is, the Weatherill amendment. Perhaps as a preface to our debates today and the parts which these Benches will play in them I should repeat again that we were never a party to the Weatherill agreement; we believe it to be wrong in principle and we believe it to be wrong in detail also.
§ At a much earlier stage I ventured to call the agreement a "dog's breakfast". I am quite prepared to withdraw that description in favour of a description given by the noble Lord, Lord Barnett. He said that it was a "shambles"; that it was a "pig in a poke". I see him in his place and I am quite happy to defer to his choice of language as an apt description of this amendment.
§ I turn to Clause 2. I believe it was a shabby affair, looked at in retrospect. However, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor and the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, are committed to it, as is the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill. They are men of honour and I do not complain for one moment if they feel that they can do nothing but defend the indefensible unless they agree that there should be change, and none of them can depart from that agreement. But an agreement reached between three individual Members of your Lordships' House cannot bind this Chamber. It is the duty of the Committee, on all sides of the Chamber, to scrutinise now in detail what is contained in Clause 2 and decide, if that is the wish of the Committee, that amendment should be made. I recognise fully that the Government are honour-bound to oppose them, but your Lordships' Committee is honour-bound to consider them on merit in these quite exceptional circumstances in which we find ourselves.
§ It was never in question in any part of your Lordships' Chamber but that individual hereditary Peers, chosen on personal merit, those having made and still making a distinctive contribution to the House, should remain in the transitional House as life Peers. But I remind the Committee that the proposal, the purpose, the achievement of Clause 2 is quite different. Its objective, which it achieves, is to retain a self-perpetuating group of representative hereditary Peers. The words to which I draw the Committee' s attention are "self-perpetuating". They will choose who will stay; they will choose those who replace those who may go. And they will be representative. That is the idea, indeed the language, behind the acceptance of this amendment, at least from the Conservative Benches. This is maintaining in your Lordships' Chamber the hereditary peerage. The hereditary peerage lives on in your Lordships' House if the Weatherill amendment remains.
§ It may be said—it was said by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor—that it would be only for a short period. He vouchsafed the thought that we might have another Bill before the end of this Parliament. He is better able to judge that matter than I or any other Member of your Lordships' Chamber. The noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, with his usual ingenuity, argued that this provision was an incentive to end stage 779 one quickly and move on to a new House which, with the support of the Conservative Party, might be wholly elected.
§ That is the argument and I must take cognisance of it. Of course, Members of the Committee will form their own judgment. But I put it to the Committee that that is not the way things work; that is not the way of the world in parliamentary terms. I said in the course of my remarks two weeks ago that I believed that if hereditary Peers remained in the House after the Bill passed through all its stages, they would be here for another 10 years. That is still my view. Though I do not see the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, in his place, in his contribution he said he would take a wager. I too am prepared to wager. I am prepared to wager that in 10 years' time hereditary Peers will still be sitting in your Lordships' Chamber. Though I am not prepared to take a wager on something so bold, because perhaps I shall not be here to collect it, I would not be at all surprised if, in another generation, there were still hereditary Peers sitting in your Lordships' Chamber.
§ I recognise that the latter may be the wish of many hereditary Peers. It is a perfectly legitimate and reasonable point of view. But, legitimate though it is, it need not be the view of your Lordships as a whole. That is why we need to look at Clause 2. We have not yet come to the stage where we can reach a final verdict on the matter. Therefore, we need to look at Clause 2 in some of its detail.
§ Amendment No. 1 is a paving amendment. Amendment No. 10 would effectively exclude the 15 Deputy Speakers, and Amendment No. 27 deals with how vacancies would be filled should any of the latter drop out. In other words, under the amendment that I now move, we are discussing the provision for 15 Deputy Chairmen to remain in your Lordships' House in addition to the 75 who will be named elsewhere in the Standing Orders.
§ The argument is a curious one, in so far as we have heard, and quite unsustainable, as regards this 15. Indeed, I have to say that I have not heard one serious argument that is remotely convincing. It is a slightly hole-in-the-corner device—a rather seedy device—for making 75 into 90. There is no justification for making those two sums add up. In retrospect, I hope that the parties to what is now Clause 2 will much prefer the figure of 90, little though I like it, instead of this curious device which I think will be so difficult to sustain.
§ There is no evidence to show that we need 15 hereditary Peers for the task or that those who sit as Deputy Speakers or Deputy Chairmen—and I will come to that later—must have the unique qualities of hereditary Peers. Indeed, half of those who sit at present are not hereditary Peers. I see no reason at all, although I am willing to listen to any arguments, why that half should not become rather larger. Surely there are other life Peers in the House who could undertake the task. We have not been told that there has been a fruitless canvass of life Peers in the search for the 15. I should be most interested to know how many life Peers have been asked, "Would you like to become a Deputy Speaker or a Deputy Chairman?" and have responded, 780 "No, but my hereditary friend would do it so much better". There is no evidence of that, but perhaps we shall be told.
§ Similarly, I have not heard why the 15, if they must be hereditary Peers, cannot be chosen from the 75. Is it suggested that there are 15 with unique qualities who will have to be elected separately and that 75 would be totally incompetent were they to take on the task? We have not been told why hereditary Peers, having been given the privilege of electing the 75, are somehow prepared to share that privilege in the case of the 15. We are all going to be able to elect them. I do not know what is the rationale. Again, I hope that we shall be told.
§ I understand that the 15 will be selected first under the draft Standing Orders and then the 75 will be chosen. However, we have not been told why those who are chosen to be among the 15 should remain in your Lordships' House if they prove incapable of performing the task for which they were elected. I know of no other walk of life and of no other place in Parliament where there is such an arrangement whereby someone is elected to perform a task and then, if he can no longer perform it, he simply slips onto the Back Benches and spends the rest of his time there—
§ Lord Elton
Is the noble Lord taking this argument to its logical conclusion and suggesting that all life Peers should also retire when they have proved incapable of conducting the business of the House?
§ Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank
I would not take that view. It is very straightforward. No one is disputing the entitlement of life Peers to remain here, whatever duties they perform. But the argument in this clause as regards the 15 is the justification for what are called the "excepted Peers". This is an exceptional arrangement. That is why I take exception to it and raise such questions.
I do not wish to detain the Members of the Committee too long on matters with which they are familiar. Nevertheless, I shall detain the Chamber for as long as I choose. There is also the question of the runner-up who is to fill a vacancy. Is it seriously suggested—there may be a misunderstanding here, and I should be very glad to be corrected if I am wrong—that someone who has left your Lordships' House, retired to the country, put up his feet and been away for two or three years should be brought back to this Chamber to fill a vacancy because one of the 15 has dropped out?
Further, there is the question of subsection (5) of Standing Order 61, which states that at the beginning of every Session a number of noble Lords proposed by the Committee of Selection are appointed Deputy Chairmen of Committees. Is the Committee of Selection expected—indeed, is it required—to choose from the 15? If it is so required, what provision is there in the Standing Orders or in Clause 2 which would bind the House in that way? If there is no such provision, perhaps the Committee of Selection will choose none of the 15. So why have the 15 here at all? Again, I merely ask for an explanation of how far Clause 2 and the proposed draft Standing Orders supersede our present arrangements in the House.
781 Similarly, what happens if the House says no to one of the 15? The committee will have selected the 15 but, presumably, the House is free to say no in that respect. If 1 am wrong, I hope that I will be told that I am wrong to suggest that it will say no to one of the 15 whose name comes forward from the Committee of Selection. Having never done a day's work in the post for which he was selected, will that person be allowed to sit on the Back Benches as if nothing had happened?
There is just one other consideration and I shall pursue it no further. I see that the draft Standing Orders refer to "Deputy Speakers". I remember the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, referred to Deputy Speakers or Deputy Chairmen. There is some distinction between the two. However, I would be grateful if the Members of the Committee could be told how far the provisions for Deputy Speakers in the draft Standing Orders apply to Deputy Chairmen. Alternatively, are they wholly interchangeable?
I am sorry to say this, but I believe this to be a silly provision. I am sure that the arrangement was arrived at in good faith. I can see why the three parties who were responsible for it are committed to it. However, as a gesture of conciliation, perhaps they could think again, as we can all do from time to time and come back on Report with something else; otherwise it will be very sad indeed. Meanwhile, the Committee should exercise its judgment on whether or not these amendments should be part of the Bill. I beg to move.
§ The Chairman of Committees (Lord Boston of Faversham)
I should point out to Members of the Committee that if Amendment No. 1 is agreed to I cannot call Amendment No. 2.
§ 3.15 p.m.
§ Viscount Cranborne
The noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, quite rightly reminded your Lordships that no three Members of your Lordships' House can possibly commit your Lordships to come to a particular judgment. It is only right, especially in this Chamber—which, after all, spends most of its time scrutinising legislation—that noble Lords should insist, above all, that this particular legislation should be properly scrutinised. I have no quarrel with the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, in that respect. However, your Lordships will be astonished to hear that I have a mild disagreement with the noble Lord as regards a number of other comments he made.
In speaking to this group of amendments, perhaps I may reiterate my agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, that the detailed mechanics of the arrangement we are now discussing should be embodied in the Standing Orders of the House. That would at least make clear and ensure that those mechanics remain the business of your Lordships' House rather than of the other place. If noble Lords think about it, I am sure they will realise that there is a good deal to be said for that view. After all, detailed mechanics tend to be just that, and this Chamber is a House of Parliament with a long tradition of ordering its own affairs. It seems to me that that is one long tradition which it would be wise to continue.
782 I am not surprised to find the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, and his associates suggesting once again that the 75 Peers elected in the first category should be elected by all Members of your Lordships' House. I am conscious of the fact that I am repeating myself. I hope that the noble Lord will forgive me. Obviously, he did not agree with the argument I deployed on the previous occasion. I fear therefore that I shall have to return to the charge and try to deploy it again.
It seems to me an odd principle that any assembly, any House of Parliament, should have the right to elect its own members. That is, after all, a privilege of a club. I am well aware that this Chamber is often described as the best club in London for good and sufficient reason. However, I think the Committee will also agree that that is not the primary purpose of the existence of this place. Its primary purpose is to act as a House of Parliament. Therefore, for its own membership to select who should sit here seems perverse.
It is perfectly true that the Government, and indeed a large number of the Committee, quarrel with the way in which a large proportion of the membership of this Chamber is selected at present. After all, that is the main reason for the existence of the Bill in the first place. It is perfectly legitimate to quarrel with that. I have made it clear to the Chamber many times that I am strongly in favour of a more thoroughgoing reform. That does not mean to say that the existing constituency does not have its existing legitimacy, and that legitimacy does not spring from the approval of the whole membership of this Chamber. Indeed, I imagine that some Members of this Chamber might not gain election if—dare I say it?—the right to deny membership was accorded to your Lordships. I do not consider that a sensible procedure. For that reason alone I find it difficult to defend the idea that your Lordships should transform this Chamber into White's.
I made clear the previous time we debated this matter the argument in favour of the whole Chamber selecting the pool of 15 who would be available to serve as deputy chairmen, deputy speakers or in various positions to ensure that the workings of this Chamber continue. I believe that a number of people, some of whom, interestingly enough, sit on the Back Benches behind the Government, have suggested that at least for the moment we need a number of people to help in those respects. I make no comment about that. lf, however, we need such a pool, it is at least arguable that the whole Chamber should be able to exercise its judgment. Whether that is an argument strong enough to counter the one that I have put in favour of the 75 elected Peers being elected by the hereditaries themselves on the grounds that we should not act like a club but as a House of Parliament is a nice point. Certainly, I would be happy to be guided by the Chamber as a whole on that matter. If I were to be wholly consistent—I have been told that consistency is the enemy of practical politics—I would see the force of the point that the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, makes in that respect, although, as I say, there are arguments on the other side.
In his Amendment No. 27, the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, talks about not replacing the 15 when they eventually die. I suspect, especially on Amendment 783 No. 32, we shall have a considerable debate on the question of "dead men's shoes". Perhaps we can delay the full force of that debate until that amendment. Nevertheless I ask the Committee to remember the reason why I for one was so keen on the agreement I reached with the noble and learned Lord. He has stuck to that agreement as an honourable man. Once again I am happy to pay tribute to him for so doing. I regarded that as the best possible incentive for the Government not to remain at stage one, as I suspect they had every intention of doing. The Government would have to swallow so much weighty rhetoric on the iniquity of the right of hereditary Peers to sit in your Lordships' House were a number of them to have the right to remain here. As regards the 15 in Amendment No. 27, I suspect that that argument should apply too. So long as we maintain that number of hereditary Peers having the right—however selected—to remain in your Lordships' House, it will be a standing reproach to the Government so long as they fail to move on to stage two from stage one. For that reason too I find myself, with the greatest of respect to the noble Lord, strongly in disagreement with him on that point as it would undermine the incentive which I think is the key to what has come to be known as the Weatherill amendment.
I realise that the noble Lord is understandably upset that his party was not consulted on these matters. He is also perhaps upset that a large number of the able hereditary Peers, who, for some obscure reason, sit on the Liberal Benches, will not appear under the amendment as Members of your Lordships' House. Nevertheless, for the reasons I have tried to give, I find myself wholly opposed to the group of amendments proposed by the noble Lord and his noble friends. I am not opposed to them because I advocate—as he suggested—a wholly elected Chamber for stage two. I do not advocate that. I am opposed to them because it seems to me that we have an incentive for the Government to move to stage two. If, in some way, the agreement is undermined or negated by the Committee in the exercise of its judgment—which is what this Chamber exists to exercise—we shall find ourselves back where we started and in some difficulty, and, in my case, wholly believing that the Government will then have no incentive to progress to stage two at all.
§ Lord Peston
I speak as someone totally in support of the Bill as I first read it, in particular the essence of the Bill which I believe to be Clause 1, which states,No-one shall be a member of the House of Lords by virtue of a hereditary peerage".I do not take that view on utilitarian grounds. I certainly do not take that view having done an analysis of the relative merits of hereditary Peers and life Peers. As far as I am concerned, your Lordships are all Peers and are equal. Indeed, as I have said previously, this is the most socialist establishment I have ever had the privilege to be part of. We are all equal here. I support Clause 1 solely as a matter of principle and I shall continue to do so.
784 Like several of my noble friends who have spoken, I do not regard Clause 2 as improving the Bill at all. But—and for me it is a "but" of overwhelming importance—my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor has told your Lordships that he, together with the noble Viscount the then Leader of the Opposition discussed what could be done to amend the Bill to move it forward. There seems to be a certain amount of disagreement as to the nature of that agreement. However, the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, has already told us that Clause 2 corresponds precisely to what he thinks he agreed to. I am sure that my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor will say the same, and possibly Lord Weatherill will also confirm that, whatever comments we may make, this is the agreement they reached. The Committee will also recall that two weeks or so ago we voted on this matter.
It therefore seems to me immensely difficult, whatever one's doubts about Clause 2, to do anything that would imply that that agreement was no longer in effect. I do not resile from the fact that I do not like Clause 2, which I do not believe improves the Bill. Even if one accepts the rather ingenious arguments of the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, about the incentive system built into the clause, it is my hope that we shall move to reform of the new House without this incentive system.
But we are honourable men and women. honourable Peers. This agreement has been reached, and, a fortiori as I understand it, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has shaken hands on this matter—again, I ask my noble and learned friend to confirm that. Therefore, I do not remotely see how the Committee can move away from that. I say that with no great happiness.
I was a little unhappy with the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, because of his choice of words. As far as I know, none of us was consulted on what for shorthand purposes I would call "the deal". I first knew about it when everybody else knew about it, but it had not occurred to me to use the words "shabby affair" about it. I do not like that expression being used. I had not thought of it as hole-in-the-corner or seedy. I just thought that it was something that I did not agree with at the time. But very decent people agreed to it in good faith, with a view to moving the Bill forward, and it seems to me that at this stage that is what must happen. In particular, I do not see how the Committee could possibly vote—and the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, will decide whether he wishes to test the opinion of the Committee—to ask certain of our leading figures, not excluding the Prime Minister, essentially to rat on a deal. I simply do not think that is how we can behave.
Therefore, I do not stand back from the view that Clause 1 is what I really support, but at this stage we must regard what has happened as the end of the matter.
§ 3.30 p.m.
§ Lord Weatherill
I have very little to add to what the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, and the noble Lord, Lord Peston, have said, other than to confirm that a consensual agreement was reached. I now understand 785 that the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, was not party to it, although I had anticipated that he had bee n when we were negotiating. I can understand that the noble Lord and his colleagues are unhappy about keeping as many as 90 hereditary Peers in the transitional House, and that they do not accept the basis on which we arrived at that figure. But let me remind the Committee, perhaps for the last time, how the figure of 90 was reached.
As I explained in introducing the amendment that is now Clause 2, we believed that it would be appropriate to retain one-tenth of the total hereditary peerage—that is, 75—elected by the three main parties and the Cross-Benchers in proportion to the strength of the peerage in each grouping. On top of that, we felt that it was also appropriate to retain a further 15, being the number of hereditary Peers who currently serve as Deputy Speakers and Chairmen. I have nothing to add, other than to underline what the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, said about the importance of the Committee Chairmen in the House of Lords.
That brings the total number of excepted Peers to 90. The amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, seeks to reduce that number to 75. He has suggested that if hereditary Peers are to serve as office holders they should be chosen from among the 75, not in addition to them. But, to put it at its very simplest, that was not the basis on which the consensual agreement was arrived at.
I wholly subscribe to what the noble Lord, Lord Peston, said about this matter. It was an agreement to get us over a difficult problem of how the House would continue to work in the interim period, and I hope that the whole Committee will accept that.
The Committee will be very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, for having put down the amendment, because, as he said, it gives us an opportunity to discuss again the whole principle of what is behind the Bill. Certainly it never had such a discussion in another place. If a Bill of this complexity, with its far-reaching results, comes to the House of Lords, it is right that we should have an opportunity to consider it.
Yet again the absurdity of the position the Government are in is shown, when they bring in a Bill providing that all hereditary Peers must go and in doing so slag off the hereditary Peers, and then when it is halfway through the House of Lords they say "Now we want to keep a hundred hereditary Peers". That is a complete turnabout; having slagged off the hereditary Peers, the Government have not actually said "They are quite good fellows", but they have almost insinuated that.
The question then is how to choose those hereditary Peers. The noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, does not like the idea of their being chosen by their number. He seems to think that it would be better for the House of Lords to choose those hereditary Peers who are to remain. I do not have his exact words, but his inference was that he knew of no other parliamentary Chamber in the world where somebody could be elected and then be there for life.
786 It is very funny that when the electorate had rejected the Social Democratic Party, and threw them all out, all the leaders of that party ended up in the House of Lords, in a legislative Chamber. Now, of course, they are the good boys, because they are appointed. The noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, says that it is quite wrong for hereditary Peers to choose the 92 who are to remain, and that the life Peers should choose them. I do not see that there is any particular virtue in those people who have been appointed saying that they are the blue-eyed boys, the authentic creatures, the grade 1 people, and that they should appoint the hereditary Peers.
The fact is that the Bill is a mess. First, the Government said "No Peers", then they said "A hundred", and now they are in a tangle as to how we get a hundred hereditary Peers. The simple answer is that if 90 per cent of the hereditary Peers are to be removed, those hereditary Peers who will be, as it were, disenfranchised should presumably be the ones to say which hereditary Peers should represent a particular party or group. I see nothing wrong with that.
I understand why the Liberal Democrats are upset—they were not party to the discussion. That is always very peeving. Secondly, after the voting they will apparently have only three hereditary Peers, which is also a cause of grievance. But I do not see any argument for saying that the life Peers should appoint the hereditary Peers. Goodness knows how far down the scale of patronage we shall go if that happens.
I am sorry to say that I do not find myself in agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Peston. I understand that my noble friend Lord Cranborne and the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor have bound themselves together in the agreement—back to back, one hopes. But the agreement does not and should not bind the rest of us.
We are here to consider whether we wish, as a Committee, to adopt the agreement. We must be free to discuss its individual aspects, to propose amendments and to try to convince both sides—because we cannot expect one side of the agreement to move without the other—that things can be changed and that this agreement, which was conceived among a relatively small number of people, with relatively little discussion, is surely capable of improvement. There must be something that we are allowed and expected to do here, and we must expect those who entered into the agreement to listen to us carefully and be prepared to move their position if we present an argument—and win the argument—that what we propose is better than what they have agreed and better achieves the best future for the House of Lords.
I do not agree with anything which this group of amendments proposes. However, I strongly defend the right of the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, to propose the amendments and the right of the Committee to consider them. I strongly urge on those who regard themselves as parties to the agreement that they should take seriously the deliberations of this Committee.
§ Lord Selsdon
I am one of those who feels unbound and I shall try to deliver a withering speech. I have never 787 had a vote. I would say that those who have had the privilege of voting have always had the government that they deserve. If I had had a vote, I suppose that I should have voted for the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, when he was the Member of Parliament for Croydon, after which my name comes. But he offered me a vote the other day and I did not feel willing to support his amendment.
The reason behind that is one of conscience. One asks oneself to whom one is accountable. Is one accountable to oneself, to the House, to the party, to Her Majesty the Queen? I have some doubts on that but on this issue, I do not feel that I am accountable to the Conservative Party. To a certain extent, I am a free spirit and I am worried about the amendment because it is divisive. Already the signs are here that the hereditary Peers are setting themselves up against the appointed or the life Peers. There will be more and more divisions within us and this House divided against itself will not stand.
It would have been so reasonable and logical for the Government to say to us, "We wish to get rid of the hereditary principle". For years, many of us—almost the majority—in this House have accepted that that hereditary principle has no place. If that had been done in a friendly and gentlemanly way, then those side-deals, deals behind closed doors would not have been necessary.
They were done because someone was trying to save something. I do not speak against my noble friend Lord Cranborne nor the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, but I speak against the whole principle that the Government forced upon us something which is divisive. It will become more and more divisive as this day goes on.
As the noble Lord, Lord Peston, said, this is a place of true socialism. We speak not the one against the other. I agree with his first remark about Clause 1, although I should have preferred the amendment which I tabled, which was Clause 1 in the form of the old Labour Party amendment of 1968. The noble Lord, Lord Barnett, is right that it will take time. But that is where the withering bit comes in: not whither do we go but how do we all wither on the vine?
Over the years, I have been studying the age profile of your Lordships' House and with a few friends, I have begun actuarially to predict the individual deaths of us all. We know full well—and age is not the argument—that, on average, we are all far too old to be here. But we are wise men. As I have said again and again, I have been privileged to have been drip-fed, in some form of university college hospital, by geriatric old men who the outside world think should be long gone but still have a major contribution to make. I am grateful to many of your Lordships who have given me more and more knowledge the older I get.
But it may take a moment of time or two, and we say now of our three score years and ten, how many more will not come again. We know that the average age in the House will be over three score years and ten within fourteen months. We know too that for whatever reason, appointed Peers are, by nature, older and, therefore, 788 I could argue, wiser. But if the average age of Members of the House is to be over 70, and with 25 per cent to be over 80, the outside world may say, "Lords, you are withering on the vine".
I do not approve of this amendment nor the principles behind it. I believe that we should have waited until the Royal Commission had reported. The other day we were cut off short, but we have a right to debate and discuss during the hours ahead what we feel our future should be, whether we individually play a role from inside or outside the House, I know not. But we should all like to play some form of future role in this country. I sit down, saying:Oh tell me Lord what power divine Will stop us withering on the vine".
§ 3.45 p.m.
§ Lord Strathclyde
In moving his amendment, the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, said he had not been consulted on the Weatherill compromise. I have heard that argument before. I have always been surprised by the theoretical insult which the noble Lord feels about that because the Liberal Democrats are represented on the constitutional sub-committee of the Cabinet and have been involved since the Cook-Maclennan talks on the redrawing of the constitution. Therefore, I have always assumed that information between the Government and the Liberal Democrats would have been shared freely from a very early position.
The noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, called it a "shabby affair". I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Peston, said about that. However, that is all I agreed with in the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Peston.
Clause 2 improves the Bill marginally, but it is an improvement and for that we should be grateful. The Liberals were involved also on the official group discussing the Weatherill proposals. They were not so offended that they boycotted those talks. I am glad that they took part in those talks because no doubt they have improved the draft Standing Orders. I am sure that at some point, their reward will come in the shape of life peerages to be offered to the Leader of their Party, whoever he or she may turn out to be. Certainly, it is always a fine moment when the Liberal Democrats descend to the practical business of politics.
The noble Lord was kind enough to remind us that he thought that the Weatherill amendment was a "dog's breakfast". The amendments that we are looking at are rather more like a "dog's dinner". The noble Lord invited us to examine them on their merits and I should now like to do so.
With Amendment No. 10, the Liberal Democrats are saying yes to the Weatherill deal but with only 77 hereditary Peers and not 92. That is not an objection of principle but of quantity. Therefore, I find little merit in it.
Secondly, Amendment No. 27 provides that 15 of the 77 must be voted for by the whole House rather than by the party colleagues of hereditary Peers. The separation of the 15 and the 75 is one of the features of 789 the Weatherill proposal to which the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, objected most strongly. In the past, he has called it the most surprising part of the amendment. If that was his original standpoint, I do not understand why he now wants to see a divide between 15 and 60. Of course, if we reduce the number from 75 to 60, the Liberal Democrat Party will suffer most because it will be reduced to one representative Peer. I wonder who the noble Lord had in mind should be taken out.
The third most important point is that the number of hereditary Peers should reduce steadily from 77 down, presumably, to nothing—the "wither on the vine" argument. As I understand it, that is because the Liberal Democrats are opposed either to having Peers elected in the place of those who die or topping them up in the process suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill. In that regard, the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, has been consistent. He has been opposed to that idea and he said that,it means a self-perpetuating block of representative Peers with the right to constant replenishment".—[Official Report, 29/3/99: col. 24.]That is exactly what the Weatherill amendment proposes. If the noble Lord is against that, then he should have voted against the amendment when it was proposed two weeks ago, rather than sitting on his hands.
My noble friend Lord Cranborne argued, as he has done consistently, on the merits of the Weatherill amendment for two specific reasons: first, it prevents a wholly nominated House; and secondly, if we want a genuine reform, what better way is there of ensuring that than by retaining in the House a wedge of those people whom the Government regard, cordially, as being detestable, unacceptable, undemocratic, unmodern and unrepresentative? I should have thought that the incentive argument would run very well for Members of the Government.
I know that certain aspects of the amendment are not popular with some Members of the Committee, including many of my noble friends sitting behind me, but, almost certainly, it is the only way forward; it is the only amendment on which we can get agreement. I agree with my noble friend Lord Selsdon, of course, that it would be better—not only for the Government but for us as a Parliament—to wait for the commission of my noble friend Lord Wakeham to report. We could then move forward by consensus, after public debate, to a proper reform of the House. This is a deeply divisive measure which creates a great deal of unhappiness.
Perhaps I may say to my noble friend Lord Lucas that there may well be amendments moved today which will improve the Bill. I have tabled one; there may be others. If the Government wish to enhance and improve aspects of the Weatherill clause, I am sure that we will be able to reach agreement. I would prefer to retain more than 92 hereditary Peers—100 would be better—but I am conscious that the Government have set their face against that. Therefore, I shall not only not support these amendments but many others also.
790 For that reason and many others, I shall not support the amendments brought forward by the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank. If he puts them to a Division I shall vote against them.
§ Lord Harris of Greenwich
I wish to say only a few words. Perhaps I may begin by asking the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor to help the Committee. Let us assume that one of the 15 Deputy Chairmen is elected; within a week of being elected he decides that he does not want to be a Deputy Chairman and prefers to sit on the Opposition Front Bench. What happens then? Does he remain a Member of the House? Would the Government be content for such a situation to arise? Or does he leave the House? So far as concerns that latter consideration, I assume that he does not leave the House.
We are being invited to agree to the election of 15 people who, after being elected as Deputy Chairmen, can then do precisely what they want. That seems to me an entirely unacceptable proposition. Like the noble Lord, Lord Peston, I far preferred Clause 1 and I do not like Clause 2. Enabling Members to be elected as Deputy Chairmen with the right, as I understand it, to remain and to become active partisans on the Floor of the House is, in my view, an absurdity—and we should recognise it as such.
§ The Lord Chancellor (Lord Irvine of Lairg)
Perhaps I may say at the outset that anyone who was not a party to the making of the agreement is entitled to say and to argue that he does not like it, why he does not like it, and that if he had negotiated it a far better agreement would have emerged. I dare say that those who like to think that might also be ready to acknowledge that they might have failed to achieve any agreement at all. I am sure that the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, would be the first to acknowledge, as I would, that no doubt the negotiating skills of the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, are superior to the negotiating skills of each of us—or even both of us combined—but it is just possible that in these circumstances he might have failed to secure an agreement.
At the risk of stating the obvious, these amendments, which seek to reduce to 75 the overall number of excepted Peers, violate the terms of the agreement. It was made absolutely clear from the outset that a consensus had been reached on a fixed number of hereditaries who would be entitled to remain for the duration of the transitional House. The rationale of that has been explained on numerous occasions: one-tenth of the hereditary peerage—that is, 75 hereditary Peers—is to be excepted from Clause 1 of the Bill in proportion to the four groupings of the House; and an additional 15 would be excepted to stand ready to serve as office holders. It is well known that the number 15 was derived from the number of hereditary office holders at the time of the compromise. A one-off election for 15 hereditaries is contemplated. There are 32 such officers of the House, of whom 15 or 16 are hereditaries. The 15 who will offer themselves will obviously have real expertise to offer the House and clearly will be individuals of good conscience.
791 Amendment No. 27, which is tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, provides that the pool of potential office holders should be included in and not additional to the 75. The principal argument advanced is that the rationale for adding them cannot be accepted unless there is a guarantee that they will in fact serve as Deputy Chairmen or Deputy Speakers. They are to be elected by the whole House because it is intended that they shall serve the whole House. They will be elected in exactly the same way that such elections are conducted at present. There is no intention to force hereditary Peers who have been elected on that basis to remain in office for life. They will be standing for election in good conscience on the basis that they are ready and willing to serve. For my part, I am willing to accept that they will serve and serve properly if they are successful.
The noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, does not like it. So be it; reasonable people can disagree. The view of favouring the compromise may be different from the views of others, but we take the view that the compromise was a means of reforming this House by removing, virtually here and now, nine-tenths of the hereditary Peerage—but with the great prize of achieving that outcome by consensus. That is something which has eluded all previous administrations which have sought to address the hereditary principle. Having arrived at an agreement in good conscience, the Government will honour it.
§ Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank
I think I made a mistake in my opening remarks by introducing them with references to Clause 2 as a whole. Quite naturally, the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, among others, allowed himself to get the wrong end of the stick and, to mix my metaphors, to be led down a blind alley. I was simply trying to make clear to the Committee—I appreciate it may be tiresome so to do—that we are not going back on a deal because we had no part in the deal in the first place. That is a reasonable thing to say.
I made plain to the Committee that I fully understand how the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, and the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, cannot go back on an agreement they have reached except with the agreement of the other parties. I made that clear before; I repeat it now. The crux of the matter is the issue raised by the noble Lord, Lord Peston. He rightly said that the parties to the deal cannot rat on it.
Accepting that, I return to the question I raised in my earlier remarks: is it still not the duty of the Committee to consider the issue on merit? Is it not the case that even if Amendment No. 2 were to remain, there is no scope in the Bill—and we should be allowed no scope—to consider whether it might be improved? We have to accept so often in these circumstances that those of us who do not like the principle can nevertheless believe that there is still room for improvement. The only question is: can the 792 Committee seek to improve the clause? Clearly, three Members of the Committee are heavily committed to it.
I very much appreciated what the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, said. He is not in favour of my amendment but he believes that it is reasonable to seek to improve the Bill. That was the view of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. He reminded your Lordships that he, too, has amendments on the Marshalled List. I regret that I find myself in disagreement with the noble Lord, Lord Peston, because so often I am extremely sympathetic to what he says. But, on this, I think he is simply wrong. The parties are committed but your Lordships cannot be committed unless you choose to be so.
§ Lord Peston
I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord. I am not certain that I made my view clear. I am not suggesting for one moment, first, that many of the arguments put forward on this occasion by the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, are mistaken. The withering on the vine is something which, as a minimum, I should like to have seen happen. Secondly, I believe that your Lordships not merely have the right but the responsibility to comment on these matters. I have no doubt at all that it is valid for the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, and other noble Lords to intervene. I am merely saying that, if my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor then gets up to say that he has listened, he has thought about it but the deal as he has thought it through is one to which he feels committed, I would be concerned about the meaning of our voting against it. I have to say—it may be I am using too strong a word having referred to the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, as using too strong a word—that I would regard that as verging on the dishonourable. I feel that I could not bring myself to advise my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor, the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, and the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, to rat on a deal. That is the point I am trying to make. I am not remotely denying our right or indeed our obligation to criticise this or anything else.
§ Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank
I am grateful to the noble Lord. He has explained a personal position, which I understand. I thought he was seeking to draw conclusions for the conduct of the House as a whole and seeking to suggest that those of your Lordships who might choose to support the amendment would in so doing somehow offend against the consensual element in the agreement which was reached between the three parties.
I do not want to detain your Lordships for much longer. I would say only this. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor was totally fair. He said that the deal which was negotiated—I am not putting words into his mouth: I think that this is what he implied—was the best deal the parties to it could in the circumstances get. It would not be for me to claim that I or anyone else might have got a better deal. It was a done deal and we are faced with a done deal. That is the way it is. But in those circumstances 793 I sought to make what I could only call a modest proposal; that—this is the form of the amendment on the Marshalled List—90 should be reduced to 75. Alternatively, if noble Lords so chose, instead of having this very odd proposal about the Deputy Speakers—I do not think I have had answers to my many questions on that point—they could go for the whole 90, little thought I would like it. That was the purport of the amendment. In the circumstances, I wish to test the opinion of the Committee.
§ 4.3 p.m.
§ On Questions, Whether the said amendment (No. 1) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 50; Not-Contents, 288.795
|Division No. 1|
|Addington, L.||McNair, L.|
|Ailsa, M.||McNally, L.|
|Avebury, L.||Maddock, B.|
|Bath, M.||Mar and Kellie, E.|
|Beaumont of Whitley, L.||Meston, L.|
|Clement-Jones, L.||Miller of Chilthorne Domer, B.|
|Dahrendorf, L.||Monckton of Brenchley, V.|
|Dholakia, L. [Teller.]||Newby, L. [Teller.]|
|Ezra, L.||Nicholson of Winterbourne, B.|
|Falkland, V.||Perry of Walton, L.|
|Geraint, L.||Razzall, L.|
|Goodhart, L.||Redesdale, L.|
|Grey, E.||Rochester, L.|
|Hamwee, B.||Rodgers of Quarry Bank, L.|
|Harding of Petherton, L.||Russell, E.|
|Harris of Greenwich, L.||Sharp of Guildford, B.|
|Holms of Cheltenham, L.||Smith of Clifton, L.|
|Hutchinson of Lullington, L.||Thomas of Swynnerton, L.|
|Jacobs, L.||Thomas of Walliswood, B.|
|Jenkins of Hillhead, L.||Thomson of Monifieth, L.|
|Kirkwood, L.||Thurso, V.|
|Lester of Herne Hill, L.||Tope, L.|
|Linklater of Butterstone, B.||Tordoff, L.|
|Ludford, B.||Wallace of Saltaire, L.|
|Mackie of Benshie, L.||Williams of Crosby, B.|
|Aberdare, L.||Berners, B.|
|Ackner, L.||Biffen, L.|
|Acton, L.||Blackstone, B.|
|Ahmed, L.||Blatch, B.|
|Allen of Abbeydale, L.||Blease, L.|
|Allenby of Megiddo, V.||Bledisloe, V.|
|Alli, L.||Boardman, L.|
|Alton of Liverpool, L.||Borne, L.|
|Amherst of Hackney, L.||Brabazon of Tara, L.|
|Amos, B.||Bragg, L.|
|Ampthill, L.||Brentford, V.|
|Anelay of St. Johns, B.||Bridge of Harwich, L.|
|Annan, L.||Bridgeman, V.|
|Archer of Sandwell, L.||Bridges, L.|
|Ashley of Stoke, L.||Brightman, L.|
|Astor of Hever, L.||Brooke of Alverthorpe, L.|
|Attlee, E.||Brookeborough, V.|
|Bach, L.||Brookman, L.|
|Baldwin of Bewdley, E.||Brougham and Vaux, L.|
|Banbury of Southam, L.||Bruce of Donington, L.|
|Bell, L.||Buchan, E.|
|Belstead, L.||Burlison, L.|
|Berkeley, L.||Burnham, L.|
|Butterworth, L.||Haskel, L.|
|Callaghan of Cardiff, L.||Hawke, L.|
|Campbell of Croy, L.||Hayhoe, L.|
|Carew, L.||Hayman, B.|
|Carnarvon, E.||Hayter, L.|
|Carnegy of Lour, B.||Henley, L. [Teller]|
|Carnock, L.||Hereford, Bp.|
|Carter, L. [Teller]||Hogg of Cumbernauld, L.|
|Castle of Blackburn, B.||Holderness, L.|
|Chadlington, L.||Hollis of Heigham, B.|
|Chalfont, L.||Hothfield, L.|
|Charteris of Amisfield, L.||Howe, E.|
|Chorley, L.||Howie of Troon, L.|
|Christopher, L.||Hughes, L.|
|Clanwilliam, E.||Hughes of Woodside, L|
|Clark of Kempston, L.||Hunt of Kings Heath, L.|
|Clinton-Davis, L.||Hylton-Foster, B.|
|Cobbold, L.||Ilchester, E.|
|Cocks of Hartcliffe, L.||Irvine of Lairg, L. [Lord Chancellor.]|
|Colwyn, L.||Islwyn, L.|
|Cooke of Islandreagh, L.||Iveagh, E.|
|Cooke of Thorndon, L.||Janner of Braunstone, L|
|Cope of Berkeley, L.||Jauncey of Tullichettle, L.|
|Cox, B.||Jay of Paddington, B. [Lord Privy Seal.]|
|Crawley, B.||Jeger, B.|
|Crickhowell, L.||Jellicoe, E.|
|Cross, V.||Jenkin of Roding, L.|
|Cuckney, L.||Jenkins of Putney, L.|
|Cullen of Ashbourne, L.||Kelvedon, L.|
|Davies of Coity, L.||Kimball, L.|
|Dean of Harptree, L.||Kingsland, L.|
|Denham, L.||Kinloss, Ly.|
|Diamond, L.||Kinnoull, E.|
|Dilhorne, V.||Kitchener, E.|
|Dixon, L.||Knollys, V.|
|Dixon-Smith, L.||Lang of Monkton, L.|
|Donoughue, L.||Lauderdale, E.|
|Dormand of Easington, L.||Levy, L.|
|Downshire, M.||Listowel, E.|
|Dubs, L.||Lloyd-George of Dwyfor, E.|
|Dudley, E.||Lockwood, B.|
|Dundonald, E.||Lofthouse of Pontefract, L.|
|Dunleath, L.||Longford, E.|
|Elles, B.||Lovell-Davis, L.|
|Elton, L.||Lucas, L.|
|Eme, E.||Luke, L.|
|Evans of Parkside, L.||McColl of Dulwich, L.|
|Evans of Watford, L.||Macdonald of Tradeston, L.|
|Ewing of Kirkford, L.||McIntosh of Haringey, L.|
|Exmouth, V.||Mackay of Drumadoon, L.|
|Falconer of Thoroton, L.||Mackenzie of Framwellgate, L.|
|Farrington of Ribbleton, B.||Mallalieu, B.|
|Ferrers, E.||Marlesford, L.|
|Fookes, B.||Marsh, L.|
|Forteviot, L.||Mayhew of Twysden, L.|
|Fraser of Carmyllie, L.||Merlyn-Rees, L|
|Gainford, L.||Merrivale, L.|
|Gardner of Parkes, B.||Mersey, V.|
|Geddes, L.||Middleton, L.|
|Gisborough, L||Miller of Hendon, B.|
|Gladwyn, L.||Milner of Leeds, L.|
|Glanusk, L.||Mishcon, L.|
|Glenamara, L.||Molloy, L.|
|Glenarthur, L.||Molyneaux of Killead, L.|
|Gordon of Strathblane, L.||Monk Bretton, L.|
|Goudie, B.||Monkswell, L.|
|Gould of Potternewton, B.||Monro of Langholm, L.|
|Graham of Edmonton, L.||Monson, L.|
|Gray of Contin, L.||Montague of Oxford, L.|
|Grenfell, L.||Montrose, D.|
|Hacking, L.||Morris of Castle Morris, L.|
|Hardy of Wath, L.||Morris of Manchester, L.|
|Harmar-Nicholls, L.||Mowbray and Stourton, L.|
|Harris of Haringey, L.||Moyne, L.|
|Murray of Epping Forest, L.||Simon of Glaisdale, L.|
|Murton of Lindisfarne, L.||Simon of Highbury, L.|
|Napier of Magdla, L.||Skelmersdale, L.|
|Nicol, B.||Slim, V.|
|Norfolk, D.||Stallard, L.|
|Nome, L.||Stewartby, L.|
|Northbourne, L.||Stodart of Leaston, L.|
|Norton of Louth, L.||Strabolgi, L.|
|Nunburnholme, L.||Stafford, E.|
|O'Cathain, B.||Strange, B.|
|Onslow, E.||Strathcarron, L.|
|Palmer, L.||Strathclyde, L.|
|Park of Monmouth, B.||Sudeley, L.|
|Perry of Southwark, B.||Suffield, L.|
|Peston, L.||Suffolk and Berkshire, E.|
|Peyton of Yeovil, L.||Swinfen, L.|
|Pilkington of Oxenford, L.||Swinton, E.|
|Pitkeathley, B.||Symons of Vernham Dean, B.|
|Plant of Highfield, L.||Taylor of Blackburn, L.|
|Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.||Taylor of Gryfe, L.|
|Quinton, L.||Temple of Stowe, E.|
|Ramsay of Cartvale, B.||Tenby, V.|
|Rathcavan, L.||Teynham, L.|
|Rawlings, B.||Thomas of Gwydir, L.|
|Reay, L.||Thornton, B.|
|Rees, L.||Thurlow, L.|
|Rendell of Babergh, B.||Tomlinson, L.|
|Renfrew of Kaimsthorn, L.||Trefgarne, L.|
|Renton, L.||Tryon, L.|
|Richard, L.||Turner of Camden, B.|
|Richardson of Calow, B.||Varley, L.|
|Roll of Ipsden, L.||Vivian, L.|
|Romney, E.||Waddington, L.|
|Runciman of Doxford, V.||Wade of Chorlton, L.|
|Ryder of Warsaw, B.||Walpole, L.|
|Sainsbury of Turville, L.||Warnock, B.|
|Sandford, L.||Weatherill, L.|
|Sandwich, E.||Wedderburn of Charlton, L.|
|Serota, B.||Whitty, L.|
|Sewel, L.||Wilberforce, L.|
|Shannon, E.||Williams of Elvel, L.|
|Shaw of Northstead, L.||Williams of Mostyn, L.|
|Shepherd, L.||Williamson of Horton, L.|
|Shore of Stepney. L.||Woolton, E.|
|Simon, V.||Young, B.|
§ Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
§ 4.17 p.m.
§ Lord Clifford of Chudleigh moved Amendment No. 2:
§ Page 1, line 8, at end insert ("which have been laid in full before the House not later than one week before Third Reading in the House of Lords of the Bill for this Act.")
§ The noble Lord said: We have already heard about Standing Orders. I shall therefore be brief in speaking to the first amendment in my name. As a former member of the Armed Forces, I merely remind the Committee and the noble Baroness the Leader of the House that members of the Armed Forces who are in Northern Ireland and Bosnia, and possibly fairly soon to be on the ground in Kosovo, operate under standing orders. The same should be the case here.
§ We in this place find ourselves in a somewhat anomalous position as a result of the Weatherill amendment, if my noble friend Lord Weatherill will forgive me for so calling it. As many Members of the Committee have pointed out, the amendment alters the central principle of the Bill, the summary ejection of hereditary Peers from Parliament.796
§ Never mind that the Bill is probably hybrid as a result of the Weatherill amendment, although we shall not know that for certain until we see the non-existent Standing Orders referred to in the Weatherill amendment. Only the draft amendments have been made available. Never mind even that the Bill probably misses its own mark, since Peers do not become Members of this House by heredity but by writ, which, having been answered, is spent and lasts irrevocably for a full Parliament. Never mind that the Bill ignores the Commonwealth members' rights; and never mind that if we throw out the Bill in its present form, we shall find it unenforceable by use of the Parliament Act. We have an overwhelming but insistent Government, but until the mess has been sorted out, which may be quite some time, Parliament will be unable to do its job.
§ I turn to Standing Orders. It is a quintessential that these be laid before the House prior to the Bill being finalised. It is wrong in principle to ask this House to buy a pig in a poke—the phrase used on several occasions by Members on all sides of the House—and we would be neglecting our duty if we allowed it to do so. I beg to move.
§ Lord Strathclyde
I am grateful for the way in which the noble Lord moved his amendment. I shall be interested to hear the Government's response. I can understand the motives behind the proposal. It is reasonable to expect that Standing Orders on the operation of Clause 2, which is so important to the effective operation of the interim House, are seen, considered and accepted by the House and that this should be done relatively soon. That has also been the intention of the Government. It is the expectation of these Benches and I look forward to confirmation from the noble and learned Lord when he replies.
I do not have strong views as to the timing, but what the noble Lord, Lord Clifford, proposes is the minimum that is reasonable. Again, perhaps the Government can explain in some detail the timetable for developing, debating and agreeing the Standing Orders. I should also be grateful if the Government would explain their thinking on a timetable for the voting rights of Peers and their rights to stand for election to the Commons. Amendments are needed in consequence of Weatherill, especially to Clause 3, and they will require full discussion. When will the Government be in a position to lay amendments and how will they facilitate debate on them? I hope that all those issues can be resolved well before we reach Report stage. I hope that the Government will be able to give a positive response to the amendment.
I do not know whether the noble Lord was also speaking to Amendment No. 34 in the names of my noble friends Lord Trefgarne and Lord Northesk, grouped with this amendment. I should perhaps talk to that amendment if it is moved in its place, for presumably it is no longer grouped with Amendment No. 2. I look forward to hearing the Government's response.
§ The Earl of Northesk
At the invitation of my noble friend the Leader of the Opposition, I shall speak to 797 Amendment No. 34 which is in this group. The whole point is that if Clause 2 and the arrangements that flow from it are to be tenable, it is essential that its terms, as defined in Standing Orders, are endorsed adequately and properly by those who are to be disqualified as a result of Clause 1. Without that, its credibility will be severely undermined. It is both right and important that the hereditary peerage should have the opportunity to consider and give their consent to the methods to be applied in electing those of their number who will serve in the transitional House. Any other outcome would work against the interests of fairness. The purpose of the amendment is to guarantee that the electoral arrangements of Clause 2 are accepted by a clear majority of those who will be disqualified by Clause 1.
Before the noble Earl sits down, could he enlighten us? As I understand his amendment, if fewer than one-half of those entitled to vote do vote for Standing Orders, there are no Standing Orders. If there are no Standing Orders, there can be no procedures to elect the 92. So unless fewer than half the totality of those hereditary Peers vote for the Standing Orders—which seems moderately unlikely since some do not come here often—does the noble Earl intend that the whole amendment will fail because there will be no Standing Orders to put it into effect?
§ The Earl of Northesk
I do not profess to be an expert in drafting. Our purpose or intent is to ensure that of the overall numbers voting for the Standing Orders representing the hereditary peerage, at least half of those voting accept the principle underpinning the Standing Orders.
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
There are few amendments to which I wish to speak because I defer to the opinion of the House on the Weatherill amendment. However, without derogating from that in any way, the Committee may think it of fundamental consequence that the implementing machinery should be before the House, debated and approved before the Bill leaves this place. That is only fair to those who oppose the amendment and just to all those who support it.
§ Lord Marsh
Most matters covered by today's amendments will be referred to the Procedure Committee and will then reappear, presumably with a thought-through document and arguments. At that stage we shall have a substantive debate, not necessarily disagreeing with all the amendments.
It is a strange way to proceed, knowing full well that the issue will go to a Committee of this House. That has already been decided. The House will decide on the report. The sensible time, it seems to me, to have the debate in detail is when we have achieved as much consensus—if any—as there is likely to be rather than picking off bits and pieces.
On a personal point, I apologise that I was not in my place when the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, spoke. I gather he referred to a wager which I had suggested. I am pleased to announce that he has now accepted a bet of £100 that this arrangement will still be in place 798 in 10 years' time. The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, has agreed to witness it and I shall be available in the course of the afternoon if anyone wishes to join the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers.
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
In reply to that interesting speech, particularly as to the wager, I do not mind how the matter is handled. However, I am at pains, like my noble friend Lord Strathclyde, to seek some assurance that it should be dealt with before the Bill leaves this House. How it is done is a matter of no moment, but it is crucial that it should be done.
§ The Lord Chancellor
Amendment No. 2 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, is the first of a number of amendments which seek to ensure that the Standing Orders needed to give effect to Clause 2 are put into place. Everyone wants effective Standing Orders to be in place. We cannot accept that this should be a precondition of Third Reading after the eighth day in Committee. I do not believe that that is reasonable. However, we on these Benches intend to seek agreement through the usual channels, among the parties, on the correct terms for Standing Orders and then take them to the Procedure Committee in the shortest timetable reasonably achievable.
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
Perhaps I may intervene. That sounds agreeable and sensible, but will it happen before the Bill leaves the House?
§ The Lord Chancellor
Certainly. It is precisely consistent with what I said: that we should use our best endeavours to achieve that outcome before the Bill leaves the House. I cannot see how it is in the interests of any party or individual Peer, in the present circumstances, not to seek to achieve that. We will use our best endeavours. I believe that further discussions are better off the Floor of the Chamber on such points of detail.
As to Amendment No. 34 in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, and the noble Earl. Lord Northesk, I believe that for reasons touched on by the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, the amendment is unworkable and may even have an effect contrary to the considered wishes of those noble Lords. My understanding of the effect of the amendment is that it would require the Standing Orders setting out the electoral system needed to give effect to Clause 2(1) to be approved by 50 per cent of the whole hereditary peerage, not 50 per cent of those who are qualified to vote because they have applied for a Writ, taken the Oath and are not on leave of absence.
§ The Earl of Onslow
Can the noble and learned Lord tell the Committee of any occasion when there have been 350 hereditary Peers present in your Lordships' House?
§ The Lord Chancellor
The answer is no, and that sharply makes the point that I endeavour to make. The amendment would mean that the votes of those who cared so little for the membership of this House that 799 they had not bothered to become active Members would count as much as the votes of regular attenders. I respectfully submit to the Committee and to those noble Lords who have tabled this amendment that it has not been thought through and it should not be pressed.
§ Lord Clifford of Chudleigh
I am very grateful to noble Lords who have spoken to Amendment No. 2 and to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, who, rightly, sought an assurance, as I do. I was fascinated by the observations of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor. He spoke not only about best endeavours but said that he had never seen 350 hereditary Peers in the House. I thought that the whole point of this Bill is to get rid of the so-called overwhelming number of hereditary Peers who constantly interfere with government legislation. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ Lord Willoughby de Broke moved Amendment No. 3:
Page 1, line 8, at end insert—
("( ) Standing Orders of the House shall provide that in any election held to determine who is a person to be excepted from section 1, the electorate shall consist of all peers who, in the session of Parliament ending with that in which this Act is passed, attended a sitting of the House or of a committee of the House on not less than 6 of the days on which the House sat.")
§ The noble Lord said: My amendment is intended to give the Committee an opportunity to debate who should constitute the electoral college that elects the group of hereditary Peers who will remain Members of your Lordships' House during the interim period between the so-called stage one and stage two. This amendment is not intended to interfere with the principles set out in the Weatherill amendment that there should be one system by which all parties and Cross-Benches elect the hereditary Peers. Having attended some parts of the Committee stage and filled in gaps by reading Hansard, I am aware that there has been considerable interest in the detail of how even part of a legislative Chamber should be elected.
§ In introducing his amendment the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, made no mention of the method of election other than to say that the details would be set out in Standing Orders, which is fair enough. But, as far as I am aware, there has never been anything more than a presumption or understanding that, whatever the number, the hereditary Peers—the "affront to democracy" as we are called—who are to remain during the interim period will be elected only by their fellow hereditaries.
§ It is true that the draft Standing Orders go along with this presumption, but they remain at the moment only proposals in draft, as the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, pointed out and as the Clerk of the Parliaments makes clear on the opening page of that paper. They are therefore open to discussion and amendment. I am encouraged that a number of noble Lords appear to support the idea that an electoral college to elect the 800 residual hereditary element for the respective parties and the Cross Benches should consist not only of hereditary Peers but all Members of your Lordships' House.
§ As the noble Lord, Lord Peston, said earlier, this is a House of Peers—a House of equals—and to bar one part from electing Members of the House is neither equitable nor sensible. It is not equitable because we are a House of equals and all Peers should have the right to vote; and it is not equitable because provisions have already been made in the draft Standing Orders for 15 hereditary Peers, the Deputy Chairmen, to be elected by the whole House. That was the import of the earlier amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank.
The noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, said in the debate on the Weatherill amendment:
Why are life Peers to be allowed to vote in that case"—
for the Deputy Chairmen—
but be denied a vote in choosing their political colleagues?".—[Official Report, 11/5/99; col. 1100.]
§ Precisely. I do not believe it is sensible to have only hereditary Peers to form the electoral college, for two reasons, although no doubt there are others that may come to light later. First, many life Peers are regular attenders and participants in the debates and activities of this House. They know very well who does and does not work and contribute; they know the score. They should have a say in who joins them. After all, we are disposing of seats in Parliament. Secondly, too many of my fellow hereditary Peers either cannot or do not want to turn up. These infrequent or non-attenders will nonetheless, if they so wish, be able to put down their names on the electoral register to elect their fellow hereditary Peers and cast their vote. But how will they decide? They may or may not be assiduous readers of Hansard. If not, how will they decide where to put their cross? I shall not provide an answer to that question. Noble Lords are quite capable of filling in the dots on the drawing for themselves.
§ We come next to the question of numbers. Some noble Lords may say that a number of life Peers do not turn up either. For that reason my amendment provides that to qualify to vote Peers should have attended six times. I do not regard that as satisfactory; it is really a number that is plucked out of the air. I should like to hear other opinions as to what, if any, qualifications there should be in terms of attendance or speaking in debates. It is very difficult to decide that. After all, attendance in itself is no qualification. People can attend by being in the Bar or reading the Evening Standard. I believe that a qualification based on speaking would simply encourage "wind-baggery".
§ I do not know whether it is necessary to have a qualification at all, but I believe that it would be more legitimate—we have heard that word very often in our debates—if the 90 exceptions to this Bill were elected by the whole House rather than simply part of it. I do not propose to go round the "legitimacy" maypole again; we have already done so. However, I believe that it 801 would be better for all Members of the House to elect the hereditary Peers who are to remain rather than only the condemned part of it. I beg to move.
§ Lord Coleraine
I rise to speak to Amendment No. 4, which is in my name. Very broadly, the amendment provides that the electorate is to consist of hereditary Peerswho, in any of the three successive sessions of Parliament…attended a sitting of the House or of a committee of the House on not less than one-third of the days on which the House sat".This amendment is to be distinguished from that tabled by my noble friend. I have followed the terms of Weatherill and accept that the electorate is to be hereditary Peers, but I have no quarrel with the proposal put forward by my noble friend. I shall be interested to hear what others have to say.
My noble friend's amendment provides that the qualification should be attendance on Sittings on not less than six days. He has invited noble Lords' comments on that. My amendment provides effectively for one-third of Sittings per Session. I believe that what I propose is excessive. 1 would agree with a lesser period. On the other hand, I do not believe that my noble friend's suggestion is sufficient.
It might be better if the qualification did not arise in this Session. It would be easy for a number of Members of your Lordships' House to attend in order to acquire voting qualifications. My amendment is subject to the same qualification. It should provide a cut-off point at the beginning of the Session, or the end of the last Session. I think that the appropriate figure would be 10 per cent of the Peers in question attending Sittings of the House or Committees during one of the three years immediately before the start of the present Session.
I adopt the arguments put forward by my noble friend on the need for debating qualification. It does not make sense for a number of Peers, whether hereditary or life Peers or a mixture of both, to vote for people of whom they may be assumed to know nothing. We are not a club and, to adapt the words of my noble friend Lord Cranborne, we are a House of Parliament. It would be appropriate in a club for everyone to vote, but I do not think the same applies in this Parliament.
I strongly support the thesis advanced by the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke. I equally strongly support the point made earlier by the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, and the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, that the right time to debate this issue is when the Procedure Committee has reported, having considered the arguments and when there is a scheme before us. I hope that the Committee will feel that the matter should he left to that stage.
§ Lord Coleraine
Does the noble Viscount accept that the time to debate these matters is now? By the time the Procedure Committee has reported, the position will be more or less cast in concrete and all we shall be able to do is to say yes or no.
I do not accept that. The last report of the Procedure Committee was debated; the 802 House was given a free choice; the House debated the matter, and decided. I hope that that will be the position again when the Procedure Committee reports on this issue.
The right time to advance the arguments is on a debate on the report of the Procedure Committee. However, perhaps I may answer the point made by the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne. When you vote for members of White's, you vote for, or perhaps against, those who were at school with you, or with your cousins, sisters or aunts. The aim should be to have the people best qualified to assist the House, and to form part of it. The people who know best who they are are the life Peers who have attended and not the old school friends who have been on their estates, or in the south of France, taking no part in the proceedings of this House.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Viscount Cranborne
I find it remarkable that my noble friend Lord Willoughby de Broke and the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, are so seduced by what I describe, perhaps rather modishly, as an elitist argument. I shall not weary the Committee by repeating the arguments I put before noble Lords during discussion of a previous amendment, to which the noble Viscount kindly referred, except to repeat that I feel strongly that we are not a club and that only clubs elect themselves.
However much we may disapprove or approve of the hereditary peerage, the essence of Clause 2 as it now stands on the face of the Bill is that the 75, arid to a lesser extent the 15, are here during the course of the transitional stage—the stage one before stage two—to represent the hereditary peerage. I have felt strongly that they should be here for the reasons I gave: they provide an incentive. Another reason relates to good government: if noble Lords finally accept the agreement, it prevents an enormous row and a good deal of ill will. Understandably, the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, has made that the principal reason for proposing his amendment; and I believe that he is right on that. Noble Lords' traditional role is to synthesise if possible, rather than to divide.
If, during the transitional phase, the objective of the 90—in particular, the 75 of the 90—is to represent the hereditary peerage, I should not be disposed to support what I described as the rather elitist approach of my noble friend and the noble Viscount. After all, the Members of another place are there to represent the electorate. The 75 and the 15 will be there to represent the hereditary peerage. Members of Parliament in another place are not chosen by people who exclusively read the New Statesman or the Economist. They are chosen by people who read The Times and the Sun. They are chosen by the literate and the illiterate; by those who are employed and unemployed. It is thought to be a virtue that you no longer have to have either a property or an intellectual qualification to vote for those who represent you.
With the greatest respect to the hereditary peerage, I venture to suggest that your Lordships- ranks increasingly contain all sorts of conditions of men and 803 women. As traditional landed Peers become rarer due to the efluxion of time and no doubt the effects of taxation—notably perhaps the green baize in certain instances—more and more hereditary Peers find themselves earning a living like everyone else. Some do so in high, cultured callings; some in callings which require enormously difficult qualifications; and others in rather humbler and less elevated positions.
Nevertheless, it seems perfectly sensible that if that increasingly broad church is to be represented, it is only right that those who vote for their representatives should be the broadest of the electorate so long as that order is to be represented in this Chamber—just as there is no longer any property qualification for membership of another place.
I fully accept that if one starts with the noble Viscount's premise, one reaches his conclusion. If they are meant to be representative Peers, they have to be elected by those whom they represent. But I wholly refute the concept that these are representative Peers. They are meant to be those who in the informed opinion of this House are best suited to assist in carrying on its work. If they were thought to be representative Peers, I should be very much less in favour of the amendment.
§ Viscount Cranborne
I am extremely distressed to hear that the noble Viscount is less in favour of the amendment. Perhaps the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor was not under this impression, but I was under the impression that the word "representative" played quite a large part in our negotiations. The noble Viscount was not part of those negotiations, but I believed that the representative role was an essential feature of what I thought I was negotiating at the time.
§ Lord Ewing of Kirkford
At the risk of being included in the "windbaggery" debate, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke, perhaps I may point out that I played no part in the Committee stage of the Bill. However, I wish to make two points. I become very worried when I hear Conservative Peers arguing that attendance should be a criterion for eligibility to vote. Since I came to your Lordships' House, I have seen many life Peers and even hereditary Peers about whom I have had to ask, "Who is that person?". Indeed, once at Heathrow airport a hereditary Peer recognised me as I came off the aeroplane and asked whether I could take him to the House of Lords in order to vote against the Government—albeit a Labour Government since 1997. Therefore, I believe that it is dangerous to introduce the element of attendance into the criteria for voting.
I recognise that there is agreement across the Chamber on the Weatherill amendment and it is not my intention to disrupt it. However, I wish to ask one simple question. Since the amendment was tabled, I have been worried about the electoral college. Perhaps I may dwell for one minute on my own party and then I shall sit down. The Labour Benches have 18 hereditary Peers.
804 Let us assume that all 18 decided to be candidates to retain membership of your Lordships' House and that all 18 voted for themselves. There will be 18 candidates with one vote each. All I want to ask my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor is: who breaks that deadlock?
§ The Earl of Onslow
We have an arrangement brokered by my noble friend Lord Cranborne and the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, and however much we variously wish to tinker with some of the details, we should be unwise to upset it. I would much rather have had it that all hereditary Peers can vote and there should not be a party electoral college. I can certainly see a Liberal Democrat or three, even a Socialist (if they still exist) or three for whom I shall be quite happy to cast my vote in preference to some people on my own side. I am equally sure that there are people who would say exactly the same about me, so I am no being in any way difficult—at least no more than usual.
We have established the principle of the electoral college of hereditary Peers. That is well versed in history. It goes back to the Acts of 1707 for Scotland, which was for a parliament only, and of 1801 for the Irish Peers for whom there were two different qualifications. Please, let us leave well alone an agreement which I can see would be slightly different if I had anything to do with it. but which on the whole I believe is excellent. It has changed the Bill beyond peradventure.
The other night I watched the Labour Whips forcing their own side through the Lobbies. They drove not a coach and horses through the Bill but, with respect, the whole of the Royal Mews accepted the hereditary peerage. We have gained enormously from that and the Government must be given great credit for listening to other people. For heaven's sake, let us give people credit when it is due and not be crabby about the detail. However imperfect some of the details are, we should leave well alone.
§ Lord Marsh
The past few minutes of debate demonstrate how dangerous it would be to get these amendments on the face of the Bill. The other place is very different from the House of Lords. Many of its Members know little about it and quite a few of them think that it is in St. John's Wood! They certainly would not begin to understand this debate. It is a big issue and there are strong differences of view on both sides.
§ Lord Coleraine
I thank the noble Lord for giving way. Does he not understand that the reason we tabled these amendments is not necessarily because we intend them to be on the face of the Bill when it is enacted, but because we wish to see whether further agreement can be reached about what should be in the Standing Orders?
§ Lord Marsh
But they will go to the other place to be debated. Its Members have to decide whether to agree with us in these amendments. The point I am making is that one of the good arguments in favour of the 805 Procedure Committee process is precisely that we in this House retain control over the arrangements which are being built for this House.
I do not believe that anyone who suggested that these matters should not be debated would receive support. They will be debated. However, to put them on the face of the Bill will involve a string of debates at the other end of the corridor which will be in no one's interest and will certainly throw little light on a complex subject. I beg noble Lords to recognise the dangers of such issues being dealt with by amendment to the Bill as opposed to Standing Orders.
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
In reply to the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, there really is no danger. He is one of the great architects—he is one of the three wise men—so naturally he is wedded to the intricacies of those Standing Orders. I agree that these are not matters for another place and that it is not a matter for them to amend the Standing Orders of your Lordships' House. In that, the noble Lord is totally right. However, there is another important aspect to the debate. This is a recommitment for the purpose of reconsidering the implementing machinery and some detail in the Standing Orders. If it is not, why are we here? We are not here just to talk. Surely there is some purpose to it. If there is no purpose, why are we doing it?
§ Lord Marsh
I thank the noble Lord for allowing me to intervene. He raised a major point. We are here because noble Lords have tabled the amendments. We do not have a lot of choice. With respect to the Clerks, we do not have the right to chuck out the amendments. If Members of the Committee wish to press these issues and debate them in this way—later we shall debate a long stream of different numbers which will keep us happy for quite some time—they are perfectly entitled to do so. I am simply saying that if at the end of the debate they win the vote, the matter goes out of your Lordships' hands and goes elsewhere.
§ 5 p.m.
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
No, with respect, it does not. It does not go to another place in any effective way at all. It cannot touch the Standing Orders of this House and would not dream of doing so. It could not do so and the noble Lord knows that perfectly well.
The purpose of the recommitment is to re-examine certain aspects of principle. As always, I have listened with attention and respect to my noble friend Lord Cranborne. Just for once, I was wholly unconvinced. I say that with great respect, but the point he took was that hereditary Peers are qualified, competent and capable of electing themselves. Of course they are. That is not the point. The point is, in principle, whether they should do so.
I shall be brief on this point; I have spoken to it before. I wholly support my noble friend in his Amendment No. 3, in principle. I wholly support the assertion that the electorate of the House should be the whole House for this purpose and not just the hereditary Peers. I am not so sure about the question of an attendance qualification. In practice, however it is put, 806 it raises a mountain of difficulties. I cannot support the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Coleraine because it incorporates the principle to which I object.
My noble friend Lord Cranborne talked of "the essence of the arrangement". If "essence" means anything, the essence of that arrangement cannot be that it had to be the electoral system which he supports. It must have been as a matter of machinery, which has been left open for discussion. If, for example, this Committee were to accept the amendment in due course—I hope it will not be moved in the form in which it is drafted but that we can return to It at some future time in another form—who on earth could say that we had struck at the essence of this wretched Weatherill amendment? I do not suppose anybody would. But, there it is. If this is a recommittal and the amendments were withdrawn on an undertaking that there should be a recommittal, it is wholly proper and wholly within our province not only to debate these matters, as the noble Lord, Lord Marsh stated, but if so advised, to divide upon them.
§ Lord Monson
The diversity of the views expressed so far today shows how right and important it is that we should start discussing this important matter today. However, I agree with my noble friend Lord Marsh that discuss is all we should do. We should be wary of trying to push through amendments on this matter today.
I have no hesitation in agreeing wholeheartedly with the noble Lord, Lord Coleraine. I do not refer to his amendment, which, as he admitted, puts too harsh a screen in place, but to the compromise he suggested in his speech. Attendance on 10 per cent of possible occasions in a year is about right. Anything harsher than that would exclude, for example, the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, to whom I intend to refer later today. He was not able to attend on more than 27 occasions in the last Session, which is less than one-eighth of the total. Would it not be totally wrong to exclude him from deliberations on this matter? There should be some minimum attendance figure. The figure suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby, is a little on the low side. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Coleraine, got it about right in the suggestion he made in his comments.
§ Lord Pearson of Rannoch
I support my noble friend in his amendment. Perhaps I may ask a question of my noble friend Lord Cranborne. His position on this matter confuses me as much as his position on the original deal and, indeed, the whole of the Bill.
I understand my noble friend to have said this afternoon, at least twice, that we are not a club, and that only clubs elect themselves. That mystified me. No doubt he can put me straight very quickly. I understood that he supported the so-called Weatherill amendment, indeed that he was one of the architects of it, arid this, of course, contains an electoral process.
§ Viscount Cranborne
I am grateful to my noble friend for giving way. I hoped I had made clear that an existing membership should not elect its own members. It is clear that the hereditary Peers will be expelled and will no longer have a right to sit in your Lordships' 807 House, with the exception of those whom they themselves elect under Clause 2. That seems to me to be perfectly logical. I am sorry if it mystifies my noble friend. It worries me that it mystifies him but not me.
§ Lord Pearson of Rannoch
I am only slightly mystified because, being also a member of Whites, it is of course the members of that club who elect the members. As regards the amendments, it is important that we should legitimise, as much as possible, the 75 and the 15; that is, the 90 hereditary Peers who are to be elected. I agree with my noble friends who moved the amendments, that we do that if they are elected by as many people as possible who will be knowledgeable electors.
There is also the point that it will be more acceptable to people outside this House if both hereditary Peers and appointed Peers, with a reasonable attendance record and therefore a reasonable knowledge of those whom they are electing, carry out the elections. I fear that the present suggestion that only the hereditary Peers should elect those who are to stay is open to something of an accusation of being a closed shop. On the understanding, as my noble friends have made clear, that these are probing amendments with the intention of informing Standing Orders, I certainly support them.
§ Lord Peyton of Yeovil
The proposal to legitimise some people might present us with great difficulties, with which I think we would be unable to cope this afternoon. I did not come here with the intention of being anything other than a spectator today. However, my noble friend Lord Campbell raised a question which I think needs a very quick and very short answer. He asked, "What on earth are we doing here today?" The only answer which we can possibly accept is that we are doing awfully little at extraordinary great length with absolutely minimal results.
§ Lord Kingsland
I shall be mercifully telegraphic. I strongly support the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, about Standing Orders and the importance of not voting on any of the amendments. That would give another place an opportunity to meddle in matters which are exclusively for your Lordships' House.
The amendments raise essentially two issues. First, as to whether some hurdles should be put in the way of those hereditary Peers who vote, or who stand as candidates, in the forthcoming elections; and secondly, as to whether the electorate should be exclusively that of hereditary Peers or should be all the Members of your Lordships' House.
As regards the first issue, raised in all three amendments, it is my impression that science has not yet found any fixed ratio between the level of attendance of your Lordships in your Lordships' House on the one hand and either the quality of contribution to debate or the soundness of judgment in voting on the other. Therefore, I have to say that I am extremely sceptical about frequency of attendance being a basis for any kind of selection process in any circumstances.
808 Moreover, were we to adopt it, it would deny us the talents, for example, of the noble Duke, the Duke of Buccleuch, who is infrequently here but when he is makes the most marvellous contribution. Indeed, if we were to follow the noble Lord, Lord Coleraine, in his Amendment No. 4, we would be denied the presence of the noble Lord, Lord Carrington. As to the second point raised by the amendments, I find myself, at least personally, in something of a dilemma because the arguments between—
§ Lord Coleraine
I believe the noble Lord has misunderstood my amendment. I assume that the figures are correct. We would not be denied the attendance of the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, but he would not be able to vote.
§ Lord Kingsland
That is also my understanding of the amendment. If what I said suggested that I had not understood that, I apologise.
As to the second matter raised by these amendments—the question of whether or not the electorate for the 75 should be the whole of your Lordships' House or just hereditary Peers—I am much taken by the arguments of the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, but I incline even more towards those of my noble friend Lord Cranborne.
It seems to me that it is in principle wrong to vote in an election in which one cannot be a candidate. I am also—being a good Tory—struck by the great success of the representative systems of voting that previous classes of hereditary Peers have had in your Lordships' House. But I underline, in making those comments, that no doubt these matters will be raised again on Report.
Above all, the one thing I hope the Committee will not do is put any of these matters on the face of the Bill.
§ The Lord Chancellor
I deal first with the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke. Its effect is to require the Standing Orders to provide that the electorate for any election to identify excepted Peers shall be all Peers who, in the Session of Parliament in which the Act is passed, have attended either the House or a Committee for not less than six days.
The amendment does not appear to distinguish between the election for the 15 Deputy Speakers and that for the 75 party Peers. Nor does it distinguish between life and hereditary Peers.
The amendment is inconsistent with the agreement to which Clause 2 gives effect for two reasons. First, it makes no distinction between life and hereditary Peers. The election of the 15, as has been said many times, is rightly a matter for all Peers whether life or hereditary because those 15 will be serving the whole House. But that is not the way in which the election of the 75 was envisaged. It has been consistently made clear that the elections within the party and other groups, the election for the 75, will be of hereditaries, by hereditaries, for hereditaries. Each group of hereditaries was therefore to be temporarily entitled, during the transitional House, to 10 per cent. It is a matter of taste whether or not the word "representative" is used.
809 Secondly, the amendment disenfranchises certain Peers. It disenfranchises them on the basis of something—attendance—which they had no reason to think was relevant in this context. We have again made clear that this is a matter in which everyone who is qualified is entitled to have an interest. Those who are qualified are, for the 75, all hereditary Peers within the relevant category.
A Peer may be currently unable to attend the Chamber. That does not mean that he was not, in the past, a highly valued and active Member of the House. He may have a wide knowledge of other Peers and be a person whose judgment is highly respected. His vote would be as valuable as that of an assiduous attender who contributed nothing when attending. Those who are elected will be as much his representative as they will be of any other Peer in the relevant category. So he should be allowed to vote.
In sum, Amendment No. 3 proposes that some life Peers should be able to vote in elections for which the Clause 2 scheme did not enfranchise them, and other Peers should not be able to vote in elections because of the attendance requirement for which the Clause 2 scheme did enfranchise them. For those reasons we cannot accept Amendment No. 3.
Amendment No. 4 seeks to limit the total electorate to those who can demonstrate that they have been assiduous Members of the House by, in three successive Sessions, attending a sitting of the House or Committee on not fewer than one-third of the days on which the House has sat.
Surely, limiting the electorate in that way is not acceptable. Some Peers may have good reasons for not attending one-third of the days in a specific Session—illness or absence abroad with leave of the House, for example. There are others—examples were cited by the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland—who certainly attend on fewer than one-third of the days, but they always make a significant contribution when they attend, because when they attend they have a real contribution to make. Others attend assiduously but rarely speak or, if I may say so, make any material contribution. The first two categories would therefore fail to pass the test of this amendment, whereas the latter would pass. I cannot think that that is what the Committee wishes.
§ 5.15 p.m.
§ Lord Pearson of Rannoch
I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord for giving way. Does he not admit that Peers, hereditary or otherwise, who have not attended very often or hardly at all—my noble friend is leaving the precise attendance criteria open—must be less capable of judging the competence and worthiness of the people they are electing than those Peers who have attended quite frequently? That is what is at issue.
§ The Lord Chancellor
The noble Lord intervenes to posh an amendment which is not yet before the Committee. This is a subject about which we can talk till the crack of doom. I do not feel that the crack of doom has yet arrived, but I am not sure that that proposition commands complete assent on the Benches 810 behind me. The more we talk, the more it is apparent that the only safe and sensible course is to enfranchise all hereditaries in the parties and in the Cross-Bench group. The Government do not accept the amendment
§ Lord Willoughby de Broke
I am grateful to all those who have spoken and to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor for his remarks. He concentrated mainly on the numbers. I am inclined to agree with the noble Lord, Lord Ewing, and my noble friend Lord Campbell who said that the numbers game is a difficult one to play. My amendment was not tabled on the principle of numbers but rather on the principle of whether life Peers should join the electorate. I am still persuaded of that and I am glad to have had a certain amount of support from all sides of the Chamber.
Having said that, I am aware that we have debated the amendment for three-quarters of an hour. My noble friend Lord Peyton was good enough to intervene and, in view of what he said, I rather wish he had remained a spectator. I listened to the arguments and now beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendment No. 4 not moved.]
§ Lord Coleraine moved Amendment No. 5:
Page 1, line 8, at end insert—
("( ) Standing Orders of the House shall provide that the excepted hereditary peers shall consist of the following categories—
§ The noble Lord said: Amendment No. 5 is grouped with Amendment No. 6 in the name of my noble friend Lord Lucas and Amendment No. 20 in the name of my noble friend Lord Trefgarne. It is right that I draw the Committee's attention straightaway to the fact that I understand that the advice of the Clerks is that if this amendment were accepted it would make the Bill hybrid because it provides for a specific allocation of different parties within the House and affects the private interests of some hereditary Peers differently from the interests of others. I make it quite clear therefore that even if I had originally intended to press the amendment to a Division, I would not do so in the light of that advice. The advice from the Clerks that the Bill might become hybrid draws attention to the fundamental hybridity of the legislation in taking the Standing Orders together with the Bill itself.
§ We have heard that until now one of the reasons why the arrangements have to be left to Standing Orders is that we do not wish the affairs of this House to be looked into too closely by another place. It is quite clear also that the reason why the Standing Orders are needed is to stop the essential hybridity of the legislation front showing through.811
§ My amendment would take away the two hereditary Labour Peers excepted by the Weatherill amendment from the effect of Clause 1 and would transfer them to the Liberal Democrats in recognition of the fact that the Liberal Democrats are undoubtedly badly treated by Weatherill. It is difficult to see why the Labour hereditary Peers are in the Weatherill amendment in the first place. Labour Peers by definition, I should have thought, would not care to have the entitlement to membership of this House "by virtue of a hereditary peerage"—I quote directly from Clause 1 of the Bill. I think of them as rock solid levellers, solid Clause 1 men. Yet they apparently wish to preserve two of their number to sit here by virtue of hereditary peerages.
Amendments other than Weatherill have sought to preserve a hereditary presence for the transitional Chamber and they have been clearly drafted in terms that those who stay would remain because the Act specifically so provided, and not by virtue of their hereditary peerages. The Weatherill amendment is something quite different. Is it not a rum thing that the Weatherill amendment, for which so many Labour Peers voted, was drafted in such high Tory terms? The symbolism of the Government's drafting will surely take some explaining in another place later this year. It would be easy to take a simple view of the Labour hereditary Peers and point a scornful finger at them for supporting this Bill, yet voting for the Weatherill amendment when the Bill will leave them advantaged against other hereditary Peers, well placed to be offered life peerages if they do not succeed in the Labour Party's Weatherill election.
§ It may well be said that the Labour hereditary Peers will not be offered life peerages. I am sure that is possible. All I can say is that it would be a singular instance of a government cutting off their nose to spite their face if the offer were not made in due course. The Labour hereditary Peers for the most part are making, and have made, a distinctive and worthwhile contribution to the House. They may feel that modesty prevents them from making this claim but I am very happy to put it forward on their behalf. If most of the rest of us are discarded that is no reason why the Labour hereditary Peers should not be preserved as life Peers, even if it shows how the Bill, as amended by Weatherill, with its intended ramifications and consequences, acts unfairly between hereditary Members of the House.
§ If I contend that the Labour Party should lose its two Weatherill hereditary Peers, that will not harm the Government Benches because, by the principle of broad parity, Labour will gain the right to two more life Peers to take the place of two short-term hereditary Peers.
There is a further point. I can see that the Labour Weatherill election may he seen as something of a poisoned pill for Labour hereditary Peers, something to be avoided. Will there be candidates? The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, who is not now in his place, has already put his position in this way. He said, in col. 1124 on 11th May:
I have no intention of standing for election. With the prospect of standing for one of two seats, the chances are not very great".
In fact, I should have judged his chances very great indeed, for who would want to stand against him to win a hereditary peerage for two or three years under the Weatherill amendment when there was the possibility of the offer of a life peerage instead?
§ Having disposed of the two Labour Weatherill peerages, I have already pointed out that giving them to the Liberal Democrats would do a measure of justice to the Liberal Democrats who apparently come very badly out of Weatherill. My generosity knows no bounds today. It is a fundamental defect of the Weatherill deal that the political balance of the House is to be thrown into complete disarray just because, in order to tame the opposition to their Bill, the Government insist on going along a fanciful, almost feudal, idea that Weatherill peerages should be distributed, not in a manner proportionate to the number of life Peers belonging to each party, but in a manner proportionate to the numbers of hereditary Peers in each party.
§ I have found some difficulty in assessing the full effect of transferring the right of two Weatherill Peers from Labour to Liberal Democrat and I would hope for some assistance from the noble and learned Lord who is to reply. It is easy enough to see that under the principle of broad parity vis-à-vis the principal Opposition party, Labour will be entitled to two more life Peers than would otherwise have been the case.
But what of the Liberal Democrats? What would be the effect of my gift on them? Is it a great gift? What I am not clear about, and I hope that the noble and learned Lord may clarify this point, is how the principle of proportionate creation of Liberal Democrats is to work. The principle is referred to in Chapter 6.7 of the White Paper in the following terms:
We set out in our manifesto the broad principle which we believe should govern the appointment of life peers but our present intention is to move towards broad parity between Labour and the Conservatives. The principle of broad parity and proportionate creations from the Liberal Democrats and other parties would be maintained through the transitional period".
The previous paragraph of the White Paper gives the political breakdown of life peerages as Labour 157, Conservative 172 and Liberal Democrat 45. Can the noble and learned Lord say whether the proportionate creation principle will be applied against the Labour figure, against the Conservative figure or against the combined figure which is 329? Will the principle be applied taking account also of the Weatherill Peers? Whatever the answer, the Liberal Democrats have probably done quite nicely out of Weatherill. It must entitle them to nominate quite a few life Peers. They may prefer not to be heard to repeat their cry, "The Bill, the whole Bill and nothing but the Bill" too loudly when we come to consider the question that this clause stand part. We shall see.
§ Speaking politically, my party as the main opposition party, which is to have a large number of elected Weatherill Peers produced by an electoral system based on universal suffrage, is likely to be at a distinct political disadvantage against Labour and the Liberal Democrats, who are not shackled to the same extent. It is easy to see that our Weatherill election may well throw up Peers who will not be attending on a full-time basis or others 813 who might be described as anomalous, and for each such Peer Labour will be appointing a carefully chosen life Peer. I beg to move.
I have an amendment in the group. Perhaps I might speak to Amendment No. 6. It is clear from the draft Standing Orders that the method of election is one which is still under consideration. The draft Standing Orders show a preference for a first-past-the-post system. I have a preference for something which is more proportional. The first-past-the-post system would produce something, particularly as regards the 15 who are to be elected by the House as a whole, which would tend to be representative of only one set of views or one tendency in the House rather than the broad spread of it. Within the larger groups who are to be elected to represent the hereditary Peers, the Cross-Benches and the Conservative Peers, a first-past-the-post system would tend to produce the same sort of result. I should find it more representative if the electoral system were one which tended to produce a broad spread of representation rather than a sectional one-sided representation.
§ The Earl of Northesk
I shall say a few words to Amendment No. 20 which is in this grouping. As we all know, there are all sorts of ways in which the word "representative" can be interpreted. Accordingly, part of the purpose of our amendment is to probe the Government's view as to what sort of meaning they attach to "representation" so far as the transitional House and whatever may replace it are concerned.
I have been consistent in expressing my anxiety that what the Government have in mind is to deliver a House that reflects purely political representation rather than anything wider than that. This goes to the heart of my misgivings about the "stage one" process in which we are engaged. For the immediate future, and very probably well beyond that, this House will continue to have as one of its primary functions the scrutiny of legislation. With due deference to our colleagues in another place, experience shows that a political Chamber is not well equipped to perform that function. Therefore, any increase in emphasis upon the political character of this House—an inevitable consequence of the Bill when and if it is enacted—will undermine the capacity of your Lordships to scrutinise legislation properly and effectively. Of itself, I consider that to be undesirable. Hence the design of our amendment, which seeks to try to redress the balance a little.
Perhaps I may also say a few words in the context of Amendment No. 5, which was moved by my noble friend Lord Coleraine. This gives me the opportunity to tease out a particular concern that I have long had about the whole Weatherill amendment. Given the nature of the bargain struck between the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor and my noble friend Lord Cranborne, we are all aware that it necessarily relies upon an arithmetical formula as a mechanism to give it effect. That raises a number of questions.
First—the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, touched on this earlier—it is unclear from the draft Standing Orders whether those hereditary Peers seeking 814 election as one of the 15 Officers of the House will be expected to resign their party affiliations in order to stand. If they are, what then prevents—or, indeed, should prevent—them, once they are elected, from rejoining the party of their choice?
Secondly—I should perhaps have raised this matter in the context of the last group of amendments—the implication of the draft Standing Orders is that, given the rigidity of their arithmetical formula, no hereditary Peer, once elected in his particular peer group, will be able to resign his party affiliation. To do so would be to upset the delicate mathematics upon which the arrangement is based. Therefore, regardless of where his conscience might lead, he is tied for the duration of the scheme to belonging to the party label under which he sought election. To my mind, this is unconscionable.
I have no doubt that it is an unintended consequence—never mind the hybridity explicit in my noble friend's amendment—but this sails close to representing or is an actual breach of the European Convention on Human Rights. For convenience, I shall cite the relevant texts. Article 9 states:Everyone has a right to freedom of thought [and] conscience".Article 10 states:Everyone has a right to freedom of expression … to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority".Article 11 states:Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and to freedom of association with others".Article 14 states:The enjoyment of the rights and freedoms set forth in this Convention shall be secured without discrimination on any ground such as … political or other opinion".To compound matters, it could be argued that those promoting the scheme, not least the Government, may fall foul of Article 17 ("Prohibition of abuse of rights") and of Article 18 ("Limitation on use of restrictions on rights").
No doubt the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor will advise me that my concerns here are groundless. None the less, I should like some form of assurance that the Government have thought the matter through properly and that the arithmetical integrity of the arrangement is, and can be seen to be, wholly consistent with the ECHR.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Lord Weatherill
The noble Lord, Lord Coleraine, seeks to put on the face of the Bill the split between the various parts which make up the 90 "excepted Peers". However, there is one crucial difference from the proposal that we originally made which, alone, makes the proposal unacceptable to me personally; that is, that the Labour Party has been arbitrarily deprived of its share of the 75 Peers to be elected by the parties. The numbers which make up the 75 are logical: they reflect the balance of forces among the hereditary Peers who had received a Writ of Summons and were not on leave of absence when we published our proposals. There is no logical reason to decide that one element of that can be transferred from one party to another.
815 I believe that this sort of split is better dealt with in Standing Orders; nor am I sure that I can understand how we can ever require a Standing Order to do something. The Standing Orders of this House are a matter for this House. So I suspect that this amendment may also be technically defective. In any case, perhaps I may repeat the point which was so well made by the noble Lord, Lord Marsh; namely, that to have an amendment of this kind on the face of the Bill would allow the other place to dictate how we should manage our own affairs. I believe that that would be unacceptable to the noble Lord, Lord Coleraine, and indeed to most, if not all, of your Lordships in this House.
§ Lord Trefgarne
Perhaps I may add a few words to the debate about Amendment No. 20, which stands in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Northesk. One of the great strengths of the hereditary peerage, which has been so widely acknowledged in our discussions on the Bill, is the different range of expertise that noble Lords who are hereditary Peers bring to this Chamber. The essential purpose of our amendment is to try to ensure that that range of expertise continues to be reflected in the hereditary peerage when there is just a comparatively small number of them in your Lordships' House following the enactment of the Bill, amended as now proposed, in due course.
I hope that the Government will agree with that concept. However, if they cannot propose a formal form of wording for the face of the Bill, I hope that they will at least bless a Standing Order which would have the same effect.
§ Lord Goodhart
I appreciate the generosity of the noble Lord, Lord Coleraine, in offering to transfer to us the two places among the hereditary Peers—what I might called the "Weatherill Peers"—who are allocated at present to the Labour Party. It is a tempting bait, but I have no hesitation in rejecting it. Nothing whatever would induce us to deprive, let us say, the noble Lords, Lord Acton, and Lord Ponsonby, of the chance of opposing each other in an election for the two places that the Weatherill Peers will have on the Labour Benches.
Having said that, I must admit that I rather welcome the amendment tabled in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. It produces a rather more satisfactory formula than the one in the proposed Standing Orders. Under the latter, the Weatherill Peers would be representative of the balance of party affiliations among the hereditary Peers, whereas, under the noble Lord's amendment, the Weatherill Peers would be representative of the balance of party affiliations among your Lordships' House as a whole. That is clearly something which we find preferable.
We also welcome very warmly the conversion of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, to the single transferable vote as a means of selecting the Weatherill Peers. As he said, the first-past-the-post system will clearly not produce a spread of opinion within the party affiliations. It is clearly desirable that that should be done. As usual, we 816 think that STV is the answer. Therefore, we find the noble Lord's amendment to be much more satisfactory than the others which have been proposed.
For one moment, I wondered whether the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, was worried about the possibility of rival slates of Europhobe and Europhile candidates being put forward for election within the Conservative hereditary Peers. However, be that as it may, in the unlikely event of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, choosing to press his amendment, we may well wish to support him.
§ Lord Pearson of Rannoch
I am grateful for what the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, said about his amendment. He said that it was logical for the hereditary Peers to be appointed in their parties in the proportions in which they already sit in their parties. But, of course, in so doing he walked straight into one of the fundamental flaws of his amendment, which is that afterwards the balance of the Chamber remains unsatisfactory because there will then be 212 Conservative Peers overall, only 159 Labour Peers, and only 47 Liberal Democrats. Worst of all, there will be only 150 Cross-Bench Peers, felt by many of us to be the most valuable element in your Lordships' House, giving it, as they do, much of its highly prized independence. I appreciate that on top of that there will be another 15 hereditary Peers who will be elected to sit on the Woolsack. I dare say there is a sporting chance that quite a few of them will be Conservatives, given the nature of the electorate.
One of the flaws of the noble Lord's amendment is precisely that it prolongs the Conservative preponderance in your Lordships' House which many of us feel is the only thing wrong with it at the moment. It does not give enough to the Labour Party, although I appreciate that the Government can appoint as many more Peers as they wish, although they find that a little more difficult than they sometimes thought in the past. It is extremely unfair to the Liberal Democrats who are cut from 68 to 47. As I said, it leaves the Cross Benches much less well represented. That is just one of the flaws—to which I shall return later in the clause stand part debate—of the noble Lord's amendment.
§ Lord Strathclyde
My noble friend advances in Amendment No. 5 the important principle that more should be on the face of the Bill with less left to Standing Orders. I believe that that aspiration is right. However, I have some difficulty with one aspect of my noble friend's proposals; namely, the idea that the Labour Party should have no Weatherill Peers and that its two places should go to the Liberal Democrats. Certainly, the Prime Minister has the power of patronage and therefore all the hereditary Peers currently languishing on the Labour Benches could be made up as life Peers. It is also true that the Liberal Democrats feel aggrieved that they have not had enough places for their many excellent hereditary Peers. This amendment would find them two more. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, is opposed to hereditary Peers being in the House of Lords, and as the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, has not accepted that particular offer, I must say that I do not have a great 817 deal of sympathy for it. If the Liberal Democrat Party is really concerned about its hereditary Peers, no doubt it can use its battering ram at the closed gates of No. 10 and get some more. No doubt at some point negotiations will commence.
I accept the thought that underlies Amendment No. 6; namely, that elections should create as wide a representation of Peers as possible, and that that should he done by free election. I am entirely in favour of that. I deprecate any suggestion that there should be a closed list or anything similar that would impose a Stalinist uniformity on those elected. The variety of opinion and the independence of mind among hereditary Peers has always been one of the strengths of this Chamber. To preserve that independence of mind in what might otherwise in time become a Chamber of patronage is one of the great arguments for this clause and the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill. My party would not wish to interfere with that freedom. I am sure that any other party leaders who may speak, or the Minister, would want to give a similar assurance to the Committee that no list system would operate in the elections that are proposed.
As to the method of the electoral system—first-past-the-post or single transferable vote—I am interested in real votes, a first-past-the-post system, although I would support a system of preferences to deal with ties between various candidates. I suspect that that is the best way to ensure variety of opinion. Of course there is another option open to the Liberal Democrats and that is to stand on a coalition ticket with the members of the Labour Party—it would not be the first time they had done that—to unite their forces. It might be interesting to see who was elected.
As regards Amendment No. 20, my noble friends are right to point to the presence of many female and disabled Peers among the ranks of hereditary Peers. It is right to confront the absurd stereotype of hereditary Peers too often advanced by members of the Government. It is from among those Peers that many of the greatest contributions to this Chamber come. The Government are wrong to condemn the hereditary peerage as unrepresentative. Equally ii: is important that the experience of the Chamber on matters such as agriculture and defence should not be weakened.
§ Lord Trefgarne
I hope my noble friend will not mind if I interrupt. Is he aware that there are, I believe, no fewer than 18 female hereditary Peers? That is many more hereditary Peers than there are in the Labour Party.
§ Lord Mackie of Benshie
Is the noble Lord aware that there is not a single one of these female hereditary Peers present on the Benches?
§ 5.43 p.m.
§ Lord Strathclyde
The noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, is in her place, as she typically is, as is the noble Baroness 818 who is gracing the Front Bench of the Cross Benches. However, I accept that at present there is no female hereditary Peer on the Conservative Benches.
My noble friend Lord Northesk was concerned about party affiliation. I think I can put his mind entirely at rest. No doubt the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor will be able to answer this point more fully. It is my understanding that although Peers will stand in accordance with their party affiliation, as soon as they are elected they can sit in whatever part of the Chamber they wish. That has always been the case, as it will be also with the deputy chairmen. The noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, alluded to that point. I believe that that is how it should be. It would be absurd if we were to oblige people to stay in their political parties for the rest of their lives. I shall reflect carefully on what my noble friends have said, as I hope will the Government. However, I also hope that they will not press their amendments today.
§ The Lord Chancellor
I shall deal first with Amendment No. 5 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Coleraine. I am sure he will forgive me if I do not take up much of the Committee's time in responding; to it. The noble Lord has been advised that were it to be accepted it would make the Bill hybrid. I take it that on that ground alone he will not divide the Committee on the amendment.
It is important to remember that we are dealing here with a transitional measure. It is obviously necessary that the basic principle that there should be a certain number of hereditary Peers excepted from the effect of the Bill is on the face of the legislation. But beyond that, elaborate statutory provision is not appropriate. The fear that may lie behind the noble Lord's amendment is that some government in the future may seek to change those numbers to the detriment of one party or to the detriment of the Cross-Benchers. Therefore he would like to see them enshrined in statute. That is not a point which holds any weight with the Government because the Standing Orders of this Chamber can be changed only with the agreement of the Chamber. So far as this Chamber is concerned therefore whether the relevant provisions are in the Standing Orders or on the face of the Bill makes no difference. However, there is the signal advantage of having these provisions in the Standing Orders; namely, that it excludes the possibility of the other place not only having views on these subjects—which it certainly does—but also having the opportunity to assert different views.
I am sure the Committee will forgive me if I do not follow the noble Lord down what I regard as the blind alley of the proposition that I should assent to his proposed gift of the two hereditary Labour peerages to be made over to the Liberal Democrats. Our difficulty with this compromise—and one of the features of my party's difficulty—is that it gives us but two. It would not assist the promotion of this compromise in another place if these two were to be gifted away.
As to Amendment No. 6, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, the main difficulty is that ii is simply unworkable. If one pauses to thing about it for any time at all one sees that it introduces concepts that are 819 incapable of being sufficiently precise or justiciable to be on the face of any legislation. What is required is that within the parties the range of political opinion should be represented among the excepted Peers. It is far too vague a formulation to be interpreted, and in practical terms it would be utterly impossible to implement. The only way to achieve such an objective would be to find some way—but that would be down to the parties—of controlling those who put themselves forward for election, and then to have discrete elections between candidates of certain political persuasions. In the real world how could we possibly ever reach agreement, even internally, on the precise definition of the range of individual party opinions within particular party political affiliations?
Such a process would be bound to give rise to division within parties, and it would be impossible to administer. It is also inconsistent with the electoral system set up in the draft Standing Order, which envisages that candidates should be able to nominate themselves and that Peers would then be free to vote on the basis of their individual judgment about the quality of the candidates. I am sure that that is the only sensible way, so surely we should leave it to the discretion and judgment of the four relevant electorates to decide who are the most suitable candidates to stay on in the House.
This may not be a matter to be decided on the basis of political opinion alone. There are many other considerations which are relevant—some may think much more relevant—such as effectiveness in debate and substantive contribution to the business of the House. There are no doubt a great many other criteria that noble Lords would wish to take into account when exercising their votes in the elections. I am utterly resistant to the amendment as a workable way forward.
As for Amendment No. 20, again I would submit that it is just not workable. What exactly does it mean? The phrase "due proportion" has no definition. Does it mean an exact proportion, or does it mean someone, somewhere, making sure that the various interests in question are addressed? Of all the categories listed in the amendment, only one—the number of female hereditary Peers—is quantifiable with any certainty. Whether somebody wishes to be registered as disabled, or wishes to be regarded as disabled, is entirely a matter for the individual. The whole exercise contemplated here is not in the real world.
The "interests and expertise" of the hereditary Peers are even less clearly defined. We could all suggest some candidates. I suppose that country sports would be likely to be included, but I am sure that there are many others besides. Take the one tangible example that is given. The noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, said that there were 18 female hereditary Members of the House. I thought that there were 16. But it matters not for the sake of the argument. Sometimes there are more than 16—
§ The Lord Chancellor
We are seeking precision, when precision is not needed for the point. If it is 17, good luck to the 17th.
820 Suppose, for example, there were 17. At the moment, therefore, on strict proportionality that would entitle the women to 1.7; we are generous to women, so let us round it up to 2. Those two will be spread across five different constituencies. Who is to determine that a particular constituency should be responsible for ensuring that the requirement is met? Is the whole election to be invalidated if no female hereditary Peers at all, heaven forfend, are successful? What happens if none of them wishes to stand for election? What happens if, as I am sure is much more likely, more than two are successful in their respective constituencies, so that they are over-represented? Does that mean that there is a "due proportion" or not?
The Committee has been detained a little on these subjects, but a little analysis rather suggests that they do not merit our serious attention.
§ Lord Coleraine
I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord for his reply.
Before I withdraw the amendment I should like to make the point that we seem to be being told that the Weatherill amendment, reached between, in Privy Council terms, the noble and learned Lord and others some six months ago, is a seamless garment which we should not seek to touch. What I am saying is that the purpose of our amendments is not to see them on the face of the Bill—I entirely take that point—but to disseminate ideas within the Committee, with the hope that the noble and learned Lord and others involved might see something of merit and take them away to the Procedure Committee. There is certainly no pressure on my part in having wished to put the amendment to a Division. We should not be told too many times that amendments that we propose will do this or that if put on the face of the Bill. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Lord Lucas moved Amendment No. 6:
Page 1, line 8, at end insert—
("( ) Standing Orders of the House shall provide for people to be excepted from section 1 as a result of elections designed to ensure that such people are representative of the balance of party affiliations within the House, and of the spread of opinion within such party affiliations.")
§ The noble Lord said: I move the amendment to give us an opportunity to continue a debate which seems to have been curtailed.
§ As the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor will have realised from what was said from my Front Bench and from the Liberal Democrat Front Bench, my amendment was designed purely to tease out whether the election was to be a first-past-the-post election or something with more proportionality in it. That was the substance of my address to the Committee; that point the noble and learned Lord did not answer at all.
§ The matter is clearly left in the air in the draft Standing Orders. It is clearly not a settled part of the Weatherill agreement. I should very much like to have 821 the noble and learned Lord's opinion as to in which direction it might be reasonable for the Procedure Committee to proceed. I beg to move.
§ The Lord Chancellor
I have never envisaged anything other than first-past-the-post, and I do not think the Opposition Front Bench does either. No doubt it will wish to indicate its position.
§ Lord Harris of Greenwich
Is this part of the sacred agreement or not? Is the noble and learned Lord going to tell us that as part of the Weatherill agreement it was decided that the election should be on the basis of a first-past-the-post system, or is he saying that the Conservative Party has the choice in this matter?
§ The Lord Chancellor
The Conservative Party does not have the choice. I will refer to my own notes: my recollection is that all the discussions were on the basis of first-past-the-post.
§ Lord Pearson of Rannoch
As we are in Committee, and we are examining the question of the sanctity or otherwise of the Weatherill amendment, could I put to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor that this afternoon he has on at least two occasions referred to the rationale of the 10 per cent of the 700-odd Peers who are to remain—in other words, the rationale which gives us this 75? Could the noble and learned Lord give the Committee that rationale? Why 10 per cent? Why not 12 per cent? What was wrong with 7.5 per cent? Where is the rationale there?
The second point which the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor has made is that he has referred to this sacred deal, if that is what it is, this deal cooked up very much behind the scenes, as an agreement between the parties. Would the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor at least agree for the record that this deal was not agreed by the Conservative Party and still less by the Conservative Back Benches in either House?
§ 6 p.m.
I was going to ask whether I could come to the rescue but that is not appropriate because the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor does not need any rescuing. I am delighted to hear him say that it was always intended to have the first-past-the-post system which people can understand. I am afraid that I find all the variants of PR totally incomprehensible. I am glad that the noble and learned Lord said it was his idea, or the Government's idea, that it should be first-past-the-post. I hope that that rationale—I use my noble friend's expression—will apply on all the other occasions when the Government consider what kind of electoral system we should have.
§ Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank
Perhaps I may draw the attention of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor to the draft Standing Order. Unless I misunderstand it, I suggest that that is something 822 slightly different from first-past-the-post. Paragraph 5(k) referring to electoral arrangements states that,voters will be asked to number the candidates of their choice up to the total number of vacancies for that grouping".I repeat that they will be asked to,number the candidates of their choice".That is not how I understand first-past-the-post. First-past-the-post merely requires you to put a cross beside the name of your chosen candidate. It goes on to state:In the initial count, every vote will have equal weight".I understand that. It then says:In the event of a tie, the number of first preferences received by a candidate will be taken into account, so that the candidate with the highest number of first preferences would be elected".That certainly is not the language of first-past-the-post.
I do not press the point because this is a draft. Standing Order. I hope the outcome of further reflection and discussion will be that the different groups can make their own choice about the Peers whom they want to elect and they are elected. That would be reasonable and my guess is that that is what the Standing Orders are trying to provide.
I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, will press the point and not feel ashamed of doing so. My understanding of first-past-the-post is that however the votes are cast, the candidate who wins most votes wins. The noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, said he thought that some votes received more weight if they were first choices. That is a very important point to consider.
I consider that the winner, using the first-past-the-post system, is the person who gains most votes. I hope that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor will not agree to each party choosing its own method of selection. That would be total chaos.
§ The Lord Chancellor
The rationale of 10 per cent was that it was agreed. I have said many, many times in your Lordships' House that the agreement binds the parties to it and no one else. I need not repeat that further.
§ Lord Pearson of Rannoch
Will the noble and learned Lord give way? I would be very grateful if he would. I will not press him on the fact that a flat agreement without reasons is not a rationale. Clearly that is how it was. It was not a rationale. Somebody picked 10 per cent out and said, "Let's do it with 10 per cent" and so it became a deal.
But I must press him when he speaks of the parties to the deal. Is he attempting to include the Conservative Party in that deal? The Liberal Party has already made clear this afternoon that it was not party to the deal, but that is perhaps for very different reasons. When he says "the parties" to this deal, does he attempt to include the Conservative Party, and especially the Conservative Back Benches in your Lordships' House?
§ The Lord Chancellor
First, if arguments are advanced on either side as to the appropriate number of 823 excepted Peers and an agreement is arrived at as to what that number should be, although different reasons for agreeing may appeal to different sides, the rationale for the agreement is emphatically the fact that agreement has been arrived at on that figure.
I know that in conducting those negotiations, I represented the Labour Party which is bound by them. It is not for me to say who other persons party to those discussions were representing. The unfortunate series of events which followed in relation to the Conservative Party means that it would be inappropriate for me to reopen what must be very old sores.
All I can say about paragraph 6(k) of the Standing Orders is that those matters are for discussion within the Procedure Committee. The noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, is not in his place at present but we did not discuss the detail of electoral arrangements at all beyond proceeding on the assumption that it would be first-past-the-post and fastest losers. We certainly did contemplate and agree that there would be a single, uniform method of selection within the three parties and the Cross-Bench group.
§ Lord Harris of Greenwich
I do not wish to persist with the point but the noble and learned Lord will recall that a group of representatives of the various parties met under the chairmanship of an official from the Cabinet Office. As I understand it, those draft Standing Orders reflected the agreement that was then entered into. Am I right in that assumption? I assume I am.
§ The Lord Chancellor
Not entirely. There was certainly a group which met under the chairmanship of Sir Quentin Thomas from the Cabinet Office. All interests were represented. Its specific remit was to give practical effect, through Standing Orders, to what had been agreed and not to seek to vary what had been agreed.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ The Earl of Northesk moved Amendment No. 7:
Page 1, line 8, at end insert—
("( ) No person shall be excepted from section 1 in accordance with this section if he has had conferred on him a peerage under the Life Peerage Act 1958 or has agreed to accept such a peerage.")
§ The noble Earl said: In moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 8. Their purpose is straightforward. They seek to clarify whether it is the intention of the new Clause 2 that hereditary Peers elected to office within its terms could or should be, as it were, upgraded to life peerage status.
§ The Government have indicated their preparedness to make the concession on a temporary basis, and, on pain of good behaviour, to retain a hereditary element via the mechanism of the new clause. It would run against the tenor of that bargain to seek to reduce the guaranteed number on its face by any subsequent elevations to the 824 life peerage. Such individuals should be in receipt of a Writ of Summons in their own right and not as a result of the electoral process embodied in the clause.
Indeed, it is worth noting that the paper from the Clerk of the Parliaments endorses that view at paragraph 2(e) which states:
Vacancies … are to be filled by hereditary Peers".
That necessarily begs the question with respect to clause 7(i) of the draft standing orders and paragraph (q) of the electoral arrangements section of that paper. The latter states unequivocally that vacancies will occur only through death but while it may be unlikely, and acknowledging that it is the Government's intention that the arrangements should not persist for too long, it is not impossible, as implied by our amendment. Vacancies could occur as a result of an elected hereditary Peer being granted a life peerage. Surely that occurrence should be allowed for in the Standing Orders.
§ In that context, I am tempted to suppose that in keeping with the underlying purpose of Amendment No. 6, which we debated in Committee, there remains uncertainty as to whether members of the hereditary peerage will be entitled, upon grant of a life peerage, to receive a Writ of Summons after enactment of the Bill.
I recognise that it would be more appropriate to return to the substance of this matter on Report and we have every intention of doing so. That said, I cannot resist citing the observation of the noble Baroness the Lord Privy Seal. She said:
There is nothing in this Bill which removes the right of hereditary Peers to be Members of the House of Lords".—[Official Report, 20/4/99; col. 1113.]
That is a surprising statement; the more so because it is in such stark contrast to the insistence of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor in our debate on Amendment No. 10A that the Bill's purpose is,
to remove the totality of the rights and duties which members of the hereditary peerage have in their capacity as Members of the House of Lords".—[Official Report, 27/4/99; col. 166.]
Bearing in mind the relevance of this issue to the amendment before us today, I simply ask: which interpretation of the position is correct?
§ Be that as it may, we believe that the principle of the amendment is sound. While I accept that it need not necessarily appear on the face of the Bill, I none the less hope that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor can at least offer some comfort on the point. I beg to move.
§ Lord Kingsland
These are sensible clarifications of what we took anyway to be the situation. However, one point flows from the amendment. It would be extremely helpful if, before elections under the Weatherill system took place, your Lordships' House could know which hereditary Peers had been offered life peerages so that they could be excluded ab initio from the process.
I hope that when the noble and learned Lord comes to reply he does not fall into the trap that my noble friend fell into of saying that if hereditary 825 Peers are made life Peers, they would be "upgraded", as if they were in an airline cabin and moving up from business class to first class.
§ Lord Kingsland
I am appalled if I gave my noble friend that impression. Of course, I withdraw the part of the statement which misrepresented what I really believe to be true.
I apologise. I was not referring to my noble friend who has just spoken; I was referring to my noble friend Lord Northesk.
§ Lord Trefgarne
Perhaps I may make a small point. The amendment stands in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Northesk. My noble friend briefly mentioned that there is some doubt arising from the provisions of the Life Peerages Act 1958 about the legality of offering life Peerages—or at least Writs of Summons—to hereditary Peers who will be dispossessed from membership of the House by the Bill and who might subsequently be offered life peerages. It is an important matter. As my noble friend said, it is a matter to which we intend to return on Report. It is a matter to which the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor may wish to give his attention.
§ Lord Acton
I am rather puzzled by the wording of the amendment:No person shall be excepted from section 1 in accordance with this section if he has had conferred on him a peerage under the Life Peerage Act 1958".The Earl of Crawford and Balcarres first became a Member of this House as a life Peer with the title Lord Balniel, and Viscount Younger of Leckie first became a Member of this House as a life Peer with the title Lord Younger of Prestwick. Surely it is quite simple: the Bill does not apply to them; they are life Peers. I cannot make sense of this exception to an exception to an exception. This Bill does not apply to life Peers.
§ Lord Trefgarne
Perhaps I may clarify the position. My noble friend and I had in mind the situation where a hereditary Peer had been accepted and duly elected under the Weatherill amendment and was subsequently offered a life peerage.
§ The Lord Chancellor
I was not aware that there was any division in the views expressed by my noble friend Lady Jay and myself on any of these subjects. As I recall it, the noble Baroness said—it accords with my understanding—that an excluded hereditary Peer could in the future, if it was thought right, be offered and accept a life Peerage. If there is arty problem in the statute about that, I shall certainly undertake to look at it. 1 certainly never thought that there was a problem. It appears to me to be obviously right that if a hereditary Peer is excluded from participation in the life of the House, he would be as much entitled to return as a life Peer as anyone else.
826 As to the amendment, the Government believe that it is unnecessary. As the Committee will know, offers of life peerages have already been made to hereditary Peers of first creation and some of them have already agreed to accept the offer. But, with the exception of hereditary Peers of first creation, we have no intention of offering to recommend to Her Majesty for appointment to the life peerage any other hereditary Peer in advance of the coming into force of the Bill. Under the Clause 2 arrangements, many of those who might have been offered a life peerage under the original Bill on the basis of their individual merit, may now, because of the deal, have a strong expectation of becoming one of the number of excepted Peers. Their strengths will be recognised by their colleagues in the elections.
Apart from Peers of first creation, there will be no life peerages for hereditary Peers in advance of the coming into force of the Bill. Therefore, the problem that the amendment addresses will not arise.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ The Earl of Northesk
Perhaps I should, first, apologise to my noble friend Lord Ferrers. I should have used the word "downgraded".
Secondly, I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor although I am not entirely certain that our particular concern about the issue has been fully addressed. None the less, in the meantime, I am quite happy and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendments Nos. 8 to 10 not moved.]
§ The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Strabolgi)
I have to point out that if Amendment No. 11 is agreed to, I cannot call Amendments Nos. 12 to 19.
§ Lord Coleraine moved Amendment No. 11:
§ Page 1, line 9, leave out ("no more than 90 people shall be excepted from section 1;") and insert ("45 people shall be excepted from section 1 with full voting rights and 135 people shall be so excepted with sitting but not voting rights;")
§ The noble Lord said: Grouped with the amendment are Amendments Nos. 13 and 24 in the name of my noble friend Lord Dundee, which he will speak to later; Amendment No. 14 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank; Amendments Nos. 15 and 19 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Howie of Troon; Amendment No. 16 in the name of my noble friend Lord Trefgarne; Amendment No. 17 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Monson; and Amendment No. 18 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh.
§ The amendments in the names of my noble friends Lord Dundee and Lord Trefgarne, and the amendments in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Monson and Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, all seek to increase the numbers of hereditary Peers to be covered by the Weatherill amendment. Although I am in complete agreement with the intention that I assume lies behind them, I see serious difficulty with the consequences. 827 That applies also to Amendment No. 12, which my noble friend Lord Vivian will move and speak to separately.
§ Nothing is said in the amendment about the intended split between the parties of additional hereditary Peers. It is plain to me that, to the extent that the amendments are intended to lead to an increase—or may result in an increase—in the number of Conservative hereditary Peers, the result will be to achieve an equal increase in the number of Labour life Peers, to be appointed under the broadly comparable principle set out in the White Paper, as well as to some increase in the number of Liberal Democrat life Peers who will come here under the proportionate creation principle. For that reason, I am not able to give my unqualified support to those amendments.
§ The amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, would reduce the number of Weatherill Peers from 90 to 50. It would be foolish of me to second-guess what the noble Lord may say about the split of those Peers but I like the sound, at least, of any amendment that reduces the numbers of Weatherill Peers. My own amendment would reduce the number of Weatherill Peers elected according to party and Cross-Bench grouping from 75 to 45 voting Peers while introducing 135 speaking hereditary Peers whom one would expect to come from hereditary Peers of existing elements and from others who have a contribution to make based on experience and expertise. The speaking Peers would be Peers who would not expect to attend on a day-to-day basis but who should nevertheless be here and be heard.
§ I am not proposing to divide the Committee on this amendment or to speak to it at length if only because I have no suggestion to offer at this stage as to how the speaking Peers should be divided between the political parties and the Cross Benches except that the division should be a fair one. I put forward the amendment merely for consideration and discussion. I stress again to the noble and learned Lord that I have not tabled the amendment with the intention of calling a Division on it—I realise the difficulties—but only so that the point can be made and considered and, possibly, taken on board by the Procedure Committee in due course and by the noble and learned Lord and those who were involved with him in coming to the Weatherill agreement.
§ I ask the noble and learned Lord for an assurance on one point. Among the deadly sins which he outlined at Second Reading is a particularly heinous one. He said that support for any amendment increasing the magic number, 75, or abstention on any such amendment where abstention assisted its passage, would by itself be a breach of the Weatherill compromise from which the most dire consequences might follow. My amendment reduces the number 75 to 45. I think it has to be seen as closer than Weatherill to the strict orthodoxy of the Labour Party manifesto. I hope that I may be reassured and be told that my proposal for the introduction of 828 some speaking Peers is not seen as a colourable, a disingenuous and a flawed attempt to escape the Lord Chancellor's trap. With that hope, I beg to move.
§ Lord Vivian
I hope your Lordships will agree to my amendment, Amendment No. 12, being taken within this grouping in order to save the time of the Committee.
The scope of the amendment attempts to ensure that during the transitional period of your Lordships' House sufficient wisdom, experience and knowledge would be retained and that the House would remain an independent and representative body, providing for part-time membership and drawing on expertise whenever necessary. To achieve all of this, the amendment proposes an increase to the already agreed figure of 92 hereditary Peers, which was incorporated by the so-called Cranborne-Weatherill amendment. The transitional stage of your Lordships' House will retain the same powers, functions and role as exist at present and there will continue to be a requirement for a minimum daily attendance figure of some 400 Peers if the current workload is to be undertaken efficiently.
Although the figure of 400 includes the current committee work in the House, it does not cover overseas parliamentary visits, such as the Inter-Parliamentary Union, the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and other parliamentary groups, those who might be sick and those who might have to be absent on exceptional duty. At present, the daily attendance figure of 400 is found from some 1,200 Peers. It is illogical to think that it will be easy to find the same 400 from a pool of only about 750.
I draw the Committee's attention to the Labour Party's submission to the Royal Commission. There is not a great deal with which I disagree apart from the remarks made about the hereditary peerage. However, much in the submission applying to the future reformed House is applicable to the transitional House. On page 40 of the submission the presence of part-time members of your Lordships' House is stressed:Consideration needs to be given to the size of the reformed House of Lords. The Labour Party believes that there should he a target membership which fully accommodates the presence of part-time members".On page 24, it states, on a representative chamber, that,it should fairly represent political opinion in the country, it should he representative of the different interests in the country (such as business, labour, education, science and the arts), and it should be representative of the people as a whole"—to which I would add the peerage, and it,should address questions such as the age, gender and ethnic composition of its membership, and how fairer representation can best be secured".On page 30, it states on the size of the Chamber:We should avoid the dangers of reducing the size of the House by too much: the House of Lords is already about to lose 750 members with the removal of the hereditaries, though 92 will be restored by the Weatherill amendment. The Labour Party does not believe that the House of Lords should be a small full-time body. This would threaten the role of independents and experts who might find it difficult to comply with such an obligation".
I believe it behoves us on all Benches to ensure that there will be sufficient Peers with knowledge, expertise and wisdom remaining in your Lordships' House for the 829 transitional stage. With that in mind, I believe the transitional House should have a complement of about 750 Peers, of whom some 578 should be life Peers and around 172 should be drawn from and elected by each constituent party of the hereditary peerage as is proposed for the 92. I expect your Lordships may ask me why the Weatherill figure of 92 should be more than doubled. The reason is that, although the noble Baroness the Lord Privy Seal has stated in the past that there are some 500 life Peers, only 228 of them attended on any one day in the previous Session of Parliament. It was very seldom that they attended and only when there was a most important issue.
If one takes this maximum attendance figure of 228 life Peers and adds to it the 92 hereditary Peers, one can only reach a figure of 320—a shortfall of 80 in the required figure of 400 Peers. As it is highly unlikely that any more life Peers than 228 will attend, an extra 80 Peers could be drawn from the hereditary peerage which, added to the agreed figure of 92, would then give a total of 172 hereditary Peers. Without them there are not enough Peers to run this House. Parity between the two major parties would not be difficult to establish and could be achieved easily within a House of 750 Peers by the Government introducing more life Peers within this ceiling to make the balance.
If the Government are so convinced that stage two will take place by the end of this Parliament, can the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor explain why this proposal to increase the number of hereditary Peers during the transitional stage would not be feasible, especially as Labour's manifesto pledge has changed to allow a number of hereditary Peers to remain during the transitional stage? If 92 hereditary Peers are now allowed, why not 192 or 172, as I have proposed, until stage two is implemented?
If the Government are unable to concede to this additional number of hereditary Peers, which should not be difficult for them to justify as they have already removed their manifesto pledge for stage one of the Bill—your Lordships touched on this in discussing the previous amendment—a certain amount of consensus might he established if the Government were to agree to accept an application from the leader of the Conservative Party for life peerages for the Conservative Front Bench and those distinguished public servants who have become Privy Counsellors, as mentioned by the Lord Privy Seal in a recent debate. There has been no significant debate on the composition of your Lordships' House during stage one, but this amendment draws your Lordships' attention to what the size of this Chamber should be. I submit that as the roles, functions and powers have not changed, a ceiling of about 750 Peers would ensure that the House functioned efficiently and there would be no loss of wisdom and expertise.
Without solutions of that kind, I submit that the House will not be run properly during the transitional stage. It will not be able to scrutinise legislation in the same careful way as is achieved at present; the standard of debate will be lowered and there may not be enough Peers to carry out Committee work competently unless the House is based on a realistic daily attendance figure 830 of 400 drawn from 750 Peers. Furthermore, this House will no longer provide an effective check on the executive, and consequently will not be able to safeguard the interests of the nation.
I ask the Government to think carefully about these remarks to ensure that the House functions effectively and efficiently, and with sufficient wisdom and expertise, during the transitional period. I shall return to this matter at a later stage.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ Lord Goodhart
I rise to speak to Amendment No. 14, which is part of this group. Most of the amendments in the group propose an increase—in some cases substantial—in the number of Weatherill Peers. We object to all of those amendments. There is no possible justification for retaining a larger number of hereditary Peers. The only justification for keeping any is the ground suggested by the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne; namely, that retaining some hereditary Peers creates an incentive to go ahead with stage two. A figure of 90 or 92 would he more than enough for that.
Turning to Amendment No. 11, we should welcome a reduction to 45 in the number of such Peers with voting rights. But the amendment still retains a total of 180 hereditary Peers—double the Weatherill number—of whom 135 would have speaking rights only. We do not approve of the retention of Members with speaking rights alone. They would clearly be "second-class citizens". Frankly, it is difficult to imagine why anyone should want to continue in this House on that basis.
Our Amendment No. 14 proposes a reduction in the number of Weatherill Peers to 56. Why 56? The answer is easy enough. We have already discussed the position of the 15 Deputy Chairmen and I shall not return to that. The argument for the remaining 75, as has repeatedly been made clear, is that they would represent an agreed figure of 10 per cent of the strength in this House of each party, together with the Cross-Benchers. Thus, Labour has 18 hereditary Peers; 10 per cent of that figure is 1.8. No doubt if the noble Lord, Lord Randall of St. Budeaux, were present, he might suggest that each of those two had 0.9 of a vote! The proposal is that the number should be rounded up to two. Similarly, on these Benches, we have 24 hereditary Peers, so the figure is rounded up to three. The remaining 70 are divided between Conservatives and Cross-Benchers. It is proposed that the Conservatives should have 42 and the Cross-Benchers 28.
So one would presume that the Conservatives would have between 411 and 420 hereditary Peers. The answer, however, is that they have nothing near that figure. The latest figures, as at 1st May, indicate that 299 hereditary Peers by succession took the Conservative Whip. At 1st November 1998, the approximate date of the Cranborne-Irvine agreement, the figure was 298. There are also three hereditary Peers of first creation who will be offered life peerages; so they do not count.
On those figures, the Conservatives are entitled not to 42, but to 30 Weatherill Peers. Similarly, the 208 Cross-Bench hereditary Peers by succession should mean not 28 Weatherill Peers, but 21. Those figures 831 exclude: 77 hereditary Peers belonging to no group, not even the Cross-Benchers; 70 Peers without Writ of Summons; and 58 on leave of absence. It is not clear on what basis those Peers can be taken into account. It seems that the Conservative figures assume that most of them are Conservatives and the rest are Cross-Benchers. That cannot be correct. Surely the appropriate step would be to allow those without Writs or on leave of absence to vote for 13 of themselves on the basis that the successful 13 would undertake not to attend your Lordships' House!
We have been fed throughout with inaccurate figures. The question is: how did that come about? We simply do not know. Was the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor in such a hurry to do a deal with the noble Viscount that he did not investigate the figures? The draft paper prepared for the Procedure Committee on the Weatherill amendment states that the figure of 75 represents 10 per cent of the total of the hereditary peerage. That figure is, of course, correct. But it is reached only by including those who do not belong to any group, those who do not have Writs, and those who are on leave of absence. There is no justification for allocating any of those either to the Conservatives or to the Cross-Benchers. They should be left out of the count altogether.
The correct figure for Weatherill Peers, therefore, leaving aside the question of the 15 Deputy Speakers, is 56: 30 Conservatives; 21 Cross-Benchers; three Liberal Democrats; and two Labour. It seems that the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, must have talked the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor into a deal that goes far beyond anything that he could reasonably have expected. If we are to have Weatherill Peers at all, surely we should rely on the 10 per cent formula, not on an inaccurate application of the formula to the facts.
§ Lord Trefgarne
Perhaps I may speak to Amendment No. 16 standing in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Northesk. I must confess that my noble friend and I did not embark on the detailed numerical analysis so eloquently articulated by my noble friend Lord Vivian and again from the Liberal Benches. Our intention was simply to probe the Government to ascertain how it was that the numbers now incorporated in the Weatherill amendment were arrived at.
The noble and learned Lord said at an earlier point in the proceedings that it was a deal. That is a fair thing for him to have said. I was not present. No doubt my noble friend Lord Cranborne began by suggesting a much higher number; the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor suggested a much lower number; they split the difference and ended up with the numbers that are now incorporated in the amendment. If that is what happened, I do not necessarily disagree with the process, although it could hardly be described as a rationale.
In response to an earlier amendment, the noble and learned Lord said that if the number allocated by the proposed Standing Order to the Labour Party dropped below two, he would have some difficulty in selling the Weatherill deal to his honourable and right honourable 832 friends in the other place. If it is the case that his honourable and right honourable friends want more hereditary Peers, I have a simple solution for the noble and learned Lord. He can abandon this Bill; then they can have 12.
The Earl of Dundee
I speak to the amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Coleraine. The test is whether it assists the aims of Lords reform. Those may be agreed to be: approximate voting parity between the main parties; restriction on the parliamentary rights of hereditary Peers; and the preservation of the present quality of the deliberative function in this House.
The allocation proposed by my noble friend between speaking and voting Peers achieves those aims. However, not without some justification, stage one and the Bill have an agenda of their own. It reflects the setback in 1969 in another place. That occurred in spite of the solid backing given by this House to the then Labour government's Lords reform proposals. This House had no part in the failure of that Bill. It was entirely due to the actions of another place.
The proposal for two stages as the mechanism for Lords reform now seeks to avoid a repeat of that failure. As a result, many of us hope, and expect, that there will be constructive all-party talks between stages one and two. Meanwhile, with the two stages as currently planned, it might be difficult for the Government to adopt my noble friend's amendment at stage one and within this Bill. Nevertheless, his amendment mirrors the Labour government's formula for Lords reform in 1968. I believe that it should be given serious consideration again through all-party talks between stages one and two.
§ Lord Howie of Troon
I agreed very much with the speech of my old friend Lord Marsh. I begin by reassuring him that I did not put down the amendment in order to cause trouble with another place. I wish to speak to both my amendments together, Amendments Nos. 15 and 19.
I wish to make two points. First, I am told that the amendments come under the disadvantage of hybridity so I shall not press them. In any case, they are intended to be purely probing amendments. The purpose is not to change Clause 2 but to give guidance to those who are working out the Standing Orders which I believe now exist in draft.
As I said at Second Reading, I welcome the Bill, especially stage one. I also welcome Clause 2 as a means of easing its passage into law. That is what Clause 2 is for, and it is a perfectly proper and reasonable device to use in parliamentary terms. Unlike the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, who spoke earlier, I have no objection to hereditary Peers. I am not a purist, as he is. I have friends among them, and many do extremely good work. My noble friend Lord Shepherd is not present but the Committee will agree that both he and the noble Lord, Lord Denham, on the other side, have rescued this House from procedural difficulties over and over again. If they were to go, it 833 would be a serious loss because no one else is capable of taking on the activity, except perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill. He might manage it.
There is a second aspect to the problem of hereditary Peers. I often speak on matters pertaining to the engineering profession and related topics. There is a respectable number of engineers in the House, but it so happens that the great majority are hereditary Peers. It is not usual for an engineer to be appointed to this place as a life Peer. Sometimes engineers arrive because they are industrialists, captains of industry or something similar, but they do not come here as engineers. Those who are here are mainly hereditary Peers. Three of them sit on our Benches: my noble friends Lord Ponsonby, Lord Berkeley and Lord Monkswell. I can recall two on the Liberal Democrat Benches, the noble Lords, Lord Avebury and Lord Kirkwood. They are hereditary Peers who represent a part of our society which is poorly represented in Parliament. It is better represented in this House than the other place. I do not wish to see those hereditary Peers vanish entirely from our deliberations.
I turn to what I call the "Cranborne accord". It was agreed among a small group of people and we are told by my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor that it was binding only on the people who put their thumbprints on it. Some of us are giving him advice on how to proceed from here on. As I understand the accord, it is seriously flawed. Apparently it gives the figure of 42 Conservative hereditary Peers, Labour two, Lib-Dems three and Cross-Benches 28. That totals 75. In addition, there are 15 deputy chairmen, producing the magic figure of 90. Casting an eye over the deputy chairmen, it seems to me likely that at least 10 would he Conservatives. So the Conservative figure would not be 42 but 52 or even more, and the other five would be scattered among the other parties.
At Second Reading, I drew attention to a table published by the Evening Standard dealing with the 9l most active Peers—a rather odd figure, compared with the 90. The table showed that of the 90 most active Peers, 49 were Conservative, 12 Labour, 12 Liberal Democrat and 18 Cross-Benchers. The figure of 49 Conservatives accords quite well with the proposals put forward in the deal. The Labour proportion is much higher than the deal would give, so is the Liberal Democrat proportion. The Cross-Benchers' proposed figure is, surprisingly, much lower than the deal would give them, only 18 against 28.
There are other figures for activity which other Members of the House would achieve, based on a larger sample. They show 14 Liberal Democrats and 14 Labour being particularly active and larger numbers of Conservatives and Cross-Benchers because the sample was bigger. I might add that in the last two complete Sessions before the general election, the attendance record of the Labour hereditary Peers was the highest of any group in proportion to the numbers.
The agreement or deal, whatever it is called, is wholly unfair to Labour hereditary Peers and also to the Liberal Democrats, despite the apparent logic of taking 10 per cent. That seems a crude way of going about things. It was done that way for ease, but it does not 834 seem to produce a good result. In my amendment I propose that both Labour hereditary Peers arid the Liberal Democrat Peers should be increased to 10. I know that the Liberal Democrats will not accept that kind offer. It was meant in no other way than to produce a reasonable symmetry in an unreasonable proposal.
I proposed leaving the Conservative number, despite the addition of most of the 15 deputy chairmen and I left alone the proportion for Cross-Benchers. That is purely because I did not want to rock the boat much. I do not mind giving the boat a little shoogle, but I do not want to rock it in a serious way. The amendment carries the disadvantage of hybridity and in any case I have no intention of pressing it. In the meantime, I beg to move.
§ Lord Monson
Perhaps this is the moment to speak to my amendment, Amendment No. 17, and in doing so to say how glad I am to be following the noble Lord, Lord Howie of Troon. So often in the past I have found myself in considerable agreement with him.
Lest it be thought that my figure of 140 was plucked out of thin air, or has some kind of arcane ideological basis, or was gauged so as to split the difference between the proposals of the noble Lords, Lord Howie and Lord Vivian, let me assure the Committee that that is not the case. The figure of 140 was carefully arrived at by means of essentially pragmatic calculations.
At this point, I unreservedly pay tribute to my noble friends Lord Weatherill, Lord Marsh and others for the enormous effort and ingenuity they put into achieving the Weatherill compromise. Having said that, it cannot be denied that removing all but 90 hereditary Peers means that the House will lose many good people. By "good" I do not mean good in the social or party political sense, but in the sense of having contributed to the good governance and well-being of the nation at large.
As the noble Lord, Lord Howie of Troon, said, apart from anything else the Labour Benches would lose a dozen excellent, hard-working people. There have been heavy hints of transforming a number of hereditaries into life Peers, but that is not something on which one can rely. Heavy hints are not binding on anyone. In any case, what is the point of going through all the rigmarole of creating life Peers if the Royal Commission recommends a wholly or mainly elected House and most of the existing "lifers" found themselves out on their ear in two or three years' time?
Having gone through the list with a reasonably fine tooth-comb, I concluded that there were at least 204 hereditaries whose services the House could, with profit, retain. They comprise both regular attenders and those whose professional commitments make regular attendance impossible but who possess specialised expertise—geographical, scientific, legal, artistic and so on—which the House can ill afford to lose. It was because, sadly, the Government could clearly never accept such a large number that, with difficulty and considerable heart-searching, I then pared down the number to 170. But even that would be too high from the point of view of political balance. Hence, I arrived at 140, as the maximum number that would allow a greater 835 proportion of those good people to be retained while not disadvantaging the Government in the Division Lobbies when compared with the Weatherill proposal.
The essence of my amendment, which would not be on the face of the Bill, envisages that the additional 50 hereditaries should not be elected on a pro rata basis like the original 75 but be chosen broadly on their merits. I do not mean their merits overall, but in the context of the House. Based on the records of the individual hereditaries who attend this House today—which may be different from the position five or 10 years ago, but that is not the point—the 50 would comprise the following additional hereditary Peers: 12 Labour; 12 Liberal Democrats; 16 Conservatives; and 10 independents.
Despite the first Division this afternoon, effectively we have a Lib-Lab coalition at the moment, which is likely to last at least until the implementation of stage two. In addition, I believe that not even the noble Lord, Lord Richard, would claim that all, or nearly all, Cross-Benchers consistently support the Opposition. Of the additional 50, on balance at least 26–12 Labour, 12 Liberal Democrats and at least two independents—will tend to support the Government, while no more than 24–16 Conservatives and an absolute maximum of eight independents—will tend to support the Opposition. Therefore, so long as the Lib-Lab pact holds, the Government would be better off in the Division Lobbies than under the Weatherill proposals.
Assuming that the Deputy Speakers remain unchanged, which I believe to be a reasonable assumption, the Conservative hereditaries would drop from 57.8 per cent to 48.6 per cent of the total; the independents would drop by a lesser proportion, from 34.5 per cent to 29.3 per cent; the Labour hereditaries would rise more than two-and-a-half times, from 4.4 per cent to 11.4 per cent; and the Liberal Democrat hereditaries would rise more than three-fold from 3.3 per cent 10.7 per cent. In other words, every single Labour hereditary would be included, apart from one who rarely turns up nowadays, together with a substantial majority of the Liberal Democrats.
There would still have to be a considerable culling of Conservative and Cross-Bench hereditaries. However, the fact that the culling would be a little less drastic means that the selection could be extended to noble Lords whose other commitments made it impossible for them to attend regularly but whose expertise is highly valued by the House. I give three examples: my noble friend Lord Lytton, the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, and the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham. What a tragedy it would be if the House lost the benefit of their counsel. My.amendment involves no breach of principle from the point of view of the Government. If it is doctrinally pure to retain 12 per cent of the hereditaries—because 90 is 12 per cent of 750—it cannot be doctrinally sacrilegious to retain 18i per cent as this amendment proposes.
Inevitably, my statistics delivered verbally are hard to follow, but if the Committee is able to peruse my reasoning in Hansard tomorrow, I hope that it will see the force of the argument. Some noble Lords may agree to return to this matter at a later stage.
§ Lord Clifford of Chudleigh
I must admire the visual ability of the noble Lord, Lord Coleraine, who in moving his Amendment No. 11 said that he had an idea of what was in my speech. To be called "transparent" is quite flattering.
§ Lord Coleraine
Perhaps the noble Lord will give way. I believe I said that I had no idea what was in his speech but that if such and such was in it, certain consequences followed.
§ Lord Clifford of Chudleigh
I accept what the noble Lord says. I believe he mentioned hereditary Peers. I hate to disappoint him and hope that by the end of what I have to say he will appreciate the point.
Bearing in mind the countless opinions expressed on the Weatherill amendment, the fact remains that, whatever the defects in the Bill, all of us as parliamentarians have a primary, overriding duty to debate, advise and assist in controlling the supine government majority in another place. We must, accordingly, so amend the Weatherill amendment that while this rather regrettable Bill is being cured—and perhaps endlessly litigated, the task of the Royal Commission being further complicated in consequence—this House can continue to operate in an effective manner. By this I mean that the House must extend and apply the best of its forces and practices until such time as a full and comprehensive reform of the House has, after due debate and democratic consideration, been implemented. That is the goal at which my amendment is aimed.
I now proceed to consider the amendment in detail. The Weatherill amendment seems to me to have altered fundamentally the balance of the Bill. It is necessary now to look at the interim Chamber as a whole. Therefore, I flag up the further amendments that I shall table at Report stage. Very briefly, those amendments seek to ensure that until full reform all current Peers should be entitled to speak and vote on constitutional issues and everything else. It is the duty of this House to draw on its full reserve of varied expertise until the Government carry out their promise of full reform.
The second amendment to which I speak tonight needs a little further explanation. I am concerned about the composition of the House at a time when the Bill is likely to run into insuperable legal difficulties. Those difficulties will inevitably confuse and delay the final reforms. That in turn makes the composition of the interim House even more important. Accordingly, the 230 Peers, both hereditary and life (so avoiding the possible "flooding" of the House), to whom reference has been made, are voting Peers on all except constitutional matters on which the whole House should continue to be able to vote. I suggest that the Labour, Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Cross Benches should each have 50 Peers and that the Bishops and equivalents—not all Anglicans—and present and former Law Lords should each have 15. If anyone says that this 837 looks like stage two, can he say when otherwise that will happen?I'm afraid I don't know', said the great Bell of Bow.This House has had enough of being fobbed off with improbable promises. That is no reflection on the Royal Commission whose recommendations, if they are firm, as it is hoped they will be, will not necessarily commend themselves to the Government; and nor to our people if they are not.
If any noble Lords wish to air their views further on this matter there will be a short conference in the Moses Room from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. on 9th June, in good time for Report stage.
§ Lord Mackie of Benshie
I have listened to yet another complex speech. I shall listen to many more. I have a simple question to ask the noble and learned Lord. Does he not regret that he did not conduct negotiations on the simple matter of the number of life peerages necessary to balance the House?
§ 7 p.m.
§ Lord Desai
A number of amendments seek to improve Clause 2. It is an impossible task. Clause 2 is so bad that it cannot be improved. I do not like Clause 2. I did not vote for it; and every device to increase or decrease the number provided for in Clause 2 is completely beside the point because, in principle, Clause 2 is bad.
The only choice we have is 90 or zero. As my noble and learned friend explained again and again—and he will have to explain several times again today—the significance of 90 is that it is the number agreed upon. There is no other rationale. Because 90 is the number agreed upon, that number sticks. After that point has been conceded, one can devise many different schemes. People talk about alphabet soup: this is a number soup. We go from 45 to 56, 105, 106, 140, 172, 180 and 230. Take any number and we shall give it to you.
The point is simple. The number 90 has been agreed upon. The components of the 90 also seem to have been agreed. These amendments are beside the point.
§ Lord Howie of Troon
Is not the point that the number 90 was agreed on only because all the amendments were withdrawn earlier in. Committee? Had we had a normal Committee stage, the number 90 would not have been agreed until we reached the end of a debate on the Weatherill amendment plus the amendments to it.
§ Lord Desai
I beg to differ with my noble friend. I do not like to do so; I usually agree with him.
The number of 90 was arrived at before any stage of the Bill. It was announced in December last. It had nothing to do with the Committee stage or when the Bill came to this House. The figure was agreed upon for various reasons to assist a smooth passage through this House. I respect that reason but it does not please me sufficiently to enable me to support Clause 2.
838 We should not debate making Clause 2 worse with amendments which will not be agreed upon. We shall only waste a lot of our time.
§ Viscount Tenby
We are surely in danger of being overwhelmed by a bombardment of numbers. You name it, we have it here somewhere. I am almost tempted to say that the only number we have not heard is 600; but in view of the experience of the Light Brigade that is probably a relief. I am reminded of James Thurber who, when telephoning and being told that he had the wrong number, said, "If it's the wrong number, why did you answer?"
I say with the greatest diffidence and respect to the movers of the amendments, toilers all in the statistical vineyard, these are the wrong numbers. Why then are we discussing them at such inordinate length? We can go on putting up numbers ad nauseam. But it is surely unrealistic to believe that any of the alternative numbers, however persuasively advocated as some have been, would command the support of the majority of Members of the Committee.
We all now know the formula from which the numbers have been calculated. It is rough and ready perhaps, as we have now learned, without any rationale. But I believe that the numbers are generous; they will ensure that the work of this House continues efficiently in the interim period; and they are now incorporated in the Bill on the wishes of the vast majority of noble Lords in this Chamber.
§ Lord Mackay of Drumadoon
Perhaps I may follow the theme advanced by the noble Lord, Lord Desai, and the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby. We have to some extent moved on from the discussions that took place between my noble friend Lord Cranborne and the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor who entered into a compromise, an agreement—call it what one will—perhaps for different purposes. We were told what we were allowed to be told about what those discussions covered and the outcome. In the light of that information, by a substantial majority the Committee agreed to incorporate the new Clause 2 into the Bill.
I fully accept that we did so after a number of noble Lords, and indeed my noble friends, had withdrawn amendments previously tabled concerning the precise figure. However, it was the view of the Front Bench of which I am part that the Committee believed the figure of about 90 to be a sensible compromise in all the circumstances. No doubt if, before the negotiations had taken place, each Member of your Lordships' House had been asked to put in an envelope the number he would like we would have had a wide range of numbers. But at the end of the day a compromise was reached. As the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor has said on more than one occasion, the test of a good compromise is that those who reach it are not entirely satisfied with the outcome. I believe that to be not entirely satisfied with the outcome is better than trying to work out what the arithmetic means.
Against that background I wish to make clear that we on this Front Bench would resist any amendment which seeks to reduce the number; and we would not support 839 any amendment which seeks to increase the number while we fully sympathise with those who eloquently advance the view that there is cause for having more than 90.
The noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, spoke to Amendment No. 14. Not for the first time the Liberal Democrats stand on their own as the only quarter of the Chamber which seeks to reduce the number. It is interesting to note that from all other sides of the Chamber amendments seek to increase the number. I found it difficult to follow the arithmetic of the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart. I had the distinct impression that at the end of the day it would leave the Liberal Democrats in a somewhat better position than they might be if the figure of 90 remains, certainly vis-à-vis these Benches, and for that reason I am instinctively opposed to it.
The Committee has already heard the arguments advanced by my noble friend Lord Coleraine in his probing amendments, not only from these Benches but also others. There is much merit in them. However, the time has come to face up to reality. The Government will not accept any change to the figure of 90. There is no hope of another place accepting such a change. Therefore, for different reasons, I support the views expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Desai, and the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, that the time has come to move on.
§ Lord Monson
Will the noble and learned Lord accept that if the figure of 90 is adhered to the House will lose the services of many expert people on both sides?
§ Lord Mackay of Drumadoon
I fully accept the possibility that that may occur. However, moving into the world of reality, in which we must remain, we all know that life Peers will be created. I should like to think that those who are to advise the Prime Minister or others on the creation of life Peers will take account of anyone who falls into the category to which the noble Lord, Lord Monson, has rightly drawn attention.
§ Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank
Before the noble and learned Lord the Chancellor replies, perhaps I may hook onto this debate about numbers an issue which relates to our previous discussion. I do so not in anticipation that the noble and learned Lord will give me an immediate reply, but so that he may reflect upon it over the dinner hour.
I refer to our discussion about whether there should be a first-past-the-post method of electing Peers, whatever the number may be. I understood the noble and learned Lord to say when pressed that the modified first-past-the-post method was part of the agreement he reached with the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne. I have looked at some papers, in particular at one that I have in front of me which was circulated by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor on or about 15th February. It was a paper prepared by the Constitution Secretariat to the Cabinet Office and it dealt with material for a resolution of Standing Orders. Item 4 states that the method of election may be 840 determined by each party group. That was the understanding of the noble and learned Lord on 15th February; in other words, it could not have been part of the original agreement.
I see also in a paper circulated by the Clerk of the Parliaments on 24th February on the conduct of elections that he states that there are two approaches. One is that each party should conduct its own elections according to its own rules and the other is that there should be common rules. I am not arguing about what method ought to be used, but I ask the noble and learned Lord to be kind enough to look back. I believe that all the evidence points to the fact that there was no agreement of the kind implied. It is for this House, or for the Procedure Committee and then this House, to decide which method of election should be chosen.
I make the point because I believe that we all accept the extent to which the noble and learned Lord's hands are tied by what he agreed, but his hands are not tied by what he did not agree. If the House is not tied by that either, there is room for further discussion and amendment later.
§ The Lord Chancellor
In this range of amendments, noble Lords are seeking to contrive an auction with many bids. So let me deal with the amendments as best I can in the order in which they were debated. I believe that what lies behind the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Coleraine, is the notion that the transitional House will not be able to function at more than a basic level without the accumulated wisdom and experience of no fewer than 180 hereditary Peers. I disagree with that. With the greatest respect, it does not begin to recognise the worth of the 500 Members of this House who are life Peers and implies that they are not capable of sustaining the work of the House at more than merely a functional level.
§ Lord Coleraine
My view is that this House would function well without the hereditary Peers, but it would function better if it carried through into the new House a number of speaking Peers who had experience outside the House, were not full-time politicians and would bring to the House what they bring today.
§ 7.15 p.m.
§ The Lord Chancellor
Let us turn to that point. There is the issue of whether some hereditary Peers should retain their sitting rights, so losing their right to vote. The two-Writ issue, perhaps better called the two-tier issue, was debated at some length on a previous occasion. It was overwhelmingly rejected in the context of Amendment No. 22, tabled by the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, to which the noble Lord, Lord Coleraine, added his name. Your Lordships' House was then persuaded by the force of the arguments of principle and practice against such a proposal.
The argument of principle is that the fundamental purpose of the Bill is to sever the link between the hereditary peerage and membership of this House. To allow nearly 50 per cent of the hereditary peerage to retain their membership, although with only limited rights, would undermine the purpose of the Bill. The 841 argument of practice was put most cogently by the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, who said that realistically the House could not function properly if there were a two-tier membership with certain Members enjoying different rights and privileges from others. I entirely agree and do not believe that there is anything more to be said on that point.
The noble Lord, Lord Vivian, then sought the leave of your Lordships to talk to his Amendment No. 12. Many of the amendments which we are addressing seek to ensure that more than 90 hereditary Peers are retained. Here, the noble Lord, Lord Vivian, explained that he believes that 172 is the number required to ensure that the House can carry out its functions properly. But we believe that the life Peers alone would have no difficulty in carrying out the work of the House to the same standard as today without the aid of any hereditary Peers at all. Therefore, I do not propose to go into that debate again.
I return to Amendment No. 14, which was moved by the noble Lord, Lord Harris, on behalf of the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart. I must confess that I was puzzled about how he arrived at the number of 56 and I shall have to study Hansard closely tomorrow in order to ensure that I wholly understand. The way in which the distribution was arrived at as regards the compromise is that the appropriate shares were calculated by examining the party groups. Therefore, the proportions which each party group bore to the total of the party and Cross Bench membership was taken in relation to the figure of 75, which is 10 per cent of the total hereditary membership of this House. Of course, one can approach the issue from other standpoints and produce other outcomes.
It must he recognised that Members on the Liberal Democrat Benches were not party to the agreement.
§ Lord Goodhart
I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor for giving way. I am sorry that he has some difficulty in understanding the figures and am sure that he will read Hansard carefully. Perhaps I may assist further by giving him a copy of the official figures which I obtained from the Library of the House to show exactly the present composition of your Lordships' House.
§ The Lord Chancellor
I have no doubt that different figures can be arrived at by starting from different premises. I have described the way in which we arrived at them, the methodology of our compromise, and I entirely accept that others would prefer a different methodology if it would give rise to a better outcome for them.
The position is, as the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, admitted when we debated the new schedule to the Bill proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, that although, as he believed, the agreement was flawed there is a need on our side to honour and accept it; that it may be a perfectly reasonable position to adopt, however difficult that may be for many of us. That, I believe, was a fair way of putting it. We intend fully to honour the agreement. We would not be willing, by supporting the amendment, to seek to renegotiate the 90.
842 I turn to the amendments tabled in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Howie of Troon. It is interesting to note that his proposals would preserve, admittedly only in a transitional House, 15 more hereditary Peers than the Weatherill amendment allows, although he would give more to his own party and to the Liberal Democrat Party. However, in fairness to him, he acknowledged that he was perhaps out of step with his party and perhaps more agnostic about the hereditary principle than the rest of us.
The noble Lord then spoke to Amendment No. 19. Again, I have to tell him that this amendment is not acceptable to us. There is, of course, every opportunity for more Labour hereditary Peers to be successful in the election for Deputy Speakers.
§ Lord Howie of Troon
I thank the noble and learned lord the Lord Chancellor for giving way. I quite take the point about the hereditary Peers making up the number in that way. However, I do not see the sense in giving somebody a title when he already has one.
§ The Lord Chancellor
I am afraid I do not follow that. I find that puzzling. The hereditary Peers who are Peers of first creation are to be offered life peerages because if a hereditary Peer is to be excluded, of course he retains his title as a hereditary Peer, but a life peerage gives him a seat in this House of Parliament. Therefore, there is a very considerable advantage in that.
I do not believe that I need to say anything further to explain why the figures of 140 canvassed by the noble Lord, Lord Monson, and of 230, the top of the range, canvassed by the noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, are not acceptable. Basically, I say the same thing throughout that, so far as concerns the Government, a compromise agreed is not negotiable.
§ Lord Clifford of Chudleigh
I thank the noble and learned Lord for giving way. I think perhaps he misunderstood what I said. If he reads Hansard tomorrow morning, he will understand that I may not have asked for any more than 90 hereditary Peers.
§ Lord Pearson of Rannoch
If the noble and learned Lord is not going to rise to that particular bait, perhaps I may ask him where we stand with Amendment No. 14 tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart. That amendment seemed to some of us to be quite persuasive and perhaps confirmed us in our view that the so-called Weatherill amendment was not at all properly thought out in the first place, and is a pretty good muddle. How will the noble and learned Lord let us know the result of his deliberations after he has read in Hansard the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart? Will he drop him a line and perhaps put the answer in the Library or send us a copy so that we know where we are and whether this part of the amendment makes any sense at all, which I am sure it does not?
§ The Lord Chancellor
I doubt whether the noble Lord is seriously putting that question to me. I understood substantially the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart. I shall look at the detail. Knowing the noble 843 Lord, I am sure that there is a sustained and clearly explicable rationale which will appear to me when I read what he said. The compromise has a clearly explicable rationale too. No matter the extent to which my understanding of the approach of the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, is enhanced by the reading of Hansard, my mind will not be changed. The Government adhere to the compromise and will not negotiate on it. If there was any confusion in the mind of the noble Lord, I hope I have removed it.
§ Lord Coleraine
As I started this, I believe it falls to me to wind up as briefly as I can. I should like to make only two points. I invite the Committee to commend the noble Lord, Lord Howie of Troon, on putting the details on the amendment, even though it had the potential to make the Bill hybrid. It at least made some sense of what he was proposing.
On a more serious note, I suggest that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor indulged in a certain amount of hyperbole when he implied that the question of speaking Peers was disposed of by an overwhelming majority against the amendment moved in Committee by my noble friend Lord Ferrers. The truth of the matter is that my noble friend moved a fairly ambitious amendment. It was defeated, as far as I remember, by a majority of eight to 40 in the late evening when there was a thin House apart from the Labour Peers who have to be here, night after night. To read any more into those figures and circumstances would be wrong. Having said that, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendment No. 12 not moved.]
§ Lord Carter
I beg to move that the House do resume. In moving this Motion I suggest that the Committee stage begin again not before 8.25 p.m.
§ Moved accordingly, and on Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House resumed.