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Lord Dubs: My Lords, I was afraid that question was coming! My understanding is that there is no limit, but

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I shall look into it further. If by any chance that answer is not correct, I shall write to the noble Lord and to the noble Baroness and make it clear.

Lord Molyneaux of Killead: My Lords, I put this point to the Minister while he meditates on the question which has just been put to him. This is not a facetious matter and should not be treated as such. One can envisage an election influenced by certain unofficial groups or lobby groups, and one thinks immediately of angry farmers or angry lorry drivers. If they are all permitted--and they are, as I understand the regulations--to spend £5,000, we could end up with other candidates beyond their chosen candidate benefiting by some £50,000 more. That could be spent quite legitimately, not by the candidate or his agent, but by the lobby group, without any approval from Parliament or from anyone else.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, I understand what the noble Lord is saying. As I said to the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, I want to look into this further. If what I have said needs to be elaborated on in any way or if it should not be fully correct, I shall be happy to write to the noble Lords who have taken part in this debate.

I draw a clear distinction between the sum of money which is a deposit and the amount of money which can be spent by a third party. It is the latter which is the subject of the discussions which we have just had.

The noble Baroness also asked a question about by-elections. Let me explain how by-elections will work. I do not think that the noble Baroness has it quite right in the way she described it. If there is a by-election, there will be a straightforward election based on a first-past-the-post contest to fill the single vacancy. It will not pass down the list to a candidate who did not succeed.

I appreciate that that is a different procedure from that adopted in the elections for the Northern Ireland Assembly, but it is a procedure which we have been using in Northern Ireland ever since these arrangements were first put in place. I do not think that we have had any by-elections in those years, but we are certainly not seeking to change that.

The noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, asked about the use of the emblem on the ballot paper. Only registered political parties can use the emblem. Independent candidates would not be able to do so. On the sample ballot paper which has been printed they would simply be designated as independent candidates, together with the other details about them.

I believe that I have dealt with all the questions that have been put and I commend the regulations to your Lordships.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until 8.53 p.m.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended from 8.18 to 8.53 p.m.]

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House of Lords Bill

House again in Committee on Clause 1.

Lord Randall of St. Budeaux had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 14:

Page 1, line 5, at beginning insert ("Subject to subsection (2)")

The noble Lord said: On Tuesday 20th April, we had a full debate on Amendments Nos. 14, 29 and 109. I have decided not to initiate further debate on this tonight. However, I reserve the right to speak on the matter at a later stage. I therefore ask the leave of the Committee to withdraw the amendment.

The Earl of Caithness: With the leave of the Committee, I should like to move Amendment No. 14, and to say a few words on it. I did not do so previously. I believe that it is in order. We were confused on Tuesday, first, due to the time of night at which we debated the amendment, and secondly, because at that time the amendment was grouped with the amendment put forward by my noble friend Lord Selsdon on which many of us concentrated. I appreciate that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, answered some of the points, but because the amendment is important, it is worth retreading briefly some of the ground.

It is an important amendment because it is a possible alternative to the Weatherill amendment, which does not have universal support in the House and which we have yet to discuss. It would be helpful, therefore, to have a fuller discussion on this amendment.

I wish to ask the noble Lord, Lord Randall, to explain in a little more detail how the voting system will work. This is a House of fluctuating numbers, depending on the discussion and the time of day of that discussion. How would the votes be weighted so that a sensible result occurred on a Division?

I should like also to clarify one point which the noble Lord, Lord Randall, made at col. 1138 of the Official Report of 20th April. He said:

    "The Government would get their business immediately".

Lord Haskel: Perhaps I may ask the noble Earl a question. Is it in order to debate an amendment which has not been moved, and to ask the Peer concerned to respond after he has said that he will not move his amendment?

The Earl of Caithness: It is. The amendment is in the name of the House and anyone can speak to it even though it is not moved by the noble Lord on the Marshalled List. If the noble Lord considers the Standing Orders, I think that he may find the reference at page 111, or close to that page.

At col. 1138 the noble Lord, Lord Randall, said that the Government will "get their business immediately". Perhaps I may probe a little more. One of the great strengths of this House is that the Government do not always get their business immediately. I have said before, and I shall say again on many occasions, that one of the great strengths of this House is that the government of the day can be defeated. What provision does the noble Lord have in mind with regard to

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weighting a vote so that the Government can be defeated and another place have the time to think again on the issue?

I turn to what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, said in his brief reply to the noble Lord. I note a contradiction in the noble and learned Lord's argument. It is always nice to find that. At col. 1150 of the Official Report of 20th April he said:

    "Going through the seven points that underlie the noble Lord's speech, I believe that each one can be demonstrated either to be wrong or flawed". At col. 1149 the noble and learned Lord agreed with the noble Lord, Lord Randall, on his first point. It is a small point, but it is rather fun when a noble and learned Lord makes a contradiction.

First, would the noble and learned Lord and the Government take a more benign attitude to the amendment if it were limited only to stage one so that the purport underlying the noble Lord's proposal would come to an end when the Government brought in their phase two? Secondly, the noble and learned Lord spoke to the noble Lord's third point, on the number of hereditary Peers who would be left. Would it be more acceptable to the noble and learned Lord and the Government if one limited the number of hereditary Peers right at the start? The days of the part-time politician are over, due to these reforms; and phase two will make it even less likely that someone can participate in this Chamber on a part-time basis. If one were to state that those hereditary Peers who had not attended, say, on average 25 per cent of the sittings of the last two Sessions would not be considered, the number of hereditary Peers would reduce quite remarkably, and the phased operation proposed by the noble Lord would then come into play. Therefore, there would not be so many hereditary Peers, which is what the Government want. I should be grateful for a reply to those points. I beg to move.

9 p.m.

Lord Geddes: I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Caithness for giving us the opportunity to re-open the debate on the three amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Randall. I discussed with the noble Lord outside the Chamber what I intended to say.

I apologise to your Lordships in advance because, although previously I had no opportunity, I have taken advice from the Clerks and have tabled an amendment which will appear in my name on the new Marshalled List. It will propose a variation on the theme of Amendment No. 109. I wish to speak briefly to my amendment.

I pick up the point mentioned by the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun of Abernethy, in col. 1142 on 20th April. Indeed, my noble friend Lord Caithness has mentioned it again. What concerns me about Amendment No. 109 is that, as drafted, it gives unfettered power to the executive of the day. I make that point most seriously in an apolitical sense. I take no political view of the issue at all and in order to display my credentials in that respect I remind those of your Lordships who were here some years ago that I voted against my party on a three-line Whip on the then community charge.

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I am looking at the issue from the point of view of the operation of Parliament in the round. I suggest that it is extremely important that this House in whatever guise--and I agree with Amendment No. 29--should provide a check on the executive. That is important to the democracy of this country. We should be able to say to the executive of whatever political persuasion--I repeat that I take no party political line on this--that it should think again.

The amendment which I earlier tabled--and having had the opportunity to speak tonight I intend to withdraw it before it has even reached the Marshalled List--would read 180 degrees away from Amendment No. 109. I am trying to suggest that, given a weighting system of votes in this House, at all times there should be a weight, albeit a small weight, against the government of the day. In that case, using unparliamentary language, if every single Member of this House were to gang up against the government of the day, the government would be obliged to think again. That is the purpose of the amendment which I have put down. I repeat that I intend to withdraw it because I have had the opportunity tonight to discuss it. I urge your Lordships to think seriously about the ability of this House to be a check on the executive.

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