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Lord Northbrook: The noble Lord, Lord Norrie, mentioned the claim of Lady Rhondda. The speech of Viscount Birkenhead, the then Lord Chancellor is interesting. He said:

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    I should be interested to hear the Minister's comments on this speech.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: Viscount Birkenhead, sitting as Lord Chancellor, held that there was no need to interpret the Act, because there was no sustainable proposition that no Act could overturn the terms of Letters Patent. Letters Patent, I submit, because I believe this to be legally correct, cannot be above the general law of the land. The noble Lord, Lord Norrie, placed a good deal of emphasis on common law, on historical tradition. The fact is that no aspect of common law is capable of being sustained if Parliament decides the contrary by way of statute.

The Earl of Northesk: I too apologise to the Minister for my sub-standard pronunciation. I am but a humble Scots boy.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: I do my best to pronounce English words and sometimes I succeed.

Lord Norrie: I am delighted that my amendments have caused such massive reaction from noble Lords on the Benches opposite and I am happy too to see the smiles on their faces at this late hour. I thank the Minister for his extremely courteous and informative reply. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Lyell): Before I call Amendment No. 15, I must advise the Committee that if Amendment No. 15 is accepted, I shall not be able to call Amendment No. 16.

The Earl of Kinnoull moved Amendment No. 15:

Page 1, line 5, after ("No-one") insert ("who after the day on which this Act is passed succeeds to a hereditary peerage")

The noble Earl said: I shall be very brief. Because of something of a mix-up in the Committee immediately after the dinner break, my noble friend Lord Caithness moved extremely ably and spoke to the amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Randall; that is, Amendments Nos. 14, 29 and 109. At that time, it was my intention to speak to this amendment but the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, said that it had been agreed that Amendments Nos. 15 and 21 should be taken together.

The purpose of the amendment is to avoid disruption to the working of the House as it moves into its interim period. That is the message. I do not intend to argue the point other than to refer to the excellent and persuasive speech of the noble Lord, Lord Randall, last week on the whole subject. I suggest that on that occasion he received a dusty answer from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, who said that the amendment would undermine the very foundation of the Government's Bill.

But how will the foundation of the Bill fare in the light of the Weatherill amendment? Is there a case for underpinning? I beg to move.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: We have debated this matter fully already. The amendment seeks to keep the

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750 hereditary Peers who are already here to make up the alleged deficiencies of what will be a House with 500 life Peers. Even with the life Peers alone, this will be the largest second Chamber in the world. We have gone over those points time and time again and I shall not repeat them. The effect of the noble Earl's proposal is that the hereditary Peers would not be removed for 60 years and that 50 per cent would still be there after 15 years. That is in order to supplement what will still be the largest second Chamber in the world.

The Earl of Kinnoull: We heard the argument in relation to the 60 years last Tuesday when it was pointed out that we shall be in an interim period. That could not possibly last for 60 years.

Will the noble and learned Lord reply to my specific question about why this amendment would cause such massive disruption to the Government's Bill compared with the Weatherill amendment, which will also cause disruption?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: The noble Earl said that it was in order to keep the House going. I am pointing out that with 500 life Peers, I believe the House will adequately survive.

The Earl of Kinnoull: The noble and learned Lord said last week that the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Randall, would undermine the very foundation of the Government's Bill. I suggest that the Weatherill amendment does that too. What is the difference?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: The difference between the Weatherill amendment and this amendment is that 750 hereditary Peers survive under the "Randall amendment", if I may so call it, whereas 659 of those 750 go under the Weatherill amendment. That is the difference.

The Earl of Kinnoull: I thank the Minister for that mathematical reply. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Earl Ferrers moved Amendment No. 16.

Page 1, line 5, leave out ("shall be") and insert ("who is")

The noble Earl said: In moving Amendment No. 16 I should like to speak also to Amendment No. 22. The effect of that amendment is that no one who is a Member of the House of Lords by virtue of a hereditary peerage,

    "shall be entitled to vote in that House or in any committee of that House".

I suggest that that should satisfy all members of the Front Bench opposite. The great complaint is that the Conservative Party buses in great numbers of Members to vote down Labour governments of the day. That is totally untrue, but that is the accusation. However, if we cannot vote, that is perfectly all right and the Government have nothing to worry about. They will carry all their votes and a great time will be had by all.

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I am a little windy about putting this suggestion to the Committee because I am aware that the Front Bench opposite is wary of our amendments. The noble Baroness the Leader of the House implied that she was fed up with having to repeat the same answers time and again. The fact is that if the Government cause upheaval to the whole of one House of Parliament they cannot expect it to go unnoticed. It is perfectly right that this Chamber should ask the Government what they are doing, why they are doing it and should penetrate their reasons. That is why I have no hesitation in putting forward the amendment.

All the members of the Front Bench--I say this with great courtesy, I believe--have done a tremendous job of saying nothing. They have put their heads down, rather like a Hereford bull, charged ahead and said, "Get rid of hereditary Peers; that is all we care about. We are not going to move to the left or to the right. We will not listen to any kind of argument. All we want to do is to get rid of the hereditary Peers."

The noble Baroness the Leader of the House said, I believe at Second Reading:

    "It is my belief that the most thoughtful among the hereditary Peers"-- I am not one of those--

    "of all political persuasions, know that the time has come to say, 'Thank you and goodbye'". I do not believe that the time has come to say thank you and goodbye. I think the time has come to say, "Thank you and please continue." I apologise to the noble Baroness. Those remarks were made during the House of Lords reform debate of 14th October, not at Second Reading. The noble Baroness has perhaps changed her view since then. I have just refreshed my memory of what she said in that debate. She stated:

    "Perhaps I may emphasise again that the purpose of this debate is to take stock and to listen to your Lordships".--[Official Report, 14/10/98; cols. 921-2.] I have to say that when I read that, I practically fell off my chair. I do not believe that the noble Baroness has listened very much. She has listened as if to a noise like dripping water in the background that she has to push to one side as being a great bore. The Government are making a considerable change. It is right that we should ask the Government why they are making it and test them as to whether they believe it is the right thing to do.

The noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate--

Noble Lords: No.

Earl Ferrers: What did I say? I thought I said "the Lord Advocate".

Noble Lords: He is not the Lord Advocate.

10.30 p.m.

Earl Ferrers: I apologise. I was trying to be polite. the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, stated that there were 570 life Peers and that that should be enough to look after the interests of everyone. Frankly, I believe that an appalling amount of humbug goes on about this.

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There are many life Peers on the side of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, as well as on our side, who play no part at all. Many hereditary Peers play no part at all. That does not matter. Those who play a part are told by the noble Baroness that the time has come to say goodbye to them; those who do not play a part are told that they are backwoodsmen and do not care what is going on. So hereditary Peers cannot win.

I could not help but be slightly amazed at the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Warner. I warned him that I would refer to it. He said,

    "we still have a second Chamber with a potential size of nearly 1,300 Members and with a current maximum attendance of about 1,150...The poor Americans and Canadians bumble along with a little over 100 in their senates. The Germans do even better with only about 70. The French seriously overdose"-- an unfortunate expression--

    "with over 300 in their Senate. Even when the hereditary Peers have been removed from this House, there will be over 500 life Peers and Bishops".--[Official Report, 30/3/99; col. 360.] So the argument went, "Get rid of all the hereditary Peers and we will be perfectly all right because we will still have 500 of them".

The noble Lord went on to say:

    "Around 50 per cent of the adult population are women and 7 per cent are from ethnic minorities", and the Chamber does not reflect that. He then said at col. 361:

    "Basically, we are a club for older white males and are seen as such by many people outside this Chamber". I must say I wondered why the noble Lord bothered to become a Member merely to contribute to the problem. He contributes by adding to the "white males"; he contributes by adding to the ethnicity problem; and he contributes by adding to the gender problem. Anyhow, he has had the advantage of being here for six months and he gave us the benefit of his view which is that, after 600 years, your Lordships should be asked to go away.

The purpose of my speech is to say to the Committee that this is a very helpful amendment. I believe that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, is to respond to this amendment. I want to tell him that it is an extremely helpful amendment. He will get all that he wants. Hereditary Peers will not be able to vote and therefore they will not capsize the voting arrangements. But they will be able to contribute.

What is the harm in that? Members of this Chamber and many other people have referred to the expertise in your Lordships' House. I am sure noble Lords opposite think that all the expertise comes from life Peers. I am sure that a lot comes from life Peers, but quite a lot comes from hereditary Peers. If it is expertise that is wanted, let us hear about it. Let us bring all the knowledge that is available, from whatever source, into your Lordships' Chamber. When it comes to the crunch point and having a vote, hereditary Peers need not vote, and, indeed, would not be able to vote.

But what would happen in matters of heritage, art and agriculture if all the hereditary Peers were to go? I introduced a debate on agriculture just over one year ago in which only two speakers were from the party

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opposite. The majority of people who know about agriculture tend to be on this side of the Chamber, I leave it to Members of the Committee to decide why. I do not know who knows about agriculture in another place, but not many. Although many Members represent agricultural constituencies, they are mostly solicitors, teachers--or something funny like that--or sociologists; they are not agriculturists.

Agriculture is a great part of our heritage. Around 80 per cent of the countryside is covered by land, but that will not be reflected in another place or in this House if all the hereditary Peers go. I am sure that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, knows a lot about all facets of the law, as does his noble friend Lord Williams of Mostyn; but I do not know whether they know one end of a bullock from another. They may take the view that they do not like both ends and the middle is uncomfortable. Either way, it is important that people should know about the countryside and should care about what is going on there. Those views should be expressed. The noble Lord, Lord Carter, is pointed out to me. It is perfectly true that the noble Lord knows a lot about the countryside; but one man on the Government Front Bench is not many. Indeed, noble Lords opposite point with great glee to all the Peers sitting on the Front Bench here, and to all those sitting behind me. Of course they know about agriculture. I am also looking over there. If they know about agriculture, why did only two of their number take part in a debate which consisted of 35 speakers?

In fact, there is a good deal of expertise, not just in agriculture--indeed, it would be too childish to say so--but in many other respects, which can have a vent in this House. I venture to suggest that that is a good thing. Noble Lords may wonder who would come to this House and speak if they did not have the ability to vote. If they did not come here because they could not vote, noble Lords opposite would be quite content. They would say, "Well, people can come but they don't bother to do so. We can carry on quite happily without them".

I really cannot see what the objection is to saying that noble Lords and the hereditary peerage can continue. After all, the latter have been here for hundreds of years--indeed, noble Lords opposite cannot just regard it as something which is of no value at all and which can be quietly brushed aside. It is of value and cannot be pushed to one side. I cannot see why that cannot continue with hereditary Peers, and so on, being able to participate and talk but not to vote; and, incidentally, being able to come and participate in what happens in your Lordships' House.

If one has been a very good Foreign Secretary, such as my noble and learned friend Lord Howe, one might get promoted--some would say he was promoted--and be sent to the House of Lords. Indeed, my noble friend Lord Hurd was a very distinguished Foreign Secretary when he was in the other place. He, too, was promoted and came to this place. My noble friend Lord Carrington was also a very distinguished Foreign Secretary, but what will happen to him? He will get thrown out. That cannot be right. He will not be allowed to come into the House. He will not be allowed to come in and have

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lunch. Even retired bishops can come in and have lunch. If you are a Member of the House of Commons and you get thrown out, you can go there and have lunch. But, under the Government's Bill, if you are a Member of the House of Lords, they say: "No, we don't want anything to do with you at all. Go out, and never come in again".

I am quite sure that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, is a very genial character; indeed, I can see that in his face. We can all tell people's characters from what they look like. He will understand the reasoning behind this amendment. You cannot throw out 600 years of history and say, rather like kicking a bit of muck out of the house, "We don't want that any more". The fact is--I can understand this--they do not want hereditary Peers to come and vote. I understand that even if I do not accept it. However, there is really no reason why hereditary Peers should not participate and try to contribute to what is going on here thereby helping some noble Lords who are a little deficient in certain knowledgeable matters. Indeed, they could help your Lordships to come to conclusions upon which you could then enjoy voting--something in which the hereditary Peers would not be able to participate.

On reflection, I hope that the noble and learned Lord will consider that this is an acceptable amendment. I should remind him that one of the arts of getting a difficult Bill through is to accept certain amendments--in other words, throw the dogs a bone and keep them happy. Noble Lords opposite really have been deeply stubborn over all this. They have not moved an inch; as I said, they have just put their heads down like Hereford bulls and charged ahead. This would be a good opportunity for them to show that they really are quite understanding and that they would be prepared to help and give a little. If they were to do so, we would all make a good deal of progress and be a lot happier. Indeed, the Government would have conceded nothing of value. I beg to move.

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