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The Earl of Drogheda: When I made reference to 75 year-olds I did not intend that to be exclusive.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I am grateful to the noble Earl. I appreciate that his amendment is quite narrowly targeted. It is probable that many noble Lords take my view of retirement age: that it will always be two years ahead of the age at which I am now.

The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Lord Falconer of Thoroton): I am grateful to the noble Earl for moving this amendment in such a moderate and elegant way. We cannot accept it, for a number of reasons. Underlying this Bill is the principle that a person should not be a legislator simply on the basis of heredity. This particular amendment suggests that there should be two processes, both genetic to an extent, to determine whether someone can be a legislator: first, parentage; and, secondly, the ability to survive. That does not seem to us to be a sensible basis on which people should be selected to play a role in the legislative Chamber. First, it would lead to the preservation of a number of hereditary Peers for perhaps as long as between 10 and 15 years, on the basis of actuarial tables. (I apologise for mentioning such a sensitive subject.) Secondly, the amendment is not put forward on the basis that this arrangement awaits the second stage but that it should continue in perpetuity.

In May 1998 there were approximately 113 hereditary Peers over the age of 75. I fully accept that in many, many cases age brings great wisdom, but it is also my experience that from time to time that is not so. Although very many people get better as they get older some do not. For all those reasons, unfortunately we cannot accept the amendment.

Perhaps I may refer to the eminent Peers whose names have been mentioned as an indication of the brilliance of age. My noble friend Lord Callaghan will survive because he is a life Peer rather than for other reasons. The noble Lords, Lord Shawcross and Lord Renton, will also survive because they are life Peers. As for "Lord Cairncross", I do not believe that he exists and, therefore, on any basis he will not survive.

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

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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Lord Stanley of Alderley moved Amendment No. 24:

Page 1, line 6, at end insert (", but any person who is excluded from membership of the House of Lords by virtue of this Act shall retain the right to correspond with Ministers of the Crown as if he remained a member of that House")

The noble Lord said: At this stage Amendment No. 24 is merely a probing amendment. This is part of a series of amendments in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Caithness. Its prime objective is to discover what the Government have in mind for the future, in particular the interim House. I am also convinced that the public would like to know that.

Experience has taught me that the ability to write to Ministers is as good, or better, a means of getting a sensible answer from government and civil servants as chattering away in your Lordships' House, of which yesterday was perhaps an example. This has become very obvious in the case of the Bill: Ministers do not answer questions and appear not to care what happens to this House in future. I regard such an attitude as either thoughtless or irresponsible. It is probably both.

If the Committee accepts that argument, noble Lords may well ask why this amendment retains the ability for those who are to leave the House to obtain a reply from a Minister. I assure my noble friend Lord Mackay that I am not going on any husting. The reason is simple. Time and time again we have been told--and probably flattered--by the noble Baroness the Leader of the House, and most if not all of her colleagues on the Front Bench, that hereditary Peers are useful citizens. When we do not have to appear in this Chamber we shall be able to devote more time to being better and more useful citizens out in the sticks, where many or most of us have non-paid, voluntary jobs in the community.

I am aware of the so-called privileges. One of the reasons why so often we get the job of president or patron of such organisations is that we have been able to put those bodies' cases direct to government. Sadly, government now have an all-pervading influence on our lives and occupations, particularly charities. This was brought home to me forcefully the other day when I attended the annual general meeting of the Institute of Agricultural Secretaries and Administrators as patron. That body has a problem in obtaining academic grants--I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Carter, is aware of this--to train to meet an unsatisfied demand. I was asked what I could do. My reply was that I would write to the Government and, if the response was unsatisfactory, table a parliamentary Question. It is becoming increasingly difficult to get replies from the Government and they are inclined to be much delayed. At this stage I do not seek the right to ask a parliamentary Question, but this amendment would give those of us who leave the House the right to write and get a reply from a Minister during the interim period.

I am trying to persuade others to take on the odd job that I still have, not least because I am always being made aware of my age. I hope that future Members of the second Chamber will feel obliged to do so in due course. However, there is a snag in that those who remain, or are appointed, as interim Peers will have to be full-time, not part-time backwoodsmen like me and

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many other noble Lords. Therefore, they will not have the time, inclination or--perhaps more importantly--involvement with such organisations for a long period of time which I believe is essential before taking on such jobs.

If the Minister has been listening and managed to follow my argument--I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Carter, is to respond--he may now realise that this is one of the arguments that he is bound to lose. If the noble Lord replies with the normal monosyllabic "no" it will mean that we have the duty to resign from the type of jobs that I have mentioned, whereas if he accepts the amendment it will be the first and probably last time that the Government have ever considered accepting something. I believe that it is a case of heads I win, tails the noble Lord loses. I beg to move.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: It is very brave of my noble friend Lord Stanley of Alderley today to move an amendment of any kind given the difficult position in which he placed the Government yesterday. I suggest to him that the only letter he is likely to receive from the Government is one ordering his instant execution. My noble friend makes the point that no one in this Chamber, including the Government Front Bench, disputes that a good number of hereditary colleagues play a valuable part in many organisations in the community, including local authorities and charitable bodies. One, but only one, of the qualities that they bring to those organisations is their ability to help them when it comes to a problem with government by corresponding directly with Ministers. It would be a pity to lose that important link, which must be helpful to government as well as those organisations, when the hereditary Peers finally left the Chamber.

I am not entirely sure that this needs to go on the face of the Bill. However, it would be a nice gesture if the Government stated that they and their successors intended that Members of the House who had to depart after the Bill became law, if it became law--I say that in case someone picks me up later--would be able to correspond with and get replies from Ministers as quickly as they do now. I would not ask for it to be more swiftly. I think that acceptance of the amendment would be a nice gesture on the part of the Government and a recognition of the service the hereditary Peers have given not only to this House and the country, but also to many organisations in the part of the country in which they live.

4 p.m.

Lord Annan: Throughout the country individuals who are not Members of this House do superb voluntary work. They write to Ministers and may receive a reply. Why should there be a privilege of this kind?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I sometimes wonder whether the noble Lord lives in the real world. Ordinary members of the public who write to Ministers do not receive replies from Ministers.

Lord Carter: Amendment No. 24 seeks to provide for hereditary Peers who are no longer Members of the

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House of Lords to correspond with Ministers on the same basis as when they were Members of the House. Throughout Whitehall it is the custom that Members of the House of Lords who write to Ministers will receive a reply from the Minister. The amendment would confer a right to receive a ministerial reply.

The noble Lord, Lord Stanley, always asks helpful questions. He made the point that hereditary Peers are useful citizens. Of course they are. So are life Peers. So are the thousands of people who hold neither a hereditary nor life peerage and who give valuable service to the organisations in which they are involved.

The noble Lord referred to the Institute of Agricultural Secretaries and Administrators. It took me back a long way. I was one of those involved in the foundation of that institute many years ago. I did not understand the noble Lord's remark about his duty to resign from all the voluntary organisations with which he is connected. I find that extraordinary. Is the only reason he is involved with those voluntary organisations that he has "Lord" in front of his name? I am sure not.

The noble Lord, Lord Annan, said it all in his brief intervention.

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