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Lord Pearson of Rannoch: Does the Minister accept that it might not be the simple fact that he has "Lord" in front of his name but because of the influence that he might bring to bear in your Lordships' Chamber?
As I am sure that noble Lords are now fully aware, the purpose of the Bill is to end membership of the House of Lords by virtue of a hereditary peerage. If, after he has left this House, a hereditary Peer wishes to write to a Minister on a particular matter, he can of course do so. It is his democratic right, as it is for all other members of the public. The reply may come from the Minister or from an official. In both cases, the department concerned will endeavour to reply within its stipulated time-scale and as helpfully as possible. No provision is needed to preserve the right of a Peer, or of anyone else, to write to a Minister.
However, it would be wrong to enshrine in legislation the right of a noble Lord who is no longer a Member of your Lordships' House to receive a ministerial reply to his correspondence. To do so would require a creation of duty on Ministers. Why should hereditary Peers receive different treatment from other individuals who are not part of the legislature? Former Members of another place do not receive ministerial replies as of right; nor would they expect to receive one. I fail to see why former Members of this place should do so.
I should point out that throughout Whitehall it is the convention that Cabinet Ministers will always reply to Privy Counsellors irrespective of whether or not they are in the legislature. The Bill will not change that practice.
The Bill is about ending membership of your Lordships' House by virtue of a hereditary peerage. All rights and customs attaching to membership will come to an end. However, should a Minister wish to respond
Baroness Carnegy of Lour: If I may say so, that was an uncustomarily insensitive reply from the Government Chief Whip. The noble Lord was asked by my noble friend on the Front Bench whether the Government could say something a little sympathetic on the subject. I believe that the Government Chief Whip well knows the role that our hereditary colleagues play in voluntary organisations, and why they are there. It is partly, of course, because of their access to government through membership of this House; but it is also because they are who they are, with the experience and reputation of service that hereditary Peers have had throughout the years.
I hope that the Government will stop doing this. It absolutely disgusts me to hear the Government talk like this about people who have given distinguished service through the years. It continues to happen and it makes me quite angry. Perhaps I may ask the Minister a question. Will the hereditary Peers who are Privy Counsellors and who write to Ministers about business receive the same priority as life Peers who will continue to be Members of this House and who are Privy Counsellors?
Lord Carter: As regards the last question, I said, and I repeat, that throughout Whitehall it is the convention that Cabinet Ministers will reply to Privy Counsellors irrespective of whether or not they are in the legislature. This Bill will not change that practice.
I am amazed by what the noble Baroness says. I said nothing insensitive. I said that we are all aware of the immense service given to voluntary organisations by hereditary Peers. However, your Lordships have to realise that when a hereditary Peer's membership of this House ends, so will the customs, privileges and rights that go with it. That is entirely fair. That is not insensitive. It is a statement of fact. I am the last person to attack the vast amount of work that has been done over the years by hereditary Peers. But as regards their attachment to voluntary organisations because they are hereditary Peers and can therefore automatically receive letters of reply from Ministers, I hope that they are on the committees, or whatever, of the voluntary organisations because of the undoubted service they give.
The Earl of Radnor: The Minister made a comparison between retiring Members of another place and those who will retire from here. He pointed out, frankly and correctly, that those in another place are in a way relieved of the duty of writing to Ministers and
Baroness Park of Monmouth: Perhaps I may make a purely practical point. Most of the hereditary Peers of whom we speak, with some exceptions, will be within only two or three years of the end of their time of service with whatever charities or public duties they are involved. It does not seem sensible to waste that investment (if I may put it that way) for the country. Why should it not be possible for them to continue until they cease to operate in that way? It is a practical point. They are involved in most of the organisations for which they work not only because of their sense of duty and service, but also because they can render a practical service to the organisation. Would it be so very difficult to allow that access to Ministers to expire with the end of their public service life?
The noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, said that he did not think that the matter was suitable to be placed on the face of the Bill. I am sure that those hereditary Peers who have had contacts with departments and Ministers will continue to provide extremely effective service for the organisations with which they are connected. But we are not prepared to place a duty on Ministers to reply in the way suggested by the amendment.
The Earl of Caithness: I welcome the noble Lord, Lord Carter, in taking up the batting from the Government Front Bench. It is always nice to have a new batsman and we welcome his fielding of the replies.
I hope that between now and another stage he can give a little more thought to the amendment. Having been a backwoodsman, having started life on the Cross Benches and having taken a leave of absence, I believe that there is a great deal to be said for retaining this right for former hereditary Members of the House to correspond with Ministers. When I was a Minister, I found that a number of charities, voluntary organisations and others benefited hugely. That is the substance of the issue: charities and voluntary organisations benefit; not the Peer himself. Organisations benefit from a hereditary Peer having the right of access by letter to a Minister of the Crown and receiving a reply from a Minister. Recently, my experience has been that some replies, not from Ministers, have not been as forthcoming as a ministerial reply. I hope that the noble Lord will think again.
Perhaps I may refer briefly to the convention that he mentioned which pertains throughout Whitehall. I must declare an interest as a Privy Counsellor. I have not always had a reply from a Cabinet Minister. I hope that
The Earl of Erroll: I may be able to help. As we notice a steady move towards a partyless system, perhaps people are worried about the delinking of an MP or a representative at Westminster from the general public. Perhaps this amendment is an attempt to preserve one of the last channels between the executive and the general public.
What is wrong with the amendment is that it demands a right. It demands a right for people who have ceased to be Members of Parliament. I do not believe that the Government can legitimately concede that as a matter of right.
On the other hand, it seems to me that a Peer who has been active in a charity and who ceases to be a Member of this House because his peerage was hereditary and who subsequently writes to a Minister will not be treated any differently in future from the way in which he has been treated in the past. This is one of those issues, which so often arise, where there is a difference between the legal entitlement, which cannot be conceded, and the way in which people will operate in practice. The fears of the noble Lord who moved the amendment are, in this regard, frankly, somewhat illusory. I do not think that the Government can concede that as a matter of right. I should be very surprised indeed, if, as a matter of practice, there is any great change.
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