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Lord Hughes: No one was appointed to the Privy Council because he was a Member of the House of Lords. He will not cease to be a member of the Privy Council if he ceases to be a Member of the House of Lords. There is no logic at all in the amendment. Its only merit is that it has given us a history of the Privy Council.

Lord Vivian: I do not wish to become involved in a debate on the composition of the interim Chamber, but I foresee a void of wisdom, experience and counsel in the number of Peers who may be proposed for the interim stage. For that reason, I support the amendment.

7 p.m.

Lord Henley: I begin by offering my apologies for my noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish who was to respond to this debate, but he has had to return to Scotland for the elections, and I wish him well there.

I am glad to see that it appears that the noble Baroness the Leader of the House will respond to this amendment. I suspect that that is some indication of the importance which she attaches to the amendment. I think there were many in the Chamber who were somewhat surprised that she did not respond to the earlier amendment of my noble friend Lord Renton of Mount Harry; but there it is. She is to respond to this amendment. As I said, I believe it is one of the strongest arguments we have heard for retaining certain categories of hereditary Peers in the interim House. The presence of the noble Baroness on this occasion seems to give some support to that argument.

As my noble friend Lord Marlesford made clear, privy councillorship is a rare and high honour and reflects real achievement. It certainly meets the criterion that has been repeatedly cited by the Government that hereditary peerages are past rights whereas life peerages--as I believe I have heard the noble Lord, Lord Richard, say on occasion--reflect present and genuine merit. Some might say they represent friendship or patronage, but that is another point.

As my noble friend made clear, there are some 29 hereditary Peers who have the honour of being Members of the Privy Council. As he stressed, the amendment would only bring in some 20 as others already have rights to remain here, in that they are life Peers or members of the Royal Family and are therefore not covered. Those 20 or so certainly have an honour that reflects their present merit. In addition to that, because of their hereditary peerages, they have had a seat in Parliament and a place in public service for many long years, even before they reached that high honour.

What rational Parliament in the world would expel those very Members who carry one of the highest honours in the land, all of whom were honoured for their achievements in public service? As I said, the noble Baroness the Leader of the House will be responding to this amendment. Is she saying that we will solemnly expel all those former hereditary Leaders of the House

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who are privy counsellors? I refer to the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, on her own Benches; my noble friends Lord Jellicoe, Lord Cranborne, Lord Belstead and Lord Carrington--privy councillors, Cabinet Ministers, former Leaders of the House or Leaders of the Opposition.

Are we really to expel former Ministers or Chief Whips of such calibre as my noble friend Lord Denham, at whose feet I can say I learnt what few skills I have as Chief Whip, or my noble friend Lord Ferrers, who has offered much valuable advice to me over the years and continues to do so to the House during the course of this Bill? Are we to do that simply because of their crime of being the children of their fathers, hereditary Peers, despite the fact that they have also earnt the honour of being privy councillors?

There has to be some way round this. I hope that the noble Baroness the Leader of the House will give serious attention to the amendment. I am grateful that it is the noble Baroness who is to respond to this debate and to respond to my noble friend Lord Marlesford.

Baroness Jay of Paddington: I am very pleased indeed to respond to the extremely interesting idea put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford. Perhaps I may say from the outset that of course the Government agree that noble Lords who are Members of the Privy Council are distinguished public servants. As the noble Lord made clear in introducing the amendment, the Privy Council plays an extremely important part in our national life.

Perhaps I may assure the Committee, once more, that nothing in the Bill prevents a distinguished hereditary Peer from becoming a Member of Your Lordships' House as a life Peer. As the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford reminded us, that is the basis on which my right honourable friend the Prime Minister invited Peers of first creation to accept life peerages; that is, that life peerages would probably have been given to them in the first instance had that been their choice and had that been the method of their reaching this House that had been agreed.

The noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, was honest enough to describe the party affiliations of the majority of those who fall into the category of the group he is trying to preserve by means of the amendment. It is open to the leadership of the Conservative Party to suggest precisely those Members of the hereditary peerage who may leave your Lordships' House who are privy councillors and should return as life Peers. There is absolutely nothing in the Bill to preclude that. I am happy to take the opportunity to make that clear once more.

We should also be clear about the fact that most of the current Members of your Lordships' House who also enjoy the honour of being members of the Privy Council are former Ministers. Some received that honour for government service while being Members of this House and some for their service in another place.

The noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, in introducing his amendment, described the contribution of a number of noble Lords whose names he gave and stated that some had been very regular attenders. My information is that

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several of those distinguished people, who we all agree are distinguished public servants, have not attended. I believe that five of those named attended less than a total of 10 times during the 1997-1998 Session. I am sure there were good reasons for that and have no doubt that they were engaged on other public service. However, it indicates that there is no guarantee that being a member of the Privy Council is relevant to active membership of your Lordships' House and, therefore, should not necessarily be valued in that context.

I also believe that the number involved--that is, 21--will not commend itself to those who see the desirability of a significant number of hereditary Peers remaining, perhaps under the amendment that we have before us in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, and which we shall shortly discuss.

I must also say to the noble Lord, and those who support him, that I understand the reasons behind the amendment. I hope I have answered it fully and have explained the background to the relevance of Privy Council membership. However, the Government are not tempted by this approach. In a sense, it is precisely the problem we have discussed on so many amendments; that is, that we do not wish to retain any automatic relationship between the holding of a hereditary peerage and membership of your Lordships' House. As I stated at the beginning of my response, there are other ways in which distinguished public servants may become Members of your Lordships' House which are open to former Members who have been here until now on the basis of their hereditary peerage and who are also privy counsellors.

Lord Monson: Before the noble Baroness sits down I wonder whether she could answer one question. I apologise in advance if this has already been answered at an earlier stage. Will those hereditary Peers who are made life Peers be obliged to go through a ceremony of introduction?

Baroness Jay of Paddington: That has been the subject of some discussion. I believe that in response to another amendment we referred to the correspondence which has taken place between one noble Lord who is a Peer of first creation and is considering whether to take a life peerage. That was in relation to his title. The question of introduction has also been considered. However, as I do not have his permission to quote from that correspondence, whereas I did in relation to the name of his title, I would prefer to write to the noble Lord, once permission has been obtained from the Peer concerned.

Lord Marlesford: I am, in a sense, rather grateful for the relatively positive attitude taken by the noble Baroness the Leader of the House towards what I am attempting to do.

As I stated, I would be perfectly happy to see the mechanism of a life peerage used to retain the services of these particular individuals. It is, of course, a totally self-limiting list. By definition this will not occur again in any way.

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With the greatest respect, I must correct the noble Baroness on what she said as regards the numbers. I have checked and found that only three of the 21 had attended less than 10 times; namely, the noble Lord, Lord Camoys, the noble Duke, the Duke of Devonshire, and the noble Marquess, Lord Lansdowne. The attendance of the rest was remarkably strong. I did not make a comparison with the rest of the House but my guess is that they were, in general, more regular attenders than the great majority of life Peers.

The noble Baroness says that it will be up to the Opposition, the Conservative Party, to put forward names. If that means that instead of the Prime Minister writing to the seven hereditary Peers of first creation, as he has done, offering them a life Peerage, the Leader of the Conservative Party in this House, my noble friend Lord Strathclyde, could write a similar letter, then that would meet my point perfectly.

I am not sure whether that is what the noble Baroness was suggesting would be possible. As I understand it, ultimately the Prime Minister of the day, even under the new rules, still has some responsibility for deciding how many from each party, even though not distinguishing between the names, should be allowed. But on that basis I shall be happy to withdraw the amendment for now and perhaps bring it back and discuss it further on Report.


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