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Lord Northfield: I hesitate to intervene, because I am not a lawyer, but I am surprised at the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew. He said first that the Government Front Bench did not listen. Those of us who have sat through the Committee stage so far must give full marks to our Front Bench for listening carefully and replying to a whole lot of amendments which are way outside the Long Title of the Bill and only just squeeze in within the general intention of the Bill. The noble and learned Lord knows from his experience in the other place that in the House of Commons nearly all those amendments would have been ruled out of order, as being way outside the Long Title.
Therefore, all that we have really been having is continuous Second Reading speeches and amendments which do not touch on the real heart of the Bill. To every one of them, to my knowledge as I have sat here this week, our Front Bench has given a very careful, courteous, considered and lengthy reply. The noble and learned Lord has no right to say that the Front Bench has not been listening and has not been replying.
Secondly, the noble and learned Lord said that it was extraordinary that the Government had not considered alternatives. He cannot have listened to my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor, who said quite clearly in my hearing, "We considered all the alternatives. The parliamentary draftsmen considered all the alternatives and came to the conclusion that the way we have taken in Clause 1 is the correct and sensible way. We have considered them all, but we came back to this as the most appropriate." It is not right for the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, to say that they were not considered. That was directly contrary to what my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor had carefully told him about what had actually been done.
I now come back to the basic statement of the noble and learned Lord and others who say that the most important thing in this matter is the Writ of Summons, and the statement by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Jauncey, that the right to sit here depends on receipt of the Writ. The condition antecedent to receiving a Writ is to be a Peer. A Writ cannot be issued to somebody who is not a Peer, either a life Peer or a hereditary Peer. That is the present case; a Writ can be issued only to someone who is a Peer of one kind or another. Receiving a Writ is something that happens by virtue of being a hereditary Peer. As Clause 1 says, we take away that condition antecedent, and the hereditary Peer no longer has the right to receive the Writ and be a Member of the House of Lords.
I cannot understand why a lawyer of the eminence of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, could not understand that the procedure starts by being a Peer and not by simply receiving a Writ. My noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor is quite right to say that the simple way is to legislate, in the words of Clause 1 which states,
Earl Ferrers: With the greatest humility, perhaps I may add to the Second Reading speeches, if that is what the noble Lord likes to call them. We are dealing with a highly controversial Bill; of course we are. It is a Bill which affects the constitution. It is quite right for your Lordships' House, as it is for any chamber, to scrutinise it. But whenever we scrutinise it, Members of the Committee opposite say that we are making Second Reading speeches. With respect, that is not so.
Perhaps I may add that if there is a controversial Bill going through your Lordships' House, it would be a great help if there were some happiness, pleasure and smiles on the faces of the Members on the Government Front Bench. On the whole, they have been glum. That does not help the case. They should at least show that they are in favour of the Bill being discussed.
I suggested earlier--and I hesitate to suggest again--that if the Government are altering the constitution, and they are, then it is quite right for the Chamber to consider that and to consider the effects. Earlier, the noble Lord, Lord Richard, said it is quite clear that the object of the Bill is just to get rid of hereditary Peers and that is that. Actually, that is not that because one must look at what is the effect. The effect is sometimes very different from what is expected. It is quite right for the Opposition to say, "Look, this is what we think. What do you, oh Government, think?" I say with great respect that the sad thing about Clause 1 and all that we have discussed so far is that we have not had answers to the questions.
The noble Lord, Lord Northfield, tried to give an answer. He said that you can receive a Writ only if you are a Peer and therefore, if you get rid of the Peers, there will be no Writ. That may well be the answer, but the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor did not say that. I should be grateful if he would address his mind to the point that, as I understand it, we are all here by a Writ of Summons. Whether one is a life Peer or a hereditary Peer, it is the Writ of Summons which brings us here. Once here, the Writ has fulfilled its duty. It summons the person to Parliament and is put on one side. I would like the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor to say how it is that the Government can say to some Peers, "The Writ which brought you here at the beginning of this Parliament can last for the whole length of the Parliament for some Peers but only last for part of the Parliament for other Peers". Perhaps the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor will answer that question.
I fear that the diktat which the Government have given to the Government Front Bench is that they must concede no amendments. I can understand that. The noble Baroness seems to be querying that. I am delighted. That is how it looks at the moment. They are told to concede no amendments and to concede no arguments either. If the noble Baroness and her colleagues would say, "Noble Lords opposite have got a point here which we have considered but we think that for this, that and the other reason noble Lords are wrong", we would understand that. But we are merely told, "That is in the manifesto and that is what we are going to do".
Baroness Jay of Paddington: I hesitate to interrupt the noble Earl but I have heard this argument several times on the amendments which have debated this afternoon; namely, that the Government are not prepared to accept any amendments. I ask the noble Earl and other Members of the Committee to consider what the position has been for some months, has been during the course of discussion of this Bill on Second Reading and will be when we consider the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, with all its implications, and whether or not that does not suggest that the Government are prepared to accept substantive amendments.
Earl Ferrers: That is one step forward. I wonder why the Government did not accept the amendment in the House of Commons. It was tabled in another place and they did not accept it. Therefore, is the noble Baroness saying that this is not a Bill, as the manifesto says, to get rid of all hereditary Peers but is a Bill to retain 100 hereditary Peers? That is different. At present, the Bill before us seeks to get rid of all hereditary Peers.
Baroness Jay of Paddington: I hesitate to intervene again. The noble Earl may not be aware, and I should say for other Members of the Committee who are not aware, that it was the Government's proposal that the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, should be
Earl Ferrers: That is a very interesting point of view. But why did the Government not accept that amendment in another place? The fact is that the Bill before us seeks to remove all hereditary Peers. Now the noble Baroness says, "Actually, we made a mistake. We do not want to remove all hereditary Peers. We want to keep 100 of them". It is all very well for Members of the Committee opposite to wag their heads, but that is a very different state of affairs. Either the Government want to get rid of all hereditary Peers, which is what the Bill says and which is what the House of Commons passed, or they retain 100.
The Lord Chancellor: The noble Earl is getting us going! He is doing it very well. I know that he will acquit me of any discourtesy if I say that I rise to my feet because I feel that I am about to get going, and I am going to get going.
But he expressed a certain amount of puzzlement about the Bill. I certainly recognise a strong duty to relieve him of any sense of puzzlement that he has. Perhaps I may explain to him, with very great respect--as we lawyers say--simply this. Of course, a Writ of Summons has a certain consequence in law apart from the effect of legislation. I really do invite him to accept, because I am sure that he is as great a respecter of the sovereignty of Parliament as I am, that Parliament can legislate as it chooses in relation to a Writ of Summons which has been issued for this Parliament. It can provide that those who are here by virtue of a Writ of Summons may be excluded pursuant to Clause 1. That is the prerogative of a sovereign parliament.
Under Clause 4(2) a sovereign parliament is entitled to provide that a Writ of Summons which has not been responded to in this Parliament shall be null and void. I suggest to the noble Lord that inadvertently his argument questions the sovereignty of Parliament.
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