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Baroness Jay of Paddington: I ask in a spirit of inquiry whether the noble Lord has given thought to page 65 of the Companion which refers to Standing Orders. They say that the debate must be relevant to the Question before the House.
I do not want to get into the issue of how the proposal might be improved. We will have an opportunity to debate that when the Bill is recommitted on the constructive suggestion put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Carter, the Government Chief Whip. However, I wish to be clear about one thing. We welcome the amendment as making a bad Bill better; we welcome it for avoiding for the time being the nightmare of a wholly appointed House; we welcome it as keeping in the House a few of those who we all know have given, and can continue to give, irreplaceable service. That wish has come out time and time again in our debates, not least in the statesmanlike ideas of the noble Lord, Lord Randall of St. Budeaux, and the noble Earl, Lord Longford. The amendment before us is a benefit to the House.
We still believe that it is a thoroughly bad Bill built on party prejudice, advanced through opportunism and destined for who knows what. I do not know what we are destined for in the House--no one knows--and those in the Government who should know do not know or will not say. Because we believe this to be a bad Bill we will not exchange silence on the other demerits of the Bill--or defects in any other part of the Government's programme--for the 92 seats that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor offers us today. The amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, is in the spirit of a compromise. I welcome that. It may not be built to last but it may have to. In our scrutiny of the Bill we will have to see whether this compromise can stand the test of time, if it has to. Therefore, I am grateful also for the words of the noble and learned Lord regarding subsection (2) of the proposed new clause and the reason why the number
We shall want to return to some of the workings of the proposal. I give the Government notice, as I have done privately, without wishing to cause any concern, that when we discuss the issue further we shall want to debate in particular the issue of the replacement of the 90 hereditary Peers through by-elections. The Government will also have noted that Amendment No. 144A gives the House the opportunity to debate the Standing Orders.
Those matters will fall to be debated on another day. Today, we decide on this amendment. Earlier, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor called the amendment "inspirational". In his famous advice to the House at Second Reading, the noble and learned Lord described the amendment as a "statesmanlike endeavour". It is either a statesmanlike endeavour or a piece of opportunism masquerading as statesmanship. Either way, we wish it success. Whether the Government's acceptance of the amendment is part of a statesmanlike endeavour, or merely a narrow expedient, will be judged not in the Lobbies tonight but in the weeks and months that remain for the consideration of this Bill and the long-term proposals for the future of this House. From these Benches, we support the amendment.
We have said many times from these Benches that there are hereditary Peers in all parts of the House who, on merit, deserve a place in the transitional House for which this Bill makes provision. That has never been in dispute. I go further. There are many noble Lords who could make a valuable contribution to a post-Royal Commission House, if that turns out to be not wholly elected. But their future should be as life Peers, not as residual elected representatives of the hereditary peerage.
It was widely understood before the Weatherill agreement emerged that a number of hereditary Peers of all parties and on the Cross-Benches would be offered life peerages, so that they could stay in the House as long as existing life Peers. Numbers were not mentioned, but there would have been no difficulty in identifying, say, up to 75 candidates. The arrangements would have been simple and the details could have been negotiated without any change on the face of the Bill. Instead, for all the Government's talk of a manifesto pledge, which is a matter for them and not for us, the principle of the Bill is now to be breached and a complicated series of provisions is to be introduced.
First, under subsection (1) of the new clause which is Amendment No. 31, the Standing Orders are to be used to implement the bare bones of the agreement set out in the text of the amendment. If I were a Member of another place, I should take the gravest objection to this House reserving to itself the right to decide such matters. Reference was made to, "ordering our own affairs in this matter", and to seats in Parliament. I say respectfully that I do not believe that, as long as we are a Chamber of this Parliament, it is for us to order who should or should not be Members of this House under our own Standing Orders. It is a distortion of the legislative process to use Standing Orders for a matter of such importance which, if it can be justified, should be on the face of the Bill.
Then there is the provision, not in the amendment but again in the Standing Orders, that the accepted hereditary Peers should be chosen not in the way each party and those on the Cross-Benches might prefer, but only by hereditary Peers. Why should the parties be dictated to in that way? Why deny the choice of this election being either by other hereditary Peers or by their colleagues, life Peers included? I have not heard the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor give an explanation.
After all, the whole House--hereditary and life Peers--is to choose, again under the proposed Standing Orders, the 15 hereditary Peers who are to serve as Deputy Chairmen. Why are life Peers to be allowed to vote in that case but be denied a vote in choosing their political colleagues? The argument I have heard so far, though very little today, is extremely thin.
The provision relating to Deputy Chairmen is the most surprising of all. Why do we suddenly need 15 hereditary Peers to become Deputy Chairmen? To my knowledge there has not been an unsuccessful roll-call of life Peers to find volunteers. I can find no rationale for what remains an extraordinary proposal.
If the Bill goes through and the Standing Orders are agreed, some of those who are elected will fall ill, grow old, become bored with the job or not do it very well. What will happen then? Will they leave this House, having ceased to perform the duties for which they were chosen? No, they will not leave the House; they will sit on the Back Benches. They will apparently retire there while the House chooses others to take their place. It is, as I say, a very strange proposal. I look forward at some future date to hearing the proper case for it.
It also seems, under Paragraph (7)(i) of the proposed Standing Order, which must be referred to in this debate, that the vacancy I have described will be filled by the runner-up when the 15 were elected, provided he is "available". That is the word that occurs in the Standing Order. But what does it mean: available in this House, or available outside this House? It refers to someone who is to be summoned back to take the place that is now vacant while the individual chosen by the House has retired to the Back Benches. That is also the proposal in the Standing Orders in the event of a vacancy occurring following the death of any of the lucky 75. The runner-up will be summoned back from retirement. Indeed, under an amendment to Amendment No. 31 which stood on the Marshalled List last night, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, and others, and which we expect to see again, beyond this Parliament--after the next election--such vacancies would be filled through by-elections. As I understand it, the whole of the United Kingdom hereditary peerage would go to the polls to provide the unique spectacle of electing a hereditary representative to this House. That is the way to ensure that there are always 92 hereditary Peers in the House while the legislation lasts.
It is nonsense, but the nonsense is at the heart of the matter. It is the theme that inspires Amendment No. 31 and measures the deal done between the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, and the Government. We are not being asked to choose 75, least of all 90 or 92, outstanding hereditary Peers to sit here on merit. The House is being asked to perpetuate the role of the hereditary peerage as such by making 75 or 92 Peers the representative hereditary Peers in this House. They will be self-selecting and renewable, ensuring that the hereditary principle is still enshrined here.
I fully understand that this is very welcome to all those Members of the House who believe that the hereditary peerage as such has a special and particular contribution to make to Parliament and who are opposed to the whole principle of the Bill. Their position is consistent and plain. But I do not understand how those who believe that the hereditary principle has had its time can be remotely comfortable with the proposition.
There is no case on merit for Amendment No. 31. It is the product of a hasty deal which the Government do not appear properly to have considered. The outcome will further distort the disparity between the representation of parties in this House, plainly contrary to the balancing principles referred to in the White Paper.
The debate today is the consequence of the Motion we agreed last Thursday. I do not complain about it, but the debate has effectively become a Second Reading debate on Amendment No. 31. Following the conventions of the House, we on our Benches do not intend to vote tonight.
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