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Lord Strathclyde moved Amendment No. 110B:


After Clause 3, insert the following new clause--

EXCEPTION FROM SECTION 1: FURTHER PROVISIONS

(" . Schedule (Exception from section 1: further provisions) (which makes further provision relating to the exception of hereditary peers from section 1) shall have effect.")

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 110B I shall speak also to Amendment No. 144A which is grouped with it and which runs to several pages.

I am putting forward the amendment in order to provide the Committee with an opportunity to debate some of the procedures that will surround the operation of the Weatherill amendment which, on a vote, the Committee passed with an overwhelming majority last week. I am doing so because a very large number of Peers--not only in my own party--have said that your Lordships should have an opportunity for debate before any firm proposals are carried forward by the Procedure Committee. Having the debate today will facilitate the debates that we will have on the recomittal of the new clause, which was so constructively suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Carter, the Government Chief Whip.

Perhaps I may also say at the outset that I have no intention of pressing the amendment to a Division. But I hope that it will provide the occasion for those noble Lords who may have misgivings about the planned system to make those concerns clear. Then the Committee may seek to address them and to accommodate them as best it may.

It may be said that this matter should first be discussed by the Procedure Committee and then come to the Floor of the House. With respect, in the face of such a momentous amendment as the Weatherill amendment, which may, despite all the good intentions of the Front Benches on all sides of the House, govern the composition of the House for a generation or more, I do not think that it can be kept off the Floor during the debates on the Bill. Furthermore, I am not convinced that, on a matter that will determine who has a right to sit in this House, the Procedure Committee is the right forum for ultimately deciding these questions.

It may be said that we are discussing Standing Orders and that Standing Orders are the province of the Procedure Committee. But, to my way of thinking, that is putting the cart before the horse. If Standing Orders require that such matters must be determined by the Procedure Committee, we have two possible alternative approaches. Either we should put more of these matters on the face of the Bill in a schedule, so that who sits

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here cannot be altered quietly off the Floor of the House in the future by the recommendation of a majority in a committee and without primary legislation, or, as an alternative, we should give supervision of this process or a lock on it to the Committee for Privileges, which has been, and must always remain, the ultimate authority over who is entitled to take a seat in this House.

I say at this stage that I am not certain which is the right course. I shall be interested in the views of the Committee. I find the second option of using the Committee for Privileges marginally more attractive. The Committee for Privileges determines claims to sit in the House. It will be called on to decide any challenge to the removal of rights under the Bill. It is a distinguished committee, containing a number of Law Lords. It may need further strengthening beyond even its current distinguished membership. But I think that it could be the right forum. It is above party politics and it has the authority to make its views well known to the House. If we go down the route of a schedule, I do not propose a schedule as detailed as that in Amendment No. 144A. But I am convinced that one or other of these courses--a schedule or the lock of the Committee for Privileges--must be taken.

The whole House should be indebted to the Clerk of the Parliaments, whose paper on the mechanism for operating the Weatherill system lies in the Library. The draft schedule in Amendment No. 144A broadly follows the procedure proposed in the Clerk of the Parliaments' paper, although it does not seek to determine the method of election, on which the paper itself said that further advice would be sought. On the other hand, it does suggest that a system of by-elections should be enacted. The Clerk of the Parliaments was a member of an informal group involving the Front Benches of all parties, including the Liberal Democrats and the Cross-Benches, to look at how Weatherill might operate in practice. That group did not have the power to negotiate changes in the proposition put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, in December last year; nor did it have the authority to usurp the decisions of the House. These matters have always been seen by all those involved as matters for the House itself. But it identified areas of agreement and of disagreement and it carried us towards the point where we now are. I am grateful for the work that the group did.

In that group the Conservative Party made clear our misgivings about certain key aspects of the Bill and the associated draft Standing Orders as they are. We made it clear that we could not agree to legislate for membership of a House of Parliament on the basis that we were enacting an expedient short-term deal. Instead, we must legislate in a form that would provide for a stable and lasting means of establishing the membership of this House should stage two not swiftly be reached. That system should be open. It must be provided for in statute and it must grow out of the traditions and practices of this House. In that way we could do two things: we could provide a bridge between the past and the future and ensure, so far as possible, that genuine long-term reform would take place. We said, therefore, that we could not accept that a top-up procedure, choosing candidates indefinitely from party lists in a

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once-off election held in 1999, was a suitable form of replacement of the 90 representative Peers after the end of this Parliament. Nor can we accept the absence of statutory provision for by-elections to replenish the representative peerage.

The concept of a representative peerage is not new to the House. An analogous system to that proposed operated for the Irish representative peerage and was enacted in detail in statute. What was possible to draft in 1800 should not be impossible to draft in 2000. There can be no presumption of a stage two reform in the foreseeable future. That point has been made time and again by the Government. Although it is the stated intention of all political parties that at some point it should happen, it cannot be taken for certain that it will. Legislation must travel in pessimism as well as in optimism.

The Weatherill amendment leaves a number of things unsaid which should be explicit. First, it does not put a floor under the number of hereditary Peers. It sets a maximum of 90, but it has no minimum. I have heard and welcomed the assurances given last week by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor on this matter. I am still reflecting on what he said. I know that they will remain assurances. But even the noble and learned Lord cannot bind his successor. As the Bill is drafted, it would be open for the number to be allowed to atrophy over time. Mere suspicion that this may happen would make a settlement less stable. Inclusion of a floor would reassure us that there was good faith in the proposal and it would create an obstacle to bad faith.

Secondly, neither the Bill nor the draft Standing Orders include a specific mechanism for the continuation of the representative peerage now established by the Bill. Yet there is ample precedent for such provision on the face of legislation. The consequential matters of qualification to belong to or vote for membership of another place, which must be addressed in a substantial redrafting of Clause 2, have also been addressed in statute in the context of the Irish representative peerage. I ask the Government whether they believe that we should discuss the consequential redrafting of Clause 2 following Weatherill in the freedom of Committee stage on recommital. Am I right in thinking that consequential amendments will be needed? I ask that purely in the spirit of helpfulness, as I do in so many of the amendments that I move from this Dispatch Box.

I also believe that there is an overwhelming case for by-elections and for the spelling out of how they will be conducted. It is right that the rules governing entitlement to sit in a House of Parliament should exist with clarity in primary legislation. There is past precedent for it. The best candidates are likely to be those most recently judged in an election, not those whose claim to a seat may rest years in the past, when their character, commitment and allegiance may have been different. The hereditary peerage can accept this arrangement on the basis that it introduces a representative peerage that will endure until reform. There will also be a stimulus to progress to future reform. If there is to be a representative hereditary peerage for any length of time, there will have to be by-elections. The rights of people

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outside the House to elect to the House have to be accorded by statute. They cannot be accorded by Standing Orders. For the avoidance of doubt, I must tell the Committee that, as is clear from paragraph 17 of Amendment No. 144A, this Front Bench would accept the use of top-ups until the end of the Parliament provided that by-election provision and a floor under the numbers are on the face of the Bill for future Parliaments.

Nothing here compromises the Government's ideology if they proceed in due order to reform the House, but it does engage with a fundamental point of principle and the practical issues of handling matters in the long term.

There may be other issues--I shall not delve into them at this stage--that the Committee will wish to discuss; for example, the rationale for two electoral elements; the question of whether representative Peers are chosen by hereditary Peers alone or by the whole House; or the question of the initial distribution of numbers between parties.

There is also the question of how elections will be conducted. My clear view--and, as I understand it, that of most of the other parties and groups--is that there should be a consistent approach across all individual groups within this House. That must be right. After all, we shall be electing Members of a House of Parliament. It follows that there should also be genuinely free elections, not the emergence of preferred candidates on closed lists from party Whips' offices. I should prefer the simple marking of a cross by the names of the preferred candidates up to the maximum number in each party group; then, the ones with a simple majority would prevail.

For the rest, we are content to stand by the core of the arrangements proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill; namely, that the 75 are a representative hereditary peerage chosen from among the remaining hereditary Peers. But the whole House at the outset should choose the 15 from whom Officers of the House might be selected.

In that spirit and with those main reservations, which I have every confidence can be settled before the Bill completes its passage, I commend the amendments to the Committee and look forward to debate on them. I beg to move.


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