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The Lord Chancellor: The noble Viscount puts his suggestion and argument in a beguiling way as usual. I imagine he will not be surprised that I do not accept it.

The party that I represent requires no further incentive to move to stage two than the existence of the 92 Peers who will remain. We do not in addition need by-elections to operate as an incentive upon us.

Lord Marsh: I apologise for interrupting the noble and learned Lord. It is all getting terribly complicated. Can we be absolutely clear that if the House agrees that in the interim stage the hereditary Peers who stay are selected by hereditary Peers, whatever happens--if this unlikely scenario emerges where the interim stage continues indefinitely--there will only ever be one election of hereditary Peers by hereditary Peers?

The Lord Chancellor: The noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, would be the first, I am sure, to agree that this was intended to be an arrangement for the hereditary Peers, leading to elections in the several

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constituencies by hereditary Peers for hereditary Peers. For my part, I envisage, and the Government envisage, because of our confidence that we shall move speedily to a stage two, that this undoubtedly will be the last election of this unusual character.

The proposals of the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, are intended to find a means of identifying by election by hereditaries those who deserve to remain as hereditaries, no doubt on the basis that they have made a considerable contribution to the work of the House. In particular, there would be no point in setting up a system to recruit members of the hereditary peerage in the future from outside the House specifically to serve as Deputy Speakers or other Officers of the House. I note that the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, nods in assent.

As regards the 15 who are to be elected by the whole House since they will be Officers serving the whole House, if any Peer, having assumed that office, ceases to occupy it, he would remain in the transitional House. However, I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, that no question arises of replacing him with another hereditary Peer who has been excluded from the House. The 90 settled by the compromise is both a ceiling and a floor.

We agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, when he said that the 15 will be elected to be ready to serve as Deputy Speakers or Committee Chairmen. They will not, however, be required to renounce their party identity, nor to sit on the Cross Benches. Noble Lords will recall that the Deputy Chairmen in your Lordships' House have a vote because they deputise for the Lord Chancellor who, unlike the Speaker in the Commons, has a vote and exercises that right.

Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank: I am sorry to interrupt the noble and learned Lord. The question of the 15 Peers continues to puzzle me. The noble and learned Lord said that if they cease to sit on the Woolsack acting as Deputy Chairmen, they will remain in the House. I assume therefore, that in the event of one no longer being a Member of your Lordships' House for good and sufficient reasons, that vacancy will be filled. The 90 will be maintained; they will be part of the 90. They cease to be Deputy Chairmen; they go on to the Back Benches. In the event of one of them dying, that vacancy will be filled. If that is the case, what is the difference between the 15 and the 75?

The noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, talked about a pool. With great respect to the noble and learned Lord, he has not dealt with the question of the pool. Surely this is all nonsense. It would be much easier to say, "Let us elect 90" and leave it like that. Why bother with the 15? How are the 15 distinct if they do not even have to perform the duties for which they are elected, and can then sit on the Back Benches as long as they like? If they are part of a pool, they may not even be called upon to carry out the duties for which they have been elected. The whole thing is nonsense.

The Lord Chancellor: The noble Lord has expressed his puzzlement on the subject on a number of occasions. I seek to relieve his puzzlement. The noble Lord was of

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the view originally that if any of the 90 ceased to occupy such an office, the number of 90 would be increased. The noble Lord expressed himself in time past in a way which conveyed to me that that was his understanding. If it was not so, let it be. But the 90 will remain as both a ceiling and a floor.

All that is contemplated is that they will no doubt in the first instance take up their positions as Officers of the House. The question then is what happens if any of them ceases to be an Officer. The answer is that they will remain as Members of the transitional House. There will be no increase on the number of 90, and the House itself will elect replacements from within its own existing membership; and excluded hereditaries will not participate in that process.

I make the position as clear as I can. I see that the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, nods his head in assent.

Lord Peston: If I may interrupt my noble and learned friend, I, too, have difficulty with the arithmetic. I understand that if one of the Deputy Chairmen ceases to act as a Deputy Chairman, he will remain a Member of the House. However, I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, asked us to suppose that something dreadful happened; namely, that a Deputy Chairman died. Would he be replaced? I did not hear the answer. There is a difference between saying that we drop therefore from 90 to 89, or that he would be replaced. In the latter case I am not clear from where he would be replaced. It is most important for me to know the correct answer to that question.

The Lord Chancellor: The answer is that if one of the 90 were to die, he would be replaced. That is what has been agreed both for the 75 and the 15. It has been agreed thus far that the replacement would come from the fastest losers. That is the agreement so that the 90 remains 90. No more and no less.

Earl Ferrers: The noble and learned Lord says that if perchance somebody dies he will be replaced by the person who was, as it were, 12th man. But let us suppose that that person has suffered an indisposition--he may be entering an advanced state of senility, like me--will there nevertheless be a replacement?

The Lord Chancellor: Those problems would be addressed by common sense, but if the fastest loser were not available, obviously, it would be the next in line. To make such arrangements stick we have to approach them with good will and common sense.

I shall sum up where we stand on by-elections. The Government do not accept any interpretation which seeks to maintain the link between the hereditary peerage in its own right and Members of your Lordships' House. Our view, which I believe is shared by the Official Opposition, is that the arrangements spelt out in the standing order will work well certainly for the rest of this Parliament.

We believe that it will also work well for any part of the next Parliament for which it might prove to be necessary. Having to put into place an elaborate

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by-election scheme before stage two is enacted, but so that it is available to operate from the beginning of the next Parliament, is in our view needlessly cumbersome. If eventually some system other than that of fastest losers were to be needed, it would be far preferable for the House to devise it in the circumstances faced at that time rather than try now to speculate what the circumstances might prove to be.

I hope that the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, will be reassured to learn that we have no doubt that the hereditary Peers who triumph in these elections will prove to be a hardy lot. For all I know, they may be chosen in part for their potential in the House of Lords' annual tug of war with the other place, where I must acknowledge they have delivered the goods satisfactorily over the years. More seriously, we can be confident that a system of replacement by fastest losers will work well in practice over a period of a few years.

I turn to a point of detail and shall take it lightly. We would also have difficulty in principle with the reference in paragraph 17 to disqualification. Our clear understanding of the Weatherill amendment is that it would identify the 90 hereditary Peers who would remain in the transitional House. The amendment provides in subsection (3) that once accepted, a Peer remains so for life until implementation of the stage-two reform. If an accepted Peer dies, a vacancy will arise and he will have to be replaced by a fastest loser in order to keep the number of accepted Peers up to 90. That is precisely what paragraph (7)(1) of the draft standing order provides. In the event, no doubt unlikely, that an accepted Peer is disqualified, we believe that it would not be appropriate or fair to replace him. For example, if an accepted Peer were to be excluded from the House due to bankruptcy, he might later purge his bankruptcy. If he managed to do so, it ought to be open to him to resume his seat in the House, just as it is now. But under the amendment tabled by the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition, his place would have been filled upon his becoming bankrupt. Would he then have to wait until a further vacancy occurred before he could resume his seat, or would his substitute have to retire? We believe that the correct view is that no vacancy should arise if and when a Peer is disqualified, which is an unlikely event indeed.

I repeat to the Committee that we cannot accept the amendment. We do not believe that it is appropriate for the detailed arrangements for the transitional House to be enshrined in primary legislation. We do not accept the principle underlying the proposal for by-elections; nor do we accept that the disqualification of an accepted Peer creates a vacancy to be filled. I hope that the noble Lord, having aired his concerns, will agree that we have had a useful and fruitful debate. I am grateful for his advance intimation that he will not press the amendment to a vote.

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4.15 p.m.

Lord Northbrook: Did I hear the noble and learned Lord correctly when I understood him to say that a transitional House might last for up to five years?


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