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Lord Lyell: I succeeded to my title when I was four years old. I took my seat in your Lordships' House when I was 21. Perhaps the noble and learned Lord can reply to this point at a later stage as even the House authorities have not been able to answer it. I refer to a Peer who is below the age of receiving a Writ in your Lordships' House. Until recently that applied to someone under the age of 21, but now it applies to someone under the age of 18. I presume that a Peer who has not taken his seat or is not entitled to a Writ in your Lordships' House would not have that "p" against his name and therefore would be able to vote in a parliamentary election.

As I understand it, perhaps we can look into it later, the only disqualification to all of us--it shows how often the noble and learned Lord went to vote before he achieved his eminent office; I vote at every election I can apart from parliamentary elections--is that there is a "p" against one's name. I presume that a Peer who is a minor, who succeeds to a title and then becomes 18 years old will now be able to vote in an election. The only disqualification for him or any hereditary Peer is, as I understand it, receiving a Writ to attend your Lordships' House. I am not sure whether that applies at the age of 18 or 21--perhaps we can go into that--but on every voters' roll, in my case in Kerriemuir or here in London, there is a "p" against my name. I understand that that means that I cannot receive a voting card at parliamentary elections. I assure the noble and learned Lord--he will know Scotland; he went to school there--that I have voted in referendums in 1979; I have voted in European and local elections; and I recently voted with I think it was violet and lilac slips in the Scottish elections. But there is a "p" against my name.

I would be interested if at some stage in the future the noble and learned Lord could make clear the position of whether a young Peer who succeeds to a title at the age of 18--I do not know whether he receives a Writ--can vote in a parliamentary election.

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10.45 p.m.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: I cannot deal with the point about Peers who are minors at the moment. We have had a very interesting series of interventions. We have provided in the Bill a power to permit the enfranchising in relation to parliamentary elections of those hereditary Peers who are excluded from the House by the Bill. We intend, if we can, to get them onto the electoral register, like everybody else, by February 2000. It is possible, but unlikely, that there will be a general election before that time; it is possible--but it will affect very, very few people--that there may be a by-election in a constituency where an enfranchised Peer lives. We are suggesting an orderly way of giving hereditary Peers a special speed to get onto the electoral roll, but not so great that no procedure whatever is covered. That seems a sensible and orderly way of going about things.

Perhaps I may move from Amendment No. 127, which deals with elections for the European Parliament, to Amendment No. 128, which has been referred to by the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers. He has sought to fetter the discretion of the Secretary of State. I cannot see how his provision would work, even with the words "as he considers appropriate". A construction of the power would lead to the conclusion that the Secretary of State has some discretion. However, deleting the words may lead to the opposite conclusion and I cannot agree to the amendment.

Amendment No. 129, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, has in part a shared objective with Amendment No. 128 to circumscribe the power in Clause 4(3). I have dealt with that. The amendment is unacceptable because it sets the date too narrowly. We hope that the Bill will be passed this Session. If it is not, the powers of the amendment will be insufficient to make the necessary provision.

I have dealt with each of the amendments in turn. It may appear to be "No, no, no" to each of the amendments but, as I have responded to each of the amendments in some detail, I hope that I have demonstrated the technical reasons why each of the amendments is not possible. It is not easy to make provisions to allow hereditary Peers to vote from an early date, particularly when the precise circumstances are not known. I hope the fact that we do not support any of the amendments will not be taken as an indication of bad faith. We intend that hereditary Peers should be able to vote in parliamentary elections from an early date. I therefore ask the noble Lords to withdraw their amendments.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: Before the noble and learned Lord concludes, he has answered fairly and in great detail the points put to him almost as if the Bill had been unchanged by the Weatherill amendment. I do not think that the noble and learned Lord has addressed the problem of post-Weatherill, when some hereditary Peers will still be able to sit and therefore, I assume, should be like those of us who are life Peers and not have a vote in any election to the other place, and the other hereditary Peers who have failed or did not wish to be elected from the 92 and who therefore cannot

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come to the House and, I presume, ought to have a vote. Would the noble and learned Lord like to give us his thoughts on that issue?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: The noble Lord is correct. I have not dealt with the effect of the Weatherill amendment. Clause 4(3) and Clause 4(4) were not drawn up in the light of the Weatherill amendment. The Weatherill amendment has now been included. I think that thought needs to be given in relation to that aspect of the matter. We hope to be able to say something at a later stage in the course of the proceedings. The noble Lord is absolutely correct in relation to that.

Perhaps I may deal with the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne. The noble Lord suggested that because the present Parliament had been elected when he did not have the opportunity to vote and that he will now be deprived of the vote, that offended against the European Convention on Human Rights. The answer is no. It does not.

Earl Ferrers: I thank the noble and learned Lord for replying to my Amendment No. 128. That slightly surprised me because I had not referred to it as it was not in this group of amendments. So perhaps I may have the fun of coming back to it again.

The Earl of Northesk: I thank all noble Lords who have contributed to this intriguing debate. I am happy, too, to repeat the observations of my noble friend Lord Peyton when concluding the debate on Amendment No. 110A. It is a relief to have re-arrived at a point of good humour in terms of the response of the noble and learned Lord the Minister to the debate. That said, I think that the amendment has exposed a very large gap in the Government's thinking.

I could be mischievous. Bearing in mind the fulsome support for the underlying principle of the amendment in Committee and looking at the attendance that it has engendered in the Chamber, I am sorely tempted to give my noble friend the Opposition Chief Whip a fright, but I will not. I would not wish the noble and learned Lord on the Government Front Bench to be deceived by such an outbreak of good will. There are still areas of this matter that are deeply disturbing. I can guarantee that we will return to it on Report. I shall of course read the debate assiduously in Hansard tomorrow. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Henley: Before my noble friend Lord Elton moves his Amendment No. 115, I wonder whether I may ask the Government Chief Whip what are his plans for this evening. We have spent a considerable number of hours debating the amendments before us. We have debated some six groups of amendments over the evening and we have some 14 more to get through. This is an important Bill and we are dealing with important constitutional matters on this occasion. I made it clear to the Government Front Bench that we did not think it right that we should be debating a Bill of this

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kind into the late hours of the night. Sadly, I was unable to reach agreement on that point with the Government Chief Whip or with others.

I appreciate that the Government have serious business in terms of the Bills that are likely to come before the House over the coming months. There is the Greater London Authority Bill, which is to receive its Second Reading next week; there is the Northern Ireland (Location of Victims' Remains) Bill, which we are likely to receive tomorrow; the Report stage of the Tax Credits Bill is down for tomorrow; and I understand that the Committee stage of this Bill is expected to be completed before the Whitsun Recess. I do have to say--I address this point very much to the Government Chief Whip--that on this side of the Committee we have been very co-operative in terms of what we have been prepared to do. We have done our best to assist the passage of government business. That is why we have allowed a number of government Bills to go through the Moses Room and we will continue to assist the Government in that respect.

We on these Benches are not opposed to the Government's programme and we shall not attempt to mess up that programme in the way that the Government Chief Whip occasionally suggests that we are likely to do. However, it is asking a great deal of this House to debate important constitutional matters at this time of night. As I understand it, the Government Chief Whip suggests that we should continue debating these matters until breakfast tomorrow. I am perfectly prepared to debate a certain number of Bills--for example, the Greater London Bill--very late at night, and am prepared to give assistance on other government Bills on other occasions: for example, social security measures such as asylum Bills. But this Bill is somewhat different. It deals with a subject that this House would prefer to debate at a better hour of the day. That is why, on this occasion, I beg to move that the House do now resume and that we debate the further Committee stage of the Bill at a more appropriate time of day.

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