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The Earl of Northesk: I apologise to the noble and learned Lord for my inattention last night; it was an interesting night. Nonetheless I am perfectly happy with his explanation. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 127A had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]

Earl Ferrers moved Amendment No. 128:

Page 1, line 19, leave out ("as he considers appropriate")

The noble Earl said: This is a modest little probing amendment. I fear the noble and learned Lord may say that he will utter the identical words that he uttered last night. The only trouble was that I was so excited by the fact that he was replying to an amendment of mine that I had not put down that I did not hear what he said.

Clause 4(3) of the Bill states that,

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: Yesterday in relation to other amendments I set out the circumstances in which

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the Secretary of State would be minded to exercise the power under Clause 4(3). I made the point--I think moderately clearly--that the purpose of doing this through orders rather than on the face of the Bill was to obtain the maximum flexibility to ensure that hereditary Peers obtained the right to vote as quickly as is reasonably possible. I believe that the views of Members of the Committee and the intentions of the Government are identical; namely, to ensure as soon as is reasonably practicable that hereditary Peers obtain the right to vote.

Why are the words "as he considers appropriate" included in Clause 4(3)? The reason is that it may not be necessary to make any order under Clause 4(3). The example I gave yesterday was as follows. Let us suppose that this Bill becomes an Act and then becomes law before 10th October 1999, which is the date by which you have to put your name on the electoral register. The effect would be that hereditary Peers could get their names on the electoral register which would come into effect in February 2000. Let us suppose as well that no general election took place between 10th October 1999 and February 2000, which I regard as a not unreasonable assumption. There would be no need to make any special order in that respect. In those circumstances, hereditary Peers would be on the register for the purposes of parliamentary elections as soon as reasonably practicable and they would not at any stage have been deprived of a vote.

I recognise that an unlikely situation may arise where a hereditary Peer finds himself in a constituency where there is a by-election. But we are proposing the most sensible and practical way of dealing with the matter. We recognise that there might be one or two hereditary Peers who, in the circumstances envisaged, would be unable to vote for that short period. We think that that is not an unreasonable price to pay for ensuring that there is a reasonable means of getting people on the register.

Perhaps I should deal with a point raised yesterday. Some noble Lords asked why, as they were already on the electoral register for the purposes of local elections, we do not deem those on the register as available to vote in parliamentary elections. There are three reasons why we cannot do that. First, it might not be necessary for the reasons I have just indicated. Secondly, it would not be possible to do it that way. I am told that what you have against your name is not "P", as the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, said, but "L". "L" stands not for "Life Peer" but for "Local". The noble Lord, Lord Mackay, prompted me in relation to that. If one simply deemed everyone with an "L" against their name as able to vote in parliamentary elections, that would enfranchise noble Lords such as the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, which would be not at all what we had in mind. It would also not deal with the position of those who are hereditary Peers but disqualified for other reasons from voting in parliamentary elections.

Thirdly, we would still need to make provision in relation to the entitlement of Peers resident overseas at parliamentary elections, which could not be done by the same deeming provision. Equally, we would need to make separate provision in relation to European

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parliamentary elections. For all those reasons, to take the course suggested by noble Lords yesterday would not be an appropriate or indeed the most effective method of ensuring quickly the ability to vote in general elections.

7 p.m.

Lord Trefgarne: That is all very well. The noble and learned Lord says that one or two Peers might be inconvenienced if there were to be a by-election in their constituency. However, I am told that at least a dozen noble Lords live in the London constituency of Fulham. Is the Minister happy that as many as a dozen hereditary Peers should be disenfranchised?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: We have put forward a sensible proposal. We have to balance proportionality against common sense. It is possible there will be a by-election in Fulham. I have no idea how many hereditary Peers live in Fulham but, in my view, the balance we seek is sensible.

Earl Ferrers: I am very grateful to the noble and learned Lord for explaining so carefully the answer to my amendment. I am particularly grateful for the last part of his explanation about hereditary Peers who thought they were already on the electoral roll and how it was merely a question of removing the "L" or the "P". Listening to the debate yesterday, I thought that the noble and learned Lord was in error. Mostly, the noble and learned Lord is not in error over legal details, although he sometimes may be over political details. I am very grateful to the Minister for explaining the matter. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 129 and 129A not moved.]

[Amendment No. 130 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]

Clause 4 agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 131 to 134 not moved.]

Lord Strathclyde moved Amendment No. 135:

After Clause 4, insert the following new clause--


(" .--(1) During the period while the Act remains in force, recommendations by the Prime Minister to Her Majesty for the conferment of life peerages under the Life Peerages Act 1958 shall be made in accordance with the following provisions of this section.
(2) Not more than twenty recommendations shall be made during any period of one year.
(3) Not more than fifteen of the recommendations referred to in subsection (2) shall be for the conferment of a life peerage on a person who is a member of a registered party; and such recommendations shall be made in proportion to the respective number of votes cast for registered political parties at the previous general election.")

The noble Lord said: This is a probing amendment to explore briefly the reaction of the Government to the idea of a limit on the exercise of patronage. The proposal is related to the idea that there should be safeguards in the interim House. It would prevent any government, of whatever colour, flooding the House to

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support a programme that was being amended by a House in which they did not have a majority. I appreciate that it is not the Government's stated aim to seek a majority in the House. The Opposition have the same view. But we would be wise to avoid any government in the future coming into temptation in that way. The amendment proposes putting a cap on the number of creations in any year which would apply to all parties.

It may be helpful to examine briefly the historical precedents of the annual creations made by recent governments. My source is an excellent paper produced by the Library of the House. The Macmillan government created an average of 16 new Peers per year; the first Wilson government created 25 per year; the Heath government, 12 per year; the second Wilson government, 38 per year; the government of the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan of Cardiff, 19 per year. The government of my noble friend Lady Thatcher created 18 per year, and Mr. Major's government created 25 Peers per year. Mr. Blair's Government--and I do not wish to make any political point--created 67 per year. At least that was the figure at the time of the Library paper. I understand some of the reasons for the high number of creations of the present Prime Minister. A further rash may be on the way in pursuit of the Government's stated intention to achieve broad parity between the parties. We do not dispute that aim.

What will happen during the rest of the life of the interim House, to which this amendment applies? Has any limit been considered? Will a limit be considered? Given the practice of Prime Ministers who have been in office for 23 of the past 40 years, do the Government agree that there is nothing in the figure of 20 that could not be adhered to? I know that there is increasing fear that the exercise of patronage may well get out of hand in the interim House. This is one way of preventing it.

I am also conscious that on 13th May 1999 (at col. 1419 of the Official Report) the Leader of the House made a generous offer to my noble friend Lord Lucas to enter into discussions between the Committee and Report stages on the question of how an appointments commission and similar potential safeguards might work. I welcome that proposal. I wonder whether the amendment might form part of that meeting. Perhaps not, but whoever is to respond to the amendment may wish to deal with the matter. I assure the Leader of the House that we on the Opposition Front Bench will readily take part in such talks to see whether a consensus on an appointments commission can be reached. I beg to move.

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