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Lord Williams of Mostyn: Amendment No. 135C would provide the entitlement as of right to continue to attend the State openings of Parliament. We do not see that there is any purpose, because after the passage of the Bill hereditary Peers will no longer be Members of the House of Lords. As noble Lords know, it is a matter for Standing Orders.

Amendment No. 135D, which is grouped with Amendment No. 135C, has to do with sitting on the steps of the Throne. This would also be a matter for Standing Orders in the context of Privy Counsellors. I thought I might have misread the amendment, because what is suggested is that all hereditary Peers--and their sons, and their daughters, and their grandsons and their granddaughters--will be able to sit on the steps of the Throne. Assuming that they are even modestly prolific, and giving them 10 a go, that means 7,000 people. There ought to be a law against it.

Lord Trefgarne: The plain fact is that a number of the people that I set out in my amendment are already entitled to sit on the steps of the Throne. I am not saying that they all are, but a number are.

The noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, said that it is a matter for Standing Orders. But will the Government support the necessary Standing Orders? Is the Minister right to say that it is only a matter for Standing Orders? And if Standing Orders are the right vehicle, why should it not, in certain circumstances anyway, be right to put this on the face of the Bill?

We discussed the question of Privy Counsellors earlier. When the noble Lord says it is a matter for Standing Orders, is it a matter for Standing Orders, too, that Members of the other place who are Privy Counsellors may sit on the steps of the Throne, or are they here as of right? I am not sure that the noble Lord is entirely correct.

Nevertheless, it is not a matter that I shall pursue at this time. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 135D not moved.]

Lord Randall of St. Budeaux moved Amendment No. 135E:

After Clause 4, insert the following new clause--


(" .--(1) There shall be a Commission on the Voting System in the House of Lords.
(2) The Commission shall make recommendations on a system of weighted voting to be introduced into the House to ensure that the total number of votes eligible to be cast by members of that House belonging to the party or parties forming the Government shall be greater than the total number of votes eligible to be cast by members of that House belonging to the official opposition party.
(3) The Commission shall report its recommendations before the start of the session of Parliament in which this Act is passed.

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(4) Standing Orders of the House shall be made to give effect to the Commission's recommendations, and may provide that any vote cast by a member belonging to the party or parties forming the Government shall have a greater value than any vote cast by another member.")

The noble Lord said: The amendment stands in my name and that of the noble Lord, Lord Northbrook.

I appreciate that we are under pressure to get the business through tonight, so I shall be as brief as possible.

My purpose in moving the amendment is to inform the Committee that at Report stage I shall move an additional amendment calling for the establishment of a commission on weighted voting. This amendment will support the other two amendments which have already been debated in principle but not in detail. Briefly, they were, first, that the House of Lords should remain the same but on death hereditaries would not be succeeded by their heirs, and, secondly, that there should be a weighted voting system. All that one would need to do in this whole business of Lords reform would be to multiply the number of Labour Peers voting by 2.7. That would meet all the strategic objectives of reform. I will not go into the details any further; they are in the Library.

I should like to explain the rationale for introducing this new amendment. It is based on the fact that I have serious reservations about the reform process that we are going through. I believe that there has not been the openness that there should have been. Certainly, there has not been a consensus, which I believe could have been achieved. The timetabling has caused difficulties; we have only just learnt that there will be no elected Members, according to my party's submission. We have also learnt only recently that there will be a retention of hereditaries. The main cause of confusion is that there have been no strategic objectives. Reading last Tuesday's Hansard shows that there is a considerable level of disillusionment about the reform process.

How might we proceed with this reform? Because of the flaws in the reform procedure that I have described, I strongly believe that the House of Lords should be presented with more than one option, and the other options should be sensible and practical. The Committee has already approved the Weatherill proposal, with a huge majority. That was the will of the Committee, and I have no intention of challenging the will of the Committee.

However, my view is that we can have other options too. To me, that seems very reasonable. I have sought advice from the authorities of the House, and I have been told that this would be perfectly in order. I also believe that to have one option presented as a fait accompli is not acceptable, particularly when there is not the confidence of the Committee in that proposal.

I hope to be able to present at the Report stage a realistic alternative to the Weatherill proposal. If my alternative was supported, we should have two proposals in the Bill, and therefore the Bill would be in a mess. Therefore I propose--and I think there are precedents--that at Third Reading the House would make its own choice as to how it should proceed. This is a fair and reasonable approach to reform and is in the interests of

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the House. In particular, it would show that there was a consensus in the House for the reform chosen, because there would be choice. The Bill would then proceed to the House of Commons in the usual way.

I return to the details of the amendment. Why do we need the proposed commission? First, the complete package suggests that we have a weighted voting system. The concept is new. For the House to have confidence in something new like that we need to move away from the idea of one Peer making a proposal as an individual. I do not think that that is acceptable, so, for the sake of the confidence of the House, there should be an independent assessment. That is what the proposed commission is all about.

The commission would be established by the Government. It would have to be politically independent, and the Standing Orders of the House of Lords would have to be adapted to give effect to recommendations made by the commission.

That is the essence of my case. I would appreciate it very much if my noble friend would accept in principle, in the interests of the House of Lords, the notion of having a multi-option approach to the reform process.

Lord Northbrook: I am extremely glad to support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Randall of St. Budeaux. In the rising temperature of the Committee stage in recent days, I am very glad that two Peers on opposite sides of the Committee are putting forward the amendment.

It may appear surprising to the Committee that the amendment is tabled by a Labour life Peer and a Conservative hereditary Peer. I believe that it is a great virtue of the House of Lords that that sort of thing can happen here, compared with the other place.

I came across the noble Lord's paper in the Library, and I met him shortly afterwards. I had been very impressed by the paper, and decided to give the amendment my support. The appointment of an independent commission to study the mechanics of the weighted voting system would be useful, and I hope that the Committee finds the timescale of its reporting acceptable.

As the noble Lord states, to have an alternative to the Weatherill amendment considered before the Bill comes back on recommitment is important. I shall not discuss the mechanics of the amendment on weighted voting, which can be easily understood from reading the paper of the noble Lord, Lord Randall, in the Library. Suffice it to say that the improvements that he has made since he originally conceived the scheme are substantial, because the weighted voting system gives the Cross-Benchers a crucial say in determining the result of a Division.

Furthermore, it is highly likely that under the Weatherill amendment we shall have a caucus of hereditary Peers for many years to come. I believe that an alternative amendment, which also allows some hereditary Peers to remain in this House for a limited period, is not incompatible with what the Government have conceded under the Weatherill amendment.

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7.30 p.m.

Lord Davies of Coity: If I were to stretch my generosity considerably, I could say that my noble friend's amendment is well meaning. However, the consequences of the amendment have not been thoroughly thought out. Its first subsection calls for a commission to examine a voting system for the House of Lords. Even if I were persuaded to support the establishment of such a commission--that is very unlikely--that provision is undone by the second subsection where the devil is concealed--or perhaps not really concealed--in the detail. I need not go into the question of any possible criticism for reintroducing a novel form of block voting. However, the amendment could also be criticised because it does not refer to the means of weighting the voting of Cross-Bench Members. Even more importantly, if we were to have a weighted system which produced fewer votes for members of the Opposition than for members of the Government, we must ask how such a system could be regulated when Members from either side of the House break ranks with their Whips and vote on certain matters in opposition to their own party. It would be an absolutely horrendous system. Consequently, it seems to me that the amendment should be opposed.

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