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Page 1, line 8, at end insert ("which have been laid in full before the House not later than one week before Third Reading in the House of Lords of the Bill for this Act.")

The noble Lord said: We have already heard about Standing Orders. I shall therefore be brief in speaking to the first amendment in my name. As a former member of the Armed Forces, I merely remind the Committee and the noble Baroness the Leader of the House that members of the Armed Forces who are in Northern Ireland and Bosnia, and possibly fairly soon to be on the ground in Kosovo, operate under standing orders. The same should be the case here.

We in this place find ourselves in a somewhat anomalous position as a result of the Weatherill amendment, if my noble friend Lord Weatherill will forgive me for so calling it. As many Members of the Committee have pointed out, the amendment alters the central principle of the Bill, the summary ejection of hereditary Peers from Parliament.

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Never mind that the Bill is probably hybrid as a result of the Weatherill amendment, although we shall not know that for certain until we see the non-existent Standing Orders referred to in the Weatherill amendment. Only the draft amendments have been made available. Never mind even that the Bill probably misses its own mark, since Peers do not become Members of this House by heredity but by writ, which, having been answered, is spent and lasts irrevocably for a full Parliament. Never mind that the Bill ignores the Commonwealth members' rights; and never mind that if we throw out the Bill in its present form, we shall find it unenforceable by use of the Parliament Act. We have an overwhelming but insistent Government, but until the mess has been sorted out, which may be quite some time, Parliament will be unable to do its job.

I turn to Standing Orders. It is a quintessential that these be laid before the House prior to the Bill being finalised. It is wrong in principle to ask this House to buy a pig in a poke--the phrase used on several occasions by Members on all sides of the House--and we would be neglecting our duty if we allowed it to do so. I beg to move.

Lord Strathclyde: I am grateful for the way in which the noble Lord moved his amendment. I shall be interested to hear the Government's response. I can understand the motives behind the proposal. It is reasonable to expect that Standing Orders on the operation of Clause 2, which is so important to the effective operation of the interim House, are seen, considered and accepted by the House and that this should be done relatively soon. That has also been the intention of the Government. It is the expectation of these Benches and I look forward to confirmation from the noble and learned Lord when he replies.

I do not have strong views as to the timing, but what the noble Lord, Lord Clifford, proposes is the minimum that is reasonable. Again, perhaps the Government can explain in some detail the timetable for developing, debating and agreeing the Standing Orders. I should also be grateful if the Government would explain their thinking on a timetable for the voting rights of Peers and their rights to stand for election to the Commons. Amendments are needed in consequence of Weatherill, especially to Clause 3, and they will require full discussion. When will the Government be in a position to lay amendments and how will they facilitate debate on them? I hope that all those issues can be resolved well before we reach Report stage. I hope that the Government will be able to give a positive response to the amendment.

I do not know whether the noble Lord was also speaking to Amendment No. 34 in the names of my noble friends Lord Trefgarne and Lord Northesk, grouped with this amendment. I should perhaps talk to that amendment if it is moved in its place, for presumably it is no longer grouped with Amendment No. 2. I look forward to hearing the Government's response.

The Earl of Northesk: At the invitation of my noble friend the Leader of the Opposition, I shall speak to

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Amendment No. 34 which is in this group. The whole point is that if Clause 2 and the arrangements that flow from it are to be tenable, it is essential that its terms, as defined in Standing Orders, are endorsed adequately and properly by those who are to be disqualified as a result of Clause 1. Without that, its credibility will be severely undermined. It is both right and important that the hereditary peerage should have the opportunity to consider and give their consent to the methods to be applied in electing those of their number who will serve in the transitional House. Any other outcome would work against the interests of fairness. The purpose of the amendment is to guarantee that the electoral arrangements of Clause 2 are accepted by a clear majority of those who will be disqualified by Clause 1.

Viscount Bledisloe: Before the noble Earl sits down, could he enlighten us? As I understand his amendment, if fewer than one-half of those entitled to vote do vote for Standing Orders, there are no Standing Orders. If there are no Standing Orders, there can be no procedures to elect the 92. So unless fewer than half the totality of those hereditary Peers vote for the Standing Orders--which seems moderately unlikely since some do not come here often--does the noble Earl intend that the whole amendment will fail because there will be no Standing Orders to put it into effect?

The Earl of Northesk: I do not profess to be an expert in drafting. Our purpose or intent is to ensure that of the overall numbers voting for the Standing Orders representing the hereditary peerage, at least half of those voting accept the principle underpinning the Standing Orders.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: There are few amendments to which I wish to speak because I defer to the opinion of the House on the Weatherill amendment. However, without derogating from that in any way, the Committee may think it of fundamental consequence that the implementing machinery should be before the House, debated and approved before the Bill leaves this place. That is only fair to those who oppose the amendment and just to all those who support it.

Lord Marsh: Most matters covered by today's amendments will be referred to the Procedure Committee and will then reappear, presumably with a thought-through document and arguments. At that stage we shall have a substantive debate, not necessarily disagreeing with all the amendments.

It is a strange way to proceed, knowing full well that the issue will go to a Committee of this House. That has already been decided. The House will decide on the report. The sensible time, it seems to me, to have the debate in detail is when we have achieved as much consensus--if any--as there is likely to be rather than picking off bits and pieces.

On a personal point, I apologise that I was not in my place when the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, spoke. I gather he referred to a wager which I had suggested. I am pleased to announce that he has now accepted a bet of £100 that this arrangement will still be in place

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in 10 years' time. The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, has agreed to witness it and I shall be available in the course of the afternoon if anyone wishes to join the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: In reply to that interesting speech, particularly as to the wager, I do not mind how the matter is handled. However, I am at pains, like my noble friend Lord Strathclyde, to seek some assurance that it should be dealt with before the Bill leaves this House. How it is done is a matter of no moment, but it is crucial that it should be done.

The Lord Chancellor: Amendment No. 2 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, is the first of a number of amendments which seek to ensure that the Standing Orders needed to give effect to Clause 2 are put into place. Everyone wants effective Standing Orders to be in place. We cannot accept that this should be a precondition of Third Reading after the eighth day in Committee. I do not believe that that is reasonable. However, we on these Benches intend to seek agreement through the usual channels, among the parties, on the correct terms for Standing Orders and then take them to the Procedure Committee in the shortest timetable reasonably achievable.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: Perhaps I may intervene. That sounds agreeable and sensible, but will it happen before the Bill leaves the House?

The Lord Chancellor: Certainly. It is precisely consistent with what I said: that we should use our best endeavours to achieve that outcome before the Bill leaves the House. I cannot see how it is in the interests of any party or individual Peer, in the present circumstances, not to seek to achieve that. We will use our best endeavours. I believe that further discussions are better off the Floor of the Chamber on such points of detail.

As to Amendment No. 34 in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, and the noble Earl, Lord Northesk, I believe that for reasons touched on by the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, the amendment is unworkable and may even have an effect contrary to the considered wishes of those noble Lords. My understanding of the effect of the amendment is that it would require the Standing Orders setting out the electoral system needed to give effect to Clause 2(1) to be approved by 50 per cent of the whole hereditary peerage, not 50 per cent of those who are qualified to vote because they have applied for a Writ, taken the Oath and are not on leave of absence.

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