Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Viscount Bledisloe: I fully accept that if one starts with the noble Viscount's premise, one reaches his conclusion. If they are meant to be representative Peers, they have to be elected by those whom they represent. But I wholly refute the concept that these are representative Peers. They are meant to be those who in the informed opinion of this House are best suited to assist in carrying on its work. If they were thought to be representative Peers, I should be very much less in favour of the amendment.

Viscount Cranborne: I am extremely distressed to hear that the noble Viscount is less in favour of the amendment. Perhaps the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor was not under this impression, but I was under the impression that the word "representative" played quite a large part in our negotiations. The noble Viscount was not part of those negotiations, but I believed that the representative role was an essential feature of what I thought I was negotiating at the time.

Lord Ewing of Kirkford: At the risk of being included in the "windbaggery" debate, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke, perhaps I may point out that I played no part in the Committee stage of the Bill. However, I wish to make two points. I become very worried when I hear Conservative Peers arguing that attendance should be a criterion for eligibility to vote. Since I came to your Lordships' House, I have seen many life Peers and even hereditary Peers about whom I have had to ask, "Who is that person?". Indeed, once at Heathrow airport a hereditary Peer recognised me as I came off the aeroplane and asked whether I could take him to the House of Lords in order to vote against the Government--albeit a Labour Government since 1997. Therefore, I believe that it is dangerous to introduce the element of attendance into the criteria for voting.

I recognise that there is agreement across the Chamber on the Weatherill amendment and it is not my intention to disrupt it. However, I wish to ask one simple question. Since the amendment was tabled, I have been worried about the electoral college. Perhaps I may dwell for one minute on my own party and then I shall sit down. The Labour Benches have 18 hereditary Peers.

25 May 1999 : Column 804

Let us assume that all 18 decided to be candidates to retain membership of your Lordships' House and that all 18 voted for themselves. There will be 18 candidates with one vote each. All I want to ask my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor is: who breaks that deadlock?

The Earl of Onslow: We have an arrangement brokered by my noble friend Lord Cranborne and the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, and however much we variously wish to tinker with some of the details, we should be unwise to upset it. I would much rather have had it that all hereditary Peers can vote and there should not be a party electoral college. I can certainly see a Liberal Democrat or three, even a Socialist (if they still exist) or three for whom I shall be quite happy to cast my vote in preference to some people on my own side. I am equally sure that there are people who would say exactly the same about me, so I am no being in any way difficult--at least no more than usual.

We have established the principle of the electoral college of hereditary Peers. That is well versed in history. It goes back to the Acts of 1707 for Scotland, which was for a parliament only, and of 1801 for the Irish Peers for whom there were two different qualifications. Please, let us leave well alone an agreement which I can see would be slightly different if I had anything to do with it, but which on the whole I believe is excellent. It has changed the Bill beyond peradventure.

The other night I watched the Labour Whips forcing their own side through the Lobbies. They drove not a coach and horses through the Bill but, with respect, the whole of the Royal Mews accepted the hereditary peerage. We have gained enormously from that and the Government must be given great credit for listening to other people. For heaven's sake, let us give people credit when it is due and not be crabby about the detail. However imperfect some of the details are, we should leave well alone.

Lord Marsh: The past few minutes of debate demonstrate how dangerous it would be to get these amendments on the face of the Bill. The other place is very different from the House of Lords. Many of its Members know little about it and quite a few of them think that it is in St. John's Wood! They certainly would not begin to understand this debate. It is a big issue and there are strong differences of view on both sides.

Lord Coleraine: I thank the noble Lord for giving way. Does he not understand that the reason we tabled these amendments is not necessarily because we intend them to be on the face of the Bill when it is enacted, but because we wish to see whether further agreement can be reached about what should be in the Standing Orders?

Lord Marsh: But they will go to the other place to be debated. Its Members have to decide whether to agree with us in these amendments. The point I am making is that one of the good arguments in favour of the

25 May 1999 : Column 805

Procedure Committee process is precisely that we in this House retain control over the arrangements which are being built for this House.

I do not believe that anyone who suggested that these matters should not be debated would receive support. They will be debated. However, to put them on the face of the Bill will involve a string of debates at the other end of the corridor which will be in no one's interest and will certainly throw little light on a complex subject. I beg noble Lords to recognise the dangers of such issues being dealt with by amendment to the Bill as opposed to Standing Orders.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: In reply to the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, there really is no danger. He is one of the great architects--he is one of the three wise men--so naturally he is wedded to the intricacies of those Standing Orders. I agree that these are not matters for another place and that it is not a matter for them to amend the Standing Orders of your Lordships' House. In that, the noble Lord is totally right. However, there is another important aspect to the debate. This is a recommitment for the purpose of reconsidering the implementing machinery and some detail in the Standing Orders. If it is not, why are we here? We are not here just to talk. Surely there is some purpose to it. If there is no purpose, why are we doing it?

Lord Marsh: I thank the noble Lord for allowing me to intervene. He raised a major point. We are here because noble Lords have tabled the amendments. We do not have a lot of choice. With respect to the Clerks, we do not have the right to chuck out the amendments. If Members of the Committee wish to press these issues and debate them in this way--later we shall debate a long stream of different numbers which will keep us happy for quite some time--they are perfectly entitled to do so. I am simply saying that if at the end of the debate they win the vote, the matter goes out of your Lordships' hands and goes elsewhere.

5 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: No, with respect, it does not. It does not go to another place in any effective way at all. It cannot touch the Standing Orders of this House and would not dream of doing so. It could not do so and the noble Lord knows that perfectly well.

The purpose of the recommitment is to re-examine certain aspects of principle. As always, I have listened with attention and respect to my noble friend Lord Cranborne. Just for once, I was wholly unconvinced. I say that with great respect, but the point he took was that hereditary Peers are qualified, competent and capable of electing themselves. Of course they are. That is not the point. The point is, in principle, whether they should do so.

I shall be brief on this point; I have spoken to it before. I wholly support my noble friend in his Amendment No. 3, in principle. I wholly support the assertion that the electorate of the House should be the whole House for this purpose and not just the hereditary Peers. I am not so sure about the question of an attendance qualification. In practice, however it is put,

25 May 1999 : Column 806

it raises a mountain of difficulties. I cannot support the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Coleraine because it incorporates the principle to which I object.

My noble friend Lord Cranborne talked of "the essence of the arrangement". If "essence" means anything, the essence of that arrangement cannot be that it had to be the electoral system which he supports. It must have been as a matter of machinery, which has been left open for discussion. If, for example, this Committee were to accept the amendment in due course--I hope it will not be moved in the form in which it is drafted but that we can return to it at some future time in another form--who on earth could say that we had struck at the essence of this wretched Weatherill amendment? I do not suppose anybody would. But, there it is. If this is a recommittal and the amendments were withdrawn on an undertaking that there should be a recommittal, it is wholly proper and wholly within our province not only to debate these matters, as the noble Lord, Lord Marsh stated, but if so advised, to divide upon them.

Lord Monson: The diversity of the views expressed so far today shows how right and important it is that we should start discussing this important matter today. However, I agree with my noble friend Lord Marsh that discuss is all we should do. We should be wary of trying to push through amendments on this matter today.

I have no hesitation in agreeing wholeheartedly with the noble Lord, Lord Coleraine. I do not refer to his amendment, which, as he admitted, puts too harsh a screen in place, but to the compromise he suggested in his speech. Attendance on 10 per cent of possible occasions in a year is about right. Anything harsher than that would exclude, for example, the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, to whom I intend to refer later today. He was not able to attend on more than 27 occasions in the last Session, which is less than one-eighth of the total. Would it not be totally wrong to exclude him from deliberations on this matter? There should be some minimum attendance figure. The figure suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby, is a little on the low side. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Coleraine, got it about right in the suggestion he made in his comments.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page