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Lord Pearson of Rannoch: I support my noble friend in his amendment. Perhaps I may ask a question of my noble friend Lord Cranborne. His position on this matter confuses me as much as his position on the original deal and, indeed, the whole of the Bill.
I understand my noble friend to have said this afternoon, at least twice, that we are not a club, and that only clubs elect themselves. That mystified me. No doubt he can put me straight very quickly. I understood that he supported the so-called Weatherill amendment, indeed that he was one of the architects of it, and this, of course, contains an electoral process.
Viscount Cranborne: I am grateful to my noble friend for giving way. I hoped I had made clear that an existing membership should not elect its own members. It is clear that the hereditary Peers will be expelled and will no longer have a right to sit in your Lordships'
Lord Pearson of Rannoch: I am only slightly mystified because, being also a member of Whites, it is of course the members of that club who elect the members. As regards the amendments, it is important that we should legitimise, as much as possible, the 75 and the 15; that is, the 90 hereditary Peers who are to be elected. I agree with my noble friends who moved the amendments, that we do that if they are elected by as many people as possible who will be knowledgeable electors.
There is also the point that it will be more acceptable to people outside this House if both hereditary Peers and appointed Peers, with a reasonable attendance record and therefore a reasonable knowledge of those whom they are electing, carry out the elections. I fear that the present suggestion that only the hereditary Peers should elect those who are to stay is open to something of an accusation of being a closed shop. On the understanding, as my noble friends have made clear, that these are probing amendments with the intention of informing Standing Orders, I certainly support them.
Lord Peyton of Yeovil: The proposal to legitimise some people might present us with great difficulties, with which I think we would be unable to cope this afternoon. I did not come here with the intention of being anything other than a spectator today. However, my noble friend Lord Campbell raised a question which I think needs a very quick and very short answer. He asked, "What on earth are we doing here today?" The only answer which we can possibly accept is that we are doing awfully little at extraordinary great length with absolutely minimal results.
Lord Kingsland: I shall be mercifully telegraphic. I strongly support the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, about Standing Orders and the importance of not voting on any of the amendments. That would give another place an opportunity to meddle in matters which are exclusively for your Lordships' House.
The amendments raise essentially two issues. First, as to whether some hurdles should be put in the way of those hereditary Peers who vote, or who stand as candidates, in the forthcoming elections; and secondly, as to whether the electorate should be exclusively that of hereditary Peers or should be all the Members of your Lordships' House.
As regards the first issue, raised in all three amendments, it is my impression that science has not yet found any fixed ratio between the level of attendance of your Lordships in your Lordships' House on the one hand and either the quality of contribution to debate or the soundness of judgment in voting on the other. Therefore, I have to say that I am extremely sceptical about frequency of attendance being a basis for any kind of selection process in any circumstances.
Moreover, were we to adopt it, it would deny us the talents, for example, of the noble Duke, the Duke of Buccleuch, who is infrequently here but when he is makes the most marvellous contribution. Indeed, if we were to follow the noble Lord, Lord Coleraine, in his Amendment No. 4, we would be denied the presence of the noble Lord, Lord Carrington. As to the second point raised by the amendments, I find myself, at least personally, in something of a dilemma because the arguments between--
Lord Coleraine: I believe the noble Lord has misunderstood my amendment. I assume that the figures are correct. We would not be denied the attendance of the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, but he would not be able to vote.
As to the second matter raised by these amendments--the question of whether or not the electorate for the 75 should be the whole of your Lordships' House or just hereditary Peers--I am much taken by the arguments of the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, but I incline even more towards those of my noble friend Lord Cranborne.
It seems to me that it is in principle wrong to vote in an election in which one cannot be a candidate. I am also--being a good Tory--struck by the great success of the representative systems of voting that previous classes of hereditary Peers have had in your Lordships' House. But I underline, in making those comments, that no doubt these matters will be raised again on Report.
The Lord Chancellor: I deal first with the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke. Its effect is to require the Standing Orders to provide that the electorate for any election to identify excepted Peers shall be all Peers who, in the Session of Parliament in which the Act is passed, have attended either the House or a Committee for not less than six days.
The amendment is inconsistent with the agreement to which Clause 2 gives effect for two reasons. First, it makes no distinction between life and hereditary Peers. The election of the 15, as has been said many times, is rightly a matter for all Peers whether life or hereditary because those 15 will be serving the whole House. But that is not the way in which the election of the 75 was envisaged. It has been consistently made clear that the elections within the party and other groups, the election for the 75, will be of hereditaries, by hereditaries, for hereditaries. Each group of hereditaries was therefore to be temporarily entitled, during the transitional House, to 10 per cent. It is a matter of taste whether or not the word "representative" is used.
Secondly, the amendment disenfranchises certain Peers. It disenfranchises them on the basis of something--attendance--which they had no reason to think was relevant in this context. We have again made clear that this is a matter in which everyone who is qualified is entitled to have an interest. Those who are qualified are, for the 75, all hereditary Peers within the relevant category.
A Peer may be currently unable to attend the Chamber. That does not mean that he was not, in the past, a highly valued and active Member of the House. He may have a wide knowledge of other Peers and be a person whose judgment is highly respected. His vote would be as valuable as that of an assiduous attender who contributed nothing when attending. Those who are elected will be as much his representative as they will be of any other Peer in the relevant category. So he should be allowed to vote.
In sum, Amendment No. 3 proposes that some life Peers should be able to vote in elections for which the Clause 2 scheme did not enfranchise them, and other Peers should not be able to vote in elections because of the attendance requirement for which the Clause 2 scheme did enfranchise them. For those reasons we cannot accept Amendment No. 3.
Amendment No. 4 seeks to limit the total electorate to those who can demonstrate that they have been assiduous Members of the House by, in three successive Sessions, attending a sitting of the House or Committee on not fewer than one-third of the days on which the House has sat.
Surely, limiting the electorate in that way is not acceptable. Some Peers may have good reasons for not attending one-third of the days in a specific Session--illness or absence abroad with leave of the House, for example. There are others--examples were cited by the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland--who certainly attend on fewer than one-third of the days, but they always make a significant contribution when they attend, because when they attend they have a real contribution to make. Others attend assiduously but rarely speak or, if I may say so, make any material contribution. The first two categories would therefore fail to pass the test of this amendment, whereas the latter would pass. I cannot think that that is what the Committee wishes.
Lord Pearson of Rannoch: I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord for giving way. Does he not admit that Peers, hereditary or otherwise, who have not attended very often or hardly at all--my noble friend is leaving the precise attendance criteria open--must be less capable of judging the competence and worthiness of the people they are electing than those Peers who have attended quite frequently? That is what is at issue.
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