Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Lord Trefgarne: I am advised by my noble friend on my left that it will be 17 on Thursday.

The Lord Chancellor: We are seeking precision, when precision is not needed for the point. If it is 17, good luck to the 17th.

25 May 1999 : Column 820

Suppose, for example, there were 17. At the moment, therefore, on strict proportionality that would entitle the women to 1.7; we are generous to women, so let us round it up to 2. Those two will be spread across five different constituencies. Who is to determine that a particular constituency should be responsible for ensuring that the requirement is met? Is the whole election to be invalidated if no female hereditary Peers at all, heaven forfend, are successful? What happens if none of them wishes to stand for election? What happens if, as I am sure is much more likely, more than two are successful in their respective constituencies, so that they are over-represented? Does that mean that there is a "due proportion" or not?

The Committee has been detained a little on these subjects, but a little analysis rather suggests that they do not merit our serious attention.

Lord Coleraine: I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord for his reply.

Before I withdraw the amendment I should like to make the point that we seem to be being told that the Weatherill amendment, reached between, in Privy Council terms, the noble and learned Lord and others some six months ago, is a seamless garment which we should not seek to touch. What I am saying is that the purpose of our amendments is not to see them on the face of the Bill--I entirely take that point--but to disseminate ideas within the Committee, with the hope that the noble and learned Lord and others involved might see something of merit and take them away to the Procedure Committee. There is certainly no pressure on my part in having wished to put the amendment to a Division. We should not be told too many times that amendments that we propose will do this or that if put on the face of the Bill. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Lucas moved Amendment No. 6:


Page 1, line 8, at end insert--
("( ) Standing Orders of the House shall provide for people to be excepted from section 1 as a result of elections designed to ensure that such people are representative of the balance of party affiliations within the House, and of the spread of opinion within such party affiliations.")

The noble Lord said: I move the amendment to give us an opportunity to continue a debate which seems to have been curtailed.

As the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor will have realised from what was said from my Front Bench and from the Liberal Democrat Front Bench, my amendment was designed purely to tease out whether the election was to be a first-past-the-post election or something with more proportionality in it. That was the substance of my address to the Committee; that point the noble and learned Lord did not answer at all.

The matter is clearly left in the air in the draft Standing Orders. It is clearly not a settled part of the Weatherill agreement. I should very much like to have

25 May 1999 : Column 821

the noble and learned Lord's opinion as to in which direction it might be reasonable for the Procedure Committee to proceed. I beg to move.

The Lord Chancellor: I have never envisaged anything other than first-past-the-post, and I do not think the Opposition Front Bench does either. No doubt it will wish to indicate its position.

Lord Harris of Greenwich: Is this part of the sacred agreement or not? Is the noble and learned Lord going to tell us that as part of the Weatherill agreement it was decided that the election should be on the basis of a first-past-the-post system, or is he saying that the Conservative Party has the choice in this matter?

The Lord Chancellor: The Conservative Party does not have the choice. I will refer to my own notes: my recollection is that all the discussions were on the basis of first-past-the-post.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: As we are in Committee, and we are examining the question of the sanctity or otherwise of the Weatherill amendment, could I put to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor that this afternoon he has on at least two occasions referred to the rationale of the 10 per cent of the 700-odd Peers who are to remain--in other words, the rationale which gives us this 75? Could the noble and learned Lord give the Committee that rationale? Why 10 per cent? Why not 12 per cent? What was wrong with 7.5 per cent? Where is the rationale there?

The second point which the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor has made is that he has referred to this sacred deal, if that is what it is, this deal cooked up very much behind the scenes, as an agreement between the parties. Would the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor at least agree for the record that this deal was not agreed by the Conservative Party and still less by the Conservative Back Benches in either House?

6 p.m.

Earl Ferrers: I was going to ask whether I could come to the rescue but that is not appropriate because the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor does not need any rescuing. I am delighted to hear him say that it was always intended to have the first-past-the-post system which people can understand. I am afraid that I find all the variants of PR totally incomprehensible. I am glad that the noble and learned Lord said it was his idea, or the Government's idea, that it should be first-past-the-post. I hope that that rationale--I use my noble friend's expression--will apply on all the other occasions when the Government consider what kind of electoral system we should have.

Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank: Perhaps I may draw the attention of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor to the draft Standing Order. Unless I misunderstand it, I suggest that that is something

25 May 1999 : Column 822

slightly different from first-past-the-post. Paragraph 5(k) referring to electoral arrangements states that,


    "voters will be asked to number the candidates of their choice up to the total number of vacancies for that grouping". I repeat that they will be asked to,


    "number the candidates of their choice". That is not how I understand first-past-the-post. First-past-the-post merely requires you to put a cross beside the name of your chosen candidate. It goes on to state:


    "In the initial count, every vote will have equal weight". I understand that. It then says:


    "In the event of a tie, the number of first preferences received by a candidate will be taken into account, so that the candidate with the highest number of first preferences would be elected". That certainly is not the language of first-past-the-post.

I do not press the point because this is a draft Standing Order. I hope the outcome of further reflection and discussion will be that the different groups can make their own choice about the Peers whom they want to elect and they are elected. That would be reasonable and my guess is that that is what the Standing Orders are trying to provide.

Earl Ferrers: I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, will press the point and not feel ashamed of doing so. My understanding of first-past-the-post is that however the votes are cast, the candidate who wins most votes wins. The noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, said he thought that some votes received more weight if they were first choices. That is a very important point to consider.

I consider that the winner, using the first-past-the-post system, is the person who gains most votes. I hope that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor will not agree to each party choosing its own method of selection. That would be total chaos.

The Lord Chancellor: The rationale of 10 per cent was that it was agreed. I have said many, many times in your Lordships' House that the agreement binds the parties to it and no one else. I need not repeat that further.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: Will the noble and learned Lord give way? I would be very grateful if he would. I will not press him on the fact that a flat agreement without reasons is not a rationale. Clearly that is how it was. It was not a rationale. Somebody picked 10 per cent out and said, "Let's do it with 10 per cent" and so it became a deal.

But I must press him when he speaks of the parties to the deal. Is he attempting to include the Conservative Party in that deal? The Liberal Party has already made clear this afternoon that it was not party to the deal, but that is perhaps for very different reasons. When he says "the parties" to this deal, does he attempt to include the Conservative Party, and especially the Conservative Back Benches in your Lordships' House?

The Lord Chancellor: First, if arguments are advanced on either side as to the appropriate number of

25 May 1999 : Column 823

excepted Peers and an agreement is arrived at as to what that number should be, although different reasons for agreeing may appeal to different sides, the rationale for the agreement is emphatically the fact that agreement has been arrived at on that figure.

I know that in conducting those negotiations, I represented the Labour Party which is bound by them. It is not for me to say who other persons party to those discussions were representing. The unfortunate series of events which followed in relation to the Conservative Party means that it would be inappropriate for me to reopen what must be very old sores.

All I can say about paragraph 6(k) of the Standing Orders is that those matters are for discussion within the Procedure Committee. The noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, is not in his place at present but we did not discuss the detail of electoral arrangements at all beyond proceeding on the assumption that it would be first-past-the-post and fastest losers. We certainly did contemplate and agree that there would be a single, uniform method of selection within the three parties and the Cross-Bench group.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page