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("( ) The number of people counted towards the limit set out in subsection (2) shall not be less than 90 for any period exceeding 30 sitting days.")

The noble Lord said: This is a simple amendment. Its purpose is relatively plain so I shall move it briefly. I must say at the outset that the Opposition attach considerable importance to the principle underlying this amendment and that of my noble friend Lord Lucas, Amendment No. 31, which may be a marginally better amendment than my own.

Amendment No. 25 says that the limit of 90 Peers should be replaced within 30 sitting days, while the amendment of my noble friend says it should be,


Lord Lucas: I should perhaps speak briefly to Amendment No. 31. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Strathclyde for outlining what it says. It is quite clear that the Cranborne-Chancellor agreement embraces the fact that there will be 90 hereditary Peers coming in under the various electoral arrangements, and that is the figure which it is intended should remain. But that is not at present what the Bill says. I shall be

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interested to know why the Bill does not say that, if the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor does not intend to table an alternative amendment to those we propose.

The Earl of Onslow: There is considerable virtue in the spirit of this amendment. If we are to have this arrangement which has been fixed by the "odd" channels rather than the "normal" channels, it must still be properly set out in the Procedure Committee's rules. We must make certain that there is a replacement in the event of a death or a resignation. I hope that there will be a proper method of re-election.

I suspect that there was a perfectly sound precedent set by the Act of Union with Ireland. When an Irish Peer died he was replaced. I believe a writ went to the Lord Chancellor's office though I cannot remember the exact details. My noble friends are asking for a proper procedure, not subject to delay, to replace those who fall by the wayside through death, resignation or for some other reason. I support the spirit of the amendment. We do not need to amend the Bill but the matter should be examined carefully within the standing orders of the Procedure Committee.

Viscount Bledisloe: I strongly support the principle behind the amendment, which is designed to ensure that the 90 are replaced promptly when someone dies. It is nice to know that this cannot be answered by the argument that the amendment is contrary to the deal done, because the deal expressly says that the 90 will remain as transitional Peers, not up to the 90. These amendments seek to achieve the deal and not to vary it. It seems to me that an amendment along the lines of that of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, is proper and suitable, whereas the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, on the Government Front Bench, seems to suffer from the defects of King Canute's courtiers who they seemed to think that they could forbid death, which is as impossible as forbidding the ebb flow of the tide. If one such Peer dies, a procedure is put in hand to replace him but, if just before he is replaced another such Peer dies, and if the 30 days have been exceeded, the amendment will have been breached. I do not think that even the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, considers that Parliament can forbid death, but I hope that the Government will either say that they will accept the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, or do something to ensure that the 90 must be maintained.

The Lord Chancellor: There is no issue of principle between us. I have made that absolutely plain. The noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, is absolutely right that it will not be heard from me this evening that there is any reason of incompatibility with the agreement as to why this amendment cannot be properly considered.

The agreement is quite clear. The 90 is intended to be both a ceiling and a floor. The issue is one of practicalities. Noble Lords opposite want to have as firm a guarantee as possible that the number of excepted hereditary Peers will remain at 90 and that when vacancies occur, they will be filled. That is certainly

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the Government's intention. I have given a 100 per cent assurance that that is so. I should not like anything that I say now to suggest that I have a closed mind on this point.

The problem is, as quite often it is, the English language, admirable though that is. The Bill says not more than 90. Therefore, people fear that this may mean fewer than 90 because fewer than 90 is not more than 90. But if we were then to say, "not fewer than 90" others from a different standpoint would start fearing that that might mean more than 90. I have to tell the Committee that language gives rise to difficulties. There is nothing sinister whatsoever about the language of Clause 2, which provides for a maximum number of 90 hereditary Peers to be excepted. I have given before and shall give again the Government's absolute pledge that, of course, we intend any vacancies that arise to be filled. As I say, the figure is both a ceiling and a floor.

The matter of filling the vacancies will not be a matter for the Government as such; it will be a matter for the House and for the parties. I repeat my unequivocal assurance that the figure of 90 will be honoured by the Government throughout the whole period of the transitional House. I wonder what more is sought from me.

The provisions are framed in this way because of the legal difficulties of providing anything else. I appreciate that in the light of what I said when we last discussed this, noble Lords opposite have amended their original proposals to provide for a minimum time during which a replacement must be identified rather than--I think they were persuaded before by my arguments--to provide that there must be 90 excepted Peers at all times, because of course it is recognised that vacancies do occur and that such an absolute requirement could not in the real world be continuously complied with.

I then suggested that the similar amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, also posed real problems. This revised proposal does not address those problems. First, it does not say who is to be responsible for ensuring that the vacancy is filled. Neither individual Peers nor the House itself could be answerable to the courts for failing to fill a vacancy.

Secondly, the amendment does not say what the consequences are to be if the vacancy is left unfilled. Would the proceedings of the whole House be invalidated? Surely not. What happens if honest efforts are made to find a replacement within the time limit, but a number of noble Lords decline the invitation? Alternatively, what happens if a replacement Peer, having been identified within the requisite period, is ready and available to be appointed, but a second Peer dies within the 30-day limit?

The Earl of Onslow: I have been following with immense interest the noble and learned Lord's argument. However, we do not want him to explain the individual difficulties with the amendment because he has accepted the principle of re-election. We do not want to hear about the faults of my noble friend's argument, which are self-evident. What we want to hear from him is how the Government would actually like

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this to be done. That is what we are asking for. It is great fun producing these arguments as to why it is silly--and I am in sympathy with that--but what we want, and are entitled to have, is a positive answer about something that the noble and learned Lord has already said he will do.

The Lord Chancellor: If I am unable to think of it, I cannot give Members of the Committee a satisfactory answer as regards putting something on the face of the Bill. I believe that the scheme for replacement set out in the draft Standing Order is the most simple and straightforward way to go. That is actually what I think. In my view, until someone comes forward with something better than this amendment, it should be left on that basis. It must be appreciated that this must be dealt with on a basis of trust against a background where people have made their position unequivocally clear.

Noble Lords opposite have no interest in allowing their allocated share to fall beneath that level. That is the case with the Cross-Benchers and indeed with everyone else. The Government have made their position absolutely plain: even if we were able to do anything to prevent that happening, we would not dream of doing so. We shall stand by what we have said.

The Standing Order provides that if for some reason the scheme becomes unworkable, other arrangements will have to be made. They will have to be made by the House. Beyond that, I feel unable to go. With the best will in the world, I cannot be expected to devise an effective amendment if my own considered view is that it is best to leave the matter to Standing Orders.

Lord Lucas: From the basis of my own ignorance, perhaps I may enquire of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor what they do in another place when faced with the same problem. Surely the situation is analogous; in other words, if they lose a Member, they replace him. There must be obligations on the parties to do various things for that to happen and consequences of it not happening. Would it not be possible to produce a mirror or an analogue of that in some way?


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