Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

The Earl of Onslow: I believe exactly the opposite. There has been the most marvellous English muddle. The Government have decided to do one thing; others told them not to do it. The Government said they would do it and then produced something totally different. Everybody has given something. The Bill as published has nothing at all to do with what we are discussing at present. Something totally different has come out of it. That is a perfect example of English constitutional muddle at its very best.

Viscount Tenby: The arguments against the amendment have already been well rehearsed. With

25 May 1999 : Column 883

the principle contained therein, I have no quarrel. Indeed, I support it. However, I do not believe that we should be discussing it in detail now. As I say, this matter should be discussed at a later date. But I cannot resist paying tribute to the silken presentational skills of the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne. I am sorry to come back to this so quickly. As a Welshman, I should have known that to joust with someone of Welsh ancestry would invite trouble.

At an earlier state of our deliberations on the Bill, I advanced the proposition that to confine the electorate on the choice of hereditary Peers to hereditary Peers reduces the operation to charges of it being like, for example, election to White's or Boodle's. Imagine my surprise, therefore, when I heard the noble Viscount, on at least two subsequent occasions, turn the argument subtly on its face. Accordingly, I promise solemnly not to provide the noble Viscount with any further ammunition, especially since, with a heavy heart, I must confess that he has not so far managed to convince me of the force of his argument. He may well do so at a later stage but, somehow, I doubt it.

My reasons for taking that view I shall leave to the day when the Bill returns to the Floor of this House after scrutiny by the Procedure Committee, a course of action I commend to other Members of the Committee this evening.

The Lord Chancellor: This is a very narrow point. The Committee will appreciate that my interest in it is rather limited. It is coterminous with the interests of my party which secures from the compromise two hereditaries to be retained.

But I am a witness to the agreement, as is the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne. Although I can well appreciate how the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, would regard the press notice issued by the Cross-Benchers as the record of the agreement, it is not, however, the record of the agreement. That record is the witness of the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, and myself as to the agreement that was actually made.

In fact, we agreed that the elections in the several constituencies would be of hereditaries by hereditaries for hereditaries. We both agreed that that was an integral part of the compromise and for my part, although my party's interest is as limited as I have described, I shall not resile from it.

But it is not merely a matter of the amendment contravening the terms of the proposal. One thought behind the agreement was that it would be an invidious electoral system which would enable life Peers to pass judgment on their hereditary colleagues. I can well see how the opposite view may well reasonably be entertained. But it was agreed that the electorate within each grouping consists of the hereditaries and, therefore, I stand by it.

Lord Newby: I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor for that reply. I should say to the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, that I am pleased that

25 May 1999 : Column 884

I managed to bring a smile to his face. The European election procedures can be prayed in aid by virtually anybody wishing to promote virtually any argument.

It can certainly be argued, for example, that there is no uniformity in the way in which the lists have been drawn up between the different parties where the methods vary greatly. I doubt whether the Conservatives would support the methods we adopted in selecting our candidates. I doubt too whether the Government would be happy with the methods that either of us adopted. Equally, it simply is not the case that there is a uniform system of elections across the EU at the moment; we have different methods. I do not think that the unity and uniformity argument goes very far.

As to the response by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, I understand that the representative clause was in the agreement. As he has said many times on other matters, that is virtually the end of the matter for him; as we have said many times on other matters, that is not the end of the matter for us. No doubt we will return to it. As to the principle, I am afraid that we disagree and, again, we may wish to return to it.

However, we have had a full airing of the issues and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 27 not moved.]

10 p.m.

The Earl of Dundee moved Amendment No. 28:

Page 1, leave out line 14 and insert ("for a term of up to 7 years which shall expire on the day another person is excepted from that section by or in accordance with Standing Orders of the House.")

The noble Earl said: In speaking to the amendment which concerns electoral colleges, after the description of what it entails is the explanation of what it achieves. This is consistency with the current proposals for House of Lords reform. Such follows from the system for election proposed within the amendment. Yet the benefit outlined presents an option for consideration by the Royal Commission and for adjudication at stage two.

What then is the justification for this discussion at all at stage one and within this Bill? The amendment as proposed does not seek incorporation within the present Bill. In that respect it resembles the amendment moved today concerning Scottish independent Peers. That amendment, too, did not seek incorporation within the present Bill. Nor is it intended that the terms of this amendment should form part of the arrangements for the transition House. Instead, its option is for my noble friend Lord Wakeham and his colleagues and for the architects of stage two. However, its evaluation by them can only occur if it has not been precluded in the first place by the present Bill. Therefore, the sole purpose of discussing the matter today is to obtain the guidance and assurance of the noble and learned Lord that the option within the amendment, as about to be explained, will not have been precluded by the present Bill by the time it has become an Act.

The option within the amendment is based upon one of my submissions to my noble friend Lord Wakeham and his colleagues. If electoral colleges were to become a feature of the post-transition House, this submission

25 May 1999 : Column 885

recommends that candidates or members should be elected or re-elected every seven years. Thus, regardless of by-elections, the interval between the main elections would never be wider than seven years.

That system for elections is consistent with the aims of House of Lords reform. First, there is its connection with the aim of achieving approximate voting parity between the main political parties. Through time, a number of factors may militate against the capacity or desire for party political voting. Let alone age or infirmity, such factors may even include disinclination owing to other conflicting priorities. Electoral colleges functioning every seven years may therefore take note of the situation as it changes.

Secondly there is the paradox relating to part-time attendance. If electoral colleges provide fixed quotas, then elected members will be expected to be regular attenders. Otherwise the terms and trust of election in the first place would appear to have been breached. On the other hand, part-time attendance is arguably the backbone of the deliberative function and its present quality within this Chamber. There are first-class contributions from more elderly Members who may not be able to attend as much as others. In any case, distinguishing it from the daily voting function is the separate pattern and timetable of the deliberative function itself. This includes questions and debates, the highly-regarded Lords Select Committee reports, the work of overseas delegations such as the Council of Europe. As it is, many of your Lordships in the days when they are not here are often working on these and related parliamentary matters.

If electoral colleges perform every seven years, they can make balanced readjustments. They will be able to distinguish between what is part-time attendance for the right reasons and what is irregular or even regular attendance for the wrong reasons. If electoral colleges appoint only once and for life, no such readjustments are possible.

As I have already indicated, the institution of such arrangements are for stage two. Their details need not concern us now. The important question today is that stage one and the current Bill should not preclude their evaluation. Thus the purpose of the amendment is to obtain the reassurance of the noble and learned Lord that it will not do so. I beg to move.

The Chairman of Committees: I must point out to the Committee that if Amendment No. 28 is agreed to, I cannot call Amendment No. 29.

Lord Gray: When speaking in the debate on the White Paper, I said that I favoured an elected second Chamber. I regret that the Government apparently do not. If in due course a reformed House is to be at least partly elected, then electoral colleges acting in the way described by the amendment would be an important feature of any electoral scheme and a bridge linking the present with the future in a way that could only benefit Parliament. Electoral colleges would then carry through into the future what Clause 2 of the Bill inaugurates. So

25 May 1999 : Column 886

the scheme envisaged by the amendment has significant advantages over any system where appointment or election for life is the basis.

As my noble friend has pointed out, judgment of performance would influence voting whereas life appointment is not subject to such considerations. It might well be that the electoral college idea could be expanded beyond peerage representation. The amendment suggests a term of up to seven years. I shall be interested to hear what other views there may be as to the length of an appropriate term to provide the balanced readjustments to which my noble friend referred in moving the amendment. Certainly, readjustments will, perforce, be necessary. An adjustment by appointment is likely to give rise to all kinds of complications. If one accepts that the future should reflect the best of the present, the scheme proposed by the amendment deserves serious consideration. I commend it to the Committee.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page