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Lord Weatherill: I assume that the purpose of the amendment is to try to ensure that anyone can have a term if the arrangement envisaged in Clause 2 lasts for any length of time. I cannot otherwise see the point of proposing, as the amendment apparently does, that a Peer should not be eligible for re-selection. The purpose of our proposals was to provide an element of continuity during the transitional House. I do not see how a scheme which would force excepted Peers to retire and be replaced by those who had been outside the House for up to seven years can help to fulfil that purpose. Of course I very much hope that the provision would be entirely academic in that further reform of your Lordships' House will take place long before the seven years are completed. But one should not--

The Earl of Dundee: I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. Perhaps I may come to the kernel of his point in this way. As he said, it would not make sense if the amendment were to address itself to the transitional House. It does not. All it seeks to do is to elicit from the noble and learned Lord a reassurance that stage one in the present Bill does not preclude my noble friend Lord Wakeham and his colleagues and the architects of stage two from considering seven year term elections for the post-transitional House.

Lord Weatherill: I am sorry if I misunderstood what the noble Earl's amendment is intended to do. But I must stress the point that our proposals were intended for the transitional period and not for the longer term. I hope that that point is absolutely clear.

The Earl of Onslow: I hope that the Government will resist this amendment. It is one of the few hopes that I have that will be fulfilled. We have a new, stand-alone Bill, which has within it the ability to last very much longer than the Government hope that it will. If it does, that is important; if it does not, that does not matter. But to attempt in this Bill to prescribe what the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, will do would be a mistake. I suspect

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that that may not be a million miles from the Lord Chancellor's brief and that, for once, he may even agree with me.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: I wonder if I could direct the attention of the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, to the draft standing order on what was, after all, his own amendment. It states:


    "It is proposed that hereditary peers who were the runners-up in the initial elections should fill the vacancies. This is set out in paragraph (7) of the draft Standing Order. This provision should provide suitable candidates until Stage II reform is effective or until the expiry of five years, whichever is the earlier. If the scheme exists for such length of time that the Standing Order provision becomes unworkable, the House will be able to consider alternative methods of filling vacancies and amend the Standing Order, if necessary". That seems to suggest that this may last longer than five years, and the amendment itself does not deal with that problem. We may have to come back to standing orders. If it lasts for five years, why should it not last for seven? It seems to me that the amendment could be reasonable if phase one lasts for that sort of length of time.

Lord Kingsland: I believe that my noble friend's amendment was directed to what we have come to call stage two. Indeed, if the hereditary peerage becomes a permanent part of the stage two solution, as I earnestly hope it will, then the Scottish electoral system is a real runner; although of course it would be hard to escape the conclusion that the same provisions would have to apply to the life peerage as well.

Here we are considering only the transitional House. The noble and learned Lord has the option of either the Scottish or the Irish solution. It is my view that, in the transitional period, the correct solution is the Irish solution.

But if one tests what is proposed against the Irish solution, one discovers that the Government's proposals do not meet that solution, because there is to be no system of by-elections but, instead, a list established in 1999 which will presumably run on until stage two. I earnestly hope that the noble and learned Lord will review the system of by-elections and reconsider his position as regards the 1999 list.

The Lord Chancellor: Hope springs eternal that the transitional House will become a permanent House. I had shared with the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, the view that this proposal related to the transitional House. I had thought that because that is all that we are debating and all that amendments should now address.

I had thought that the proposal was that the maximum term that anyone may serve as an excepted Peer should be seven years. I certainly shared with the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, the view that this was an attempt to ensure that everyone, or as many as possible, would have an opportunity to serve as a hereditary if the arrangement lasted for any length of time. But looking at the position as it affects the transitional House, the Government's view, consistent with the agreement made, is that excepted Peers should be here on the same basis as everyone else, namely for life, until stage two reform takes place.

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I am pleased that I am not in any way disappointing the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, who correctly anticipated what I would say. I am happy once again to have given him satisfaction. We are now told by the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, that the amendment does not relate at all to the transitional House but looks forward to a wholly reformed House. I agree with the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, that we should not now be addressing anything that might be available to the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, and his commission to recommend.

The Earl of Dundee: I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord for his comments, but perhaps I may put one question to him. Within this Bill we should not do the work of the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham. That work is for him and his commission. Yet the converse is this. The Bill could preclude the evaluation by him of something which he might otherwise wish to evaluate. I should be grateful if the noble and learned Lord could say whether, in his view, the present Bill, either as it is or as it may be before it becomes an Act, will preclude the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, and his colleagues from evaluating the purport of the option described by this amendment.

The Lord Chancellor: The remit of the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, and his commission is as set out in his terms of reference.

The Earl of Dundee: I thank the noble and learned Lord. They are, but following what he has just said, does he feel able to give the reassurance that nothing in the Bill would preclude the evaluation of seven term elections for stage two by the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, and his colleagues?

The Lord Chancellor: In my view the commission will have regard to the implications of the Bill and will want to ensure that there is a smooth passage between what the Bill provides for when it passes and what a fully reformed House will provide for. But it is not intended, by any provision in the Bill, to cut down any part of the remit of the Royal Commission.

The Earl of Dundee: I thank the noble and learned Lord for his reassurance. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

10.15 p.m.

The Earl of Dudley moved Amendment No. 29:


Page 1, line 14, leave out ("to the contrary") and insert ("for an elected second House of Parliament")

The noble Earl said: It has been a long day and it is late. I saw the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor take a deep breath. The last thing the Committee wants is for me to move my amendment. Nevertheless, it is not my fault that I have to move it at 10.15 at night on re-committal. I was guaranteed this spot when I withdrew my amendment a week ago.

There is a simple reason for the amendment. I object to the Government's avowed intent that the 90 hereditaries should remain Members of the House on

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sufferance with a limited life span, as compared with the life Peers. The noble Baroness the Lord Privy Seal made it clear on Second Reading when she was introducing the Bill when she described the then Weatherill amendment as,


    "a later amendment to retain temporary membership for some hereditary Peers"."--[Official Report, 29/4/99; col. 12.] I hope to persuade all Members of the Committee on all sides to share my objection and support my amendment, although I regard the Lib-Dem Benches as rather wobbly in that respect. If the amendment achieves nothing more, it provides an opportunity for what I hope will be a brief debate on the terms whereby the 90 hereditary Peers may remain as compared with the expectations of life Peers.

I personally have no aspirations or expectations and regard my amendment as a parting shot fired by a powerful objection to the unequal temporary status accorded by the Government to the 90 hereditaries as compared with the expectations of life Peers. It is not improved by Clause 2(3) of the Bill. Although the first part decrees that the 90 hereditaries shall remain Members of this House for life, the words in brackets (which I seek to amend) envisage the stage-two legislation that noble Lords on the Front Bench opposite repeatedly state is guaranteed by the Weatherill amendment, which is now Clause 2 of the Bill. They have gone further and implied that stage two would be the point in time when further legislation would "provide to the contrary" and when the 90 hereditaries would cease to be exempted from the effects of Clause 1 of the Bill.

I should like to see their crystal ball. No one can predict what reforms the Royal Commission will propose. It may recommend removal of the 90 hereditaries or their retention. Perhaps the noble Baroness the Lord Privy Seal or the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor can anticipate how the Government will react if the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, and his colleagues report favourably on the hereditary element in the Lords. I do not expect them to tell the Committee today and therefore do not propose to ask them. Be that as it may, the House is in for a transitional period of illusion and disillusion--illusion for the hereditaries who are to remain and disillusion for noble Lords opposite who want them to go.

Why do I object to the bracketed words in the Bill? First, they are superfluous. An Act of Parliament can provide to the contrary at any time--as it can for life Peers--without the proviso being written into the Bill. The words carry no force and are unnecessary. My second objection is that they create the illusion that the 90 hereditaries are more vulnerable as regards membership of this House than life Peers. As far as I know, never having been in that situation, no one says to a person that from the moment he is offered a life peerage until he takes a seat in this House he is a Peer for life on condition that no Act of Parliament provides to the contrary. In this respect, the subsection is divisive as it discriminates between hereditary and life Peers in a way foreseen by a number of noble Lords this evening.

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My amendment is designed to create the illusion that the 90 hereditaries are on a level playing field with the life Peers as regards lifetime membership of this House. To achieve that, I have devised the only cut-off point that I visualise as being capable of applying to both hereditary and life Peers; namely, an elected second Chamber. That will put both elements of this House on a level footing which will militate against divisiveness. That element of divisiveness has been referred to in the course of the debate this evening.

I could have moved an amendment to omit the objectionable bracketed words, but Clause 2 has been a bitter pill for the Government and their supporters here and in another place to swallow. I suspect that they want some flavouring or sugar-coating on the pill. It seems appropriate to keep an exit gate for hereditaries, as long as it opens for life Peers simultaneously. Therefore, my amendment does not gainsay the noble Baroness's definition of some Peers' continued membership of the House as temporary.

I admit that my amendment offers nothing more than an alternative illusory device. It is not a plea for an elected House of Lords, although I favour that option for stage two after my departure. It is not an attempt to pre-empt the Royal Commission, and in my view it does not breach the compromise between the Front Benches in ways feared and defined by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor in his remarks at Second Reading. I hope that my modest amendment is acceptable to the Government and inoffensive to more moderate Labour supporters, although doubtless anathema to the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank. I commend the amendment to the remainder of the Committee. I beg to move.


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