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Lord Elton: My Lords, will the noble Lord explain one point? He thought that an alternative ought to be presented to the House. It was not clear whether he thought that it ought to be included in the Bill so that it can be presented to the other House, or considered at Third Reading and decided by this House. It would be helpful if he would explain.

Lord Randall of St. Budeaux: My Lords, we could vote on these matters tonight but, if they were defeated,

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that would be the end of the proposal. I have not yet decided how to react; I have not yet heard the debate. My inclination is to take the matter through to Third Reading, but I shall have to see how matters work out. I hope that that answers the question.

Perhaps I may speak briefly to Amendments Nos. 6 and 9. They are very simple. They propose merely that hereditary Peers remain Members of this House until they die and that they will not be succeeded by their heirs--

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath : My Lords, perhaps I may point out to my noble friend the statement in the Companion to the Standing Orders that noble Lords opening should keep within the 20 minutes normally allowed.

Noble Lords: No!

Lord Lucas of Chilworth: My Lords, speaking as a senior Back-Bencher on this side of the House, I have some sympathy for the noble Lord, Lord Randall, as he has been interrupted on so many occasions. That is not the custom of this House.

Lord Randall of St. Budeaux: My Lords, there seems to be a consensus in the House that I should continue and ignore that stifling of debate.

Amendments Nos. 6 and 9 propose that hereditary Peers remain Members of this House until they die and that they will not be succeeded by their heirs. From the report that I produced for Members of this House, a copy of which has been placed in the Library, it can be seen that after three Parliaments 50 per cent of hereditary Peers will have died. That amounts to about 400 Peers. The retention of a few hereditary Peers in this House has no strategic significance whatsoever. Perhaps the Front Bench can tell me now--I am prepared to give way--what strategic significance there would be in having a few remaining hereditary Peers. I give way now. There is no response--a Mme Defarge factor only perhaps.

I now turn to Amendment No. 59, which introduces the concept of weighted voting. Were we to keep the House as it is and not allow the heirs of hereditary Peers to succeed their fathers, it is vital to recognise that there must be a weighted voting system. The arithmetic of that voting system is shown on pages five and six of my report in the Library. Therefore, the essence is to have balanced voting which is fair so that the Government get their business and to retain the sense of independence of this House. I give way.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, I hope that my intervention does not count as my contribution to the debate. I believe that the noble Lord is referring to Amendment No. 58, not Amendment No. 59.

Lord Randall of St. Budeaux: My Lords, I appreciate the advice. I am sure that the Clerk will confirm that. I see him nodding. The noble Lord is quite right.

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What does it mean to have a fair balance of voting and to retain the sense of independence? It means that in practice the Tories and Labour would have equal numbers of votes. All one must do is multiply the Contents and Not-Contents on the Labour side by 2.7. The independence of the House would be maintained via the Cross-Benchers, Liberal Democrats and others.

Finally, in relation to Amendment No. 62, I accept that weighted voting is a new concept. However, it is a vital part of these proposals. Accordingly, Amendment No. 62 proposes the establishment of a commission to verify the weighting factors and assumptions that I have made. I do not think that it is right that one individual should do that; there should be verification. My purpose in introducing the commission is solely to enhance the confidence of your Lordships' House in the overall principle. I beg to move.

Baroness Strange: My Lords, I rise very briefly to support the noble Lord, Lord Randall of St. Budeaux, as the amendment stands also in my name. When I came into this House I found it perfect. I liked and admired all the hereditary Peers and life Peers--Conservative Peers, Labour Peers, Cross-Bench Peers and even the Liberal Democrat Peers. It was a very happy place. With the introduction of this Bill, it has changed. I believe that if we support the noble Lord, who is also my noble friend, we can go back to that golden age. Of course, if we all lived for ever, it would be even nicer.

Lord Northbrook: My Lords, I am extremely glad to support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Randall. I have some admiration for him as he battled against constant interruptions, particularly from his own side. He is a great friend of the House. I am also glad to be part of the cross-party support for Amendments Nos. 6 and 9. As the noble Lord, Lord Randall, stated, it is important that the House should have an alternative to the Weatherill amendment to consider, as many like myself who supported it did so based on the view that there was nothing else on offer. Now there is. Overall, the great advantage of the noble Lord's proposal is that, in spite of worries by some Peers that it must be very complicated, it involves only a very simple piece of mathematics for it to be understood; and it is also easy to execute in the Voting Lobbies.

I should like to address other concerns expressed in Committee. First, it is said that it departs from the principle of one man, one vote. The very reason it departs from that principle is to create greater balance in the voting strengths of the main parties. Although it leads to our party giving up its natural majority here, that cannot be a bad thing, especially when it gives the Cross-Benchers such an important role.

Secondly, some have criticised the weighted voting system because the weighted votes of the government party are now only just superior to those of the main opposition party. My noble friend Lord Jopling believed that the Government should have parity with all opposition parties. He was also worried that the Government's business might be overturned by the votes of the Cross Benches. This shows the impartiality of the voting system.

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It is highly likely that under the Weatherill amendment there will be a caucus of hereditary Peers for some years to come. I believe that an alternative amendment which also allows some hereditary Peers to remain in this House for a limited period is not incompatible with what the Government have conceded under the Weatherill amendment.

6.45 p.m.

Baroness Gould of Potternewton: My Lords, I oppose these amendments partly for the reason of consistency. My noble friend said that his arguments were fully consistent with the Labour Party manifesto. I remind him of two specific commitments in that manifesto: first, that the right of hereditary Peers to sit and vote in the House of Lords would be ended by statute; and, secondly, that that would be the first stage in a process of reform. For my noble friend's amendment to come to fruition, something like 50 years would have to elapse. I do not believe that when the Labour Party wrote its manifesto it contemplated starting the second stage 50 years from now. I fail to understand how there can be any consistency in that. My noble friend said that it had nothing to do with speed. We are talking not about speed, but about a very extended timetable which was not part of the Labour Party's thinking when it put those two commitments in the manifesto. I should like my noble friend to answer the specific question: when will the second stage begin--I understand that it will be in about 50 years--and finish?

I also have a problem with the weighted voting system. I understand that my noble friend's motive in moving the amendment is to attempt to redress the political balance. How does his proposal to make this House a carbon copy of the House of Commons--he said that the government party should have a greater number--relate to another manifesto commitment that no political party should seek a majority in the House of Lords? That is another inconsistency.

I have other concerns about the weighted vote. I firmly believe that every Member of the House should be treated as equal. The only way to do that is to have an equality of votes. I do not accept that a system under which one Member has 2.7 votes and another has just one vote has anything to do with equality. If I were to be mischievous--this has been suggested to me--it would be very tempting for somebody perhaps with no political affiliation to go onto the Labour Benches and then vote in the Opposition Lobby, thus giving the Opposition 2.7 votes every time. The process becomes a little farcical. It would be extremely difficult to explain the imbalance in the voting system to people outside this House.

Another concern is that if a Government Peer went into the Opposition Lobby it would have to be recorded as 2.7 votes. The Clerks would then have the responsibility of identifying the political affiliations of those who had gone into each Lobby. That is something that we have never done, and I believe that it would be

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very wrong. In reply to a similar question at Committee stage my noble friend said:

    "All you would need to do is to find out how many government Peers were in the Contents Lobby and how many in the not-Contents Lobby, and multiply by 2.7. Lo and behold!"--[Official Report, 11/5/99; col. 1143.] That might be simple. I have no problem with the mathematics. I do not have the problem referred to by the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers. I understand the position, but I believe that it is unfair and ludicrous and would put the Clerks of the House in the difficult position of having to identify politically who has gone through each Lobby. I think that that would be unfair.

I wish to ask my noble friend a number of questions about the commission. Who will serve on it? Who will determine who serves on it? For how long will it sit? What will be its terms of reference? I am worried about the wording of the amendment which implies to me-- I may misread it--that this House will have no say on whether or not to accept the recommendations. They will go straight into Standing Orders. That is not acceptable. This House should have the right to determine what does or does not go into Standing Orders. I have a problem with that amendment, too.

Finally, although the overwhelming acceptance by this House of the Weatherill amendment creates a disparity of numbers because there are more Conservative than Labour hereditary Peers, that can be dealt with easily by creations rather than what I believe will be interpreted as a complex and farcical system. Rather than returning at Third Reading with options, we should determine the issue today.

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