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Earl Ferrers: My Lords, when the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman, began by saying, "I have enormous respect for the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers," I thought that hell was about to open up; and sure enough it did! He said that we have discussed the issue; it is perfectly simple; there is no more to be said. That was a very perfunctory argument. In the days when people were hanged for murder, if I had been in the dock and the noble and learned Lord had been the judge and had said, "You're guilty so there is no point in saying any more. You will hang", I should have thought that that was a pretty rotten judgment.
It would be a great pity if there were a legal challenge and the Government were to find egg on their face. I should try not to smile and say, "We told you so". However, it seems, regretfully, that we shall not make this alteration. Whatever one says, the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, says no to it, except that twice he referred to "an" hereditary peerage. I am sure that it was a slip of the tongue. But he had not the courage of his conviction at Committee stage to overturn his brief. When I tabled an amendment to change "a" to "an", the noble Lord said that we could not do that. What was the reason? Because the parliamentary draftsman has always put it that way. So we can change all the procedures for the opening of Parliament, and for introducing new Peers. We can change everything, but what the parliamentary draftsman says is sacrosanct. I should have thought that the noble Lord might have chased him and said, "You must be a bit more with it. Just use one more letter of the alphabet and make it 'an' instead of 'a'", in particular when the noble Lord cannot stop himself saying "an" the whole time. It shows a defect in his character that he has not persuaded the parliamentary draftsman or the powers that be to accept that amendment. However, he did not do so and we have to live with that.
I suppose that we have to live with this provision, but I am tempted not to do so. I am tempted to ask your Lordships to consider whether it would be better to have "because he holds" a hereditary peerage as opposed to "by virtue of" a hereditary peerage. I am hesitant because my noble friend Lord Strathclyde said that the right way for this issue to be decided is in the Committee for Privileges. The noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, in his usual skilful way failed to address that matter. Perhaps it was a little inconvenient for him. But if he were to say that the matter will be considered by the Committee for Privileges, I should be happy to withdraw the amendment. If he says that it will not be considered by the Committee for Privileges, I might ask your Lordships to consider whether we should put these words in the Bill.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I always say "an" just to tease the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, and to check that he is still awake--and he always is--in exactly the same way as he always says "a" to check that I am still awake; and unfortunately I normally am!
It is not for me to pre-judge the wish of your Lordships. Therefore when the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, says that a Motion may be brought forward it would be quite wrong, unprecedented, and wholly disrespectful for me to offer a view.
Earl Ferrers: My Lords, that puts me in a fix, as the noble Lord expected. I think that it would be a good idea to see what your Lordships think. I believe that it would be better to have these words in the Bill.
Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
Lord Shepherd: My Lords, perhaps I may raise a question with the noble Baroness the Leader of the House. We have had a serious, long debate. I do not think that anybody would criticise anyone from any quarter of the House for the time taken on this important Bill. However, here we have an example where, after a fairly long debate, a member of the Opposition decided that the opinion of the House should be tested--I suspect that he had the full support of the Front Bench--only to find that the Conservative Whips were active at the Door in seeking to persuade members of their party not to vote. Is that in the interests of the House and its proper consideration of the Bill? Can the noble Baroness the Leader of the House advise us on this matter?
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