Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, it is not for me to offer advice to the noble lord the Leader of the Opposition or, indeed, the Opposition Chief

15 Jun 1999 : Column 224

Whip, who I see is not in his place, on the way in which they advise their Members to behave when a Division is called.

My noble friend is right that this Division was called by a member of the previous Conservative government. I believe, however, that he was not speaking in a Front Bench capacity but in a personal capacity, as he has done at other stages of the Bill. It is therefore obviously open to him to ask the opinion of the House, if he so wishes. It is for the Leader of the Opposition and the other Members of the Front Bench to advise their colleagues. It is not for me to have a view on that.

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, this is the most extraordinary debate that I have ever heard. I am completely amazed. Of course, what probably happened is that the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, reminded himself just how awful it is being in government. He was probably just tucking into his main course downstairs in the Barry Room when the Division Bell rang and he had to struggle up here only to discover that the Labour Party had a majority of nearly 50. I understand his frustration at that, but that is what happens in government. It is not for me to give noble Lords opposite a lecture.

My noble friend Lord Ferrers did what was entirely appropriate as far as he was concerned. He was well within his rights. I am glad that he had so many people supporting him. I made my views from the Front Bench entirely plain for all to see. The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, will be able to reflect at his leisure tomorrow when he reads Hansard that I did not seek to encourage the Conservative Party to vote. If the Opposition Whips were letting Conservatives know our view, I believe that to be remarkably sensible. I am glad that the machinery was as efficient as it clearly was.

I do not know whether it is the desire of the Government Front Bench to continue this debate or whether we can carry on with the business. I am rather keen to carry on with the business.

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, I am not so sure that I want to carry on with the business! The intervention by the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, was extraordinary. I tabled this amendment, which I thought to be a jolly good amendment; and I suggested we had a Division on it. That was perfectly reasonable. Whether or not my Front Bench colleagues joined me was entirely a matter for them. I wanted to test the opinion of the House. If the result of the Division had been the other way round and we had won by 120 and they had lost by 60, the complaint would have been that we had bussed everyone in. Of course, they bussed everyone in, ranks and all. They all came out from the woodwork for the vote. Of course, when the Government win, that is fine and dandy; if we win, that is a wicked and terrible thing. I think the whole thing is a total farce. My noble friend was quite right: seeking a Division was perfectly justified. I am glad that all those who supported the amendment did so, and I am sorry for those who decided to go in the

15 Jun 1999 : Column 225

opposite Lobby, including the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd. I think he made a great mistake, but there we are.

Lord Shepherd: My Lords, in view of the advice that has come from the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, and the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, we should cut the cackle and get on with this damn Bill.

The Earl of Clanwilliam moved Amendment No. 8:


Page 1, line 6, at end insert--
("(2) But any holder of a hereditary peerage who has been elected to--
(a) the House of Commons,
(b) the European Parliament,
(c) the Scottish Parliament,
(d) the Northern Ireland Assembly,
(e) the National Assembly for Wales,
(f) a regional assembly in England,
(g) the Greater London Authority,
(h) a local authority, or
(i) consecutively to any of the bodies listed in paragraphs (a) to (h),
for a continuous period of seven years shall be entitled throughout his life to receive a writ of summons to attend the House of Lords and to sit and vote in that House by virtue of that peerage on the completion of that period or, in the case of a member of the House of Commons, on the day after he ceases to be a member.
(3) In subsection (2) "local authority" means--
(a) in relation to England, a county, district or London borough council;
(b) in relation to Wales, a county or county borough council;
(c) in relation to Scotland, a council for a local government area, and
(d) in relation to Northern Ireland, a county, district or county borough council.")

The noble Earl said: My Lords, we are having a bit more cackle, I am afraid. I hope that my Front Bench will give me equal support to that which the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, received. I see that noble Lords opposite have been bussed in in large quantities, so I have not much faith.

I moved my amendment very late at night on our last day in Committee and was chided by the noble Lord the Captain of the Gentlemen at Arms on several counts. It is to those counts that I wish to revert. I may be accused of going over old ground, but I am merely trying to correct the argument that was put against my amendment.

In the first instance, the noble Lord was astonished that anyone who retires, leaves office or loses his seat in another place should be entitled to a seat in your Lordships' House. I can look around this House and see a large number of Peers who have come here as a result of a misfortune at the ballot box. The noble Lord could have added that the Peer may have been deselected by the constituency or by Millbank bosses; and that would be another excellent reason why he or she would be a suitable and important addition to your Lordships' debates as a representative of unfashionable views of which this House is the essential preserver. It was the

15 Jun 1999 : Column 226

noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, who spoke so persuasively of the genetic pool and it is that genetic pool which I wish to preserve in this House.

My amendment requires seven years of public service which means that hereditary Peers will have been twice selected by the electorate. To be elected once may be a fluke; but surely to be elected twice is a stiff enough test of one's democratic legitimacy. The noble Lord, Lord Randall, spoke movingly of the automatic right under the gentle approach. This is one solution that reacts to the noble Lord's solution. To argue otherwise is simply to twist the reality: that a Peer may inherit many years after a period of service; he may inherit while he is a serving Member; he may indeed inherit after a general election at which his party receives a vote of no confidence. That appears to be the noble Lord's objection in chief. But in no way does it reduce the value of the Peer's service to the community in the past. He will, by means of this amendment, be a recipient of the privilege of his inheritance. That is the intention of this amendment.

I commend to the House the well argued defence of the hereditary principle which was defended by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, and the noble Lord, Lord Randall of St. Budeaux.

The second complaint is that a regional assembly is included in the amendment. The noble Lord said that this is a concept that does not yet exist. I must disabuse the noble Lord of his error. He may not have been very happy with his memories of the recent election of MEPs, but I must remind him that the Government, at the behest of the Commission, have already divided the country into 11 Government Office regions to rearrange the voting structure of the electorate. It may be by the way and not particularly germane to this argument that the Government may be coming to regret the change in anticipation of the federal state of Europe to which we are being slyly encouraged. The regional assemblies do not yet exist, but it would be foolhardy not to include the prototypes that the Government have introduced in the drafting of this amendment.

Thirdly, we are told that it is not clear whether the Peer will sit for life or for one Parliament. As he will sit as a hereditary Peer, he will not therefore be subject to any future electoral event. As the noble Lord will recall, hereditary Peers have first to prove the legitimacy of their claim to their title and only then can the Writ of Summons be issued for that and succeeding Parliaments. I am advised that once a Writ of Summons is issued in a Parliament after the Bill is passed, then that Writ is for the life of that Peer. It can be claimed at the opening of each Parliament and cannot be abrogated except in circumstances of bankruptcy or "barminess".

Clause 4(2) says any Writ of Summons shall not have effect after the Session in which the Act takes effect. This amendment clearly and by implication addresses that clause in the instance of a Peer who has demonstrated his political and democratic legitimacy.

The noble Lord seems to have sought to rubbish my amendment and shows concern that a Peer who has been a Member of the other place could not seek re-election there. Presumably the speaking notes to which he

15 Jun 1999 : Column 227

referred assumed that the Peer would only sit for one Parliament. It is therefore his notes that are rubbish and not my amendment. However, to make doubly clear I added to the amendment the phrase, "throughout his life". The Peer should keep his seat and his heirs and successors should have the right and responsibility to establish their own democratic legitimacy before claiming their own Writ of Summons for their own lifetime in turn.

I accept that this is in direct contradiction with the essence of the Bill, but it is a small concession to make to allow such a small band of exceptional hereditary Peers as will be enfranchised by this amendment to sit and vote and continue as representatives of an ancient and honourable past. This is my answer to the noble Lord's coup de grace when he explains that hereditary Peers are unacceptable in principle and in social or any other terms as a representative of the people of this country as a whole. My amendment raises the stakes to a level where the Peer has proven himself to be acceptable in exactly those terms.

My noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish asked why there should be such discrimination. The answer is simple. Because he is a Peer whose rights in this House are immemorial, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, inferred in his acceptance of the genetic pool which they represent.

Amendment No. 21 is an amendment to the Weatherill amendment and will continue the element of hereditary peerage. I beg to move.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page