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The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, I thought that it was clear to everyone in the House that that was the position, and I see that everyone is nodding agreement. On the other hand, it might be of assistance to the House if, before other contributions were made, the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, felt able to indicate whether the course of action that I propose is acceptable to him. That, of course, does not shut out other noble Lords, but it might persuade them to abbreviate their contributions if I have secured a favourable response from the noble Lord, the Leader of the Opposition.
Of course, I say out of courtesy to my noble friend Lord Ewing that I will consider his proposition of an alternate system, but, for the reason given by my noble friend Lord Mishcon, I think it is an unnecessary complication; it is not proposed by anyone by way of an amendment; and it steps completely outside what has already been agreed in the Weatherill amendment, that there should be a defined number. The notion that that defined number could be represented by an equal defined number of alternates to participate in our debates does not appeal to me.
The House is very full this afternoon. We have witnessed a most extraordinary event, one which I think will become extremely memorable. The dramatic entry of the noble and learned Lord in this debate was extraordinary, but most welcome. One of the excitements of this House is the unpredictable nature of interventions from the Front Bench. I have to say that I suffered a frisson of excitement as the noble and learned Lord spoke and he has given me great pleasure. If I had known that he was to reply quite so quickly, I should have asked for a lot more!
I believe that the noble and learned Lord has come to a statesmanlike conclusion. It is sensible. It is consistent with the arrangements in new Clause 2, on which this House has already voted. It is a victory for common sense. I understand that the noble and learned Lord has committed the Government to coming forward with an amendment at Third Reading. It will be discussed between the Government and the Opposition so that a format can be agreed. He has accepted that there should be on the face of the Bill an assurance that any replacement for the 90 Peers will be by election and that there should be agreed Standing Orders to ensure that those elections can take place.
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I agree with that. It was contained in my amendment and I welcome confirmation of it. However, the noble and learned Lord would not want to see the whole of the hereditary peerage being part of the electorate, although they could all be candidates. That is an important consideration. The electorate would be the limited 90 or 75 Peers as per the arrangement in Clause 2.
Of course, I should like to consider that in greater detail and discuss it with the noble and learned Lord. However, I hope that the House, and particularly Members behind me from my own party, will recognise that it would be churlish to take the matter further. I very much welcome the words of the noble and learned Lord and, on that note, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Lord Carter: My Lords, the House is always flexible in its procedures. The Question has not yet been put. I suggest that we hear only briefly from the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, and the Question should then be put.
The Earl of Erroll: My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, perhaps I may say that from the Cross Benches I had wanted to make a brief point and I had understood that the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition was making an early intervention. I had one brief comment to make and I had not expected the debate to be wound up quite so quickly and abruptly.
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, it will obviously be worth hearing one or two Members of this House speak to the amendment. In that case, I shall withdraw my withdrawal of the amendment so as to hear those valued contributions. However, perhaps I may indicate to the noble and learned Lord that I have no intention of pressing the matter to a Division.
Lord Carrington: My Lords, on a point of order, all this has been extremely satisfactory and everyone is quite content. However, almost everything that has happened has been out of order! At Report stage, no noble Lord can speak more than once and there should be no interventions. There have been a great number of speeches from various noble Lords on the same subject and I suggest that if we stick to the rules of order, we shall get on very much quicker.
Lord Goodhart: My Lords, what we have just seen in the past few minutes, in a somewhat peculiar procedure, is a cosy get-together of the two Front Benches. I regret to say that I have to be the bad fairy at the wedding.
As has been made perfectly clear, the by-elections were no part of the Cranborne/Irvine concordat. So far as we are concerned, as we made clear during the debate on recommitment, we oppose the filling of vacancies. If they must be filled, we accept filling by runners-up. We cannot accept the by-election system. To begin with, it is pointless in principle. The 90 Weatherill Peers would no doubt be those who are currently active. They will stay until they die or until stage two. Certainly, for up to 10 years it will be practicable to use runners-up to fill the vacancies. Eventually, there will be difficulties, but so what?
The purpose of the Weatherill amendment is to put pressure on the Government to proceed with stage two; as the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, graphically put it, it is the sand in the shoe. If, in 20 or 30 years' time, we still have not reached stage two, it will mean that the whole purpose of the Weatherill amendment has failed and that successive governments will have found it easy to ignore the sand in their shoe. We believe that there is no justification for keeping the Weatherill amendment alive by a system of by-elections. That would simply be keeping it alive on a life-support machine without any hope of recovery. It is better to let it die with dignity.
There are, of course, questions about how the by-elections would work. Who would be the electorate? Who would be the candidates? One point which is not unimportant but has not been considered is the position of the 15 who are to be elected by the whole of your Lordships' House on the footing that they are willing to serve as Deputy Speakers or Chairmen of Committees. The candidates for those 15 vacancies will obviously not be serving Members of your Lordships' House, but will have to be willing to serve as Deputy Speakers or Committee Chairmen. How can someone who has not been in your Lordships' House for years, may perhaps never have been in your Lordships' House, be qualified to serve? How will their ability to serve be tested? Will it be by some kind of election campaign or by a mock Sitting of your Lordships' House to test the capacity of the candidates to chair it? That is completely absurd. I suggest that it is quite impossible to have by-elections for the 15.
As regards the party group Peers, we have been told by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor that the electorate will be the hereditary Peers who belong to the party group in which the vacancy occurs. That would be unworkable in the case of the noble and learned Lord's own party where, on the death of one of its two elected Peers, the survivor would simply have a right to nominate the successor to the other. It is almost equally unworkable in the case of my own party, where we have three. There would be two survivors. Given that even among the Liberal Democrats there are from time to time disagreements, if those two were to disagree the system would become totally unworkable.
The alternative favoured by the Official Opposition--election by the body of hereditary Peers connected with the party--is unworkable in any circumstances. Who would the candidates be? Would they include those who succeed to their peerages after the Bill comes into force? Presumably they would. But if their successors can be candidates, it means that some man, or very occasionally some woman, who had never been a Member of your Lordships' House could stand for election to your Lordships' House simply as a representative of a section of the hereditary peerage. How would the candidates be elected? Clearly, the group which would be elected among the Conservatives would be far larger and more diverse than the pre-1968 electorate for the representatives of the Scottish Peers or pre-1921 electorate for the representatives of the Irish Peers.
Even if we accept that there will be 90 Weatherill Peers, even if we accept the election of 90 Weatherill Peers with reserves, we cannot accept a system of by-elections. In practice, by-elections must mean that if stage two is deferred for any length of time, there will be brought into your Lordships' House hereditary Peers who have not previously sat here. Once we start looking at the mechanism for these by-elections, the absurdity of the idea becomes obvious.
I repeat that the purpose of the Weatherill amendment is to shame a recalcitrant government into proceeding with stage two; and if that does not work within 10 years, there is no reason why it ever should. By-elections to fill the vacancies will not be needed to make the Weatherill amendment work; they will prove that it has not worked. It is arguable that some hereditary Peers should continue to sit until stage two, but I can see no argument for bringing in their successors who have no experience of this House. They will be merely phantom Members of your Lordships' House, elected by a phantom electorate. This is a stitch-up between the two Front Benches in which we have no part and wish to have no part.
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