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Lord Desai: My Lords, while the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, is a reasonable one, in the light of what happened on the previous amendment, and especially considering what my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor said, it becomes somewhat anomalous. If I have understood what my noble and learned friend said, a consequence of this Bill will be to disenfranchise the hereditary Peers who are not excepted by Clause 2 from voting in further elections to this House. If that principle is accepted, and

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it has to be accepted, the matter cannot be left to the individual parties to choose the method of election because they may choose to violate that principle. It would be open, for example, to the Liberal Democrats to decide, whatever the Lord Chancellor says, that they want to have the non-excepted hereditary Peers as part of the electorate. We cannot have that.

Lord Harris of Greenwich: My Lords, no.

Lord Desai: My Lords, I understand that the spirit of the amendment is to enable the life Peers to be elected. My proposition may be carried out by the Conservative Party. If we accept what my noble and learned friend said, that restricts the freedom of parties to choose how they elect other hereditary Peers.

Lord Harris of Greenwich: My Lords, may I just correct the noble Lord, Lord Desai? If he looks carefully at the amendment he will see the words "the method of election", not "the electorate". It does not go wider than the simple question of the method of election.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I have been puzzled by this amendment. I thought I understood it when I read it initially, but clearly I must be too stupid or something to have understood it properly. However, I am satisfied that I am not too stupid when I realise that the noble Lord, Lord Desai, shares my puzzlement. When I read this, I thought that "the method of election" meant not just whether it would be by proportional representation or whether all hereditary Peers would have a vote, but that it might mean that life Peers would also be allowed to vote along with the hereditary Peers. So I listened with some interest as the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, if I may say so, narrowed down his amendment. I understand now what he means, but I suspect that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor may say that this amendment is defective and that it goes a good deal wider than the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, seemed to imply in his speech. If the noble and learned Lord does say that, I have to say that I agree with him. I had come prepared to discuss whether or not we life Peers ought to have a vote in our respective parties. Now I am told that the amendment does not call for that, although I actually think it does--

Noble Lords: Order!

Lord Harris of Greenwich: My Lords, if the noble Lord would be good enough merely to read the amendment, he would see that the point he is making is nonsensical--

A noble Lord: So there!

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I accept the reprimand that I am not being sensible but I am afraid that, like the noble Lord, Lord Desai, I actually interpreted the phrase "the method of election" rather more widely than the originator of the amendment intended. I am just making a simple point; I do not need

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a little lecture from the noble Lord, Lord Harris. I think that the amendment goes much wider. However, I will narrow the issue to the method. The noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, did not explain to me why his amendment wanted the possibility of different methods. He did not explain what different methods would be available, and that has left me in some difficulty to understand what he is seeking to do here. It seems to me that certainly the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor is not going to dictate to us--to the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats and the Cross-Benchers--how they should actually conduct the election. The people who are going to dictate that are the Members of the Procedure Committee and the House. As an election would be an election to the House, I think it is right that the House should decide the method of election.

I am not going to argue which method should be chosen. I think the method should be the same for all the parties involved. I agree with my noble friend Lord Cranborne, that although it is perfectly right for a party inside its own organisation to decide on its own different methods to elect party executives and to choose election candidates, when it comes to the actual election--for example, to the other place--the electoral procedure is the same for all who stand. All those who stand will participate in a first-past-the-post election or, if I may just whisper it, an extraordinary list system like the one we have just adopted for the European Parliament. Everybody has to stand on the same basis. I could not say during the European parliamentary elections that I did not approve of the system and so would it be possible for the Conservatives to have a different electoral system. That would not work. When it comes to elections to this House, although I understand that we can argue about what method should be used, it should be a common method and therefore I hope that the Government will not be minded to accept the amendment.

4.45 p.m.

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, this amendment, as I understand it, replaces an earlier one which said that any elections provided for in Standing Orders under Clause 2 must be conducted by the single transferable vote system. Presumably, the noble Lords on the Liberal Democrat Benches decided that STV was unlikely to gain the support of the House--I rather think they are right on that score--and instead proposed to allow each grouping a choice of electoral systems.

I have to say, speaking for myself, that the answer offered by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, is absolutely correct. This is plainly a matter for the Procedure Committee. I would be astonished if the Procedure Committee supported the proposition that each party or grouping could go it alone. I confidently predict that a uniform election procedure will emerge from the Procedure Committee, if for no other reason than to ensure that each individual excepted Peer chosen by the respective groupings has precisely the same legitimacy as all the others, having been elected by the same means. I really think that a common system of election is required, and that is what

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is reflected in the Standing Orders as currently drafted. Also, from the point of view of practicality, I do not believe it would be fair to impose on the Clerk of the Parliaments the burden of administering possibly four different electoral systems. I would suggest that this is really not on, from the point of view of principle and practicality.

The noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, in going through his paper trail on this matter, demonstrated that he would have made a rather good member of the Bar had he chosen that vocation. But let me do the best that I can from my own recollection. The noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, and I certainly discussed at length the composition of the electorate. We came to the view that it would be right that the election should be by hereditaries of hereditaries for hereditaries.

I entirely accept that there is a reasonable argument on the other side, which is that life Peers should have the opportunity also to vote in an election for who their hereditary colleagues should be. I do not reject that argument as an unreasonable one: it can be reasonably entertained and there are equally strong arguments the other way, on which the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, and I agreed.

My recollection is that since we took the view that there should be symmetry in the matter of the electorate, we contemplated that there would be overall symmetry because of the principal justification for that: namely, that Members of a House of Parliament are being elected, and there should be a uniform method of election. I am sure that is what we contemplated. I cannot recall any detailed discussion about it, and so I am not saying that those who want to maintain the contrary view are precluded from doing so by reason of the agreement. Those, on the other hand, who maintain the contrary view, whether on the amendment or any part of the agreement, are not precluded from testing the opinion of the House--although of course I do not invite them to do so.

Certainly, it is the case--and I reproach myself for the fact--that I did send to the various parties concerned, which includes all the political parties and the other groupings, a paper prepared by the Constitution Secretariat, which included the paragraph to which the noble Lord referred, which stated that the method of election may be determined by each party or group. I am afraid that I simply did not spot that one line in the paper, but I can certainly say that the noble Viscount and I contemplated symmetry across the groupings, as evidenced by our clearly expressed agreement in relation to the electorates. For my part, I see no reason why we should agree symmetry for the electorates and not contemplate identity of electoral methods and procedures.

I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, for the fact that by today, 22nd June, I have not replied to his letter dated 10th June. If he will retire with me to my room, he will see the size of my in-tray and will perhaps forgive me for saying that his letter has not yet reached the top of it. I looked at the reference in Hansard where the noble Lord raised this point. If he checks cols. 839-840 of 25th May, he will see that he did not ask me

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the question which in fact he asked in his letter of 10th June. However, I apologise for not replying to it formally before now.


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