Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Lord Lucas: My Lords, I do not want to look beyond the interim House. That is as far as my vision, responsibilities and rights go. As I am sure the Government Front Bench knows I care deeply about what that interim House shall be. We have heard fine words and sentiments from the Government on how that interim House will be composed and what the proportion of those parties and Peers will be in the interim House. I reiterate that there needs to be something in legislation, a basis from which those fine words can be anchored so that they may continue to sail 10 years hence if we still have an interim House. I do not believe that this is the amendment with which to do that. I was very flattered to be directly addressed by the Leader of the House the last time she spoke on an amendment. She knows my feelings on this matter. At the end of the day, the principle which is being addressed in this amendment is one on which we should consider sinking the Bill if we get nothing further from the Government.

Lord Cochrane of Cults: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, has expressed exactly my sentiments so I shall not weary your Lordships with repeating them at greater length unless forced to do so. The noble Lord has expressed concisely, accurately and properly the criteria against which noble Lords should consider this Bill. I support every word that he said.

Lord Mackie of Benshie: My Lords, I respect every word that the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, said. I have great respect for the noble Lord. However, a significant number of the so-called independent Peers are not independent in their thoughts. A large number are former Tories and a number among the independent Peers are well to the right of the Tory party. In fact, if you want to increase the influence of any party, you simply have to declare yourself independent and vote as you wish.

22 Jun 1999 : Column 895

It is not logical. It is difficult to define true independence. There is no doubt about the independence of the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, as there is no doubt about a number of others, but there are great doubts about some of the so-called independent Peers.

Lord Trefgarne: My Lords, I am not sure that the noble Lord is correct. Perhaps I may quote the example of my own father who started on the Labour Benches, moved to the Cross Benches and ended up on the Liberal Benches. If that is not independence, I do not know what is.

Lord Henley: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, said that he wanted to get away from party politics. As Chief Whip for the Opposition party, that was positively music to my ears. I imagine that it was also music to the ears of the noble Lord, Lord Carter, the Government Chief Whip. I hope that the noble Lord will reply to the amendment. However, I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Williams, will do so.

I was grateful for the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne. When we were in government we always welcomed the interventions of Cross Benchers. We also welcomed their votes, even when we went down to defeats, as we did on a number of occasions. It is worth reminding the House that despite the so-called Tory majority in the House, we went down to a large number of defeats over the years. We cannot win every vote that we wish to win, even as the House is currently constituted.

I ought to stress to the noble Lord, Lord Mackie, who spoke about the supposed lack of independence of Cross Benchers or members of my own party--I cannot speak for Cross Benchers, but I can speak for those sitting behind me--that they are wholly independent. I know that as Chief Whip of my party. Frequently, they vote against whatever whip I put out. One of the strengths of the House is that all Peers feel that they can vote according to their consciences and there is little that Chief Whips, whether Government or Opposition, can do about encouraging or discouraging their colleagues from voting one way or another. I believe I see a nod from the Government Chief Whip.

Speaking briefly to the amendment, we have considerable sympathy with the aim behind it. The aim is to ensure that the Cross-Bench vote continues to be strong in the interim House. We hope, following the Royal Commission, that there will be a strong Cross-Bench influence in whatever comes in stage two, if we ever get a stage two. We believe that that Cross-Bench independent vote should remain strong, and we hope that the Government will ensure that it will remain so. Therefore, we hope that the Government will give strong support to an amendment of this kind, or at least to the ideas behind the amendment.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn): My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, said that it was suggested that the future of the House was no business of the hereditary Peers. I have never heard that suggested and I have never made

22 Jun 1999 : Column 896

that suggestion. On many occasions I have referred to the importance of contributions made by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, who is in his place, or the noble Lord, Lord Elton, both of whom have developed themes about the continuing value of an invigorated and effective second Chamber. It is not part of my remarks to suggest that any Member of this House has no proper business in considering the future. In fact, quite the opposite is true.

If I have understood the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, correctly, he said that this is a sighting amendment, to discover the Government's attitude. We shall, rightly, have to pay attention to what the Royal Commission says. We want to pay attention to what the committee of both Houses said, and then take a view. But I can repeat what has often been said from these Benches: we want a second Chamber which is not just a replica or clone of another place.

We believe in an independent component--that is to say, a truly independent component--one which actually, to paraphrase the noble Lord, Lord Richard, thinks independently, votes independently and, not by the merest of coincidences, sometimes votes conservatively. We do look to a continuing independent component in this House. At the moment, I think, Cross Benchers constitute about 26 per cent of the life Peers and I am happy to say that we envisage a continuing presence close to that percentage.

I do not think I can be more positive than that without presuming on decisions yet to be made and advice yet to be given. Bearing in mind the attitude which was so clearly demonstrated, one intended to be helpful and one indicating positive enquiry by the noble Lord, I do not think it is helpful if I simply point out the technical deficiencies as regards what is a political party, and so forth. If I need to, I can deploy those arguments on a subsequent occasion.

Lord Northbourne: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his helpful reply. I will not waste the time of the House. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 40A not moved.]

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Boston of Faversham): My Lords, I must point out to the House that, if Amendment No. 41 is agreed to, I cannot call Amendment No. 42.

Lord Trefgarne moved Amendment No. 41:


Page 1, leave out lines 21 and 22 and insert--
("A person shall not be disqualified for--")

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I rise to move Amendment No. 41 and at the same time speak to Amendment No. 43. These amendments are designed and intended to be entirely helpful and constructive. All my amendments have been so designed, but these especially so. As your Lordships know, we have agreed that a number of hereditary Peers will be elected from among themselves to continue to serve in your Lordships' House.

22 Jun 1999 : Column 897

However, it would appear that the provisions of Clause 3 of the Bill would apply to them equally as to all the other Peers in your Lordships' House, who would of course no longer be able to attend. Of course it is right that hereditary Peers no longer able to sit or vote in this House should be allowed to vote for, and maybe even stand for, the other place; but it would appear that the Bill as presently drafted would allow the so-called Weatherill Peers to do that as well. That, it seems to me, would not be right, not in accordance with the wishes of the House and, I suspect, not in accordance with the wishes of another place or indeed of the Government. That, of course, is a matter for them to decide. My amendment proposes therefore that this matter should be corrected. My amendments serve that purpose and I hope that your Lordships will agree to what I have in mind. I beg to move.

Lord Henley: My Lords, can I say briefly that my noble friend has raised an important point. As I understand it, he is saying that, if the Weatherill amendment goes through, I, if I am not one of those Peers, could stand, dare I say it, for Carlisle-- a constituency I live very close to and one which I understand went Conservative at the recent European elections. I would be very tempted to stand for Carlisle. I am not saying I could do that if I was just part of the electorate rather than one of the elected. If I was a Weatherill Peer and in this House, would I also be allowed to stand for Carlisle and would I therefore be allowed to be a Member of both Houses? That would be a rather unusual idea: that a Peer could be a Member of both the House of Lords and of the House of Commons. These are obviously highly technical matters. No doubt the Government will be able to address them, deal with my noble friend's point and tell me whether I can stand for Carlisle or not and be a Member of both Houses.

10.45 p.m.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, certainly in due time, if the noble Lord were successful with a relevant electorate, he could be a Member of any relevant Chamber. Part of the answer to the question of the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, is to be found in Amendment No. 44A in the name of my noble friend Lady Jay of Paddington. That will be dealt with later this evening.

The general point which I would put forward in respect of Amendments Nos. 41 and 43 is that Clause 1 clearly encompasses all routes to, and all aspects of, membership of this House by virtue of a hereditary peerage. We have discussed similar matters on a number of occasions. Amendment No. 43 is back to our old friends, "attend, sit or vote". It has been the consistent formulation that the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, and the noble Earl, Lord Northesk, have used regularly on previous occasions. My former arguments do not benefit by repetition. It is not a synonym for "Member of".

The amendments demonstrate a misunderstanding that this Bill is about a disqualification from membership of the House of Lords. It is not. It is about

22 Jun 1999 : Column 898

blocking off a route to such membership. A hereditary Peer is not disqualified from membership of the House following the passage of this Bill; he is simply no longer eligible to be a Member by virtue of the hereditary peerage. He could continue to be a Member by virtue of any other legitimate route, provided he is not genuinely disqualified on the basis indicated by my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer of Thoroton on the last occasion. For instance, if a hereditary Peer became by some chance an appropriately qualified Bishop of the Church of England, a life Peer or a Law Lord, he would not, by virtue of being the happy recipient of a hereditary peerage, be disqualified from membership of this House.

We need Clause 3 of the Bill at the moment because Peers are not barred from elections to the House of Commons because they are Peers of Parliament; they are barred because they are Peers. That was the point of the judgment in the Benn case: that the bar is in the blood. That is why we need specifically to provide for overturning it in this Bill rather than simply relying on the fact that hereditary Peers will no longer be Members of the Lords.

To summarise briefly, and I have said this before, hereditary Peers are under a disability at present because they cannot stand for election to the House of Commons. That is not fair if they are not automatically Members of this House. Therefore I dealt briefly with Amendments Nos. 41 and 43 and indicated that Amendment No. 44A is designed to deal with the position of the Weatherill Peers, which is the specific question that the noble Lord asked. It is a new question and that is why I invited his attention to Amendment No. 44A.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page