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Lord Carter: My Lords, first, I welcome the noble Lord, the Earl of Northesk, who I think has just made his first appearance at the Dispatch Box, to his new role on the Front Bench. On the Back Benches he certainly earned his spurs on this Bill.
The purpose of Amendment No. 45 is to allow hereditary Peers who are currently Members of the House of Lords to continue hosting welfare and charitable events in the House of Lords, even after their removal from the House. The amendment requires the House of Lords to make provision, presumably in Standing Orders, to allow hereditary Peers who are removed from the House of Lords by the Bill to retain their existing right to host welfare and charitable events in the Palace of Westminster.
We have already had a number of debates on the general issue of club rights and the House is by now well aware of the Government's position on this matter. We do not believe that it is right for former Members of this House to continue to have any special rights in relation to its premises. Those rights go with membership. When membership ceases, so, we believe, do all rights which are the privileges of membership. As we have said previously, even if there were not that strong argument of principle, we do not believe that it is appropriate to make provision for such matters in statute.
The noble Earl's amendment contains a token recognition of this. It does not make express provision in the Bill for hereditary Peers to retain the right to hold welfare and charitable events, but rather imposes a requirement on the House to make provision for that. We believe that that is merely playing with words and comes to exactly the same thing.
The statute would effectively prescribe the content of the Standing Order. Your Lordships' House would operate merely as a rubber stamp. I do not believe that your Lordships' House is likely to be tempted to proceed down that route in this or any other matter touching on its own arrangements. It is a matter for the new House. I might add that there is also the question of how such a requirement could be enforced. How would your Lordships' House be answerable for failing to make such a provision in Standing Orders?
I fully recognise the noble intentions of the noble Earl, Lord Lauderdale, in seeking to allow hereditary Peers to retain access to the House for the purpose of hosting charitable events. I am conscious that many charities benefit from the support and sponsorship of Members of your Lordships' House, including of course many hereditary Peers. One of the benefits of having a Peer as a patron is not so much that he, or she, can engineer functions in the Palace of Westminster, but rather that he can speak up on the Floor of the House on behalf of whatever cause he is associated with and seek to represent its interests in debate. Once hereditary Peers lose the fundamental rights to sit and vote in your Lordships' House, that benefit will be gone--and I do
I should like to make a practical point. We all know the heavy demand there is for the function rooms in the House. Very often, they are booked two years in advance. It would, I think, be highly invidious if a request by an existing Member of the House to hold a function on a particular date had to be denied because the room had already been booked by a non-Member. I can well imagine such a situation arising and I do not believe that the House ought to place its Members in that position.
As regards the period of grace, touched on by my noble friend Lord Strabolgi, it is an interesting idea but it is a matter for the new House. I took the point made by the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, about the effect of the amendment on the hybridity of the Bill, but I shall need carefully to read what he said. As regards the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Newby, I do not believe that there will be a shortage of Peers in the new House who will be able to host such events. The House will contain more than 600 life Peers. There will be plenty of Peers available to host welfare and charity events, and others. For all those reasons, I hope that the noble Earl will withdraw his amendment.
If the time were more favourable I would have been tempted to test the mood of the House, but at this late hour I shall not do so. I say in the nicest possible way that it is not an act of surrender when I beg leave, in a moment, to withdraw my amendment. It has been a great disappointment. There was also the uncharitable way in which the Chief Whip responded to a very modest appeal to the basic good sense of the House. I am not asking anyone to decide in advance. I am simply asking that should a disenfranchised Peer such as myself have the opportunity or be invited by a charity to do something I am able to come back and ask permission. I hope that that may be allowed. On the assumption that that will be so, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
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