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Lord Clifford of Chudleigh moved Amendment No. 58B:


After Clause 3, insert the following new clause--

CONSTITUTIONAL BILLS: VOTING RIGHTS OF HEREDITARY PEERS

(" . Section 1 shall not apply in respect of any proceedings in the House of Lords on a constitutional bill or a bill including constitutional provisions, and any person who was the holder of a hereditary peerage and who was entitled to a writ of summons to attend that House on the day before this Act comes into force shall continue to be entitled to sit and vote on such proceedings.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg the House to reflect on our responsibilities--I say this as a Cross-Bench Peer--as politicians, not party punching politicians. Many Peers have sought legal advice from counsel and counsel's opinion. Some of your Lordships have already received that advice. I am sure that they are aware that it was obtained as a result of private finance. The noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, talks of the legal advice given to the Government. Where is it? As it has obviously been financed by the public, surely it should be in the public domain.

I do not think the House will find the rationale for my amendments--we are considering Amendment No. 58C with Amendment No. 58B--at all obscure or surprising, since they follow the logic of comments from most parts of the House over past months. Most of us started on these reforms with the intent of arriving at a more legitimately balanced House, as part of a Parliament that can represent the people in controlling the executive. Probably most of us think that we are not achieving that, least of all with the Bill as it stands.

Let us make no mistake. This is not a party matter of a compromise to be agreed through the usual channels, however strangely used, that is not negotiable, as the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor thinks--and says throughout. If that were true, the whole House would be compromised. For the argument is between Parliament and the Executive, and what executive ever relishes a parliament that can control it? Nevertheless, any government, like every man, can become wise only by taking into account what others say and believe.

In the Bill we have to deal with the interim House, and it may be a very long interim. So of course the ideal would be for the interim House to mirror the House as we hope it will become so far as it is in our power--

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that is, without legislation--to achieve it. But legislation should at least not stand in the way of that, especially as the Bill does close out both now and for the future the best that the House has shown itself capable of. That is why the watchword of this House has for so long been "No stage one without stage two". Have we now truly forgotten ourselves?

We must take into account the contributions of my hereditary colleagues, especially in the developing system of committees in the field of government. This development, ranging from Europe to science and technology, interest rates, deregulation and so on, has been the startling but undramatic achievement of the House over the past decade. No one can seriously maintain that a suggested limit of 90 hereditary Peers could do anything but damage that. In fact, the compromise is worse than having no hereditary Peers at all. To have none would be plainly seen at once as the work of a self-serving Executive.

This House must not unduly hamper the Government in getting their proper business through. On the other hand, it cannot allow the Government, for their own convenience, to dismember Parliament. All Peers have a duty to ensure a better successor House. Therefore, I have proposed two new clauses which I hope will be seen as a fair compromise between this House and the Government. The clauses do not hamper the Government in getting their business through, unless it is business related to constitutional matters. Perhaps I may remind the House that we spent 18 days debating the Scottish devolution Bill; 10 days on the Bill to set up the Welsh Assembly; eight days on the Northern Ireland Bill; eight days the Referendums (Scotland and Wales) Bill; two days the Northern Ireland (Elections) Bill; and we have dedicated our time, thought and effort to the Jenkins voting system in five separate debates.

Of hereditaries, only the Cranborne-Weatherill 90--if they do not make the Bill hybrid--stay both to sit and to vote on ordinary business. Under my proposals, other hereditary Peers will be unable to vote at all against the Government on non-constitutional matters. So the Government will have for the first time the chance to see what the life Peers really think of them, unmasked by any hereditary vote. That should be revealing and salutary.

But hereditary Peers should always be able to attend and speak. They will have the chance to show what the power of logic can do, even unsupported by a vote. The duty to "advise and counsel" is what this House is here to perform. But conversely, the House should remain as it is in the interim for the purpose of ensuring its effective successor--in a Division if need be. Sadly, we have all learnt that this is not a listening Government. The overall result of the new clauses would be a better balanced interim House, better able to build on the best of what we already have and to hold the Executive to account.

The Executive is not compelled to listen to Parliament as things are if it does not want to. It merely repeats itself, throughout. As a Cross-Bencher and independent, I can now reveal one hereditary right to which throughout our debates no one has yet referred. It is this.

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Every government inherits from their predecessor, of whatever colour, the interest to evade or weaken the power of Parliament if they can. It is that hereditary interest--to evade and weaken the power of Parliament--which, above all, this House must continually eject. All governments are "born to rule"--but only through a Parliament that can control them.

Amendments tabled previously--and perhaps I may mention to the Minister that I have still not received the Standing Orders for the Weatherill-Cranborne amendment in Clause 2, for which I asked on 25th May--have had similar underlying aims. I refer, for example, to those tabled by noble Lords who want, before the legislation takes effect, a referendum on reform proposals and/or a sight of the Royal Commission's findings. One good way at least of achieving those and further aims is embodied in the new clauses. I commend the amendments to the House. I beg to move.

Lord Richard: My Lords, the noble Lord wished us to approach these amendments as parliamentarians and not as party politicians. I accept that. Let me try to do so. As I understand the two propositions, all existing hereditary Peers should continue to have the right to sit in this House and participate in debates, but that on constitutional matters, however they may be defined, not only should they have the right to sit and debate, and argue and present their point of view; they should also have the right to vote. I cannot accept that. The object of this reform which the Government have set their hand to, presaged with great precision in the manifesto upon which we won the last election, was not to ameliorate the position with regard to the anomaly of the hereditary Peers' parliamentary rights but to remove it.

I can perfectly well see that, if I were in the position of the noble Lord as a hereditary Peer, I should be saying that, by my contribution, my argument, my powers of persuasion and my force of character, I should be able to persuade all those who had a vote that they ought to do what I urge them to do. I do not know--I have never been in the position of a hereditary Peer--but I suppose that, if I were, when it comes to infringements of the constitution of the country it is only the hereditary Peers that can be relied upon to behave with independence and propriety in order to safeguard the constitution, the Monarchy and the Crown--I nearly said "the Empire": I am sure that a few decades ago that would have figured in the speech too.

With great respect, what the noble Lord proposes may seem to him a reasonable compromise between the existing position of the hereditary Peerage and extinction, but from my point of view--and I hope I am speaking in as parliamentary way as he would like me to--we have not come here in order to produce a compromise for the hereditary Peers but to remove their constitutional and parliamentary rights to participate as hereditary legislators in the United Kingdom. I cannot accept what the noble Lord urges.

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, has done the House a great service in bringing forward these amendments. He is right in much of what he says. But, sadly, the noble

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Lord, Lord Richard, has laid out what the Bill is about: it is to remove the right of the noble Lord, of myself and of many others to sit and vote in this House. Therefore the arguments that the noble Lord has put forward so cogently have fallen on deaf ears. I suspect that the Government will repeat, more or less, what the noble Lord, Lord Richard, said. It is because the Government are so stubbornly refusing to consider the case for "no stage one without stage two", about which they have been remarkably consistent over the course of the past two years, that I think these amendments are doomed to fail. I, for one, regret that.

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, perhaps I may first say to the noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, that I am sorry that he has not discovered the draft Standing Orders in the Library of this House; they have, in fact, been available since 31st March and have obviously been read by a number of your Lordships.

I know that the noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, has taken an assiduous interest in the Bill. Having been slightly cross with the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, earlier when he made personal remarks about other people's attention, I hesitate to say that some of the arguments put forward by the noble Lord would suggest that he has been equally inattentive. It is certainly the case that the principle and burden of these amendments have been discussed on Second Reading and in Committee and the principle has been discussed many times in ancillary debates on other amendments.

I recognise that the noble Lord has taken account of comments which were made in earlier debates on his and other amendments and has changed his proposal to one that includes only existing Members of this House and not their heirs. However, in my view and that of the Government, it suggests in principle that there is a danger to our fundamental constitution if the hereditary Peers do not continue to be Members of your Lordships' House in such great numbers as they are at present. This does not address two of our fundamental problems with the present situation and the proposals we are putting forward, as my noble friend Lord Richard put it so elegantly a few minutes ago.

To follow the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, I do not need to repeat my own arguments on this subject; I can simply quote from the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, who, in debate on a similar amendment put forward by Lord Renton of Mount Harry on 29th April, raised the issue:


    "as to how sensible it is to imply that any group of people outside the membership of either House of Parliament should have a reserved constitutional role which acts as a sort of guardian for Parliament ... this is the sort of question which properly belongs in Parliament ... I find it constitutionally odd that Parliament itself should not be trusted to perform one of its central functions in its control of government".--[Official Report, 29th April 1999; col. 466.] That is, current Members of the Houses of Parliament. I agree entirely with the noble Viscount: Parliament is the guardian of our constitution.

As I am sure the noble Lord is aware--I shall not weary the House by repeating our arguments on this particular point--the Government also reject the

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implication that only hereditary Peers, whether current Members of your Lordships' House or those who will not be excepted Members of your Lordships' House in the transition, can be trusted to be independent. The amendment contains the fatal flaw, which was pointed out last time this matter was discussed, that it does not define what is a constitutional Bill, let alone one that contains constitutional provisions that are supposedly the subject of these particular exceptions to the terms of the Act. The amendment is fundamentally at odds with the scheme of the Bill, as my noble friend Lord Richard explained; and, with the commitment to which Clause 2 gives effect, the amendment is doubly at odds. I urge the House to reject it.

I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, will forgive me if I deal briefly with Amendment No. 58C. It proposes that hereditary Peers should retain the right to sit and speak in this House but vote only in the circumstances described in Amendment No. 58B. We have debated the idea of the so-called "two-Writ system" many, many times but, beyond debate, it is one of the very few issues that have been put to the vote. The House has already decided twice that it is not interested in this approach. It decided it once positively on the amendment moved by the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, on 27th April, and it decided it again, by implication, on the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, on 11th May when the House voted overwhelmingly to include what is now Clause 2. This approach really is exhausted, and I urge the noble Lord to withdraw the amendment.


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