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Viscount Bledisloe moved, as an amendment to the Chairman of Committees' Motion, at end insert ("with the following amendments:


Page 1, line 5, leave out ("hereditary") and insert ("qualified")
Page 1, line 6, leave out ("hereditary") and insert ("qualified")
Page 1, line 7, leave out ("hereditary") and insert ("qualified")
Page 1, line 8, leave out ("hereditary") and insert ("qualified")

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Page 1, line 12, at end insert-
("(2A) Each of the Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties and the Cross Bench peers may decide whether the qualified peers for the party or group referred to in paragraph 2 above are to consist of
(i) all hereditary and life peers of that party or group, or
(ii) only the hereditary peers of that party or group.
Such decision shall be notified at least one month before the date of the elections to the Clerk of the Parliaments by the leader of each party and the Convenor of the Cross Benchers. If no such notification is given by any party or group, the qualified peers of that party or group shall be deemed to be only the hereditary peers.")
Page 2, line 11, leave out ("excepted hereditary peers") and insert ("qualified peers who are members of the House")
Page 2, line 21, after ("Paragraphs") insert ("(2A,)")
Page 2, line 26, leave out first ("hereditary")
Page 3, line 11, leave out ("but the numbers voting will be smaller since only hereditary peers will be voting")").

The noble Viscount said: My Lords, as your Lordships will see, the Motion proposes certain amendments to the Standing Orders and to the consequential directions to which the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees has referred. As set out on the Order Paper I accept that these amendments appear somewhat complicated, but they all relate to one topic only; namely, who among your Lordships should form the electorate which will select the 90 hereditary Weatherill Peers who are to remain in this House pending stage two of the reform.

As noble Lords will by now be well aware, these 90 Peers fall into two classes. First, there are the 15 who are to be chosen because of the services it is expected they will render to the House, either as Deputy Speakers or as chairmen of various committees. Those 15 are to be elected by the Whole House; that is, by all Members of the House, whether hereditary or life Peers, and all such Members will have an equal vote for those 15. The second class is the 75 Peers who are to be selected by each party or group according to the number set out in the report of the Procedure Committee. These Peers will, of course, be selected only by the Members in their party or group. Thus the 42 Conservatives will be chosen by the votes of Conservatives; the 28 Cross-Benchers by votes of Cross-Benchers, and so on. So far so good.

However, as the report now stands, those 75 Peers are to be elected solely by the votes of the hereditary Peers in that group and the life Peers are to have no say whatsoever in this process of selection. No explanation has been forthcoming as to why it is appropriate for the life Peers to have a voice in deciding who shall chair committees, or who shall sit on the Woolsack, yet it is wholly inappropriate for those same life Peers to be allowed any say in who shall be their continuing colleagues in their own party or group.

I suggest to your Lordships that this exclusion of the life Peers is wholly illogical and wholly unjustified. Ideally I would have wished that the electorate for all parties and groups should include the life Peers as well as the hereditaries. However, the Conservative Party, or, to be somewhat more accurate, the majority of the Front Bench Members of the Conservative Party, have set

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their face resolutely against it. So far it has been impossible to determine the logic of their attitude, but what is beyond doubt is that the attitude exists.

In the light of this stance by the Front Bench, I recognise that we might have some difficulty in persuading the House to determine that every party and group shall be required to include the life Peers in their electorate. The amendment before the House, therefore, proposes that each party or group shall be entitled to make its own choice as to whether it wishes its Weatherill Peers to be elected by all its Members or only by the hereditaries.

One of the Government's recurrent themes on Lords reform has been their recognition of the need for a strong, independent Cross-Bench element. It seems at the lowest to be somewhat inconsistent with that to deny to that independent element the right to select its Members in its own independent way. Since one of the main arguments for this Motion is that it would be utterly wrong for the Cross Benches to be compelled by the two main Front Benches to have the wrong electorate, so likewise we recognise that it might be wrong for us to seek to compel the Conservative Party to follow what is undoubtedly the best and most sensible course if, even after reflection, that party remains determined to have a solely hereditary electorate.

Thus this Motion is--I make no bones about this--a compromise between the ideal and what should be practically achievable. Indeed, as a compromise it departs from the view which I have previously expressed: that it would have been preferable to have a uniform system. But it seems that an acceptable uniform system is not achievable and therefore my Motion allows everyone to follow his or her own conscience without in any way interfering with the desires of other parties.

Why, then, do I feel so strongly that all Members of the House should be entitled to vote for their group? It has been decided that 75 hereditary Peers are to remain in this House until stage two; and it is surely very important, first, that those who remain are the people who can make the most useful contributions to the ongoing work of the House; and, secondly--I venture to suggest that this is important--that they are seen by the outside world to have been chosen by the method best suited to achieve that result.

If one wishes to select the most appropriate and useful people it would seem obvious that the persons best suited to make that selection are those who attend the House with some regularity and who have therefore experienced the contribution which can be made by the various candidates either on the Floor of the House or in the committees upstairs. The importance of the work on those committees was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, at a previous stage. I had hoped that we should hear from him on the same topic. As he pointed out, only those who sit on those committees can know which person makes a valuable contribution.

In each party or group a very considerable proportion of the people who attend regularly, and who sit on committees and therefore have the necessary

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knowledge, are the life Peers. Further, since by definition the life Peers cannot themselves be candidates for election they will not only be well informed but also wholly dispassionate in the casting of their vote.

On the other hand, if only the hereditaries are allowed to vote, many of those who attend regularly will themselves be candidates. Thus the dispassionate voters will comprise the relatively few hereditary Peers who, although regular attenders, have decided not to stand, and other hereditaries who attend only seldom and have little knowledge of the candidates.

In this connection it is important to bear in mind--it is a point which may not have fully caught the attention of some of your Lordships--that anyone who wishes to vote in the election of their group out of the 75 is obliged to cast as many votes as there are places in his group. Thus every Conservative voter has to vote for 42 people; and every Cross-Bench voter has to vote for 28, and if he does not exercise every one of those votes his entire ballot paper is void. Those hereditaries who attend only rarely may well know five, 10 or perhaps even 15 candidates whom they regard as well suited to remain in the House. But I suggest that they are likely to find it virtually impossible to fill up the remainder of their list from their own knowledge. In those circumstances, they will either have to make a very random selection to fill the list, or they may have to seek and follow the guidance of the Whips. When one reaches that point, if one were a cynical observer, one might feel that one had detected the true reason for the Front Bench enthusiasm for excluding the knowledgeable life Peer in favour of those who will be driven to seek the Whips' guidance on the exercise of their vote.

From time to time the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, has said that,


    "hereditary peers can well be trusted to make their own decisions."

My Motion does not suggest that the hereditaries are not capable of making a decision or that any decision they make will be bad. What it says is that a decision which is made with the participation of the life Peers as well is almost certain to be better informed and therefore to produce an even better result. More importantly, it is a method which will be seen by the outside world as much more justified. I suggest that there is a real risk that if only the hereditaries elect their colleagues, the press and the public will regard this as an exercise of the old boy net merely to provide a consolation prize for some of the poor old hereditaries.

The need to include the life Peers among the electorate is emphasised by the amendment to which the noble Lord, Lord Boston of Faversham, referred on the replacement of those among the 75 who die. It will provide that after a short time vacancies occurring among the 90 hereditaries should be filled by means of by-elections, not simply by a topping-up process. The voters in those by-elections shall be only those who remain as Members of the House. As was pointed out on Report, that model of by-elections to fill vacancies among the Labour or Liberal Democrat hereditaries solely by the votes of those parties' hereditaries makes no sense. If one of the two Labour Weatherill Peers dies,

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there will be a by-election involving one voter only. If both of them die together or in quick succession or if the remaining Peer is unfortunately incapable, there will be no voters. If one of the three Liberals dies, there will be only two voters, who may well be deadlocked.

Even in the rottenest of rotten boroughs, matters never degenerated to quite that level of absurdity. It seems somewhat strange to find the new Labour Government seeking to reintroduce the constituency of Old Sarum into our parliamentary system. That prospect was described by The Times today as "nonsensical and farcical." I hope that the Front Benches on both sides will be duly grateful to me for producing a proposal that extracts them from that unfortunate position.

What is the argument against my suggestion? When the matter was discussed on the recommittal of the Bill on 25th May, the principal proponent of the argument that the electorate should be restricted to hereditaries was the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne. His argument was that the 75 Peers were to be in the House,


    "to represent the hereditary peerage".--[Official Report, 25/5/99; col. 802.]

He and many others in his party have repeatedly emphasised that the 75 Peers were to be representative of the hereditary peerage and therefore must be elected by the hereditary peerage.

I accepted then, and I still accept, that if that is their real role, the noble Viscount's argument is justified. His argument was bolstered by reference to a supposed analogy with the representative Scottish Peers elected under the Act of Union. That argument is demolished by what is now Clause 4 of the Bill which provides that all the hereditaries who do not remain in this House are entitled to vote and stand in elections to the House of Commons. That is in direct contrast to the position of the Scottish Peers under the Act of Union. No Scottish Peer--not even one who was not elected to sit in this House--had any right to vote or stand in any election to the Commons. That was a direct application of the well established principle that no one can vote for representation to both Houses of Parliament.

4 p.m.

The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, Irish Peers had the right to elect Members to this House on a life-long basis and they were also allowed to stand for the House of Commons. The rules for the Irish Peers were different from those for the Scottish Peers.


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