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Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank: My Lords, it is all of five weary months ago and many hours of debate since from these Benches we described the Weatherill amendment as it was then called--it is now Clause 2--as a dog's breakfast. For some noble Lords, that was relatively strong language and unjustified hyperbole, and for others it constituted unfair ridicule. However, a dog's breakfast is what Clause 2 has proved to be and, if we needed further evidence, it is contained in the report of the Procedure Committee that we are discussing today.
I do not agree with the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, when he said that this was basically a technical matter, a question of practical details. There are very important political and constitutional ideas behind the decisions that we are being called upon to make. I agree that the House has agreed, although the other place has yet to pronounce, that despite the purpose of the Bill--and it has no other--being to remove the hereditary Peers from Parliament, 92 will stay on. That has been decided and is part of the Bill that we are discussing. In the view of many of us, there was a better way of keeping on the most talented and most hard-working hereditary Peers, but the matter has been decided.
It has also been decided that the selection of 90 out of the 92 should be a matter for our Standing Orders. I still view it as an extraordinary presumption without precedent or justification that the House of Lords through its Standing Orders should decide who should sit here and that the House of Commons should have no say in that matter.
If there was any doubt about the difficulties that we have let ourselves in for, they are illustrated by the report of the Procedure Committee and, indeed, by the minutes of the committee. It is an example of parliamentary decision-making at its worst and it would be laughable, if the issue were not so serious.
The noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, also drew attention to the unique system of voting. Noble Lords will have to number candidates in order of preference to fill the exact number of vacancies--not one more or less, but precisely the right number. They will do so on the assumption that they are expressing preferences, but the votes will not be preferences at all, except in the case of a tie. We can forget the problems with the European elections because this election will be a perfect formula for spoilt ballot papers.
In this election, according to the proposals before us, a candidate may send all his voters a jeraboam of champagne, whereas buying a pint of beer for an honest vote in parliamentary elections was banned by the Corrupt Practices Prevention Act 1854. I shall be told, although I know already, that there is to be a code of conduct. It will be discussed through the usual channels and will not come before your Lordships' House. The code of conduct will suggest restraint, but the only restraint I can see will be on sending a jeraboam of champagne to a prospective voter after registration, which will begin on 11th October. My advice to noble Lords who intend to stand in the elections is, "Get your champagne sent quickly by Berry Bros. and do not leave it too late".
Lord Randall of St. Budeaux: My Lords, passing champagne around would not be fair. However, in the other place--I know that the noble Lord spent some time there--it is established practice to have networking in voting. In this case, for example, four or five Peers would come together and agree that each of their supporters would vote for the other four and, eureka, all five would get in. The noble Lord's proposal appears to be eminently sensible. In order to ensure that such behaviour does not have a deleterious effect, it is best to have as big an electorate as possible, thus making the case for life Peers voting alongside hereditary Peers.
Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for anticipating my destination. For the moment, I make no proposal of my own. Today I am only listening to others and supporting what they propose to do. The noble Lord's comments will have been heard by those responsible for our code of conduct. I believe that the code of conduct would be ridiculed if it were not part of the extraordinary arrangements that we are making in this House.
The best argument, and it is not a good one, which we hear from the Leader of the House, the Government Front Bench, is that the arrangements, muddled, confused, unsatisfactory though they are, will last only for a short time. Well, we all have our views on that. Most of us believe that they will last at least five years. Some of us believe that they will last at least 10. But the Leader of the House has come up with an interesting suggestion; if they look like lasting longer, we can change the rules. We do not have to be committed to what we are deciding today; we will return to it again. Why not decide something sensible today which will endure for five or 10 years, rather than have the nonsense included in the proposals before us?
In the light of these anomalies and contradictions, the outright nonsense in some cases, it is tempting to suggest that your Lordships' House should reject the Procedure Committee report and ask it to try again. But I have conceded, and I concede again, that the root of the problem lies in the agreement reached between the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor and the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, last December, which is incorporated in Clause 2.
Out of that flawed deal much trouble has come, but there is little we can do about it now. However, we have the amendment in the name of the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, and at least we can support that. I know that the House will share my view that it was moved with brilliance and panache by the noble Viscount. I hope that the House will share my view that his arguments were wholly convincing.
We on these Benches would have preferred the House to agree that if there are to be 92 excepted Peers, all Peers should choose the 90 who are open to election, life and hereditary alike. After all, we are arguing about the principle that hereditary Peers should choose hereditary Peers. That was spelt out clearly by the noble Baroness the Leader of the House. She said as much today. Some of us do not like that principle, but it is not the principle in the legislation. It is a principle breached. Fifteen of the hereditary Peers are to be elected by all of us, so where is the principle that some noble Lords seem so anxious to hold on to? If 15 can be elected by all Members of the House, hereditary and life Peers, why not elect the remaining 75? There is no rational justification for this proposal.
The noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, has settled for choice. That is what he is offering the House. He is not dictating to any party or any group; he is simply saying that each party, Cross-Benchers, too, should be able to choose whether they prefer an electoral college of all
Lord Weatherill: My Lords, I must begin by correcting the report of the Select Committee. Noble Lords who have read the report will have noticed that my comments on page 11 do not make sense because the words "short term" have been left out in lines 15 and 24. Perhaps those of your Lordships who have the report would be kind enough to put them in.
When we negotiated the arrangement, it was envisaged to be a short-term one. What has muddied the waters has been the acceptance of the by-election procedure. If the arrangement was intended to be short-term, surely the replacement of the 90 plus two hereditary Peers by a system of fastest losers would have been both simple and adequate for the two to three years envisaged when Clause 2 was incorporated into the Bill.
I imagine that many of your Lordships will know the story of Bismarck negotiating with the Austrians towards the end of the last century. In the course of those negotiations, the Austrian Ambassador died and Bismarck's immediate reaction was, "I wonder what he meant by that".
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