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Lord Peston: My Lords, I have been looking forward for a very long time to debating the minutiae of this remarkable document containing the new Standing Orders. It is equalled in its remarkable nature only by the verbatim account of the proceedings of the Procedure Committee. If various amateur dramatic societies wish regularly to perform that as a playlet in due course, I hope that Her Majesty's Government, or whoever owns the copyright, will not make any effort to stop them.

Unlike one or two noble Lords on the Cross Benches, I did not regard this as a matter of "profound importance". It is a matter of importance, but the idea of using the word "profound" for a technical matter of this kind is really quite absurd. As I have been looking forward to a long debate, I hope that nothing I say will shorten it. I start from exactly the opposite position to that of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, but I come to exactly the same conclusion. He starts from the position that it is a bad Bill which is made better; and I start from the position that it is a very good Bill which has been made slightly worse by the Weatherill amendment.

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However, having said that, I begin from the position set out by my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor on page 9 of the Third Report of the Procedure Committee's proceedings. He said that,


    "it was expressly agreed between myself and Lord Cranborne that the electoral range should be confined to the hereditaries of the relevant grouping and exclude the life peers".

I emphasise the words "expressly agreed". He continued:


    "I am aware of the press release to which he refers"--

that is, the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont--


    "To the extent it gives a different impression, it was erroneous. There may have been a failure of communication but what was agreed between myself and Lord Cranborne is precisely as I have said".

I understand that the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, has said much the same now.

I was completely bemused, although perhaps my hearing is not so good, by the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill. I say that because, on page 11 of the report, he says:


    "I am bound to say that it was my understanding that the arrangement was that the hereditary peers would elect hereditary peers".

I do not know whether the noble Lord was trying to say that that is no longer his understanding, but he certainly said that it was his "understanding". Therefore, I have no idea why this debate is proceeding or why anyone on the Cross Benches is supporting the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe--

Lord Weatherill: My Lords, I was making the point that my words were not correctly reported.

Lord Peston: My Lords, I do not understand that either. Obviously, I am in a rather "thick" mood this afternoon.

In connection with the interpretation of all this, perhaps I may say that, for once, I am able to say how much I agree with the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers. I am afraid that he said nothing during the whole of the debates on this Bill with which I have been able to agree; and that has brought me enormous disappointment. However, apropos something that his noble friend Lord Skelmersdale said, I believe that he said that the 75 might be elected by hereditary Peers but that that did not mean that they would represent them. Once they were elected, they would be here as Members of the House the same as everybody else; they would not be representative of anybody. That is of the essence.

Therefore, when my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor debates with the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne--who, I believe, was then Leader of the Opposition--and comes to an agreement, are we to say that this somehow has no significance for your Lordships and that we should all start from scratch, despite the fact that two of the major figures in this House have, in all honesty, done what a great many Peers have done?

I repeat my point: I do not like the Weatherill amendment. Indeed, I have said that consistently. I should like the hereditary Peers not to sit and vote in

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your Lordships' House. However, to suggest that we regard what my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor, the former Leader of the Opposition and colleagues--I use that word to refer to the whole House--said as just another few words, when they have negotiated in all honesty, and to suggest that we can now debate the matter as if none of this had happened, does not seem to me to be remotely a way in which your Lordships should proceed.

I do not want to stop all the other Cross-Benchers who are ready to speak from doing so. I certainly have no wish for them not to vote. However, if this House is to stick to its great traditions, it is time that we stopped making remarks which imply that, somehow or other, leading figures in this place are not to be trusted and carry no great weight. Of course, the agreement is not binding, in the sense that it cannot be binding for Liberal Democrats who were not party to the deal. However, the fact that it has weight seems to me to be of enormous importance. It certainly has weight for me, and I speak as someone who does not agree with keeping any of the hereditaries. Therefore, if it has weight with me, it ought to have weight with a great many other noble Lords.

5.30 p.m.

The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, I think it is reasonable to say that I support wholeheartedly the 75 plus 15. I see grave difficulties, however, with the by-election system.

The by-election system has to come about because obviously things go wrong and we have to plan for things going wrong. Let us assume for the sake of argument that of the 15, there are three Liberal Democrats who are chairmen or deputy speakers and three Labour Party members as well. Under those circumstances in a Labour by-election there will be an electorate of four and in a Liberal Democrat by-election there will be an electorate of five. I am sorry but I do not think that that is good enough: 42 is "iffy", 28 is "iffyish", five is not on, and four is awful.

I therefore think that we ought to do one of two things. Either we say--and I think it is a perfectly reasonable proposal--that all hereditary Peers elect at by-elections; that is, all those who are still in the House. In those circumstances, if the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi--who I sincerely hope is elected under one ticket or another--were, unfortunately, to fall under a bus, or die of a surfeit of lampreys or whatever, I would be quite happy to vote for a Labour successor of his, be he inside the House or--as he obviously then will be--outside the House. I think that most of us would have no difficulty with that and the electorate would then be 90, which is a respectable number. Equally, I suspect that if one of us, who were or were not elected, were to die, the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, could be trusted to vote for an appropriate Conservative replacement. Either we do that, or we say that the whole of the Labour peerage elects its hereditary successor and that the same applies to the Liberal Democrats. I believe that the

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by-election system is in danger of bringing us into serious disrepute.

I happen to think that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor and my noble friend Lord Cranborne, by a mixture of bluff and ignorance--all the things that make England work--have come up with an extremely good compromise which I hope will result in a proper reformed House in due course. We must not allow one small bit--the mote and the beam in someone's eye--to ruin what is either a good enough compromise which will stand on its own or the sand in the oyster which will ensure that we have a properly reformed House of Lords, which I certainly want, able to kick governments where it hurts most. The by-election system is not good enough.

Lord Barnett: My Lords, I disagree, unusually, with my noble friend Lord Peston. I agree that this is not a profound matter, as he said; it is a technical matter. I trust my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor and the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, but that does not mean to say that I feel bound by what they did in a "deal": I do not. I do not feel bound by that at all. As the House will know, I would prefer the simple solution; namely, to have elected life Peers and not to have a Weatherill clause. I say that with great respect to the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, who is really the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne. The plain fact is that if we are dealing with the kind of technicality described by my noble friend Lord Peston, there is absolutely no reason why we should be bound by a deal done by two noble Lords for whom I have the greatest regard and respect, as the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, and my noble and learned friend know.

As I say, we are dealing here not with a profound matter but with technicalities. We are all entitled to a view. My view--I at least agree with my noble friend Lord Peston on this--is that the document before us, and some of the stuff in it, is quite hilarious. I thought that Peter Riddell was quite modest in his comments in The Times this morning. It is the greatest load of nonsense I have seen in my life. I say that with the greatest respect to those who compiled it. We are dealing here with a technicality. I would prefer not to deal with it, but we are. I trust my noble and learned friend, as I do my noble friend Lord Peston, although on this matter I do not agree with him. As he said, we are dealing with a technicality. On a technicality we are all entitled to a view. My view is that I shall support the amendment of the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe.


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