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The Attorney-General (Lord Williams of Mostyn): My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, as always, was very gracious in his introduction of these amendments. He mentioned on three occasions the word "timetable". After the 19th day of considering this Bill, "time" and "table" are not concepts that I readily recognise.

There is no more to be said on Amendment No. 24 than what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, and indeed prefigured by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay. He asked about timetabling in a subtext. I can tell him and the House that officials have begun work on drafting the regulations with the aim of permitting hereditary Peers, other than excepted Peers, to vote in any parliamentary election taking place after the coming into force of the new electoral register. There are bound to be one or two persons in the Kensington and Chelsea by-election who will not be able to vote. That is true whether or not they are hereditary Peers. That is always the case. One is bound to have marginal anomalies in any registration system.

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Amendments Nos. 22 and 23 are unnecessary. They add nothing to the powers the Secretary of State would already have. The power under the noble Lord's amendment can only be used immediately prior to an election or by-election, but not subsequently. The noble Lord raised one or two interesting questions in relation to disenfranchisement. Perhaps I may repeat a point made by my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer of Thoroton.

Hereditary Peers, on the Weatherill compromise arrangements, will be able to have Members of Parliament; one for every 10 of them, as opposed to most citizens in this country who have a Member of Parliament, one to every 50,000 or 60,000. So they are not being disfavoured; on my mathematics--it is a field I enter into with caution in the presence of the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish--they are being well favoured.

The noble Lord also asked about the question of instructing the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, and wondered whether any of your Lordships had any cash available. I had understood that any cash readily available for litigation had already been disbursed to Mr. Beloff, and others, in the Committee for Privileges. I had the deeply disagreeable experience then of reflecting on the fact, as the hours and days passed by, that I was the only one present who was not earning any money of any sort.

The European Convention on Human Rights was raised in front of the Committee for Privileges. It was deployed as a question distinctly before that committee. I believe it is fair to say that it was not thought much of, for reasons that one can readily recognise. I think that I have dealt with the probing nature of the noble Lord's question. I realise that we need to get on with the regulations, but, until this Bill becomes an Act--which is not entirely in the hands of my noble friend the Leader of the House, nor, indeed, in mine--we will not be able to get on with very much, will we?

Lord Goodhart: My Lords, before the noble and learned Lord sits down, can he say whether there is any reason why Peers who are already on the register in Kensington and Chelsea, as voters in European and local elections, should not, under the regulations, be allowed to vote immediately without having to wait for the new register to come into force?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, the regulations need to be amended to deal with that situation. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, for raising a question about parliamentary elections. The reason for including the European parliamentary elections is that it will be much more convenient for hereditary Peers to be able to register singly to vote for the European parliamentary elections, which I know they can do at the moment; in other words, it is an added convenience for those who will be leaving this House.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord for the last explanation relating to something which has puzzled me for some

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time. I am not entirely sure that I am convinced about that, but I am sure that the Minister--even if he is not very well paid--is quite correct in that regard. However, I think that everything is relative when it comes to these matters.

I am grateful for the assurances that the regulations will come forward in time to enable those of your Lordships who will not be here to be included on the registers to vote in parliamentary elections from February. I am more relaxed about Kensington and Chelsea because I anticipate an overwhelming Conservative majority, and I do not think that even thousands of hereditary Peers would make much difference to that; indeed, it will still be overwhelming. As I said, I am grateful for the Minister's assurances and look forward to seeing the regulations, perhaps tabling a little Prayer against them and, if necessary, having a little debate on them. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 23 and 24 not moved.]

The Earl of Dartmouth moved Amendment No. 25:

After Clause 7, insert the following new clause--


(". This Act shall cease to have effect at the end of a period of three years beginning on the day on which it is passed, unless during that period--
(a) a joint committee of both Houses of Parliament has reported on the recommendations of the Royal Commission on Reform of the House of Lords, and
(b) a Minister of the Crown has introduced into either House of Parliament a Bill providing for the election of at least one third of the members of the House of Lords by those entitled to vote in an election for the House of Commons.").

The noble Earl said: My Lords, I am honoured, and have been honoured, to take the Conservative Whip in this House. However, this evening I speak primarily as the inheritor of a peerage which dates back to the creation of the 1st Baron Dartmouth in 1682, over 300 years ago. In that time, my forebears, along with the forebears of other hereditary Peers, gave significant service to this House. In particular, my grandfather's brother, the 7th Earl of Dartmouth, was Lord Great Chamberlain in the 1920s, having previously been the Member of Parliament for West Bromwich.

In consequence of the passing of this Bill, Weatherill amendment or no Weatherill amendment, about 90 per cent of the hereditary Peers will be leaving this House for good. It marks the end of a long period of British history and, I also believe, a long period of distinguished service. Before we go, my argument this evening is that we should demonstrate that the principle of "no stage one before stage two", which has been enunciated with great clarity and eloquence by the Conservative Front Bench, and others, over a long period of time, was not just, as has been suggested, a device to save our own skins or to prolong our membership of this House, but that as Peers our goal has always been to do what is best for Britain and what is best for the constitution.

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To be specific, this country needs an effective second Chamber. I am sure that if we can agree on one thing everyone who is a Member of this House can agree at least on that. In case one needs any further confirmation, one need look no further than the 500 or so government amendments that it was necessary to table in this House to the Greater London Authority Bill.

A revising Chamber has to be credible to be effective. To be credible there has to be democratic legitimacy. In the 21st century this means, inevitably, that there will have to be a substantial elected element. I say in passing that it is noteworthy that all the genuine Conservative reformers of this House, from Lord Curzon right through to my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern--who I do not think is present--have all been in favour of there being a significant elected element to this House. Of course, a significant elected element has also been favoured by reformers in other parties and by Peers of no other party as well.

The figure of one third in the amendment is in one sense arbitrary but in another sense it has been carefully chosen because it enables the position of life Peers to remain unaffected. Let me make it crystal clear as the tabler of this amendment that, should it pass, the position of life Peers as holders of peerages for life would be sacrosanct.

I must make two other important points of detail in relation to the passing of this amendment. First, the amendment does not contradict the Weatherill amendment. That would remain if this amendment were passed. More importantly, it does not contravene the Salisbury Doctrine. What the amendment does is to put on the face of the Bill--this is our last chance to do it--a commitment to reform. What the amendment does is to put the Government on the spot as to whether their oft stated intentions as to meaningful House of Lords reform are in fact genuine. Otherwise, the effect of the amendment is that the Bill lapses and we shall return in three years' time. What the amendment does is to send a message to my noble friend Lord Wakeham as to the clear wishes of the House.

If I may be allowed a small personal note, as the inheritor of a hereditary peerage of some longstanding, the passage of this amendment allows those of us leaving to do so with honour, knowing we have done all that we can to deliver to the country a credible and thereby improved second Chamber which is what the country needs for the 21st century. I beg to move.

9.45 p.m.

The Earl of Longford: My Lords, if no one wishes to intervene, I shall offer a few thoughts after 54 years here. I want to say quite clearly that I am an admirer of the contribution of the hereditary Peers to this House over the past half century. Why do people like to come to this place? Why do people want to come here at all? Perhaps it is because of the building but it is not only that. There is something about the culture of this place that people really respond to.

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I have been here quite a few years. I am not the eldest Peer, although I nearly am. However, other people have been here longer; for example, the noble Lord, Lord Carrington. We were here quite a time before there were any life Peers. Nevertheless this House has some culture, intellectual, moral and religious. The question is whether the hereditary Peers have contributed to that. There is no doubt that they have made an enormous contribution. When I say the hereditary Peers, out of 750 of them only a proportion have made an enormous contribution. But can one leave the position like that? One cannot leave it like that. There are some 750 hereditary Peers, two-thirds of whom attend either infrequently or not at all. So there must be reform. With the help of the Government Chief Whip I have sat up all night in order to vote in favour of the Bill; I shall do so again tonight. There must be this reform.

But, in the end, what will happen to the whole culture of the House? Are we only going to say, "Oh well, the hereditary Peers did a good job in their time. They have had it."? Will we benefit at all from their legacy? I said earlier when I intervened--I was perhaps out of order--that the best solution was the one I suggested 30 years ago when I was the Leader of the House--it was accepted by the leaders of all the other parties at that time. I suggested that we should let the next generation of hereditary Peers come and speak but not vote.

But that is out. The next best thing is the Weatherill amendment. I shall vote against anything that interferes with the passage of the Bill. If it is not passed, we shall end up with something much worse; we shall not have the Weatherill amendment. I hope to heaven the Bill goes through as it is.

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