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The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move the amendment standing in my name on the Order Paper. I shall keep my remarks as brief as I possibly can, but I should like to focus, if I may, on the question of the right of former Members of this House to sit on the Steps of the Throne--as set out in paragraph 2(b) of the Offices Committee report. My noble friend--if I can describe him as such--the Chairman of Committees has said that this is a "practical" matter. I will argue, as briefly as I can, that it is, first, inappropriate; secondly, impractical; and, thirdly, rather patronising. I begin with inappropriate. After the difficulties of the last Session of Parliament, which we all recognise created a rather bad atmosphere, I believe that it is time to draw the line below that and say that we should move on. After all, there are many legislatures where members come and go. If Parliament has decided--as it has in both Houses--that former Members of this House should no longer be Members of this House, that is something which should be respected. Further, I do not believe that one should try to amend that, as it were, through the backdoor. I rather regard this particular proposal as an amendment through the backdoor.
I believe that this measure will be impracticable. Perhaps I may guide your Lordships to the Steps of the Throne. The seating room there is not exactly extensive. As I understand it, there are some 600 former Members, perhaps more, who, if this proposal
Let us suppose that a Bill comes before your Lordships which is designed to ban hunting with hounds. Would any noble Lord expect former Members of this House who have an interest in the subject not to come and sit on the Steps of the Throne? Indeed, even if 30--that is, 5 per cent--of those who would have this entitlement came, the seating room would really prove to be very difficult. Further, those who are already entitled to sit there, such as Irish Peers, a sprinkling of Bishops, Privy Counsellors from another place and Members of this House, would probably be crowded out. I find this whole business to be impractical. I give way.
Lord Strathclyde : My Lords, I am much obliged. It is very interesting to watch the rather amusing style of the noble Lord, Lord Williams, but, in his excitement to amend paragraph 2(b), did he not take note of paragraph 2(a)? I believe that that deals with his problem rather effectively.
I turn now to my third point, and I intend to be very brief. I regard this proposal as being rather patronising. After all, in my not very long experience in this House--almost 15 years--I have made many friends. Indeed, I am very sad to see that many of my colleagues and friends on the Opposition Benches and, indeed, many colleagues on my own Benches are not here now as participating Members of the House. Nevertheless, to say to them, "You are second-class citizens. You have a special pass that says you are second-class. You're allowed to come in and sit on the Steps of the Throne, as long as you don't make a nuisance of yourselves and cause"--in the words of the committee's report--"inconvenience to the House. If you do make a nuisance of yourselves, like jumping on to the Woolsack, or whatever, we will remove that right".
I find this very patronising and, to a certain extent, somewhat offensive. So my argument against this particular proposal is that it is inappropriate that we should draw a line under what happened in the last Session. We must start to get on and move into the transitional House and make it effective. It is impractical because, at some point in time--I do not know when it will be--the already overcrowded Steps of the Throne will be even more crowded by the return of former Members of the House. I believe that it is rather patronising to former colleagues and, if I may say so on a personal note, friends. Therefore, I shall be inviting your Lordships to support me in my amendment when the Question is put on the Motion.
Lord Shepherd: My Lords, I rise to support my noble friend but my approach will, I think, be slightly different, although the end product will be very much the same. A good deal of what I have to say centres around the drafting of the report. If noble Lords would care to look at paragraph 2(a), they will see that it refers to,
We should be precise in this matter. If we are to give courtesies to the hereditary Peers who have been excluded, they should have the right to sit in a particular place as opposed to having to obtain permission with regard to the Gallery in which they are to sit. Therefore, I strongly recommend that the House asks the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees to undertake consultations with the House Offices to decide the most appropriate Gallery to be set aside as of right for the excluded hereditary Peers. That would give them a clearly recognised place in the Chamber.
I do not like the wording of the paragraph that we are discussing. If one gives a right, one should not say that it is provisional. Any right or privilege in this House is already subject to review. We can change anything we wish if circumstances so require. If we are to grant a privilege with regard to where Members may sit, I believe that it should be granted as a right, subject, of course, to a review, should circumstances so require. In this instance, I suggest that if a privilege were to be granted, we should leave any review to the end of the Session. Perhaps then the various sub-committees which have had oversight of those areas in which privileges have been granted could then be asked to report. The report would then be made available to Members of the House and any proposals for change could be made in the new Session.
As regards my objection to sitting on the Steps of the Throne, there are Irish Peers and Privy Counsellors from another place--and my son when he used to come here--who have never participated in the hurly-burly of political life in this House. However, many noble Lords who may claim the privileges that we are discussing have done so. They may look back on that experience with a degree of nostalgia. However, in my opinion, to allow them to sit on the Steps of the Throne within the Chamber--because I suspect that that would be within the Chamber--would bring them into too close a proximity to debates. We should allocate a suitable Gallery for the excluded hereditary Peers. I
I wonder about some of the drafting of the report which I consider to be imprecise. I recommend the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees to reconsider it, not necessarily to change the substance of what is in the report--unless my noble friend were to divide the House on his amendment--but to ensure that the drafting is precise. At the moment it is imprecise and that could lead to difficulties later. For example, paragraph 2(e) of the report states that a noble Lord could,
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