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Lord Henley: I tabled this amendment--which was described by the noble Baroness the Leader of the House as "Save the Salisbury One"--to seek clarification from the Government on the position of my noble friend as there is some considerable doubt about the status of those relatively rare Peers who come here by means of Writ of Acceleration. I presume they will become even rarer because I do not think it is a device that the Prime Minister will use much in the future, and particularly before this Bill reaches the statute book.
I was particularly seeking to discover from the noble Baroness what was my noble friend's status--whether he was a hereditary Peer or a life Peer. The noble Baroness cited a case in 1689 which seems to say that, if, heaven forbid, my noble friend died his son would immediately be able to come to the House, and in that case he is a hereditary Peer. But there are other authorities which seem to suggest that that would not be the case, that the peerage would be subsumed back into my noble friend's father, and that therefore it would not in that sense be a hereditary peerage, other than the fact that its source originally was in the hereditary peerage.
The noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, put it in simple terms when he said that the position was uncertain. He then cited the fact that there have been some 94 Writs of Acceleration since Edward IV. That was not a figure that I quoted. I knew only that there had been four over the last 100 or 105 years.
It is important that we have some clarification from the Government. It is also important that the noble Baroness deals with the questions I posed as to whether my noble friend would receive a letter similar to that which has been sent to the eight life Peers of the first creation. I understand that they have been sent a letter suggesting that they will be offered a life peerage, should they so wish. I should be very grateful if the noble Baroness could answer that and clarify my further questions, particularly in relation to the 1689 case.
Baroness Jay of Paddington: As the noble Lord, Lord Henley, is, I am sure, very well aware, questions of the offer of subsequent peerages or life peerages to Peers of first creation, who have indeed received the letters that he described from my right honourable friend the Prime Minister, are matters for my right honourable friend and are not something that I can speak about at this time.
I simply repeat the point which I made in very general terms, and which we have come back to on several occasions in discussion in Committee, which is that there is absolutely nothing in the Bill which prevents a hereditary Peer from being a Member of the House of Lords by virtue of a life peerage. How that life peerage is obtained obviously will be caused by the usual processes.
Baroness Jay of Paddington: I think the point the noble Earl raises is specific to one particular individual. As the noble Lord, Lord Henley, said, we could have our whole discussion in terms of "Save the Salisbury one". That is a question of individuals. The question that is the subject of the amendment is, as the noble Lord rightly pointed out, about a class of people who may be here by virtue of a Writ of Acceleration. My point on that is simply that the words in the Bill,
Baroness Jay of Paddington: No. I cannot answer the specific point about individual questions of patronage. I am simply responding to the amendment, which is about a class of people who might be affected if it were accepted.
Baroness Jay of Paddington: No, I will not give that undertaking. That question is about an individual and is not something that I would wish to discuss, positively or negatively, in the Committee. The question for debate is about the class of people into which this one individual falls.
Lord Trefgarne: I have no wish to press the noble Baroness about a specific individual case. However, throughout the Committee stage she has said, and her noble colleagues have said on a number of occasions, that hereditary Peers will be entitled to receive life
Baroness Jay of Paddington: I must say in the most friendly fashion, and even receiving the hand signals from the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition as to what he would propose, I do not believe that those are proper questions for debate on this amendment. The point that I make is that nothing in this Bill prevents a hereditary Peer from becoming a life Peer. That stands and it is on that point that I should like to rest.
Lord Henley: Perhaps I may return to the noble Baroness's original answer, the first part of which was deeply unsatisfactory. The unsatisfactory nature of it was exposed by my noble friends Lord Caithness and Lord Trefgarne. She implied that this is a matter on which she cannot comment because it is entirely a matter for her right honourable friend and she said that she does not speak for her right honourable friend. In this House, she is the mouthpiece for her right honourable friend and, therefore, can answer for him.
My noble friend accepted a Writ of Acceleration. He may have accepted a life peerage. But as we have all agreed, it was akin to a life peerage. It is important to know where he is likely to receive or has received such a letter as those eight hereditary Peers of first creation have received, asking them whether they would like such an offer to be made. I should be grateful for an answer to that from the noble Baroness.
Baroness Jay of Paddington: I respond with the greatest degree of friendliness and with absolutely no criticism of the virtues or otherwise of the noble Viscount to whom all this attention is given and who is quite rightly deserving of attention, in view of the fact that he has rare qualities which I acknowledged earlier. But those questions should be addressed both to him and to those who are involved in the disposition of patronage.
I accept what the noble Lord, Lord Henley, says about being a surrogate spokesperson for my right honourable friend in certain circumstances, but I am certainly not that in relation to matters of patronage. In any event, it is entirely inappropriate to discuss the position of individuals across the Dispatch Box.
The noble Baroness should reveal what the Prime Minister may or may not have said as--I agree entirely--his spokesperson in this House. I now look to the prospect of an amendment at some future date because logically this matter should be dealt with by the Standing Orders of the House. That has clearly been accepted by the Government as the right way in which to proceed. This matter should be dealt with by the Standing Orders of this House, to which the House will assent in further discussion of what is now the Weatherill amendment; otherwise, logically, why have Weatherill at all? Why do the Government not appoint 75, 90 or 92 hereditary Peers in the manner which we understand is being followed?
Lord Henley: I do not know whether the noble Baroness the Leader of the House wishes to respond to that. However, I conclude with one final question. The noble Baroness asked why we were focusing so much attention on my noble friend. She then started to imply that this amendment is about a class of Peer. I accept that. But those of us who live in the real world recognise that it is not a class which is likely to grow much beyond my noble friend because it is not a class which is likely to receive much favour from the right honourable gentleman the Prime Minister, who obviously considers that that is not a class which should be extended.
The noble Baroness says this is all about classes. It is not simply about my noble friend but it is about my noble friends. It should be a point that she should answer and say why the Government have not sent a letter to my noble friend as well as those eight Peers who are hereditary Peers of the first creation. It is quite obvious that at this time of night I am not likely to get a proper answer from the noble Baroness the Leader of the House, but this is a matter that I might be tempted to come back to at a later stage of the Bill. At this stage all I can say to the noble Baroness the Leader of the House is that I hope she will reconsider what she has had to say. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.