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On the central question of whether we should include detailed arrangements for the election of the 92 on the face of Bill, I was enormously struck by the power of the argument of the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, in introducing Amendment No. 31. As with many powerful arguments, the noble Lord was able to encapsulate in a very small number of words the essence of the question; namely, his suggestion that it would be sensible to incorporate the details, the mechanics, of Amendment No. 31 in Standing Orders rather than on the face of the
Noble Lords are rightly not only in favour of the principle of Amendment No. 31, the Weatherill amendment, so overwhelmingly voted for last Tuesday, but also noble Lords will wish to discuss in considerable detail on the Floor of this House in Committee the mechanics of how the proposal might work. The amendments set out reasonably clearly our under- standing of how they will work. They reflect pretty accurately what the committee of officials has produced as a result of its work under the guidance of the Clerk of the Parliaments. But there are a couple of matters which, with the leave of the Committee, I should like your Lordships to consider.
The first matter has not been made as clear as one would have wished. The noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, has repeatedly alluded to it during the course of our debates. My understanding, following conversations with the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor on the position of the supplementary 15 Deputy Chairmen, was not that they would be elected directly to the office of Deputy Chairman, but that they would be elected as a pool of people available to be selected as Deputy Chairmen in the normal way that office holders of this House have traditionally been selected. I hope that it may be possible for the noble and learned Lord to confirm that.
I also understand that the 15 will, if elected, undertake to sit on the Cross Benches rather than take any of the three party Whips on grounds which, from the point of view of my own party, have the advantage of requiring the nomination of rather fewer Labour Party life Peers in order to achieve the broad parity which the Government feel is so important. In addition, the essential neutrality of Peers who occupy positions such as Deputy Chairman should be emphasised--although, no matter what may be the party allegiance of individual Peers who occupy those positions, they invariably discharge their duties with complete impartiality. Therefore I hope that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor will be able to confirm that the 15, if elected, will not be directly selected as Deputy Chairmen but will merely act as a pool available from the Cross Benches from which nominations might, but not necessarily would, be taken.
There is the allied question of who would vote for those 15. I suggested previously that it would be unwise to follow the arguments, however seductive, presented by a number of noble Lords that the 75 should be elected by the entire House rather than merely the entire hereditary peerage. The reason I suggested that that
Although the Government deplore that any outside body should have the power of nomination to your Lordships' House which is not modern or democratic, nevertheless it is an important principle that some outside authority should have the power to nominate and select rather than a membership which is already here. It is the essence of the Bill before us that the Government believe that the power of nomination by virtue of a hereditary peerage is unacceptable; it is certainly not by virtue of the existing membership of this House that nomination is given. As regards the 75, I hope that will not be an issue between us. If Members of this House were to accept that argument it raises with some urgency the question whether it is right for the Deputy Chairman category to be selected by the entire House.
There is a certain difference between people who are to sit in your Lordships' House by virtue of the service they are to give as Deputy Chairmen and other Members of this House. I wonder whether that distinction is sufficient to undermine the argument that I have put before the Committee for 75. I shall be very interested to hear the noble and learned Lord's reaction to the objections that the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, put to the Committee on this matter in previous debates.
I am partly responsible for the confusion. In earlier negotiations I had said to the noble and learned Lord that I did not believe that it mattered very much. He was kind enough to say that he would not mind too much either. But it is incumbent on the Committee to think carefully on these matters. I shall be interested to hear what the Committee as a whole believes about what I suspect is an important matter of principle.
I now turn to by-elections. During the course of our debates in Committee I have tried to make it clear that I believed that the real reason for the Weatherill amendment and the agreement which the Government and I came to during the course of last year was that it was an incentive for the Government not to stick at stage one, which constituted an entirely nominated House. It has been said almost to the point of tedium during the course of our debates that events make it all too possible that the stage one House, as amended by Amendment No. 31, might last longer than any of us might like. Were that unfortunate eventuality to occur in the years ahead, as the Bill stands and as the recommendations of the official committee appear at the moment, we would find ourselves with a self-elected hereditary element of your Lordships' House, which over the years, would increasingly reduce in number. That of itself may not be a bad thing. But if it reduces in number so that
Therefore it seems to me that the proposals put by my noble friend Lord Strathclyde would be very helpful as a further incentive to the Government. It would ensure that the figure would remain at 92 until stage two is achieved rather than gradually evaporating so that eventually a stage one House becomes no more than an entirely nominated Chamber.
For that reason, when the noble and learned Lord replies, I hope that he will be able to reassure us that he can accept the provisions in this amendment which envisage by-elections under paragraph 17 beginning in the course of the next Parliament should a full stage two reform not have taken place by then. At least it would be some further incentive to make sure that events do not have their own way completely and allow the Government to produce an entirely nominated House by effluxion of time rather than by statutory and immediate fiat.
For all those reasons we should be grateful to my noble friend Lord Strathclyde for introducing his amendment in the way that he did. I hope that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor will be able to reply sympathetically to the various points made so far in this debate.
Viscount St. Davids: Before my noble friend sits down perhaps I may ask him one question. In proposing that the 15 Officers of the House sit on the Cross Benches, would it not also be logical that they cease to be voting Members of the House as well? If they wish to sit on the Cross Benches surely that is where they would be sitting now.
Viscount Cranborne: I hope that I have already made it clear to my noble friend that I find it extremely difficult to justify two classes of Member in your Lordships' House. It seems to me that there is a very important distinction between Members who arrive in this House via different routes as they do at the moment; namely the hereditary route and the life peerage route. Giving them different rights and privileges once they are here would be invidious and dangerous, leading to difficult rivalries in the conduct of business, which I would deplore.
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