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Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank: I hesitate to intervene because I would very much like to hear the reply of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor to the very interesting question asked by the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne. Indeed, his assumption, which will be examined further, confirms my view that when the agreement was reached no one looked closely at the small print. If the noble Viscount's interpretation is his and he is sticking by it, I hope that the noble and
We on this side of the House have been deeply concerned about what we believe is a flawed agreement. We have been told at every stage by the Government that there was no possibility of amending it because it would be honoured by the Government. I understand that because it is a perfectly reasonable position to adopt, however difficult that may be for many of us. The noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, was partly responsible for negotiating the agreement. If he takes a different view then the agreement needs to be examined very carefully.
His argument as regards Deputy Chairmen has not previously been brought to the attention of the House; namely, that we should elect 15 more hereditary Peers, not in order to sit on the Woolsack or perform a particular duty, but to provide a pool of 15 from which a Deputy Chairman may or may not be drawn. I have always assumed that 75 hereditary Peers, which is the larger number to be elected by hereditary Peers, would itself be a pool which can be drawn on from time to time, if any one of that number was thought to be a fit and suitable person to serve. The effect of what the noble Viscount proposes is simply to increase the number of 75 by 15. In his view there will be 90 hereditary Peers to be elected.
I turn to the very clear expression of view by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. He said that this was not an expedient, short-term deal--which I had always assumed to be its justification--but that it introduced the concept of the representative hereditary peerage now established by the Bill, to use his phrase. That was what I had always assumed to be the case. As far as concerned the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, and the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, this was not a deal done for the purpose of getting the Bill through. It is a very clever device by which the whole idea of a representative hereditary peerage is perpetuated into the transitional stage, with the very real prospect that whatever happens thereafter it may be carried on.
I hope that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor will confirm to the Committee his understanding of the matter and that in turn the noble Viscount will recognise that perhaps there is a misunderstanding and defer to the noble and learned Lord. If not, the Weatherill agreement will unravel. I am not against that, but it would no longer be possible for the Government, the Opposition or the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, to argue that it was set in stone and there was no possibility of the House modifying it, as the House would plainly choose to do.
I am puzzled as to why we are debating Amendment No. 144A. Last Tuesday we discussed the Weatherill amendment very fully. There was no Division because it was recognised that we would return to the matter when it came to stand part on recommittal of the Bill. Tomorrow week we shall debate amendments. I fail to see how this amendment fits in between those two stages. I hesitate to describe it as time-wasting because the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, raises very important
I believe that in the debate last week I was a lone voice in saying that if I were a Member of another place I should take the gravest objection to the House reserving to itself the right to decide the matters to be incorporated in the Standing Order, in particular those determining the number of hereditary Peers of whatever political persuasion to sit in this House. Prima facie I understand the argument for putting some matters on the face of the Bill and not relying on an uncertain procedure in a meeting of a committee yet to take place that may or may not agree with whatever proposition is put before it.
However, I do not believe that this is the proper time to debate these matters; that time is tomorrow week. I hope that the noble and learned Lord will reply in detail to what he believes to be the understanding; and I am sure that the Committee will be pleased if he chooses to go wider than the particular point raised by the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne. These details are important. There is now as much doubt about them as there is about the details of the Anglo-Irish agreement. We must not go down this path unless there is a clear understanding by the House of what the Weatherill agreement means and what the Government understand it to be.
Lord Elton: Before the noble Lord sits down can he, or perhaps the usual channels, explain one matter? When we come to the recommittal, which he suggests should be the subject of debate, is the Bill recommitted only on the basis of the new clause in the Weatherill amendment, in which case this matter falls outside it, or is it the whole of the Bill, in which case there will be a very much longer proceeding than some of us hope for?
Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank: I understand that it will be recommitted on the basis of the Weatherill amendment but that that provides every opportunity for further amendment. The noble Lord has been here a great deal longer than I have and understands the procedure. The object of the exercise was to have a clear debate on Weatherill, which we had last week, and for all noble Lords to withdraw their amendments so that they would be dealt with on the recommittal of Weatherill tomorrow week. Looking at Amendment No. 144A in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, and others, there is nothing in it which ought not to be, if they so wish, the subject of an appropriate amendment to be considered tomorrow week on the recommittal of the Weatherill agreement already agreed by the House.
Viscount Bledisloe: I too am surprised and somewhat disappointed that this matter is being raised today, not only for the reasons so cogently put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, but also because the recommendation of the all-party wise men who considered how the Weatherill
I make one other suggestion to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. He suggested that this matter would be more suitably dealt with by the Committee for Privileges rather than the Procedure Committee. I suggest to him and the whole Committee that the Committee for Privileges is there to decide legal rights that are already in existence. The Procedure Committee will be devising appropriate mechanisms to carry out a form of election. The very fact that the Committee for Privileges is dominated largely by lawyers and Law Lords demonstrates that they are there to decide existing rights rather than to evolve procedures and effect political compromises.
The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, frequently referred to the 75 as representative Peers. They are not people designed to represent the specific interests of hereditary Peers but are the most suitable persons to remain as Members of your Lordships' House for a short while, one hopes. Therefore, when we come to that stage that seems to me a cogent argument for those individuals being selected by the whole House, or each group of the whole House, including the life Peers, who will know their worth, rather than by the hereditary Peers. I am now trespassing into the matter which in my view should be dealt with at the stage suggested by the wise men; namely, after the Procedure Committee has had time to consider the matter in detail.
The Lord Chancellor (Lord Irvine of Lairg): I have listened with attention to the arguments made by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, in his attempt to justify the inclusion on the face of the Bill of the operational measures required to give effect to the Weatherill amendment. I am not persuaded. On the other hand, since the noble Lord told us that his purpose in tabling the amendments was to give noble Lords the opportunity to discuss the draft paper to be put before the Procedure Committee he has succeeded admirably in that purpose. What has been said will be of great assistance to the Procedure Committee when it comes to consider the paper. I understand the point made by the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, that to keep the arrangements off the face of the Bill allows them to remain exclusively for your Lordships' House in matters concerning its internal affairs.
The noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, made an interesting suggestion in relation to the Committee for Privileges. I would not seek to close the door on that suggestion but would be willing to consider it. At first blush my reaction is that the Committee for Privileges is not the right body to consider the mechanics of the Weatherill amendment. The functions of that committee are, for example, to consider any breach of the privilege of the House. I believe that that has happened only once in recent years, perhaps because the House is so relaxed about its privileges. That case concerned the detention of a Peer under the Mental Health Act, which was a matter of interpretation of privilege against arrest. Claims of peerage on petition are classic matters for the Committee for Privileges, as is a new function-- the registration of interests.
Although I have signalled that we do not have closed minds, my reaction is that the Procedure Committee is responsible for Standing Orders and rules, and the only way that the matter could be transferred to the Committee for Privileges would be by a Motion in the House. An alternative that perhaps we ought co-operatively to consider is to create a small sub-committee of the Procedure Committee for that purpose. As I say, the Government do not have a closed mind on any of those points.
Let me make one point clear at the outset. We do not quarrel with much of the detail in the proposed schedule. Indeed, in all but two important respects, to which I will return later, the schedule is reasonably faithful to the provisions set out in the draft Standing Order and accompanying electoral arrangements in the draft paper for the Procedure Committee, which has been placed in the Library. The respective parties worked closely together, with a representative of the Cross-Bench group, on the development of those details. For our part, we are satisfied that the measures set out in the draft Standing Order represent the most effective way of delivering the proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill.
Let me remind the Committee once again of why the Government, as a matter of principle, do not believe that the Bill is the appropriate vehicle for setting out this level of detail. As I said earlier when I spoke in support of the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, the arrangements are intended to last only for the transitional phase between the two stages of reform. We have made it perfectly clear at every opportunity, in the White Paper itself and in all our pronouncements, that the Second Chamber that will be created by this Bill will be a transitional one. Our manifesto promised a first self-contained step, the removal of the hereditary Peers, to be followed by a second step, further change after a wide-ranging review. We have already set up that review in the form of a Royal Commission, independent from the Government, with a free hand to undertake its task as it thinks fit and to bring forward recommendations for a fully reformed House.
The presumption of further reform is spelt out too in the terms of the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, which the Committee has now accepted. Consistent with that overall approach, the aim has been to leave as much as possible of the detailed transitional
It has been suggested that so serious a matter as the method for identifying members of your Lordships' House should not be left entirely to Standing Orders, as those do not have the same force as legislation, and they can of course be more readily altered and without as full a discussion of the House. We believe that those concerns are addressed most clearly and helpfully by the Clerk of the Parliaments in his draft paper for the Procedure Committee. That paper notes that the one essential provision at the core of the proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill--that there should be a maximum of 90 excepted Peers--will be on the face of the Bill. That can be altered only by further primary legislation. The paper goes on to say that a Standing Order and the accompanying electoral arrangements are enough to deliver the purpose envisaged by the proposal, of a one-off election to identify those 90.
The Government completely subscribe to that view. We believe that after the one-off election the method for filling vacancies should be in the hands of the House and that there should be room for flexibility. To quote the relevant passage of the draft paper:
I repeat that the Government are clear that the proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, is a purely transitional measure. It was on that basis only that we indicated we were prepared to accept it. As we have said frequently, our interest in it was two-fold. First, it offered the prospect of the orderly passage for this Bill, without unreasonable obstruction of the Government's legislative programme. Secondly, it provided a means of identifying which of the present hereditary Members of the House should remain during the transitional period.
It is not for the Government to guess at the motives that encouraged others to support the proposals from the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill. I can only say that if, for the Official Opposition, one of their motives was that it kept open the principle of hereditary membership of your Lordships' House, that was not revealed at the time the compromise was made. The noble Lord's proposal deals with a transitional stage only. It is simply intended to allow the most effective hereditary Peers to continue their work in the transitional House. It is not intended to secure the continuing participation of the excluded
I do not entirely understand the logic of the argument that the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, has adduced in support of by-elections, in reliance of the election of representative Peers from the peerages of Scotland and Ireland to this House. I could go into greater detail but it is not necessary for me to do so.
Of course, I accept his oft-repeated assurance, and indeed the assurance of his colleagues on the Front Bench, that these arrangements will apply only to a transitional House. I wholly accept that the House that emerges as a result of the Bill as amended by the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, will be a transitional House. If I accept that, would he also admit that there is at least a remote possibility that that transitional House might exist for rather longer than he and I would like; and that it might be expedient for he and I, and more importantly this Committee, to envisage that possibility and therefore to embody in the arrangements consequent upon the Bill some provisions which will encourage the transitional nature to be transitional rather than permanent?
If that is so, would the noble and learned Lord also accept that a provision for by-elections would ensure the permanent size over a period of years, as he says, of the hereditary element of the transitional House, but that the very existence of that permanent 90 would be a standing reproach to those who had failed to proceed to stage two; and that under those circumstances by-elections would be an important inducement for us to proceed to stage two and to abolish the stage-one House altogether?
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