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The Lord Chancellor (Lord Irvine of Lairg): Perhaps I may say at the outset that anyone who was not a party to the making of the agreement is entitled to say and to argue that he does not like it, why he does not like it, and that if he had negotiated it a far better agreement would have emerged. I dare say that those who like to think that might also be ready to acknowledge that they might have failed to achieve any agreement at all. I am sure that the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, would be the first to acknowledge, as I would, that no doubt the negotiating skills of the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, are superior to the negotiating skills of each of us--or even both of us combined--but it is just possible that in these circumstances he might have failed to secure an agreement.
At the risk of stating the obvious, these amendments, which seek to reduce to 75 the overall number of excepted Peers, violate the terms of the agreement. It was made absolutely clear from the outset that a consensus had been reached on a fixed number of hereditaries who would be entitled to remain for the duration of the transitional House. The rationale of that has been explained on numerous occasions: one-tenth of the hereditary peerage--that is, 75 hereditary Peers--is to be excepted from Clause 1 of the Bill in proportion to the four groupings of the House; and an additional 15 would be excepted to stand ready to serve as office holders. It is well known that the number 15 was derived from the number of hereditary office holders at the time of the compromise. A one-off election for 15 hereditaries is contemplated. There are 32 such officers of the House, of whom 15 or 16 are hereditaries. The 15 who will offer themselves will obviously have real expertise to offer the House and clearly will be individuals of good conscience.
Amendment No. 27, which is tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, provides that the pool of potential office holders should be included in and not additional to the 75. The principal argument advanced is that the rationale for adding them cannot be accepted unless there is a guarantee that they will in fact serve as Deputy Chairmen or Deputy Speakers. They are to be elected by the whole House because it is intended that they shall serve the whole House. They will be elected in exactly the same way that such elections are conducted at present. There is no intention to force hereditary Peers who have been elected on that basis to remain in office for life. They will be standing for election in good conscience on the basis that they are ready and willing to serve. For my part, I am willing to accept that they will serve and serve properly if they are successful.
The noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, does not like it. So be it; reasonable people can disagree. The view of favouring the compromise may be different from the views of others, but we take the view that the compromise was a means of reforming this House by removing, virtually here and now, nine-tenths of the hereditary Peerage--but with the great prize of achieving that outcome by consensus. That is something which has eluded all previous administrations which have sought to address the hereditary principle. Having arrived at an agreement in good conscience, the Government will honour it.
Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank: I think I made a mistake in my opening remarks by introducing them with references to Clause 2 as a whole. Quite naturally, the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, among others, allowed himself to get the wrong end of the stick and, to mix my metaphors, to be led down a blind alley. I was simply trying to make clear to the Committee--I appreciate it may be tiresome so to do--that we are not going back on a deal because we had no part in the deal in the first place. That is a reasonable thing to say.
I made plain to the Committee that I fully understand how the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, and the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, cannot go back on an agreement they have reached except with the agreement of the other parties. I made that clear before; I repeat it now. The crux of the matter is the issue raised by the noble Lord, Lord Peston. He rightly said that the parties to the deal cannot rat on it.
Accepting that, I return to the question I raised in my earlier remarks: is it still not the duty of the Committee to consider the issue on merit? Is it not the case that even if Amendment No. 2 were to remain, there is no scope in the Bill--and we should be allowed no scope--to consider whether it might be improved? We have to accept so often in these circumstances that those of us who do not like the principle can nevertheless believe that there is still room for improvement. The only question is: can the
I very much appreciated what the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, said. He is not in favour of my amendment but he believes that it is reasonable to seek to improve the Bill. That was the view of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. He reminded your Lordships that he, too, has amendments on the Marshalled List. I regret that I find myself in disagreement with the noble Lord, Lord Peston, because so often I am extremely sympathetic to what he says. But, on this, I think he is simply wrong. The parties are committed but your Lordships cannot be committed unless you choose to be so.
Lord Peston: I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord. I am not certain that I made my view clear. I am not suggesting for one moment, first, that many of the arguments put forward on this occasion by the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, are mistaken. The withering on the vine is something which, as a minimum, I should like to have seen happen. Secondly, I believe that your Lordships not merely have the right but the responsibility to comment on these matters. I have no doubt at all that it is valid for the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, and other noble Lords to intervene. I am merely saying that, if my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor then gets up to say that he has listened, he has thought about it but the deal as he has thought it through is one to which he feels committed, I would be concerned about the meaning of our voting against it. I have to say--it may be I am using too strong a word having referred to the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, as using too strong a word--that I would regard that as verging on the dishonourable. I feel that I could not bring myself to advise my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor, the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, and the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, to rat on a deal. That is the point I am trying to make. I am not remotely denying our right or indeed our obligation to criticise this or anything else.
Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank: I am grateful to the noble Lord. He has explained a personal position, which I understand. I thought he was seeking to draw conclusions for the conduct of the House as a whole and seeking to suggest that those of your Lordships who might choose to support the amendment would in so doing somehow offend against the consensual element in the agreement which was reached between the three parties.
I do not want to detain your Lordships for much longer. I would say only this. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor was totally fair. He said that the deal which was negotiated--I am not putting words into his mouth: I think that this is what he implied--was the best deal the parties to it could in the circumstances get. It would not be for me to claim that I or anyone else might have got a better deal. It was a done deal and we are faced with a done deal. That is the way it is. But in those circumstances
Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.