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Lord Geddes: My Lords, in general terms I supported the noble Lord, Lord Randall of St. Budeaux, in Committee although I advocated a system of weighted voting whereby the government of the day would always be in a minority in this House in order to provide a permanent check on the executive. I made those comments then and do so again now in a totally apolitical sense. It is nothing to do with who happens to form the government of the day; it is a general issue. However, the noble Lord has now produced a proposal which will give effectively the balance of the vote, properly--I applaud it--to the Cross-Benchers, and the Liberal Democrats. I am not quite sure about the Liberal Democrats, but I endorse the view that the Cross-Benchers in this House have given enormous benefit to the House and should and would provide a useful check and balance on the powers of the executive. The proposal of the noble Lord does that extremely effectively.
I have one quarrel only. Perhaps I misread Amendment No. 58. Subsection (1) appears to me to be effectively contradicted by subsection (2). Subsection (1) states that the total number of votes to be cast belonging to the party of the Government shall be greater than the total number of votes of the Official Opposition. I agree with that. However, subsection (2) refers to,
Earl Ferrers: My Lords, I admire the noble Baroness, Lady Gould of Potternewton, because she says that she understands the proposal. In Committee, I said that I did not understand it. We are now discussing the issue again on Report and I find that I understand it no better.
We have to be sensible about this. We are changing the voting systems all over the place. In the old days we had first-past-the-post and everyone knew where they were. If you got more votes than someone else, you won. Then we talked about PR. That is completely different. Everyone says that it is a system; it is not. It is an umbrella for about 12 different systems, each one of which has a different answer. Scotland apparently has a system of first-past-the-post plus PR. If anyone understands how that works, they are lucky. Then we had the European Parliament elections which were also different.
The amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Randall of St. Budeaux, provides that we vote and then someone multiplies it by 2.7. If anyone understands how that works, why it works, or the purpose of it, they are better people than I am. I do not understand it. We keep talking about what the people of the country will think about the Bill. When they hear that certain noble Lords can go into the Lobbies and have their votes multiplied by 2.7, they will think that we have all gone barking mad--and I think that we shall have done.
Lord Desai: My Lords, there have always been two reasons for the present Bill. One is a matter of principle: that the Labour Party has been committed for 100 years to abolish the right of hereditary Peers to sit and vote. There is no doubt that those hereditary Peers are nice people, fine people, wise and useful. It is not a criticism of their character, contribution, nobility or anything else. If they return to this Chamber as life Peers, they will be perfectly welcome. But the principle of sitting in a legislative Chamber in an age of democracy on the ground of being the eldest son of a Peer is not acceptable. That is the simple point.
However, if having agreed on that principle, and being committed to it in the manifesto we then said, "We are going to do this, but it may take 50 years", the public would be somewhat upset. My noble friend Lord Whitty repeated a Statement on the London Underground. He could easily have said, "My Lords, it is in a terrible state. There are many old trains, but we shall not bring in new trains until the last train currently in existence is finally defunct". If we are going to change, let us change soon--now.
My noble friend does not like speed, efficiency or efficacy. He is sentimentally attached to these nice people, as I am, and he wants to delay the matter. I believe that that would deny fundamentally the principle of this legislation.
I have little difficulty about numbers. We could have a different number every day. We could come in in the morning and decide the appropriate number. But it would be completely wrong always to ensure that the Government had their way. That is against the spirit of this Chamber. I oppose the provision on that ground alone. I do not think that one should ever give the Government a guarantee that their legislation will go through. For that reason, let us say that the Government and the chief opposition party will not vote. That will meet my noble friend's proposal. Only the Cross-Benchers, the Liberal Democrats and the Bishops would vote. The position is absurd.
Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, in supporting the amendment, I point out to the noble Lord, Lord Desai, and the noble Baroness, Lady Gould of Potternewton, that part of the trouble with the interim House is that no one knows how long it will last. One of the advantages of the amendment is that it would last for a long time--indeed, longer than the five years which the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor has admitted the interim House might last.
When the noble Baroness asks how long the second stage will last, the precise answer is that no one knows. She worries about 2.7 votes being awarded to each Member of her own side, in case one noble Lord on the Benches opposite should be courageous enough to vote against his own side. I would say that that is a thoroughly good thing. If someone on the Benches opposite has the conviction and courage to vote against whatever the party policy of the day may be, I believe that it richly deserves a value of 2.7 votes. I see nothing wrong with that.
I am sorry to keep picking on the noble Baroness, Lady Gould of Potternewton, but she also says--and it is a theme which is running too widely through your Lordships' debate--that the overwhelming acceptance of the Weatherill amendment means that nothing can be done about it. At least 18 of us who had tabled amendments on this "unmarshalled" list of amendments to Weatherill were assured that if we withdrew them and Weatherill were accepted, that would be the opportunity to debate Weatherill. That was the point of doing it.
We are now told that as Weatherill has been overwhelmingly supported for all kinds of reasons which have nothing to do with the amendment, we cannot amend it. That is quite unacceptable. I ask the Minister to say that what the Government dislike in the powers of the hereditary peerage is the power to legislate. I suggest to the Minister that the power to legislate is contained almost entirely in the power to vote. That is why this amendment is so clean. It puts straight the Conservative preponderance in your Lordships' House. It puts the power to vote where it belongs, equally distributed among the political parties. As my noble friend Lord Geddes said, it leaves the Cross-Benchers with the final say in most deliberations of your Lordships' House, which is exactly where it ought to be. As I said previously, if your Lordships' House could be entirely and genuinely Cross Bench, that would be very much in the interests of the nation. I support the amendment.
Lord Elton: My Lords, only I do not believe that the noble Lord, Lord Randall, has got his amendment exactly right. However, we ought to encourage him in his work. It is meritorious, logical, effective and compassionate--all of which are good things. The noble Lord has been attacked on the grounds that what he is doing is against the principle; that is, the principle of the total removal of hereditary Peers from this House. He has been attacked on the grounds that it is not consistent with the manifesto and that it is delaying the abolition of the hereditary peerage beyond the effect of the immediate Bill. That principle, that consistency and that immediacy have all been breached with the sanction of the Government by the Weatherill amendment. Therefore, it seems to me that those arguments necessarily fall.
It has been suggested that the system is too difficult to understand--surprisingly, by my noble friend Lord Ferrers, among others. I do not doubt that in his youth my noble friend played Monopoly. If he casts his mind back he will remember that there is a great difference between the weighting of Park Lane and Fenchurch Street. What has happened is that the noble Lord, Lord Randall, is suggesting that the Government Benches should have hotels on Park Lane and that we would be lucky to have Fenchurch Street and the waterworks.
As regards the difficulty that the noble Baroness, Lady Gould, suggested the Clerks would have, the Clerks can read lists as well as we can and better-- I suggest that they have had more practice--and the names of those voting would be printed in the appropriate blocks with the appropriate figure above. Therefore, there would be no difficulty with the arithmetic.
All that is academic in the present political situation. The homework which the noble Lord, Lord Randall, has to do is not merely related to redrafting his amendment but the opinions of his noble friends in this House and crucially his right honourable and honourable friends in another place. There is futility in accepting an amendment that is doomed to failure in place of one which is already agreed. That is the decision that your Lordships would be making. I am interested to see even a tumbrelist on the Back Benches opposite nodding his head in agreement.
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