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Viscount Bledisloe: My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke, made plain, this amendment differs from and is substantially better than the previous amendment which he moved in Committee because it concentrates solely on the question of who is to be the electorate. It does not muddle the issue or dirty the waters by seeking also to introduce a minimum attendance requirement. In principle, I strongly support the noble Lord's thesis that the electorate for the election under Clause 2 must include the life Peers. However, I remain of the view, which I expressed in Committee, as did many others, that this is not the right time to decide that matter. It must be decided upon when the report of the Procedure Committee comes before the House, when the arguments can be advanced in full in the light of that report.
Notwithstanding that, I would like to say a few words on why I feel so strongly that the electorate should include all the life Peers and to deal with a few of the points raised by the opponents of that thesis in Committee.
First, under Clause 2, the only way in which we can achieve an electorate which is both informed as to the quality of the people being voted for and disinterested is to have the votes of the life Peers. If one looks at the statistics, most of the hereditary Peers who have attended sufficiently frequently to know who is worth having will themselves be candidates--not all of them but certainly the great majority of them. Therefore, inevitably there must be a temptation for those persons either to enter into electoral pacts with their colleagues--you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours--or to vote in a way which, even subconsciously, is affected by their candidature. If only the hereditary Peers can vote, there will be very few hereditary Peers who are not standing for election and who have attended the House sufficiently regularly in recent years to know the qualities of those for whom they are voting.
Also, the concept advanced by the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, and others that they are to be representative Peers is constitutionally fundamentally unsound. Clause 3 gives all those who are not continuing Members of the House the right to vote in and stand for elections to the House of Commons. That, which is a basic provision of the Bill, demonstrates that those persons cannot also have representatives in this House because it is a fundamental constitutional principle that no one can vote for representation in both Houses of Parliament. Therefore, whatever the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, may have thought, his idea that those are to be representative Peers is a fundamental constitutional anomaly. Standing Orders which provided that only hereditary Peers could vote while they can also vote in and stand for elections to the Commons would be a constitutional anomaly.
That also deals with the alleged analogy with the Scottish system. In Committee it was suggested that the matter should be dealt with in the same way as it was dealt with in Scotland. But Clause 3 does not provide that. The Scottish Peers who could vote for their representatives were all, whether or not they were themselves elected, debarred from standing for the House of Commons or voting in any parliamentary elections. That was the consequence of their right to vote for representatives here. Clause 3 makes it plain that Clause 2 Peers are not representatives and any principle which continues on a representative basis would be in direct conflict with Clause 3.
Finally, perhaps I may mention to dismiss it, as did the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke, the club point. It seems to me an argument which only the ingenuity of a Cecil could produce to say that it is a club system if one allows all the members to vote, but if only some are allowed to vote that is not a club. Let us just think of how it will look to the outside world: all the old boys scratching each other's back, ringing each other on the telephone and saying, "I was at school with him. Let's have him". The people who can elect on merit and can be seen to elect on merit are the life Peers. When the matter comes before the House in relation to the report of the Procedure Committee, I hope that those arguments will commend themselves to the House.
Lord Desai: My Lords, I should like briefly to support the noble Lord's amendment. I think it makes a lot of sense. I have always thought that if the 15 Committee chairmen could be elected by all of us, so could the other 75. I see no reason why not. Indeed, I would even go as far as saying that all of us should vote for all of them, with the stricture that the numbers--for example, two for Labour, three for the Liberals, and so on--should be kept. We should all be invited to vote for 43 Conservatives or two Liberal
Lord Desai: I said, no party divisions. We all sort of pretend that we do not really believe in parties, Whips, and so on. We all know about each other's work and, therefore, we ought to be allowed to vote. That is all I wanted to say.
Lord Marlesford: My Lords, I have considerable sympathy with my noble friend Lord Willoughby de Broke. I think it all comes back to how the original compromise was reached. I suspect that the idea of it was modelled on the Scottish system and that, in a sense, must have been what gave people the notion that it would be possible to retain some Members in your Lordships' House who are hereditary Peers. I personally strongly support the Weatherill amendment in its outcome form.
On the other hand, I think that the legitimacy of those Peers, if they are elected only by other hereditary Peers, will be limited. They would, in a sense, lose some credibility. I should much prefer them to be seen, if you like, as concessionary Peers rather than as representative Peers. What we have to do is to wait and see whether the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor might be prepared to reveal the way in which this all emerged during the discussions that he had with my noble friend Lord Cranborne when this, in my opinion, extremely good compromise was reached. Even if it was not part of the original negotiations, there is a strong case for extending the franchise, if only to give more credibility to the outside world for the compromise itself.
Lord Davies of Coity: My Lords, I wonder whether we are not making somewhat of a mystery out of this compromise. We should bear in mind that the Government put forward a Bill based on their manifesto commitment and then, for very pragmatic political reasons, accepted a compromise that was put forward in order to retain a certain number of hereditary Peers. That was based on a formula which will enable the Oppostion to have so many, the Government to have so many and, indeed, the Liberal Democrats and the Cross-Benchers to have so many.
We are making a lot of heavy weather about the formula. Once this compromise was accepted, the fact remains that each of the bodies concerned was entitled to elect its own representative numbers in order to keep a measure of stability through the transitional period of this House. We are going well overboard if we try to elaborate on the issue and make something out of it which does not really exist. Therefore, I think that this amendment should be withdrawn.
Lord Newby: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke, for introducing this amendment. Like every other issue that we have debated today, this is something that we have discussed at some length before, albeit on the basis of a slightly different amendment. I am not sure that these would be exactly the words that we would have put in an amendment on the point, but I find the arguments advanced by the noble Lord, and those advanced by the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, in terms of ensuring that we get the best people judged by the largest number of their peers remaining under the Weatherill amendment, to be compelling.
Equally, we on these Benches are not of the view that the concept of representative hereditaries is one that we would wish to support. That is exactly the debate that we had in Committee. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor explained then that, under the Weatherill compromise, the concept of representative hereditary Peers had been accepted by the Government. We found that to be a depressing concept and we disagreed with the principle that lies behind it. We obviously accept that this is a matter not to be determined primarily at this stage and on the face of the Bill. Indeed, it is something which the Procedure Committee will want to consider.
However, when the Procedure Committee considers the matter, I hope the Government will adopt a rather more flexible attitude. If the Liberal Democrats, who will have three Members under the Weatherill proposals, feel, as a group, that we would like all of us to elect that number, it seems to me to be unacceptable that we should be told that we cannot do so. There should be scope for us to decide how we elect our three. If the Conservatives believe that their number, how ever many it is, should be elected just by the hereditaries, it seems to us to be entirely reasonable that that should be done. As I say, we will find it unacceptable and unnecessarily prescriptive if the Government seek to impose on us a method of electing our three which we believe to be less satisfactory than another method. When the noble and learned Lord replies, I hope that he will be able to be rather more flexible in the attitude that he adopts towards this issue.
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