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I entirely agree with the point made by my noble friend Lord Bledisloe that the Weatherill amendment does not seek to elect hereditary Peers to represent hereditaries. I do not intend to rehearse the many arguments that I am sure will be discussed once the report of the Procedure Committee is debated in your Lordships' House on Third Reading. However, my final point concerns public perception. Surely not just the public but also the Members in the other place--when this Bill is referred back to the other place--would consider it farcical if the hereditary Peers were to be elected purely by hereditaries. For this reason, I believe that the amendment enhances the logic of the Weatherill amendment and deserves the Government's support.
Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, I too support this amendment because, as other noble Lords have said, if all Peers are to elect those who will be staying, that must make for a more knowledgeable electorate and therefore for better qualified Peers. It seems to me that the trouble with the Weatherill/Cranborne amendment--with or without the somewhat inaccurate allusions of my noble friend Lord Cranborne to White's Club--is that many Peers will be able to vote who hardly ever come here and cannot know who they are voting for. By the same token, I should have thought that some minimum attendance requirement for the electorate would be a good thing because, once again, it would make for a more knowledgeable electorate and therefore for a better quality of Peer to be elected, which I am sure is what we all seek to achieve. As I say, I support the amendment.
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, an interesting argument is being put forward that hereditary Peers cannot possibly be trusted to select a number of their own to represent them in Parliament. That may be true--but if it is true, then let us say it. Let us say that only the life Peers can give this system any credibility. I find that mildly offensive. I find the thought that my future is to be decided by the life Peers rather odd; I object to it. I should much rather put my future in the hands of my fellow hereditary Peers.
There is an argument that the hereditary Peers will get together; that there will be a "chums' pact"; that they will say "I was at school with you; therefore will you vote for me?" From my experience of people with whom I was at school--I am glad to say that there is no one in the House with whom I was at school--that may be a very negative argument to use. I sense no evidence to suggest that the hereditary peerage is unable to select a number of themselves to represent them in Parliament.
The argument that they will be delegates is absurd. The idea that an elected hereditary Peer will be a delegate of anybody is laughable. Peers are here on their own honour and merits and represent no one. That should continue.
Viscount Bledisloe: My Lords, the noble Lord has just said that he wishes to be chosen to represent the other hereditary Peers. Apparently he prefers to be selected by people who have never seen him perform rather than by the life Peers who have seen him perform. Now, a second later, he says that they would not be representing anyone. He cannot have his cake and eat it. If they are there to represent the other Peers, so be it; but then they are to represent someone. If they are not to represent anyone, they cannot be representative Peers.
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I was making the point about being a delegate. I understand that, under the noble Lord's terms, I would be elected by a group of people who would expect me to behave in a particular way. That is my understanding of the point that he was making. I refute that and reject it utterly. Any Peer who is elected by anyone else to come to this House is here to represent himself and to defend the decisions that he takes. The noble Lord's argument about being a delegate must equally be true whether one is elected by a group of hereditary Peers or by the whole House. I reject it as an argument which has no force.
However, the argument that there needs to be some consequential amendments to Clause 3 has some force. Perhaps I may take the opportunity to ask the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor if he can say when the consequential amendments to Clause 3 will be forthcoming, to make up for the deficiency quite correctly pointed out by the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe. I hope that we shall have plenty of time to examine them.
Something else is going on here--and I suspect that this is the real motive behind the amendments. It is a motive that I wholly understand; I have heard it many times. I have not heard it this evening, but I have heard it many times in private. The motive is this. "I am a hereditary Peer. I spend a lot of time in this House; I put in a lot of work. My friends are not hereditary Peers; they are life Peers. I wish to continue in this House. Therefore I would much rather that my future were decided by the life Peers than by the hereditary Peers".
We need to have a little more confidence if we are to go into this brave new world. The noble Earl, Lord Erroll, was entirely correct that we should not use this to set a precedent for the future if by some small chance this stage is to continue for some time. Since I believe that there should be a proper and fundamental reform of the House, if it is seen that there is something faintly illegitimate--I do not believe there is--in the hereditary Peers continuing to select a certain number of themselves to represent them in the House of Lords, then perhaps that may hasten stage two, which will be in the interests of Parliament and the people of this country.
I cannot agree with the noble Lord, Lord Newby, that there should not be uniformity and I find it interesting that the Liberal Democrats suggest that there should not be an election--perhaps he did suggest that there should be an election but not just an election of the hereditary Peers.
I have another way. We should ask the Chief Whips and the Convenor to select who they think would be right. That would be a good alternative, except that I have suddenly remembered that I am no longer the Chief Whip, so perhaps the leaders of all the parties who should do it!
I finish where I started. We should have more confidence in ourselves. The hereditary Peers need to get a grip on themselves. They should stick to a system which has been tried and tested in Scotland and in Ireland when the English and the UK Peers did not have a say in those elections.
Lord Trefgarne: My Lords, I have no doubt that when the so-called "Weatherill amendment" was being discussed behind the scenes before it became public knowledge, it was intended that the Peers so selected would be representatives--or however one may describe it--of the hereditary peerage as a whole. That was right and it was on that basis that I was persuaded to agree to the Weatherill amendment; namely, that we hereditary Peers would choose 75 of our own number to represent us here in this House. I would be very concerned if the Bill were to be changed so that my original perception was wrong and the 92 would be elected by a much wider electorate, including large numbers of life Peers. That was not the basis on which I was persuaded to agree to the Weatherill amendment. I therefore hope that my noble friend will not press his amendment.
The Lord Chancellor (Lord Irvine of Lairg): My Lords, I believe that I made the Government's position on this matter perfectly clear when we debated this very same issue in Committee. The noble Lord has now removed his earlier minimum attendance qualification for Members of the House to be eligible to vote for excepted Peers. But the key question remains the same: should life Peers be allowed to vote in the Weatherill elections?
I can do no more than repeat what I said in Committee when I was describing the agreement that has been made. It has consistently been made clear-- I repeat that to the noble Lord: I do not know how often I need to say it for him to hear it--that the elections for the 75 within the party and other groups will be of hereditaries, by hereditaries and for hereditaries. As has been said many times, the election of the 15 is a different matter as they are to be elected to stand ready to serve the whole House as office holders. It is therefore wholly logical that all Members of the House should be allowed a say in choosing them.
The amendment also conflicts with the Weatherill proposal because it allows every Member of the House to vote for each individual excepted Peer so that there would be no distinctive electorates, according to party
I can only repeat that the relevant electorates as envisaged under the terms of the agreement underlying the Weatherill amendment are provided for in the Standing Order as presently drafted. To include this provision on the face of the Bill would be a clear breach of that agreement. For my part, and for the Government's, we intend to honour the agreement. We therefore cannot accept this amendment.
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