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Motor Accident Injury Compensation

Dr. Desmond Turner accordingly presented a Bill to ensure compensation for persons injured as a result of road traffic accidents: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 19 March, and to be printed [Bill 57].

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Orders of the Day

House of Lords Bill

Considered in Committee [Progress 16 February].

[Sir Alan Haselhurst in the Chair]

Clause 2

Removal of disqualifications in relation to the House of Commons

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

3.46 pm

The Minister of State, Lord Chancellor's Department (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon): As it has been agreed that clause 1 should stand part of the Bill, the remaining clauses should fall naturally into place as consequences of it. Clause 2 deals with the fact that, under the common law, confirmed in the case concerning Bristol, South-East in 1964 and my right hon. Friend who is now the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn), peers are prevented from voting in elections to the House of Commons and from standing as candidates.

The clause allows hereditary peers to vote in parliamentary elections and to stand for election to, and be Members of, the House of Commons. It is an appropriate response to their loss of the right to sit personally in Parliament by reason of their hereditary peerages.

Some of the disadvantages, as well as the privileges, of peerage are tied to membership of the House of Lords. The excusing by right of peers from jury service, for example, is a statutory bar arising from their membership of the House. That will lapse with their loss of membership of the House of Lords.

It was confirmed, however, in the case fought by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield, as he reminded us on Second Reading, that some of the attributes of peerage are found in the blood. The status of not being a commoner, and being therefore ineligible to have any direct connection with the House of Commons, is one of them, so it is necessary to overturn, by statute, peers' inability to vote, stand or sit. The rights will not flow automatically from the loss of membership of the House of Lords.

That is the purpose of the clause and I do not think that anyone, in fairness, could object to it. I should add for the sake of completeness that clause 4(3) contains the transitional provisions needed to ensure that effect can be given to the clause by the time that the 2000-01 electoral register comes into force.

Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield): I do not dissociate myself in any way from the thrust of the clause, but a question arises on which I would appreciate the Minister's views. The hereditary peers will be allowed to vote at future general elections, but they are summoned to Parliament personally for the duration of the Parliament and, being at the present Parliament, they are deprived of the right to vote because they represent themselves. Is there not a serious constitutional anomaly concerning their

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civic rights if they are deprived of their right to sit in another place halfway through a Parliament and not at the end of it?

Mr. Hoon: I was about to deal with that point. If the hon. Gentleman reads clause 4(3), he will see that we propose that the Secretary of State may by order make such transitional provisions as he considers appropriate about the entitlement of holders of hereditary peerages to vote at elections for the House of Commons or for the European Parliament. That provision is to deal with precisely the situation that the hon. Gentleman describes. It would allow the Home Secretary to make appropriate provision to allow those hereditary peers who have lost their right to sit in the other place to be included on electoral registers in time for them both to vote and stand before any subsequent general election. That is why clause 4(3) has been included in the Bill.

Mr. Grieve: I follow the Minister's argument, but it does not get round the problem: the peers will be disfranchised for the remainder of this Parliament from having representation, either in the upper House by themselves, or in this House by virtue of having been able to exercise their right to vote at the general election. That would be a serious denial of civic rights to 759 people. I would be interested to hear the rationale behind the proposal, and the Minister's view on that point, which I have made on several occasions to the Leader of the House without getting a reply.

Mr. Hoon: The hon. Gentleman is making heavy weather of this. As a distinguished lawyer, he will know that it is not usually appropriate for Parliament to legislate retrospectively, which is what he suggests. If we were to remedy the problem that he describes, we would change the rules retrospectively and, if we did that, he would be the first to challenge us.

Mr. Grieve: I was not suggesting that we should alter matters retrospectively. My point was that, to keep an equality of civic rights, the measure to deprive the hereditary peers of their right to sit should come into force at the end of a Parliament, when they can then vote for the election of a new one.

Mr. Hoon: As I have said, the provision in clause 4(3), if accepted by the Committee and ultimately by the House, will allow transitional provisions to be made that will give the hereditary peers the opportunity to vote in any subsequent general and European elections. That seems to me to be an appropriate response to the problem the hon. Gentleman describes.

Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross): In the event of the Government accepting the Cranborne proposition, will it follow that clause 2 would also have to be amended, or would any hereditary peers sitting as a result be disqualified from voting or being elected to this House?

Mr. Hoon: The right hon. Gentleman tempts me to speculate about an amendment that may or may not be accepted by the other place or by this House. It would not be wise for me to follow his speculation, but I would say that it is not clear--if such a proposition were to be

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accepted--whether those peers would sit by virtue of their hereditary peerages or as a result of some other mechanism.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley): I understood fully the Minister's response to my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve), but it does not get round the problem. Nobody is asking for retrospective legislation--rather, we are asking for fairness in legislation, although I can see the Minister scoffing at the mere suggestion that we might request that the legislation should be fair. The peers could not vote at the general election because they had representation in their own right in the other place. That will be taken away before the next election and they will have been denied their human and civic rights to vote for people to represent them in this House.

Mr. Hoon: Is not the answer to the hon. Gentleman's problem the fact that the peers have been enjoying rights in the House of Lords since the general election and will continue to enjoy those rights unless and until the Bill is passed?

Mr. Evans: The point at issue is the date on which the Bill will be enacted, and on which the hereditary peers will be denied their right to sit and vote in the other place. We suggest that the natural time at which that should occur would be the next general election when they could use their civic right to vote for representation in the House of Commons. That is fairness. The Minister must appreciate that the timing of the Bill's enactment as currently planned will mean that 700 or so peers who are not part of any arrangement by which some hereditary peers may sit as life peers after the Bill is passed, will have lost their right to vote for representation in this Parliament.

No one denies the simplicity of clause 2, but questions arise because the Leader of the House has said that she is minded to accept at some stage an amendment tabled by Lord Weatherill or others in the other place that would allow a certain number of the present hereditary peers to remain after the Bill becomes an Act. Three questions arise, and I should like the Minister to deal with them.

First, what will happen in the other place to those who will be among the 91, or any other number, who are retained?

Dr. George Turner (North-West Norfolk): On a point of order, Sir Alan. I have become used to the idea that hon. Members must address the business of the Committee as listed on the amendment paper. Must we endure hour after hour of "what ifs", or of matters that may arise at a later date? Would you make it clear to the Committee whether hypothetical questions such as those being put by the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) are properly the business of the Committee today?

Mr. Andrew Tyrie (Chichester): On a point of order, Sir Alan.

The Chairman of Ways and Means (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Let me deal first with the first point of order.

I have heard nothing out of order. The questions raised are matters of debate. I am concerned to ensure that points made are relevant to the Question before the Committee.

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There is, conceivably, some overlap between the points being made on clause 2 stand part and matters that we may reach when we consider clause 4. However, I am satisfied at the moment that all that has been said has been in order.

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