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Mr. Grieve: I endorse most of the sentiments expressed by the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher) and the remarks about the long-term issues that the Committee must address. We are concerned with stage 1--we hope that it will be a stage 1 and not, as I greatly fear, a prolonged stage during which we become bogged down considering what should happen next. It is an interesting reflection of the bizarre way in which we are going about the process that we end up with all those small but important points, such as the one made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg). If the Weatherill amendment were to be accepted--as we have been told that it will--we would end up with the potential anomaly of Members of the House of Lords having two votes.

Mr. Oliver Letwin (West Dorset): Does my hon. Friend agree that what we have been told is that the amendment will be accepted if the Government get their way and succeed in parliamentary blackmail against their lordships?

Mr. Grieve: I agree with my hon. Friend. Perhaps I was presuming the success of the blackmailing tactics that the Government might employ. Based on the words of the President of the Council, I must accept that there is an intention, in certain circumstances, to accept that amendment. In that case, a number of bizarre constitutional anomalies will be created, whereby certain hereditary peers will be given the right to elect representatives in both the other House and this place unless an adjustment is made.

I should like to drag the Minister back to the point that I made in my intervention. It is only a small point, but the Government seem to have made a notable attempt to slip away from the central thrust of the matter and not to address my point properly. When the Bill is passed, there will be a most peculiar anomaly: hereditary peers who did not have the right to vote at the last election, because they had the right to represent themselves for the duration of the coming Parliament, will lose that right halfway through that Parliament without ever having had any right to influence the formation of the House of Commons. It might be said that the numbers are so small and

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insignificant in relation to the total electorate that that does not matter; or that, even if it does matter, the Government have decided in their wisdom that it should not matter, because they consider it to be an accident and that they cannot make an omelette without breaking eggs. I should be grateful if the Minister would tell the Committee if that is the case.

I can recall a number of results in the last election that might well have been different if the total number of hereditary peers living in particular constituencies had had the right to vote--for example, Winchester, which is stuffed full of hereditary peers and where, after the first count, the majority was only two. The matter is not completely academic.

A principle is involved. Not long ago, we incorporated the European convention on human rights, which has a specific clause about the need for fairness in elections and for the legislature to reflect the will and the expression of the will of the electorate. We are breaking that convention and I want to know why it is so necessary to do so in the middle of a Parliament, whereas the proper procedure would be for the changes to come about at the end of a Parliament. If we did that, we could roll stages 1 and 2 into a single process. We could establish the clear principle that the hereditary peers will go by legislating now on stage 1 and then move on to stage 2.

I have raised a legitimate point, and I would like an explanation of why certain people's civic rights will be discarded arbitrarily by this legislation.

4.15 pm

Mr. Alan Hurst (Braintree): Several interesting points have been raised in this discussion--notably by the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve), who has just spoken. It should be possible to deal with the fairly minor anomaly of losing a position in the House of Lords as a result of the hereditary principle and then having the right to vote in a democratic election. If my memory serves me correctly, peers of the realm appear on electoral registers so that they may vote in local authority and European elections. Therefore, it should be relatively simple to amend the process, as the procedure and the lists are already in place.

On the point about how many hereditary peers may be affected, I believe that there are some six or seven peers in my division--some of whom may be life peers. While I am never over-confident about election outcomes, just as the law does not take account of trifles, we should sometimes be bolder in our analysis of how things turn out. That issue can be dealt with.

I could not follow--it may be my fault--the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher), who said that life peers would be disadvantaged by the present proposals. I cannot understand why that should be so. If life peers are to remain in the upper House--I believe that the upper House should not comprise any peers at all, but that is a matter for another day--they will presumably have chosen to go to that place. In that sense, they are in a different position from hereditary peers, who are there as a result of the consequences of history and their ancestors.

Mr. Fisher: Is it not true that life peers chose to join an hereditary House that comprised a vast majority of

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hereditary peers? Many life peers chose to move to the upper House in an attempt to dilute the influence in another place and act as a democratic restraint upon an hereditary House. Many would not have chosen to go to the other place if they had known that it would be democratically elected in the future. Many life peers came from this place and a lifetime of representing and being accountable to people. They benefited from and cherish democracy, and they went to the other place only as a second-best option when their time had passed here.

Mr. Hurst: That may be so in part--it is not possible to read the motives of each appointment to the upper House over time, or to say whether people went to the other place to dilute the influence of hereditary peers or as a last resort because their careers were slipping. It is difficult to analyse the reasons at this stage. In any event, if hereditary peers are removed, by numbers alone the upper House will become more powerful because of the nature of those who then constitute it. If men and women go to the other place as life peers, and hereditary peers disappear from the Chamber, the influence of the former group will be much greater.

Mr. Hogg: I have a great deal of sympathy with the hon. Gentleman's remarks about life peers--they have made a choice. However, the hon. Gentleman should also bear in mind the fact that Ministers have adopted a different approach regarding hereditary peers of the first creation, of whom there is at least one in the House of Lords at present, the noble Lord Whitelaw. As I understand it, he is able to take advantage of clause 2--although he has chosen to be an hereditary peer--whereas the great class of life peers cannot. There is already a distinction.

Mr. Hurst: I take the right hon. and learned Gentleman's point. I am sure that my Front-Bench colleagues will have noted his concerns, which may be dealt with in detail when the Bill returns from the House of Lords. In many ways, our debate on this clause is hypothetical, because we are assuming that certain changes will be made in the upper Chamber, and that they will be accepted when the Bill returns here. It is not for me to suggest whether we are straying from the confines of the matter before us, but in many ways we are speculating about what may occur.

Those points may be dealt with in due course, but I remain unconvinced by the argument of my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central that life peers will be disadvantaged. I should have thought that they would be advantaged by the current proposals if we then moved on to having an elected upper House, which I trust we would not. If we took that course, it might be open to them to disclaim their life peerages.

The Chairman: Order. The hon. Gentleman has been of assistance in pointing out to the Committee something that I must now emphasise. Although it is possible to anticipate certain changes, there will be a proper place to deal with them in detail, and the Committee might deny the House the opportunity of doing so at the proper length and in the proper detail if too much is said now. If certain changes are made in the other place, they will come to

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this place and there will be an opportunity for debate and amendment, so I am not minded to allow this debate to run on endlessly.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst): Bearing in mind what you have just said, Sir Alan, it strikes me that nothing could illustrate better the difficulty in which we find ourselves than the comments of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg). We seem to be debating a clause on the assumption that it will end up being different, and that gives the debate a rather unreal quality. However, we must deal with that.

We seem to be saying that under clause 2, hereditary peers would be able to vote for candidates for the House of Commons, stand as candidates for the House of Commons and, if there were an election in the upper House, vote for their equals to become members of a category that we have not yet defined and which may or may not exist. We are now considering the possibility of hereditary peers taking part in a series of democratic processes that are oddly unrelated.

Making sense of the Bill, giving it coherence and setting it in the context of what we believe to be stage 1--never mind any stage that may lie beyond--is proving rather difficult for me and, I suspect, for most hon. Members present. The hon. Member for Braintree (Mr. Hurst) illustrated that point well. We shall now be asked to approve of the clause although we have the strong suspicion that it will be irrelevant sooner or later. That is an unusual position in which to put a Committee. We usually legislate in good faith and respond to what the Government of the day or hon. Members have to say about a Bill on the assumption that what we see is what we will get, but here we are faced with the odd situation of being pretty certain that what we see is not what we will get. We shall end up with something different.

Dealing satisfactorily with that question is a difficult proposition. We shall be guided, of course, by you, Sir Alan, and you will keep us on the straight and narrow. However, because we shall be kept on the straight and narrow, and the problem will recur throughout our deliberations on the Bill, we must ask ourselves how valid or legitimate our deliberations can be given the circumstances in which we find ourselves and the Government's threat or promise--I am not sure which it is--about what may or may not happen when the Bill leaves here and goes to the other place. That question is left hanging over us.

I have another difficulty on which I would be grateful for guidance from the Minister. I am left wondering whether the Minister is absolutely satisfied as to the propriety of the procedures set out in this clause, and in the Bill so far as we know it, should there be an election at any time between now and the expiry of the five-year fixed maximum term of this Parliament.

It is possible to conceive of circumstances in which an election called by the Prime Minister might intervene at one stage or another of the proposals on which we are deliberating.


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