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Mr. Hogg: My right hon. Friend is making a serious judgment, and he is right to do so. The transitional arrangements, which are set out later in the Bill, and which would, if enacted, give hereditary peers the right to

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vote in elections, are permissive, not mandatory. If we want to ensure that, if the Bill is passed, hereditary peers have a right to vote and so on, the provisions that we will address later need to be mandatory rather than permissive.

Mr. Forth: I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend. I shall of course take into account what he says, although I will not pursue it at this stage, Sir Alan, because you might take a rather dim view of my doing so. I hope for guidance from the Minister at this stage, as this point will become relevant later.

I hope that the Minister will be able to tell us where he feels the calling of a general election by the Prime Minister would leave the Bill, in whatever stage we had reached in our deliberations of it or with regard to stages 1 and 2 or whatever. I say that with particular reference to the point made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham in respect of safeguarding the rights of Members of the present upper House when they might be being changed by the Bill. We would want to make sure that they would still be validated in the event of an election being called, perhaps unexpectedly, for reasons that none of us can know now, perhaps not even the Prime Minister. It is an important point.

It is peculiar to our electoral arrangements that the Prime Minister has the power to call an election at any time. As soon as we start--

The Chairman: Order. I have been listening carefully to the right hon. Gentleman. Essentially, what he is saying is more suitable for a Third Reading debate rather than for the clause 2 stand part debate, because of its wide applicability.

Mr. Forth: I am grateful, Sir Alan. I shall not pursue the matter, but I was making my point in the context of the words "voting at elections". I have probably made my point sufficiently, and the Minister has understood it. I may return to the issue at a later stage, as you suggest.

All I wanted to say is that we are in difficult waters, so it is especially important that the Minister should guide us at this stage and explain how he sees matters developing. In that way, we might have a better context in which to conduct our subsequent debates; we might be better informed and, I hope, reassured that nothing in the Bill will create difficulties not foreseen by the Government and not covered either by subsequent amendments or by the text of the Bill itself. They are the reassurances that I seek at this stage, and I look forward to the Minister giving them.

4.30 pm

Dr. George Turner: I shall make two points. First, I am surprised that the Committee wants to waste time now discussing business which might properly be conducted later. If we were hearing complaints from the Opposition that the Government were not giving sufficient time to discuss something which was before the Committee because it had been moved as an amendment in another place, I should have considerable sympathy with them because I do not think that constitutional changes should be made without proper debate. However, what we are achieving--

Mr. Forth: On a point of order, Sir Alan. Will you confirm that we cannot conceivably be wasting time

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unless you were to tell us that we were doing so, and that this is a legitimate debate, and will continue to be so for as long as you are guiding us and permitting it to continue?

The Chairman: The right hon. Member slightly anticipates me. I was hoping that the hon. Member for North-West Norfolk (Dr. Turner) was not inadvertently implying criticism of the Chair for allowing this debate to take place. Clearly, all that I have heard has been in order. I have given the Committee a ruling on the limits of this debate, but it is a perfectly legitimate debate.

Dr. Turner: I was not disputing your ruling, Sir Alan; I was trying to support the one that you have just made. You suggested that, if we prolonged this debate, it may prevent time from being allocated to a more appropriate debate. I was simply urging through you, Sir Alan, my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench not to waste too much time on such a hypothetical matter.

Opposition Members are seeking to protect the privileged few, who for many years, as well as the first two years of this Parliament, have been able to vote on legislation without having been democratically elected. I know that many Labour Members believe that an end to such privilege cannot come too soon. Any injustice that results in a lack of representation in this House, but not elsewhere, for only one half or two thirds of a Parliament is minor indeed compared with the privilege that many families have enjoyed for centuries.

Mr. Hogg: The hon. Gentleman has done an injustice to what has been said from the Opposition Benches. I can only assume that he has not been listening very carefully. I do not particularly blame him for that. I, for one, am not defending the hereditary peerage. I want an elected Chamber. I know that that is the view of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) and my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve), as it is of my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie), who will seek to catch your eye, Sir Alan. To argue that we are seeking to protect entrenched interests in the other place is to misunderstand what has been said in this debate.

Dr. Turner: My mother used to say, "Watch and see what they do, as well as what they say." Opposition Members have been in favour of reform of the other place for 80 years, but it has not happened yet. I want to ensure that it happens in this Parliament. Those who seek to delay such reform are, like their party for most of this century, seeking to protect the privileged few. This House needs to get on with the Bill, and agree this clause.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North): Conservative Members say that they are not defending the hereditary principle, but during the 18 years--let alone before then--in which they were in government, not a single step was taken to do away with it. How have they suddenly become so radical?

Dr. Turner: My hon. Friend answers his own question. I have heard very little from Conservative Members about their great concern to reform the other place.

Mr. Martin Linton (Battersea): On the alleged disfranchisement of hereditary peers for part of this

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Parliament, does my hon. Friend agree that they knew at the election that their right to vote and sit in the Lords may be abolished? Indeed, they have known that that was Parliament's intention since 1911, from the preamble to the Parliament Act. Did they not know that when they claimed their peerages? Have they not, since 1963, had the right to disclaim their peerages and stand for and be elected to the House of Commons?

Dr. Turner: My hon. Friend's point is valid.

The driving principle behind my strong support for this measure in our manifesto is that, without reform of the other place, and from what I have seen in the short time that I have been in this place, we would get but a fraction of our business through in the final two years of this Parliament, and therefore fail to deliver on our manifesto commitments. That was well illustrated in the past 12 months. The sooner that this Bill is enacted--and I support this clause as part of it--the better.

Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West): My right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) was concerned that the debate had been, if not constrained, certainly coloured by potential hypothetical amendments which may be introduced in another place. That is not so much anomalous as absurd and insulting, because such amendments were tabled by me and my hon. Friends the Members for Epping Forest (Mrs. Laing), for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) and for Tewkesbury (Mr. Robertson), and rejected by the Committee. That should be the end of the matter. It strikes me as odd that we should continue as though that had not happened.

My hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield pointed out the injustice that hereditary peers would suffer, certainly for the remainder of the Parliament, if they were, in effect, disfranchised. The hon. Member for Braintree (Mr. Hurst) discounted that on the ground that their votes would have been unlikely to affect the result in any way. With the greatest respect, I do not think that that is the point.

I know that the hon. Member for Braintree is something of an enthusiast for the British electoral system, of which we enjoy the benefits now, and has suspicions about continental intrusions into that system. One of the arguments which is advanced for such intrusions is that, if one casts a vote that is not for the winning candidate, it is, in effect, a wasted vote. I fear that, by discounting the votes of hereditary peers in that manner, the hon. Gentleman is playing into the hands of his enemies on the central question of the validity of our electoral system.

The hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Linton) went even further and suggested that, as the hereditaries had known for some time that the reform was liable to happen, they could accept that jeopardy. In a democracy, it is important that the system should be seen to be principled and fair. The obvious remedy is to delay implementation of the measure until the end of the Parliament.


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