Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Linton: Does the hon. Gentleman accept that, since 1963, hereditary peers could have voted in general elections or stood for election to Parliament simply by disclaiming their peerages?

Mr. Swayne: That is true, but those peers had no wish to do so. It is absurd to say they should have done so in anticipation of a measure such as clause 2.

3 Mar 1999 : Column 1097

My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) said that his potential support for a measure such as clause 2 was conditioned by his enthusiasm to see the other House strengthened, that that required an elected House, for which the clause was an important corollary, and that that was an argument for supporting the clause. I am rather persuaded by that argument, but I have reservations.

One reservation is that perhaps we are projecting into the other House desires that should be focused on the House of Commons. By projecting those desires into the potential strength of another House, we may undermine the coherence of the entire constitution. I remain to be persuaded of the argument of my right hon. and learned Friend.

Many Members--certainly many Conservative Members--have drawn attention to the independent nature of members of the hereditary peerage, but the clause would give those independent members a means of standing for the House of Commons, of improving the independent-minded nature of its Members and, therefore, the overall quality of Members' scrutiny. My view of that argument is that it will take a long time to take effect, whereas, very shortly, we shall be deprived of the independent views of hereditary peers in the other place. I prefer the principle that we should not change what we have before we know precisely with what we are replacing it. For that reason, I am against the clause standing part of the Bill.

Mr. Tyrie: To take up some of the detailed points which have been made, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) pointed out that the transitional arrangements in clause 4 were permissive and not mandatory. I shall be grateful if the Minister will explain why that is so and why the arrangement cannot be made mandatory. Is this in any way connected with the possibility that another clause will be added in another place? This clause may be sitting here to enable the Bill to go through later, with the addition of the Weatherill amendment.

Anomalies have been raised in respect of people finding themselves in a privileged position for a brief period in the other place if the Bill is passed. One way of dealing with that is to consider delaying implementation until the end of the Parliament, rather than the end of the Session.

The Chairman: Order. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that I have selected an amendment, which I expect to call later, about commencement and duration. I therefore counsel him not to refer to those matters now. It would be inappropriate to do so and it would not enable the hon. Gentleman to expand on them very much under a further group of amendments. I think that he is raising matters that should be left until later.

Mr. Tyrie: May I point out, Sir Alan, that the anomalies derive from clause 2 and that there is an inevitable interaction between clauses 2 and 4 in that respect? It is inconceivable that we should discuss how to go about implementing clause 2 without considering the transitional arrangements. Such arrangements are integral to the problem. However, I shall not pursue the matter. I merely say that, if we were to follow your ruling to its

3 Mar 1999 : Column 1098

conclusion, we would be required to debate part of clause 2 when considering clause 4, which I think would be equally messy.

The Chairman: Order. On another interpretation, I would have to rule that we are debating the Bill as it is, not as it might become. There will be an opportunity, as there is in any bicameral system, for the House of Commons to face other proposals at a later stage. There is nothing new in that. I have allowed a stand part debate on clause 2 on the understanding that it is a general debate by virtue of being a stand part debate. Other details will be dealt with under my selection of amendments.

Mr. Tyrie: Thank you, Sir Alan, for your ruling. As I said a moment ago, I was not intending to pursue the matter any further. However, I would be grateful to receive an answer from the Minister.

Clause 2 will remove the common law disqualifications on hereditary peers to sit in the House of Commons or to vote in general elections. A more drastic approach that hereditary peers can take is to exercise their right to renounce their peerages under the Peerage Act 1963. That route was opened up--it has already been discussed this afternoon to a degree--after a struggle by the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn), who is not in his place, Alec Douglas-Home and Quintin Hogg, the father of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham. They all decided that the House of Commons was a better place than the Lords to pursue a political career. In a way, this is a nobler place, because it carries democratic legitimacy.

This is not a suitable opportunity to debate those matters, and I do not intend to do so. I merely say that the interim House may find itself so shorn of credibility and so evidently a patronage-dominated House that life peers feel the need to have the right of a disclaimer such as that which hereditary peers already enjoy.

Life peers are to be discriminated against in one sense. They will be stuck in what may become a wholly neutered and irrelevant Chamber. Interim Houses have a habit of lasting a long time. Life peers had the choice of deciding whether to join the current upper House, but they have not had the choice of deciding whether to join a putative--probably severely damaged--rump of a House, which we shall have to know henceforth as the "interim Chamber".

I ask Ministers to consider offering the right to life peers of moving from the Lords to the Commons by extending the disclaimer provisions of the 1963 Act. My new clause 22, would have that effect. Although it has not been selected, I should still be very interested to know whether the Minister thinks that the Government might view such a provision sympathetically.

4.45 pm

Mr. Evans: My hon. Friend is dealing with the interesting point, which was dealt with also by the hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Linton), that the hereditaries should have got out when they were given notice to do so, in 1963 or whenever, and that they therefore should not feel aggrieved at not having been able to vote at the previous general election. If life peers are given the same power to get out, we will not know what the stage 2 House

3 Mar 1999 : Column 1099

of Lords will look like. It could well be that life peers, too, are not only denied the right to vote at general elections but thrown out halfway through a Parliament.

Mr. Tyrie: I entirely agree with my hon. Friend that that would be iniquitous. Hereditary peers are given a one-off choice--they have one year--to renounce their peerage. The Government should certainly consider making some provision for the right to be exercised at any time, rather than for it to be restricted or time limited. I should be grateful if the Minister would address that issue also.

Mr. Hogg: As we are in Committee, Sir Alan, I gather that it is perfectly in order for hon. Members to speak twice in a debate. I should like to ask the Minister--I ask now so that I do not have to intervene in his speech--for his interpretation on one point.

On the right provided in clause 2(a), for hereditary peers to vote at elections, and the "transitional provision" right provided in clause 4(3), my understanding is that the clause 2(a) voting rights will come into effect automatically at the end of the Session in which the Bill is passed and that those rights are not dependent on the transitional arrangements provided in clause 4(3). If I am wrong about that, and the voting rights are dependent on the clause 4(3) transitional arrangements, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth)--and I--must be right in saying that the rights should be mandatory. Will the Minister tell us about the relationship between the two provisions?

Mr. Hoon: The Committee should congratulate the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) on setting the tone for this debate. His ingenuity in drafting questions suggests that he may have missed his vocation. Unfortunately, there are not many vacancies for mediaeval philosophers these days--but clearly he has a future in counting angels on pinheads.

The hon. Member for Ribble Valley purported to ask me three questions, but he asked me only one. I had already answered the question from the right hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Mr. Maclennan), but the hon. Member for Ribble Valley asked me the same one. I give him the same answer: it is not necessary for us to speculate now about what other amendments might be passed in another place. It remains to be seen whether we shall have a debate on those matters.

Mr. Evans: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the Leader of the House has already said that she is minded to accept the Weatherill amendment when it is tabled in the other place? Does he accept that that is the Government's position?

Mr. Hoon: The hon. Gentleman knows full well that there will be an opportunity to debate such an amendment when and if it is passed. I am sure that he would not want to anticipate that debate today, or to spend unnecessary time in Committee considering the rather arcane questions that he asked.

Opposition Members occasionally complain that the Government anticipate the results of votes and take votes for granted. Is that not what Opposition Members are

3 Mar 1999 : Column 1100

doing by suggesting that that amendment will, at some stage or other, be debated in Committee or in the House? We are simply working on the basis of the text that is before the Committee. We hope that that text will come before the House, but that depends on the outcome of votes.

The right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) made some more thoughtful points. He referred sensibly to the situation that might arise in relation to a college of hereditary peers, but he answered his question by saying that he would seek to address the House should any further amendment be debated. I should prefer to leave the matter on that basis. It would be more sensible to wait until there was such an amendment--if there was one--before going into such details.

I agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman's interpretation of clause 4(3) and its relationship to clause 2(a). They do not depend on each other. However, I draw the opposite conclusion. The provisions in clause 4(3) should be permissive rather than mandatory, because we might not need them. Changes might not be needed in the electoral register, so it is more sensible to have the maximum flexibility available.

Next Section

IndexHome Page