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Mr. Hogg: The Minister's point is fair to an extent. However, does he agree that, if there were a by-election before the end of this Session--which might happen--it would be important, if we were to do justice by electors, to make provision by transitional arrangements for the right to vote and to stand?

Mr. Hoon: I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary would consider that in such an eventuality, but we are getting into unnecessary detail which does not assist our discussion.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher) wondered whether life peers might be discriminated against by the provisions. I do not agree with him. The Bill is not about the rights of life peers, but about the rights of hereditary peers. Life peers will not leave the other place if the Bill is passed, so there is no reason to give them the right to vote in elections to the House of Commons. They do not need a Member of Parliament to represent them here because they can represent themselves. Moreover, they have made an informed decision to accept a life peerage, with all the benefits and penalties that that implies.

Mr. Tyrie: Does the Minister accept that the benefits and penalties will be fundamentally altered by the reform?

Mr. Hogg: The company in the Dining Room will be different.

Mr. Tyrie: The company in the Dining Room will be completely different, and there will be many other changes besides. If the House is fundamentally changed, it should be right to give the life peers an opportunity to decide whether they wish to remain there. If the place is not being fundamentally changed, why are we going ahead with the reform?

Mr. Hoon: I was about to deal with a point that the hon. Gentleman had raised. No one is forced to accept a

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life peerage. As we heard on Second Reading, there is usually a queue of people anxious for such preference. In those circumstances, we do not need to worry unduly about the position of life peers, not least because, if the Bill is passed, their ability to represent themselves in the other place will be strengthened. Instead of their voice being diluted by those of a large number of hereditary peers, they will be a far more significant element of the other place, so their position will be enhanced rather than weakened. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central will accept that.

Mr. Fisher: I must have failed to make myself clear. It is not a question of the life peers leaving. They are being left outside our newly democratic constitution. That is why they will be at a disadvantage. The Government made it clear in the White Paper that this House has primacy. The life peers are being left by democracy, condemned to remain in an illegitimate rump. That is why they are at a disadvantage. That is not the contract that they were offered when they were invited to join that House. They were invited to become a member of a complicated and historic House. Many of them believed that they were going in to introduce some restraint in an hereditary system that they did not believe in. We are changing that hereditary system, but we are not giving life peers what we are giving hereditary peers: the right to move into the full sunshine of a democracy. I find it both baffling and unfair that life peers should be condemned to inhabit a democratic hulk.

Mr. Hoon: I appreciate my hon. Friend's concern for life peers, but, as I said, they will be much more able to represent themselves once the Bill is passed. That is the underlying reason for the common law disability affecting peers. They have the right to represent themselves in the legislative process, and it is that legislative process that is important. That is why it is recognised that peers should not vote in elections to this part of the legislative process, which would give them two opportunities to influence the content of legislation. That is, I think, a proper response to my hon. Friend's fears.

Mr. Evans: As has been said, several hundred peers who thought that they were going into a body of a certain kind will instead find themselves in a new transitional House. We do not know what stage 2 will involve. What is the major objection to allowing life peers who no longer wish to be part of that upper House, but wish to vote for Members here or, indeed, stand for election here, to do just that?

Mr. Hoon: I have already answered that question. The problem is that, under the common law, peers have the right to represent themselves and are part of the legislative process sitting in the House of Lords. Allowing them to vote for Members of this House would, in effect, give them two opportunities to vote. Opposition Members have made that point themselves.

Mr. Tyrie: That is not the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) was making. His point was that life peers should be given the chance to leave the other place if they wanted to do so, because the place that they joined would no longer exist after the Bill was enacted.

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The Minister is right in saying that future life peers will know what they are getting in to; but existing life peers will not. Will he deal purely with the position of existing life peers? Why should they not be able to choose whether to remain in the other place, or leave and have the opportunity to vote and sit in this place?

Mr. Hoon: I am not aware of the concerns that the hon. Gentleman is expressing on behalf of life peers. I have received no representations along those lines; nor, I suspect, has the hon. Gentleman. I do not see that the choice exercised by those who have decided to accept a life peerage will be affected in any way.

Mr. Winnick: Are we to believe that those who accepted life peerages did so on the basis that they would go to the other place simply because it was made up of life peers and hereditary peers? Surely the thought never entered their heads. They accepted life peerages because they considered it an honour, and wanted to contribute accordingly. Whether the House contained hereditary peers was irrelevant.

Mr. Hoon: My hon. Friend makes the point much more succinctly than I have.

I sometimes think that the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) must have become the hon. Member for Bizarre Constitutional Anomalies. He has clearly built that phrase into his word processor. He referred to the European convention on human rights, but did not seem to accept that his criticism of what we are doing would fall foul of case law against retrospection under that convention. It is clearly stated on the front of the Bill that it is compatible with the convention, an endorsement that is now necessary in the case of all legislation. I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman should make such a point.

Mr. Grieve: I have never sought a retrospective element. I was concerned about the enactment of the Bill before the end of this Parliament, rather than at the end of the Session. There was no question of my seeking some retrospective application.

Mr. Hoon: The way in which I understood the hon. Gentleman--it is still the way in which I understand him--was that to correct the problem, it would be necessary to legislate retrospectively.

Mr. Letwin: Does the Minister agree that my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) would not have had to become the hon. Member for Bizarre Constitutional Anomalies if the Government had not created so many?

5 pm

Mr. Hoon: So far, I have not identified any. If I can be blunt, a simple and straightforward Bill is being used to try to find difficulties that do not exist. I accept that, in a Committee, it is perfectly proper for Opposition Members to seek to find difficulties. So far, they have been unsuccessful.

Dr. Liam Fox (Woodspring): Does the Minister accept that a point of principle has been raised by my hon. Friend

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the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve)? Hereditary peers were unable to vote at the last election because they were guaranteed a seat in this Parliament. Had they known that their right to remain in Parliament would be removed, they would have been in a different position. The fact that they are losing their rights halfway through a Parliament creates the anomaly. The way to get around that is not through any form of retrospection, but simply by not applying the measure until the end of the Parliament.

Mr. Hoon: I do not accept that--that would simply delay the operation of the Bill, which we hope the House will accept. The hon. Gentleman's proposal would be no more fair than the situation arising when someone attains the age of 18 after a general election. They do not have the opportunity of voting for the period between becoming 18 and any subsequent election, yet there is no suggestion from the Opposition that that is in any way unfair. The position for hereditary peers will be precisely the same. They will lose the right to represent themselves in the other place if the Bill becomes law. By virtue of clause 2, they will then have the opportunity of voting and standing for elections for this place.

If a gap or difficulty is created by the need to prepare electoral registers well in advance of any general election, that can be remedied by the operation of clause 4(3). That is a simple, straightforward and--above all--fair package. Opposition Members--particularly those on the Front Bench--have to say whether they would prefer another solution to clause 2, which is a fair way of dealing with hereditary peers.

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