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Mrs. Beckett: I may be able to save the hon. Gentleman much tortuous thought. He and his colleagues seem to have spent much time anticipating all sorts of Machiavellian Government behaviour that does not exist. There is a simple reason for the provisions: our desire to be as helpful as possible in giving people who will lose their rights to sit in another place their proper rights as citizens at the earliest point possible, even if that should come at a time inconvenient from the point of view of the normal construction of an electoral register. It is no more or less than that.

Mr. Letwin: If that is the sole reason, as it may be, the right hon. Lady will have no difficulty in accepting amendment No. 22 because it compels inclusion in the electoral register. The criterion would be fulfilled as a matter of law. If the right hon. Lady thinks that it will not work, it would be interesting to know why.

I continue to believe that there is a subtext. It is likely that there will be a considerable mess when we get to the Weatherill amendment in respect of ensuring that the right people get, or do not get, the right to vote in parliamentary elections. I do not know how that will be resolved. I know that the right hon. Lady--if, as I suspect, she is being straight with us about not knowing what the Weatherill amendment will look like--cannot know how that will all come out. There is at least an appearance that this provision creates latitude and discretion to try to deal with that problem. If she says that that was not the intent, I am delighted to hear it. If it is not, she should subscribe all the more readily to amendment No. 22, in which case the problem that I think may have existed in the minds of those who drafted the provisions will not apply. If it turns out that I am right about the reason, we shall have the bizarre position that the cause of these juridical vices is, as we have repeatedly said, another sort of outrage: the outrage of parliamentary blackmail.

I know that the Leader of the House maintains--I think, perfectly sincerely--that there is nothing wrong with the Government wanting to get their business through smoothly and being willing to make a major concession to do so. As with many such things, it depends which end of the telescope one is looking through. To us, the very same thing is differently described: it constitutes a statement by the Government that part of the constitution would be right if their lordships had behaved themselves, but wrong if they had not. That is the wrong way in principle to go about constitutional reform. If I am right that at least part of the cause of the elaborate and horrible

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procedure in clause 4, with the three vices that I mentioned, is the process that I have described as parliamentary blackmail, we have an unfortunate case of one vice begetting another.

If the Leader of the House wholly denies that chain of logic, that is marvellous. She can then surely accept amendment No. 22, because it clearly puts the onus on anyone who wants to obey the law--as returning officers and the whole of local government will want to--to ensure that hereditary peers are put on the register. I have to say that, in that event, if and when the Weatherill amendments are accepted, it will be necessary to amend both clause 2 and clause 4. I doubt whether the Leader of the House will deny that. Then we will have a clean amendment of clean clauses. That is how the thing ought to run. When the Bill comes back to the House after the amendments have been moved in the other place, we shall be able to see whether the process that it inaugurates is workable and sensible. We have not been able to debate the Weatherill amendments in advance because we have not seen them, but at least we shall be able to do so ex post.

Mr. Grieve: I wait with great interest to hear what the Leader of the House has to say, but I find that the thrust of amendment No. 22 is straightforward. The amendment provides in statutory form the objective that appears to be desired by all parties in the House. It will be right for hereditary peers, as the amendment says, to be


What is the harm in spelling that out?

Clause 2 says:


but thereafter the power is reserved to the Government to decide when the clause will be introduced. What is the rational logic of that and what is the drawback to amendment No. 22?

I am perfectly prepared to accept what the Leader of the House said. One of the reasons for introducing legislation by statutory instrument--heaven knows, we have heard this on countless occasions in proceedings on various bits of legislation, including the Henry VIII clause in the Human Rights Bill--is to ensure that something which needs to be done and which everyone agrees ought to be done can be done swiftly when the occasion arises. But if one knows precisely when the occasion will arise because it is clear that it will arise when a particular event happens, why on earth is the occasion not written into the Bill? I wait with great interest to hear from the Leader of the House why that is not so. On any analysis, I cannot see that amendment No. 22 could cause the Government any difficulty.

Mr. Letwin: Would my hon. Friend like to remedy a deficiency that I now see in my speech by outlining what he sees as the timetable for enactment and entry on the register?

Mr. Grieve: If the legislation contained the amendment, upon enactment, as the amendment states

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perfectly straightforwardly, at the end of the Session of Parliament in which the Act is passed--assuming that we are operating on this year's time scale, it would be at the end of October in the hiatus before the state opening--the names of hereditary peers would be entered on the electoral register to entitle them to vote in elections to the House of Commons thereafter.

One has to say, and I think my hon. Friend has said it, that the only potential problem might be the Weatherill amendment. The Government have told us not just once but repeatedly that we are not allowed to second-guess the Weatherill amendment. It is apparently a non-event. We have to assume that it will never happen. It is just one of those possibilities--a twinkle in the corner of the right hon. Lady's eye, but nothing more than that. If that is the case, being logical--I hope that I am being logical in applying a legal mind to the matter--amendment No. 22 must be correct.

It can hardly be surprising that when we are told by the Government that our amendment is not necessary because they prefer to make the provision under their powers to make statutory instruments, we ask why.

Mr. Maclennan: I am interested in the amendment, but I wonder whether there might not be a problem with it. There are certain categories of people who are excluded from privilege of voting, including people with certain mental conditions and people in jail. Amendment No. 22 would have the no doubt inadvertent effect of repealing those requirements so that hereditary peers, albeit criminals languishing in jail or people suffering from a mental condition, would be empowered to vote. I do not think that that would be sensible.

Mr. Grieve: The right hon. Gentleman makes a good point. I can see that the amendment might produce that mischief, but the way to correct it is for the Leader of the House to say, "We accept the thrust of the amendment and on Report we will introduce an amendment of our own to do exactly that." All that she would need to add would be "subject to the normal disqualifications" or some other phrase that the genius of the legal draftsmen would have little difficulty in providing. While I accept the right hon. Gentleman's point, therefore, it does not deal with the reason why the provision has to be made by ministerial decree.

Mr. Letwin: I want to put it on the record that what we heard from the right hon. Gentleman was absolutely fair cop; that we have made an error; and that the remedy is exactly as my hon. Friend suggests.

Mr. Grieve: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. We are, after all, the Opposition, and we do not have all the facilities that the Government have for drafting legislation or amendments. One of the purposes of the Committee is to enable us to suggest ideas that might be good. In this context, we think that the amendment is a very good idea. So why are we not to be allowed to have it? I do not understand why the right hon. Lady has already hinted that we shall be denied it.

Surely a central approach to all legislation is that we should at all times endeavour to deal with matters by primary legislation. Only if there is some compelling reason why they should be dealt with by statutory

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instrument should we so deal with them. Heaven knows, I am a member of the Select Committee on Statutory Instruments. One only has to see the wretched burden that is foisted on our shoulders on a weekly basis, often poorly drafted because it has been badly scrutinised, to know that it is much better if properly drafted primary legislation is introduced. On that basis, I commend amendment No. 22 to the House because it is a most desirable amendment. I shall need a lot of persuading by the Leader of the House that we should approach the matter in some other way.

The other thing that the Government cannot get away from is that in some way a sword of Damocles is being held over the other place. I accept that the Leader of the House will say, "No, of course there is not; that is ridiculous." However, when we see something left to the discretion of a Minister which should not be, because it affects the constitutional rights of Members of the other place who will be deprived of their constitutional rights, it behoves us to spell it out in black and white that, on losing the right to represent themselves in the other place, they will acquire a straightforward right to vote in elections for Members of the House of Commons. I hope that, at the end of the debate, the right hon. Lady will tell us that she is willing to think again on that point; I cannot see any legitimate reason why she should do otherwise.


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