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Clause 5

Interpretation and short title

9.30 pm

Sir Patrick Cormack: I beg to move amendment No. 47, in page 2, line 4, after 'peerage', insert--

'means members of the peerages of Scotland, England, Ireland, Great Britain and the United Kingdom other than those created under the Appellate Jurisdiction Act 1876 or the Life Peerages Act 1958, and '.

The amendment is simple and clear. We tabled it for one reason only: in the Bill, the whole aim of which is to remove the voting and sitting rights of hereditary peers, there is no adequate definition of what an hereditary peer is. In their desire to produce the shortest Bill possible, the Government have cut every corner in sight. I hope that they will be able to accept the amendment without hesitation, to allow the Committee to move on to the more substantive new clauses. If there is some technical deficiency, I hope that the Minister will point it out and promise to remedy it and table a Government amendment. It is nonsense that in a Bill dealing with the hereditary peerage there should be no adequate definition of that phrase.

Mr. Forth: On reading the amendment and the Peerage Act 1963, the question arises my mind whether reference should be made in the Bill to peeresses in their own right, as in that Act, which takes care to make reference also to Scottish and Irish peerages, and whether there might be a problem if no such reference is made. We have to be careful to cover all the possibilities.

When I take visitors into the Lobby of the Lords, I always draw attention to the quaint notice that goes through all the categories of peers, mentioning peeresses in their own right. That important category should not be excluded.

Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South): Surely the word "hereditary" means any title inherited, whether the inheritor is male or female.

Mr. Forth: I hope that the hon. Gentleman is right, and I am almost reassured by what he says. I will be fully reassured when the Minister tells me that my anxiety is completely unfounded.

Mr. Hoon: Notwithstanding the eloquence of the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack), I shall have to disappoint him yet again.

There is no doubt what is meant by the phrase "hereditary peerage". We do not anticipate that it will lead to legal proceedings, challenging what is perfectly straightforward English, and there is no need for any further definition. There is no ambiguity. The problem

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with the amendment, certainly as drafted, is that it attempts to define hereditary peerage negatively, by reference to what it is not, and that is no greater help to a precise definition than what is contained in the Bill. The Bill has the merit of being in plain English. It is clear to everyone what is meant by hereditary peerage and to introduce such an amendment would produce the ambiguity and difficulty that the hon. Gentleman is anxious to avoid.

Mr. Grieve: I seek clarification on the position of that small category, hereditary peers of the first creation who hold peerages that may pass down by right of heredity. What is their precise status? They are peers, not by hereditary right but through having been created peers themselves. It is only for their successors that the hereditary right exists. How does that square with the definition of hereditary peers in the Bill?

Mr. Hoon: It is not necessary to go into the definition to answer the hon. Gentleman's question, because those peers are clearly hereditary peers. The peers of first creation have been told that they will have the opportunity, should they be interested, in taking a life peerage to put them into the same position as other members of the life peerage with the ability to participate in proceedings in the other place. That is an elegant solution to the problem that the hon. Gentleman raises.

I was about to say that I recommend to the Committee that it reject the amendment.

Sir Patrick Cormack: We are not absolutely persuaded by the Minister's reply, but the Committee has other business to move to. In the light of the Minister's reply, we shall have further discussions and a similar amendment may be tabled in the other place. However, for the purposes of this evening, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 5 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

New Clause 9

Senior Salaries Review Board

'(1) The Secretary of State shall ask the Senior Salaries Review Board:

(a) to review the salaries and expenses paid to members of the House of Lords; and
(b) to detail the costs of their recommendations.
(2) The Secretary of State shall lay the final report of the Senior Salaries Review Board before each House of Parliament.'.--[Mr. Evans.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Evans: I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

The First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Mr. Michael J. Martin): With this, it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 12, in title, line 2, after 'about', insert

'the salaries and expenses paid to members of the House of Lords and'.

Mr. Evans: I am delighted to move new clause 9, although I fear not as eloquently as my hon. Friend the

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Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack) would. I shall give it my best shot. The new clause deals with pay and salaries, which are a vital issue. We have in mind the interim House of Lords and, dare I say it, the second stage, should it ever materialise--perhaps in my dreams rather than in reality. Even if we do not get to stage 2, we should consider how we treat those who will sit in the transitional House, what sort of work we need them to do and whether we intend to give them the full support that they need. It is not worth while delaying this discussion until we get to stage 2.

The debate is long overdue. We have only to consider the work of those who sit in the House of Lords to appreciate the conditions under which they work and the pay--I use the term loosely--that many of them receive. Much has been said about the peers, especially the hereditary peers, in Committee and during the debates we had on the White Paper. I exclude the Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office from this accusation, but other hon. Members have been rather dismissive of the contribution of the hereditary peers. It is a shame that some of them, especially the newer Members, have not taken the opportunity to go down the Corridor and listened to some of the debates in the second Chamber. Most people who know anything about the House of Lords speak highly of the debates held there and the high level of contributions made by many peers who are expert in their fields. We should be grateful for the service that both hereditary and life peers have given over many years, not only in the Chamber, but in the Select Committees.

I went to the other place briefly today where I spoke to one peer about the conditions in which they work. Seven peers were crammed into the same room, and I asked whether each of them had a desk. He chuckled, and said that when they were elevated to the peerage they could put down their names for a locker. Many peers are still on the waiting list even for a locker, never mind a desk or the use of a lap top computer, although some of them do use those. The conditions in which they work are extremely primitive, and we should reconsider them, irrespective of any changes that take place.

To see the value of the House of Lords, we need only consider its cost in comparison with the cost of the House of Commons and the European Parliament. Research shows that the House of Lords costs £39 million, and the cost per member is £37,000. For the House of Commons, the cost is £241 million, which is £366,000 for each Member. The European Parliament--a great institution that stands alongside the Millennium dome in my mind--costs £607 million, which makes £948,000 a Member. [Hon. Members: "Cheap at the price."] I am not sure whether the MEPs get it all themselves, although I suspect that somehow or other they do.

Those figures prove the great value that we get from the House of Lords. We get it on the cheap, but we should not do so.

Dr. George Turner: Can the hon. Gentleman enlighten me on how recently the conditions have become so dreadful in the other place? Why is there a sudden urgency for improvement that did not exist for a long period--18 years, perhaps? Is it just coincidence that the matter is being debated now, or has something happened since this Parliament began to change conditions there?

Mr. Evans: It was never a priority for the previous Government, and I should apologise for the fact that we

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did not get round to change during the 18 years of Conservative Government or the five years during which I was a Member under that Government. During those five years, I would rather have considered the salary and conditions of the House of Lords than many of the pieces of legislation that were debated. [Hon. Members: "Name one."] Do not tempt me.

It is appropriate to bring pay and conditions up to date while we are discussing the House of Lords Bill. No one can dispute the fact that we cannot carry on expecting the other place to do an increasing amount of work in the new quangocracy in the reconstructed transitional House--and in the second stage--without paying its Members sufficiently well to do their work.

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