Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

House of Lords Bill

8.23 p.m.

House again in Committee.

Lord Trefgarne moved Amendment No. 6:

Before Clause 1, insert the following new clause--

Life Peerages For Disqualified Peers

(" .--(1) A peerage under the Life Peerages Act 1958 may be conferred on a person notwithstanding that he is disqualified under section 1 from attending, sitting or voting in the House of Lords, and, accordingly, section 1(4) of that Act shall not apply in relation to any such person.
(2) Where a peerage is conferred under the Life Peerages Act 1958 on a person who is disqualified under section 1, that person--
(a) shall be entitled to receive a writ of summons in the title (or the most senior title) by virtue of which he is also disqualified, and
(b) shall sit not as a new Peer but in right of that title.")

The noble Lord said: This new clause is designed to be helpful and constructive. I hope that the Government will receive it in that sense. As the Committee will be aware, this Bill provides in Clause 1 that,

    "No-one shall be a member of the House of Lords by virtue of a hereditary peerage". In my view the Government have quite rightly taken the view that certain noble Lords--in particular, those who have been described as hereditary Peers of the first creation--are here on the basis of their own merits and therefore ought to be allowed to continue in the new House. In those circumstances I understand that the Prime Minister has written to nine noble Lords who are hereditary Peers of the first creation saying that they will be made life Peers and thus able to continue in the subsequently reformed House. They will be made life Peers under the terms of the Life Peerages Act 1958.

But it would seem that the Government have overlooked Section 1(4) of that Act, which I shall take the liberty of quoting to the Committee. It says,

    "Nothing in this section"-- there are only two sections in that Act--

    "shall enable any person to receive a writ of summons to attend the House of Lords, or to sit and vote in that House, at any time when disqualified therefor by law". All hereditary Peers are to be disqualified from sitting in this House by law exactly as the Life Peerages Act 1958 describes. Therefore, it seems to me beyond doubt that the award of life peerages to noble Lords who are presently hereditary Peers in this House and about to be excluded, is not in accordance with the law.

It may well be that a number of noble Lords will receive their life peerages before the House of Lords Bill becomes an Act, if it does. Apparently, it is not intended to go beyond that. It seems to me beyond peradventure that after the House of Lords Bill becomes an Act it will not be possible to confer a life peerage on any former hereditary Peer. We will not be former hereditary Peers in the strict sense. We shall still be hereditary Peers, but we shall no longer have the right to sit or vote in this House. That prohibition is precisely described in the Life Peerages Act 1958 in the way that I have already stated. I am certain that that is not the

20 Apr 1999 : Column 1104

Government's intention. It cannot be their intention that all 700 or so of us who will be leaving this House, if the Bill becomes an Act in due course, will never again be entitled to be considered for the award of a life peerage. But I believe that that is the effect of the 1958 Act taken in conjunction with the Bill that we are now considering. It is for that reason that I move this amendment. I beg to move.

The Earl of Northesk: I support my noble friend Lord Trefgarne. I begin by stating that our intention here is to be entirely helpful to the Government. In commentary about the Weatherill amendment, much has been made, for example, of the proposition that Peers of first creation should be made life Peers. I make no judgment as to the merits or otherwise of so doing. However, the reality, as my noble friend has explained, is that Section 1(4) of the Life Peerages Act, on strict interpretation, disabuses the Government from being able to deliver that proposition.

On the enactment of this Bill, as drafted, we must suppose that all hereditary Peers will be disqualified from membership of this House--an inelegant and inaccurate phrase in its own terms, but I shall leave that--by force of statute. That being so, within the terms of the relevant section of the Life Peerages Act, I simply repeat the point made by my noble friend. No hereditary Peer, let alone just Peers of first creation and whatever their individual merits, will be allowed,

    "to receive a writ of summons to attend the House of Lords, or to sit and vote in that House". Of course, I accept that the party on the Benches opposite has long argued that the right of the hereditary Peers to attend this House is wrong in principle. But I had never thought that the intent of that principle stretched as far as saying "never, ever again". I repeat that on a strict interpretation that would be the effect of the Bill without this amendment.

In that context I add a further thought about which I am not entirely certain. It seems to me that a statutory bar on a particular class of person attending a House of Parliament may just fall foul of the European Convention on Human Rights. We can be certain that the noble Baroness the Lord Privy Seal made a statement on the face of the Bill in all honesty. But, in all seriousness, I wonder what happens in a set of circumstances where the veracity of such statements can be called into question as a result of proper parliamentary scrutiny.

I conclude by saying that this really is a matter that needs to be addressed. As far as I am aware, neither I nor my noble friend Lord Trefgarne is particularly wedded to our solution of the problem. However, we can optimistically hope that the Government will be persuaded to give the issue their due attention.

8.30 p.m.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I believe that my noble friends have raised two interesting points. If I understand them correctly, I think that both require the Government's attention. It would be fair to say that one of those points is not hugely serious, but the other

20 Apr 1999 : Column 1105

could be. The first is the question of life peerages conferred on people who are hereditary Peers and therefore are currently earls, marquesses or even dukes and whether or not they would be summoned here as life Peers but be able to use the title to which they are entitled under their hereditary peerage, although not at the stage we are discussing as Members of your Lordships' House.

I can give no better example of an hereditary Peer who is very active in the House than the noble Earl, Lord Russell. I am sorry that he is not present in the Chamber this evening; but, nevertheless, I shall pay tribute to him. I presume that the Liberal Democrat Party has some sense and that it will ensure that the noble Earl continues to play a part in this Chamber. I would find it extremely difficult if I had to teach myself not to collar him in the corridor and had to collar another noble Lord. Indeed, we ought to be clear about what we will have to do. It may not be the most serious point in the Bill, but it is one that is well worth clarifying.

A more important point is the one raised by my noble friends; that it may be impossible to give the noble Earl a life peerage because, by the way that the Bill is written, he may well be disqualified from being a Member of your Lordships' House. I say that because he will remain the holder of an hereditary peerage. I give way to the noble Earl.

The Earl of Longford: I am sure that I have misunderstood the noble Lord. However, speaking as someone who was given an hereditary peerage years ago and who has now been offered and accepted a life peerage, I do not get the point. To be quite honest, I think that it is all nonsense.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I hope to persuade the noble Earl that it is not nonsense and that it is an important point. The noble Earl has been offered a life peerage now; he is not currently disqualified because the Bill has not yet been enacted. As I understand the amendment of my noble friend Lord Trefgarne, we are actually talking about something that will happen on the far side of the Bill when it does become an Act. I am happy to hear that the noble Earl will remain with us, but he is not going to be disqualified before he accepts his life peerage. That is the point. On the other hand, after the Bill becomes an Act, hereditary Peers will be disqualified from sitting in the House. The probe is whether they will be able to sit here as life Peers. It is a reasonable probe and I hope that the Government will be able to clarify the position under the law. I also hope that they will carefully consider the question of style.

Viscount Cranborne: I agree with my noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish that the Committee ought to be grateful to my noble friend Lord Trefgarne. It would be extremely helpful if the Government could confirm the suspicion held by my noble friend that it may be difficult to award a life peerage after the abolition of an hereditary Peer's right to sit in this House. Presumably the Government will be able to confirm to the Committee whether that is so: either they

20 Apr 1999 : Column 1106

will accept this amendment of my noble friend, or a version of it, or they will confirm that it is technically possible for an hereditary Peer to hold a life peerage simultaneously with an hereditary peerage. I imagine that that would indicate that any hereditary Peer who was offered a life peerage would have to be made a life Peer before the Bill becomes law.

I look forward to hearing what the Government have to say on this, admittedly, detailed matter. But, after all, we are in Committee and such details are what Committee stages are mostly about. I say that bearing in mind what has been said on a number of occasions this afternoon and this evening by Members on the Government Front Bench about Second Reading speeches at this stage.

I turn now to what perhaps may be the rather more frivolous part of my noble friend's amendment; namely, subsection (2). This is possibly a matter of convenience to which my noble friend has addressed himself. In my own case, one of the attractions of accepting a Writ of Acceleration, rather than the life peerage that I was originally offered, was partly the enjoyment that I was afforded by taking part in a rather arcane practice. That, of course, is a self-indulgence which no other Member of your Lordships' House has ever succumbed to but which I am afraid I did. However, it was also something which I believe had a practical, if rather personal, purpose.

The Committee will appreciate that, if I had taken a life peerage, I would, on my father's death, have had to endure a change of name on top of the number that I had already endured. The thought of changing my name a third time on top of the number of times that I would have to do it in any event made me think that the arcane device of a Writ of Acceleration was very attractive. In that way, I could at least call myself Cranborne for a number of years until my father died, which, thank goodness, is some time ahead yet.

For the same reason, I suspect that any hereditary Peers who are fortunate enough to be offered a life peerage would, for reasons of convenience and for their own purposes--as well as for purposes of recognition among those who have political--

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page