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Lord Randall of St. Budeaux: Before my noble friend sits down, I should like to point out that when I stated in my speech what I felt were the strategic points on which any proposal should be based, I said that I supported the manifesto; and that part of the reason for putting forward the weighted voting system with the skew proposed was to meet some of the wording of that manifesto.
Lord Sawyer: If that is the case then it is important that my noble friend supports the Government. The Government's proposals are based directly on the party's manifesto and his proposals would negate that.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I wonder whether I could intervene at this stage and try to be helpful with respect to the current position. If I am right in my reckoning, three other Members of the Committee still have amendments to be spoken to in this long group--a group which my noble friend Lord Henley and myself felt ought to be disentangled. Unfortunately (I do not blame anybody) they were not disentangled, and that is a great pity.
We are now getting into a confused situation where a number of topics on the same general subject--it can hardly be otherwise given the scope and the nature of the Bill--are addressed from different points of view. The amendment of my noble friend Lord Selsdon is the principal amendment in this group. He made his usual excellent speech. Then we have the interesting but
Lord Coleraine: I am grateful to my noble friend for giving way. I should like him to know that, following representations from the Front Bench, I shall be disentangling my own amendment from this group.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: That is the point I am coming to. My noble friend Lord Pearson of Rannoch has an amendment in this group, too, which is quite different in degree. That may well be untangled as well. I am supposed to be replying to the debate, but I do not know whose amendments are still in and whose amendments are out.
What I intend to do is as follows, and if it does not suit the Committee I reserve the right to come back later. I shall reply to the amendment of my noble friend Lord Selsdon. It will then be up to the Committee to decide how it wants to proceed, and up to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, who is to reply, to decide how many of these amendments are still in play and how many he replies to.
As I recall, having had occasions like this when I sat on the Government Front Bench, immediately after Amendment No. 10, if my noble friend decides to withdraw his amendment, we shall, unless the Committee adjourns for the evening, go on to Amendment No. 11. We shall then come back to Amendment No. 14 in its order and can resume the debate on that amendment, and so on. That is the principle on which I shall proceed. Therefore, I shall discuss only the amendment of my noble friend Lord Selsdon.
My noble friend made his usual excellent speech, impressively without notes. Perhaps we should consider another amendment providing that any hereditary noble Lord who speaks eloquently and without notes ought to be given a free right of passage into the new House, because it is an excellent example, which I tried to emulate when I was on the Back Benches. When I became a Minister I was told that as every word became gospel I had to read it all carefully and not ad lib; the Box became very nervy if I ad-libbed too often. It is a serious point that my noble friend is an example to us all in his ability to make a speech without notes.
My noble friend has returned to the 1968 Bill which, as a number of Members of the Committee who were here at the time have continued to remind us, was accepted by the House of Lords but rejected by the House of Commons because of the issue of a competing power source, a point I mentioned earlier in the day. My noble friend has suggested that following that Bill is the correct way to proceed. In other words, all the existing
My noble friend adds that at the stage of this Bill's being passed any hereditary Peer who wishes to do so can resign his seat. He may wish to make it clear that he does not wish to take part any more or that he has not taken part in the past and wants, so to speak, to clear the numbers. He may also wish to compete for a seat in the House of Commons, although that is a rather risky route.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I was about to come on to the fourth subsection in my noble friend's new clause, because that tries to address the problem, which I understand and have never pretended that I do not understand, of the Labour Party's irritation about what it sees as the Conservatives' in-built majority.
My noble friend Lord Strathclyde mentioned the Pensions Bill and some issues which were brought in which were never there to begin with and were never intended to be there. If I had tried to complain on the same basis as the Government are now complaining with regard to this Bill I would have been laughed out of court as well as thumped quite conclusively in the Division Lobbies, as indeed I was. I make no complaint. It is a tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis of Heigham, that she succeeded in these matters. I had better not go too far in case any Members of the Committee think I enjoyed being thumped by the noble Baroness, as I was on a number of occasions, figuratively, of course.
My noble friend's amendment deals with that problem by saying that 100 hereditary Peers nominated by the others should be allowed to have full voting rights. That is not terribly dissimilar to the Weatherill amendment, which we shall come to later. It is a very interesting and ingenious amendment. It is a pity in many ways that in 1968 the other place did not accept it.
It may well be that its time has passed. Occasionally I catch the mid-morning plane to Glasgow. When I arrive there, it is a beautiful morning. I arrive by lunch time but I realise that if I had only got up earlier, I could have had the whole morning there. But, of course, one cannot put back the clock on a Bill any more than one can do so in relation to the plane that one catches.
Therefore, I accept that the time may have passed in relation to this matter, which is a pity. But if the Government were ever to have second thoughts on how to proceed on this issue, my noble friend's amendment offers a very good way forward, for which there is considerable precedent. Although I cannot speak for all Members of the Committee, I believe that his proposal would merit the same warm endorsement today as it received in 1968.
The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Lord Falconer of Thoroton): Left in this group are Amendments Nos. 10, 14, 23, 27, 29, 52 and 109, all of which have been spoken to. I intend to reply to those amendments.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: The amendments which have been degrouped, which have not been spoken to and to which I do not intend to reply are Amendments Nos. 18, 26, 30, 61, 64 and 153. We have received indications that some amendments should be degrouped and the noble Earl, Lord Clanwilliam, was kind enough to indicate at the beginning of the debate that he did not wish to speak to his amendment. It is wrong that I should deal with those amendments. It is right that I should reply to the amendments which have been spoken to. I shall not, as the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, has done, merely treat the matter as an a la carte menu from which he selects those to which he wishes to reply.
It has been an interesting debate marked by two factors. First, the speech of my noble friend Lord Randall of St. Budeaux was extremely good and he is entitled to a full and detailed reply. Underlying his speech were all the issues raised in the debate, including the extent to which the hereditary peerage should be protected in some way in relation to the successor House to this House.
The second striking aspect of the debate was the ability of the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, to prevent the Committee from hurtling into an unpleasant debate about procedure. He restored a good mood to the Committee merely by the quality of his speech, on which I congratulate him.
Perhaps I may deal first with the speech of my noble friend Lord Randall. It set out the principles. He identified seven principles to underlie the basis of his speech. First, he said that the hereditary principle is not sustainable and he said that that is the widely-held view of this House. With respect to him, I agree.
Secondly, he said that the Bill and the effect of its changes should not weaken the House. With respect, I agree with that. The effects of the Bill as we propose it will leave 500 life Peers. It will take away the in-built Conservative majority. It will have the effect of providing a more legitimate House, which I believe will be stronger rather than weaker than the one which currently exists.
Thirdly, he said that we should not take up an absolutist position in relation to speed. His proposal means that after three Parliaments, 50 per cent. of hereditary Peers will no longer be entitled to sit or vote in this Chamber. On our calculations, it would take 60 years to get rid of or to remove the hereditary Peers from this House. I appreciate that it is a distressing topic for hereditary Peers. I agree that normally, an absolutist position should not be adopted.
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