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Lord Hooson: Has the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor considered accepting this amendment? If the Conservative Opposition and the learned counsel whom they quoted are correct, all that is needed to achieve the ends the Government have in mind is an acceptance of the amendment. If the amendment is accepted--it may well have the effect which the Conservative opposition claimed for it--it seems to me that none of the rest of the Bill is necessary. I cannot

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see that Clause 4(2) would be necessary if the amendment were accepted. I wonder whether the noble and learned Lord has considered that point.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: I wish to make a truly short intervention. I am sure that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor will know that it is settled peerage law and not merely arguable that it is attendance to the Writ that gives the right to sit and the right of membership. It is nothing to do with heredity.

I have had the honour of serving for quite some time--about 15 years--on your Lordships' Committee for Privileges. If one wants to get to the heart of the matter--I totally accept the sincerity of the noble and learned Lord as to that--the heart of the matter according to peerage law is the Writ of Summons and attendance pursuant to that Writ, which not only confers the right to sit but the right of precedence over previous or other Peers who have received a Writ of Summons but have not attended. It is attendance before the House which confers precedence among the Peers of equal rank and the right to sit in your Lordships' House.

Lord Waddington: I hope that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor will address the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Hooson. The noble Lord suggested that if the Bill were amended in the way which is suggested in Amendment No. 10A, the effect would be the same as that which the Lord Chancellor thinks that he has achieved by the present wording. I wonder whether that is strictly correct. A good deal must turn on the point raised by my noble and learned friend Lord Mayhew of Twysden. A good deal must turn on the effect of the tendering of the Writ by the Peer when he comes to the Box to take the Oath. I recall that when I was elected a Member of the House of Commons I had to turn up at the beginning of a Parliament and hand in my Writ. The handing in of my Writ was, as it were, my ticket for entry into the House of Commons for that Parliament. I did not have to carry it in my breast pocket and produce it every time I wanted to speak thereafter. The Writ was, in effect, spent when I tendered it at the beginning of a Parliament. I am fairly sure that that is its effect in the other place.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: Perhaps I may intervene. As a former Member of the House of Commons, I cannot recall ever having received a personal Writ of Summons or handing it in. The Writ of Summons goes to the returning officer who then returns it. That is why he is called a returning officer.

Lord Waddington: Perhaps I am mindful of the time when I was a candidate in a by-election. I can assure the noble Lord that I had to carry the Writ into the Chamber. At the beginning of a new Parliament, the procedure is simplified and all the various returning officers send in the Writs, but it has exactly the same effect. I carried with me into the Chamber my own Writ, which was my ticket that entitled me to sit in the House of Commons for the remainder of that Parliament. I suspect that the same happens to the Writ tendered by

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a Peer when he comes to take the Oath in this Chamber. Perhaps the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor will give his view on that. I believe that the Peer hands in his Writ which is his ticket to sit and speak in the House of Lords. The Writ is then spent and has no further effect.

If that is the way matters work in law, perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, is not quite correct in saying that the amendment would have the same effect as that intended by the Lord Chancellor. The effect of the amendment may well be that from this time onwards those who come to the Box with a Writ and ask for permission to sit in this House will be refused, but those who have already tendered their Writ and been accepted as Members of this House will retain that right for the rest of the Parliament. These are very important matters to which the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor must address his mind. When he comes to sum up the debate, I should like the Lord Chancellor to give his understanding of the effect of the Writ. Does he agree that once the Writ is submitted its effect is spent?

3.45 p.m.

Lord Jauncey of Tullichettle: Perhaps I may remind the Committee of the words of Lord Cranworth, the Lord Chancellor in the Wensleydale peerage case in the last century:

    "That which gives every noble Lord his right to sit here is not his Patent of Nobility, but the Writ of Summons which he is entitled to, in consequence of that Patent". I agree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, that at the very least there is doubt as to whether Clause 4(2) is effective in as much as the Writ may or may not still be alive after it has been presented and the holder of it has sat in Parliament.

Lord Mishcon: I apologise in advance for being quite wicked. I believe that I and my colleagues now know why this amendment was tabled at the last minute. Perhaps I may be forgiven for my suspicion that there was a strong minority in the party opposite who said that they must not make fools of themselves by tabling an amendment of this kind because of the result pointed out by my noble friend Lord Richard and others; namely, that they would go on record as being in favour of the amendment so tabled. Having said that, I congratulate the minority opposite who said that and deprecate for their sake the decision to table the amendment, which was reached at the last moment.

I turn to the amendment and the present wording of the Bill. In this debate we are speaking at the very time when, after centuries, writs of summons have ceased to be issued in the Royal Courts of Justice. I say very proudly that the first of the new substitutes for writs of summons was issued by my firm. My firm has now gone on historic record not for the number of negligence cases brought against it, but because it issued the first notice of claim to be handed to the senior master.

Having given that puff, in the same manner in which those writs of summons have been abolished, Writs of Summons to your Lordships' House may be abolished. What nonsense this amendment would bring about in not carrying out its purpose. No Writ of Summons,

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notice of hearing or whatever it may be would be required for attendance in this House. We have limited ourselves by this amendment to the issue of a Writ of Summons. If there is any change in that procedure we have had it, to use a colloquialism. The wording of the Bill before us makes it transparently clear that whatever procedure may be adopted, hereditary Peers will not by virtue of that fact become Members of your Lordships' House and be entitled to speak and vote.

Earl Ferrers: The noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, says that he is "wicked". That is his word; I would not have used that word. Sometimes he is mischievous, and I believe that he has been so this afternoon in explaining why the amendment was tabled. I believe that my noble friend has done a great service to the House and the Government. It is our purpose to look at what the Government are doing and, possibly, disagree with them, but also to help them.

The Bill at the moment does not carry water. It refers to a Peer being here by virtue of a hereditary peerage. However, as my noble and learned friend Lord Mayhew said, we are not here by virtue of an hereditary peerage but by virtue of a Writ of Summons. If this Bill passes into law unamended, it may well be that a Peer will contest the matter in a court of law. If the court found that he had a right to ask for and receive a Writ of Summons, the Government would look pretty stupid. We are trying to help the Government and to prevent them looking stupid, which is not an easy task. The fact is that we are here by virtue of a Writ of Summons, not a hereditary peerage.

Lord Mackie of Benshie: Does the noble Earl agree that such a person would not receive a Writ of Summons unless he was a hereditary Peer?

Earl Ferrers: The Bill states that no one shall attend the House of Lords by virtue of the fact that he is a hereditary Peer. Although I have not seen the letter written by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, to which my noble and learned friend Lord Mayhew referred, it appears that parliamentary counsel had thought of using the Writ of Summons approach, but wanted to get to the heart of the matter.

What is the heart of the matter? To use the unfortunate phrase which the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate could not get his tongue round the other day, it is in order to get rid of the hereditary Peers. I can only say that it is a funny thing that, while the right honourable gentleman the Prime Minister is conducting a great fight against the Serbs in relation to ethnic cleansing, here at home he is carrying out a great fight in the House of Lords in relation to hereditary cleansing. In other words, "Get rid of hereditary Peers, whatever they are: good, bad or indifferent. Let us get rid of them all."

That is pretty pungent stuff. If that is the reason why the Bill is written as it is, it would be interesting to know. I was disappointed that the noble Lord, Lord Richard, and the noble Lord, Lord Peston--and I was surprised that the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, joined in too--tried to make a monkey out of what is a

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perfectly genuine amendment which tries to help the Government avoid getting themselves into a position they would regret.

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