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Lord Campbell of Alloway: I seek to get away from trying to flood the House with anything.

Perhaps I may respectfully ask two questions. I am sure the noble Lord realises that there is a problem. How to deal with it is, frankly, not so easy. However, as he approaches the problem, will the noble Lord make two assumptions: first, that the so-called Weatherill amendment is not carried in this House; and, secondly, that we do not go to stage two? I do not say what will happen on either. I ask the noble Lord to make those assumptions when dealing with the problem which he realises exists.

I realise that it is a difficult problem. I should be grateful if he could deal with the question on those assumptions.

Lord Carter: With all his years of experience in this Chamber, the noble Lord will know that Ministers do not answer hypothetical questions.

If the Weatherill amendment is not carried, this House will consist of a Chamber of life Peers without the 92 hereditary Peers. As I said, we are already 15 short in terms of life Peers. I cannot give the noble Lord any more assurance than that.

Lord Eden of Winton: I hope that I am not interrupting the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Carter. I believe that he had finished. I wished to be assured of that. Nonetheless, I hope that he will be tempted to rise again to his feet.

I wish to press one point. I am sure that the Committee is grateful for the assurances he gave to the noble Earl, Lord Perth. I am equally certain that all noble Lords will recognise the generosity and sincerity with which the noble Lord, Lord Carter, expressed those views.

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Equally, I accept the point he made that although these matters may not be enshrined on the face of the Act, in the event of any dispute or question arising on the matter, the observations of the Minister on behalf of the Government made formally and officially at the Dispatch Box will be taken into account and carry weight. I accept all those matters fully from what he said. I ask only that he returns to the small point I made to which I attach some importance. I believe that the declaratory amendment of the noble Earl, Lord Perth, should be the subject of an undertaking by the Government now. I know the noble Lord explained that the Government cannot bind any future, successor government. However, a marker should be put down now so that the present Government, when they bring forward legislation for stage two, as I assume they will, will incude a reference to the declaratory statement on the face of whatever Bill is put forward at that time.

Taking the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Richard, that Bill will certainly deal with the powers of this place. Therefore, in the light of this debate, which the two noble Lords who tabled amendments have made possible, I repeat that a firm marker should be put down by the government spokesman, the noble Lord, Lord Carter.

Lord Carter: If I can find it, I shall quote from the letter. It says,

    "the government has no intention of amending the Septennial Act". I believe that everybody understands that. There is no intention to amend the Septennial Act.

A number of noble Lords have commented on the Government binding a successor government. It is a Parliament that binds a successor Parliament. I can give the noble Lord an absolute assurance that in this Parliament this Government have no intention of bringing forward amendments to amend the Septennial Act. That is the only assurance that any Minister can give in this Parliament. That is absolutely correct.

Equally, I can be confident that in the future there will be no intention to try to amend the Septennial Act to extend the life of Parliament. That is my view. The only assurance that I can give your Lordships as a Minister is that this Government, in this Parliament--it is the only one with which we are concerned--will not bring forward an amendment to the Septennial Act to extend the life of Parliament.

Lord Renton of Mount Harry: The Government Chief Whip has used some honest words: that he can give no assurance that a future government will not attempt to amend the Septennial Act. That lies at the heart of our problem.

Lord Carter: Any successor Parliament. Noble Lords keep saying "successor government". It is any successor Parliament.

Lord Renton of Mount Harry: The Minister is playing with words at the moment.

Lord Carter: The distinction is enormously important. This refers to the powers of the Government

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and the powers of Parliament in the second House--in the transitional House--where the Government do not have a majority.

Lord Renton of Mount Harry: I congratulate the Government Chief Whip on saying that because he has pointed to the heart of the difficulty of this debate. I am delighted that my amendment has provoked such a lengthy and serious conversation about constitutional safeguards. The words used by my noble friend Lord Crickhowell are, I believe, at the heart of the matter. It is not a question of wishing, as the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, said, to dust off hereditary Peers and bring them out of the cupboard, which was an amusing but facetious remark on his part.

The question is: how can we find a constitutional safeguard in the interim stage, when, as the Government Chief Whip says, he can bind only this Government in this Parliament? The interim solution will disappear in the next Parliament. How can we write in a constitutional safeguard that has some chance of lasting longer than that? After all, an amendment to abolish only 16 words from the Parliament Act 1911 would mean that the absolute veto on Bills to extend the maximum duration of Parliament beyond five years would disappear. It is extremely easy to do.

I believe that the Government Chief Whip was wrong when he said, in winding up, that we in some way wish to accuse the Government of subverting the constitution. That is not right. The constitution changes all the time. However, that is why we wish to see whether a constitutional safeguard that is satisfactory to all sides can be written in.

I was particularly pleased by the speech of the noble Earl, Lord Erroll, on this subject, sitting as he does on the Cross Benches. He made the point about what other means can be found to find a safeguard if that in my amendment is not considered satisfactory.

I am grateful for the lengthy debate that we have had. I shall consider the wording of my amendment. Telling me that it is incorrectly drafted is, of course, the oldest trick in the world. However, I shall go away and consider it carefully with a view to redrafting. I hope that we shall be able to return to the matter on Report.

Perhaps I may say, without sounding pompous, that at that stage I hope that the Leader of the House herself will consider answering the debate. It touches on serious constitutional matters. As my noble friend Lord Strathclyde spoke from the Front Bench on this side, I believe it deserves the attention of the Leader of the House herself. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 26 and 27 not moved.]

Lord Gray moved Amendment No. 28:

Page 1, line 6, at end insert--
("(2) This section does not apply to any person who was on 31st July 1963 the holder of a peerage in the peerage of Scotland only and who on that day became eligible to receive a writ of summons to attend the House of Lords, and to sit and vote in that House.")

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The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 28, grouped with Amendment No. 67, which is consequential upon it.

We now move from major constitutional matters to the quieter backwaters of detail. In the course of debates we have spoken of hereditary Peers, life Peers, Peers of first creation and Peers by acceleration. My amendment concerns a group of Peers who hold hereditary titles but clearly do not fit the category in Clause 1 of the Bill because they were never entitled to be Members of this House by virtue of hereditary peerages. In consequence, they are still not so entitled, although they sit here.

The Peers in question are those Peers of Scotland identified in my amendment. My research suggests that nowadays there are 11 in the group, of whom nine have taken their seats. I am one and so is my noble friend Lord Belhaven and Stenton, as is the noble Earl, Lord Perth. We are Peers of Scotland only who held our titles prior to 31st July 1963, the day on which the Peerage Act of that year came into force. Prior to that day, as explained in the course of yesterday's debates on the Act of Union, we could only sit here--one Parliament at a time--if elected as one of Scotland's 16 representative Peers. After that day we were all entitled to come here.

Indisputably, we never had hereditary entitlement. What was the nature of our entitlement? By virtue of what were we admitted? Perhaps the answer lies in the entry in the Journal of the House on the first occasion after 31st July 1963 when any one of us took our seat, an entry that read:

    "Sat first in Parliament pursuant to the provisions of Section 4 of the Peerage Act 1963". The answer to the question of entitlement must, therefore, be by virtue of an Act of Parliament. Does that place us in any of the categories of Peers in the Bill? I see that one of our number, my noble friend Lord Reay, has just joined us. Each of us is a hereditary Peer but each of us is the first of his or her line to sit here by right. Does that place us in the category of first creation? If so, perhaps we will each receive a letter from the Prime Minister. We shall wait and see. On the other hand, are we life Peers for the purposes of this Bill?

The Government, if they are determined to be rid of us, must answer those questions and decide how they will do so, or accept my amendment for the avoidance of doubt. I beg to move.

6.30 p.m.

Lord Newby: It seems to me that the answer to the question came from the noble Lord's own mouth when he said, "Each of us is a hereditary Peer". That being so, the only argument in which we can engage in terms of special pleading for the small category of Peers of which the noble Lord is a member was debated at great length earlier in our discussions about special provisions for Peers from Scotland.

I do not want to re-enter that debate, except to say that we all agree that there should be adequate representation for Scotland, and every other nation and

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region of the UK. As there will be adequate representation for Scotland in the interim House, there is no need for the amendment to be supported.

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