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Baroness Jay of Paddington: I am grateful to the noble Lord the Opposition Chief Whip for his help. Perhaps I may continue. I am not sure whether noble Lords sitting on the Benches behind me will be entirely happy with what I am about to say. However, I say it sincerely and with seriousness. The Government accept that for some Members of the House who will lose the role to which they are accustomed and access to the facilities of this House, it will be a serious disruption to their lives. I hope the Committee will accept that we have sincerely and genuinely expressed, on several occasions--I have done so at every relevant opportunity--our gratitude for the work that they have done and the sympathy that we feel at a personal level for those who are facing change. But it is a sympathy that one would feel for all those who were facing an enforced change of occupation or a lifestyle taken away that was of their choosing. But those are not reasons for compromising on the basic proposal that all automatic connection between the hereditary peerage and this House should be severed.
Although we may have sympathy for them, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, that we are not concerned that their human rights are being affected. The noble Lord asked me whether the Bill was incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights and the Act of this Parliament which brings that convention into force because hereditary Peers did not vote in the last general election and yet they are to lose membership of this House before the end of this Parliament.
This point has been considered by the Government. The matter was raised in the other place by the Opposition. The Government believe that the Bill is compatible with Article 3 of Protocol 1 to the convention concerning free elections. Although hereditary Peers lose their seats in the House of Lords under Clause 1, under Clause 2 their disqualification from voting in the House of Commons is removed. Clause 4(3) makes transitional provisions to enable hereditary Peers to vote from an early date. I believe that hereditary Peers will be in the same position as others who were not entitled to vote at the last general election, for example those under 18. We believe that this meets the obligations under the Act.
Baroness Jay of Paddington: I was, perhaps regrettably, being somewhat frivolous. I simply suggested that the interventions that had occurred in the past few minutes appeared to demonstrate that the concerns of a
Perhaps I may seek to reassure the noble Earl. My noble friend Lord Williams of Mostyn emphasised in response to an earlier debate on Tuesday--I repeat it for the sake of clarity--that this Bill does not abolish the hereditary peerage as such, although that shorthand has been much used by noble Lords in speaking to amendments. All the titles, precedence and other privileges not connected with membership of this House will remain. All that we are concerned with now is the right to sit in a legislature in a House of Parliament. Hereditary Peers can continue to be known by whichever title they choose, Irish or otherwise, as is already the case with Peers who are Members of this House. We had that debate in relation to my noble friend Lord Longford, who is not in his place, and other noble Lords who raised this matter, one of whom was the noble Lord, Lord Aldington.
Another matter of genuine concern is the sovereign's right to create hereditary Peers. That remains precisely the same. However, for the sake of clarity, no future right to membership of this House is conferred by the adoption of an hereditary peerage.
Perhaps noble Lords opposite will find my next point uncomfortable, in the same way that I suggested that some of my noble friends might have found my remarks uncomfortable. I believe that the majority of Members of this House accept that the day of hereditary membership of Parliament is over. I am grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, for putting it very clearly and directly in one sentence this afternoon in speaking to Amendment No. 25 when he simply said that the day of the hereditary Peer was over.
I refer to my contribution to the original debate on this subject in October. In opening the debate I referred to the conversations that I had had with the hereditary Peers who sat on the Benches on this side of the House. I acknowledged their grace in accepting that their present role was over and that accident of birth gave them no claim to be Members of Parliament at the end of the 20th century. On this occasion I record my gratitude for their continuing support for this Bill and their very important contributions to these debates.
The other objection which has been raised consistently throughout the debate on the clause is that although people may say they accept the principle they continue to insist that our approach is wrong. One variant which has been spoken of a great deal, and moved most eloquently by the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, on Tuesday, is that hereditary Peers should be allowed to sit and speak but not to vote. That, it was suggested, would remove one of the Government's most legitimate grievances. It would indeed remove one of the more unacceptable political consequences of the present situation in which the noble Earl's party finds itself in such a majority, but it would not tackle the root of our objection to it. As my noble friend Lord Williams of Mostyn said in replying to the noble Earl, our policy is that it is really a good idea to treat everybody in the country equally.
The other line of dispute has been that the two stage approach is wrong: that the Government either have no intention of proceeding to or will not be able to deliver on the second stage; that until the second stage is before us we should not make any reform. We have heard that argument in many forms during the course of the debates on Clause 1. I should emphasise for clarity and simplicity and, I hope, to conclude this part of the argument, that we take the view that this first stage change is an absolutely essential preliminary to making any progress. We tried it the other way round in 1968. We discussed comprehensive reform in 1948. There was an inter-party conference in 1918. All agreed that the hereditary principle as a basis for membership of Parliament was indefensible. Yet we find ourselves in the middle months of 1999 still having the same debate.
I reaffirm that although we understand the emotional attachment that people have to the hereditary peerage as Members of your Lordships' House it is more than an emotional attachment because it has constituted, and does constitute, an enormous barrier to rational and focused discussion. That is why we have persisted with the intent and the purpose that we shall move through stage one. We shall clear that out of the way. As I said in response to an earlier amendment, there is one simple question: Do you think that hereditary Peers should continue to be members of the legislature in 1999, or do you not? Clause 1 removes the option of having any further debate on anything more complicated.
After that, the choice between the options for the future will have to be made on the basis of the merits of the alternatives that are then available. We genuinely believe--I know that some of the sincerity of the Government has been challenged today--that the chances of getting agreement to long term reform are considerably enhanced by achieving that first purpose; and then, we hope, agreeing a consensus on the way forward.
The Government believe, in the phrase that I used in an earlier debate to which the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, referred recently (and I hope that it does not irritate him if I repeat it) that it is time to say to the hereditary Peers, "A sincere thank you, but goodbye". The rationale for their continued presence as hereditary Peers has, frankly, long since worn out. Forty years after the passage of the Life Peerage Act the argument for pragmatism is also exhausted. The Government intend to proceed with the Bill. We intend to proceed with it in the normal conventions of your Lordships' House by listening, and taking note of what people say. There is no intention on the Government Front Bench not to respond appropriately to points made around the House.
This has been an ingenious debate, but nothing in it has begun to convince me that the Government's approach is anything but essential if we are to make any progress with the long term reform of the House of Lords. I commend the clause, the heart of the Bill, to your Lordships.
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