Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Strabolgi: Perhaps I may add a few words arising out of the speech of the noble Earl, Lord Northesk. The committee does not make rulings. It establishes the facts and then reports to the House with a recommendation; then the matter goes to the sovereign. A final decision rests with Her Majesty. All the committee does is to establish the facts.

I much appreciate the kind remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway. He has, as he says, been a member of the committee for a year or two longer than I have, and has played a notable part. He and I are very old friends. We knew each other long before either of us came to this House. I know that when I come to leave it, his continuation, as I hope, on the Committee for Privileges will continue to be invaluable.

There is just one point that the noble Lord did not make; namely, that the Committee for Privileges is a committee of this House. It is appointed by the House and reports back to the House. Therefore, I cannot see

11 May 1999 : Column 1161

that it would be possible to introduce into a committee of the House people who are not Members of this House.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: That turns the whole circuitous argument on its back. With respect to the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, that committee deals with terribly difficult points of law. I concede that they could be dealt with elsewhere, but they are dealt with with expertise. Some matters are terribly arcane. We do not deal merely with fact; we deal with recommendations on points of law. It is always the Law Lord who leads, and devises the form in which the recommendations are made, which is an assessment of law against the facts as found. It is a complex, difficult, highly technical disposal. I still believe that it is right, although there have been occasions when the lay element has been, so to speak, over-ruled by the Law Lords--when they have said four and we have said five. Nonetheless, the system as it has evolved is wholly effective and well-organised. It is fair to the hereditary Peers. Having made the concession that I have made, I ask that the Government make one of those gestures. That would be appreciated. They would not be tearing up their manifesto.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: This amendment addresses an immediately more obvious problem, a real situation which may not occur very often but does occur from time to time and will probably continue to do so. It addresses the role of the Committee for Privileges in determining questions regarding the title or succession of hereditary Peers.

After the Weatherill amendment was added to the Bill this afternoon, it is possible that for the foreseeable future the Committee for Privileges will still be able to include some hereditary Peers. I hope it does not damage the chances of election of the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi. We would all applaud if the noble Lord were to continue not only in the House but also on the committee.

If we go beyond that and reach stage two, it is clear from reading the Labour Party's submission to the Royal Commission that at stage two we shall have a wholly appointed House. We shall not have an elected House or even a partly elected one; it will be a wholly appointed House. There will be no hereditary Peers sitting as hereditary Peers, although I suspect that some will be transformed into life Peers and will still be here. However, that will only be for a certain time.

There will come a day when there will be no hereditary Peers on the Committee for Privileges dealing with questions of title and succession. That seems to me to be odd, even though, as the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, explained, the Law Lords on the committee played the major part in the deliberations of the committee. It would appear odd. Therefore, my noble friend's amendment has something to commend it.

My problem is that I am not entirely sure when the Committee for Privileges deals with a case and when a case is dealt with by other bodies. For example, my noble friend Lord Selkirk of Douglas is now a Member of the Scottish Parliament. When he was Lord James

11 May 1999 : Column 1162

Douglas-Hamilton, Member of Parliament for Edinburgh West, he was confronted with a serious problem during the weekend when our late noble friend Lord Selkirk died. I do not wish to go into the complications of the succession of the Selkirk peerage, but it was meant to be handed down, never to be held by the same person as held the dukedom of Hamilton. Therefore it was always supposed to go to the Duke of Hamilton's younger brother. It was a device by the King of Scotland who gave out the peerages in those far-off times, to ensure that the powerful Douglas-Hamilton house never obtained two of the most powerful peerages in Scotland. It was a clever divide and rule device.

The problem was that there was some doubt as to whether my noble friend, then Lord James Douglas-Hamilton, or his cousin was the rightful heir to the earldom of Selkirk. In that case, if my memory serves me rightly, it did not go to the Privileges Committee, it went to the Lyon Court--I suspect a much more fearsome body than the Privileges Committee of your Lordships' House. The case was heard, the Lyon Court determined it and my noble friend was decided to be the rightful heir. My noble friend had renounced the peerage even before he knew that the case was settled because, from rulings by Clerks in the other place, it was clear that if he did not renounce it he could no longer continue to sit and, more importantly, vote in the other place.

My secondary question, which arises out of the amendment and which I ask as a simple seeker after truth, is why some cases like that of my noble friend are dealt with by the Lyon Court and other cases dealt with here in your Lordships' House by the Committee for Privileges. I accept that the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, may not be able to answer the question immediately. On the other hand he may be well enough prepared--and as he is sitting beside the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor I have no doubt that he is now well prepared if he was not before--to give me the answer. I should like to know and, in addition, the point is worth addressing when we look forward to a House when there will be no hereditary Peers left rather than the interim House with the involvement of hereditary Peers.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy: Before the noble Lord sits down, surely the situation arose because two Scots peerages were involved.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I thought that that was probably the case, but I thought I would test the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn.

9.15 p.m.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: The question posed by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, was rightly answered, if I may say so with respect, by the noble Lady. I was surprised that it was put because I would have thought that anyone with an interest in this House and the peerage of Scotland would have known the answer automatically. As the noble Lady indicated, it is a matter of jurisdiction. I did not need to be prepared for that; I would have thought it was a matter of common knowledge.

11 May 1999 : Column 1163

I remember the case of the noble Lord, Lord Douglas-Hamilton, because it was a fascinating topic which I followed with interest. The noble Lord, Lord Mackay, correctly summarised the case, it devolved on those questions. There was a cutting of the knot because had the noble Lord not renounced, not only would he not have been able to vote in another place, but there would have been a by-election. That would not have been entirely agreeable to Mr. Major at the time. I can say openly that everyone recognised that the noble Lord was remarkably unselfish in taking the course that he did. Since one can be expansive on these occasions, I further remember that not only the title devolved elsewhere but also an extremely fine family picture and a certain modest competence in terms of cash.

Turning from that particular to the more general, I understand and sympathise with the theme that has been expressed, if I can put it fairly in that way, by the noble Lords, Lord Trefgarne, Lord Campbell of Alloway, and the noble Earl, Lord Northesk. I reassure them that this Bill does not alter any of the attributes of the peerage nor its rights and privileges except those that relate to membership of this House. I have said it before and I repeat it: we do not propose making any changes to the rules of succession and inheritance in the context of the peerage.

The point made by the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, is wholly determinative because it cannot be answered. He quite rightly said that the committee to which this amendment refers is a committee of this House. Self-evidently, those who are not Members of this House cannot be members of the committee. That is the simple, short answer, but that may not be sufficiently persuasive and therefore I shall continue.

As Members of the Committee know, the Committee for Privileges is set up under Standing Order 74. It consists of 16 Members of this House together with the addition of four law Lords who are also Members of this House. Whenever a peerage claim is heard at least three law Lords must sit. The Standing Orders specify, as the noble Lords, Lord Strabolgi and Lord Campbell of Alloway, know, that three law Lords must be sitting, but there is no reference in those orders to a requirement that an hereditary Peer has to sit.

I take up the argument put by the noble Earl, Lord Northesk. He may well have shot his own fox. He said--and I entirely and respectfully concur--that the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, has unrivalled experience and expertise in this matter. Precisely. As far as I am aware, and subject to correction, the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, is not an hereditary Peer.

I return again to the contribution made by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway. These are essentially matters of law. There is no particular reason why hereditary Peers should have a greater understanding of peerage law than others. I say this quite seriously and not in an attempt to amuse. I have always found the hereditary peerage law of great interest. When I had no work at the Bar I had little better to do than to read cases on it. That is why I still find it fascinating. It is very interesting and important. But the Committee will not mind my saying this about trial by one's peers.

11 May 1999 : Column 1164

I believe the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, is quite right. I believe that the last peerage trial by Peers was a motor manslaughter case in 1936.

The Committee will not take it amiss if I put this proposition. When a burglar is tried normally he has no entitlement to a selection of burglars being on the jury. Therefore, trial by one's peers may have its limitations. The fact is that it is a committee of this House. If hereditary Peers are no longer Members of this House it is not appropriate that they should sit. The expertise will be available in such persons as the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway. In addition the Law Lords will be there critically and helpfully. As I understand it, there is no reason at all why hereditary Peers, who will continue in their rights and privileges with the exception that I mentioned earlier, should not give evidence. If one wants that reservoir of expertise to be tapped that is a way of doing it. As always, I have approached this matter with an open mind before saying that I cannot accept the amendment.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page