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Lord Boardman: Obviously I am sorry that the noble Lord is unable to accept the amendment. It is not entirely surprising. It is a great pity that the Government have not directed their minds to the value that will come from a Royal Commission providing a breadth of advice on the formation of this House for the long term.

Having made those comments, I shall note carefully what the Government have said and consider the points that have been made. I may have the opportunity of coming forward on Report with a proposal aimed at this objective. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 113:

Page 1, line 13, leave out from ("Act") to end of line 14 and insert ("shall not come into force until each House of Parliament has come to a resolution that it should do so.
( ) No resolution referred to in subsection (1) may be made until the recommendations of the Royal Commission on the reform and composition of the House of Lords have been reported on by a joint committee of both Houses of Parliament.")

The noble Baroness said: In replying, the Minister used exactly the same words as the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, has used previously; namely, that it is most unusual to provide for the commencement of an Act of Parliament by resolution of both Houses of Parliament.

I pray in aid the fact that this is a very unusual Bill. It is a short Bill. It contains no detail whatsoever. It is constantly referred to by the noble Lord and his colleagues on the Benches opposite as the first step in a two-step process. We know nothing whatever about step two. It is very important that we know more about step two. I suggest that the whole of Parliament should know something of the shape and form of what is to follow. My noble friend has withdrawn his amendment and it is my intention to do the same. We shall then read carefully what has been said. We shall join together and try to bring forward an amendment that addresses all the concerns that have been raised in the course of this and the previous debate.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Earl of Northesk moved Amendment No. 114:

Page 1, line 13, leave out ("subsections (3) and (4) below)") and insert ("subsection (3))")

The noble Earl said: We now move to something new. In moving Amendment No. 114 I shall also speak to Amendments Nos. 123, 124 158 and 159, although, with the leave of the Committee, I would prefer to leave Amendments Nos. 127 and 160 in their place on the Marshalled List since they seek to probe an entirely different and separate matter.

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Amendment No. 114 is a paving amendment for Amendment No. 123. Amendment No. 124 probes the same intent from an alternative approach. I hope that the Government will accept that these amendments raise important matters.

On previous occasions the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, has waxed lyrical--I do not believe that I put that too strongly--about his delight that the construction of the Bill achieves equality for the hereditary Peerage with the rest of the population. He said,

    "In this Bill will be seen the taking away of the long historic injustice that hereditary Peers are not able to vote in parliamentary elections. We are putting that right by giving those who have been deprived politically and legally their full entitlement to participate".--[Official Report, 27/4/99, col. 252.] As I understand it, that is the purpose of Clause 4(3) and (4).

So be it. However, there is the possibility that a set of circumstances could arise whereby, albeit for a limited period, the current drafting could result in the hereditary peerage being effectively disenfranchised. My interpretation is that, if an election were to be called in the year of enactment of this Bill between the dates of 10th October and 16th February, the right of the hereditary peerage to vote would, to all intents and purposes, vest in the Secretary of State. Here in passing I simply point out that this issue motivates our choice of 1st September in Amendment No. 117.

What has surprised my noble friend Lord Trefgarne and myself and hence provoked our amendments is why this particular mechanism of delivery of this desirable gift was chosen by the Government when, if I can put it in this way, a cleaner method was available. Ill-crafted as they may be, our two alternative amendments seek to ensure quite simply that those Peers disqualified by Clause 1 will nonetheless have an absolute right to vote in any parliamentary election held after the Bill is enacted using the electoral register compiled before they were so disqualified.

I should add that, of course, I trust implicitly the Secretary of State, whoever he may be. Of course, he would not gainsay the right of the hereditary peerage to vote in general elections. That said, I express surprise at the existing drafting of subsections (3) and (4) on two counts: first, the power conferred upon the Secretary of State as contained in the words "may" and "as he considers appropriate" is only advisory and lacks the compulsion of the more forceful "shall". Secondly, subsection (4) has certain Henry VIII qualities which, to my untrained eye, appear disproportionate to the purpose for which it is required. I would ask the Minister to give some commentary on those two issues in due course.

Bluntly, we can see no reason why the Government--after all, "fairness not favours" is one of their watchwords--feel it appropriate to leave this matter to the whim of the Secretary of State, whatever his probity on the matter, when all that is required is that those affected by the Bill should be deemed to be qualified to vote on the due date. As I say, our amendments offer two alternative routes. I admit they may fail the Government's test of "exquisite simplicity" whereby this might be achieved.

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There are one or two peripheral issues that should be teased out here. The first point--I hope that I do not trespass too much upon the intention of my noble friend Lord Norrie with his Amendment No. 120A--is that the right to vote in elections is by any measure pretty fundamental. It is enshrined in Article 3 of the First Protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights and our own Human Rights Act--whenever that may be implemented. As gently as I may I therefore ask: how consistent with those hugely consistent documents is it that, however temporarily, the individual right of hereditary Peers to a free expression of opinion should be subject to ministerial fiat?

I do not doubt--how can I?--the Government's good intent, but some small part of me cannot help but ask why it is that they have exposed themselves to the potential "heffalump" trap of falling foul of the ECHR when they do not have to. At the very least the point is moot.

That leads me to the declaration of the noble Baroness the Lord Privy Seal on the face of the Bill. My less than expert judgment on this issue is that we may be on the cusp of scrutiny which exposes that the declaration may have been made in error. I have no doubt that the noble Lord the Minister will advise me that I am wrong. Nevertheless, while I am sure that I should know the answer to this question, what procedure, if any, exists to rectify or nullify a declaration in such circumstances?

One comes to the question of the acceptance by the House of the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill. I note that so far no amendment has been tabled to make it expressly clear that none of your Lordships among the 92 who may be elected will be permitted to take part in parliamentary elections. One is bound to ask: why not, or are those Peers to be entitled to vote in both the House and in elections? The existing drafting is less than clear on the point, except that a cynical mind could be tempted to suppose that the construction of subsections (3) and (4) may have been specifically drawn in anticipation of the new clause appearing on the face of the Bill. A cynical mind could say that the construction of Clause 4(3) was aimed at affording the Secretary of State enough flexibility to allow different Peers to be treated differently. In postulating this question I wonder whether I lance the boil, as it were, of my previous questions about the drafting of the subsections.

I say a brief word about Amendments Nos. 158 and 159. The right of hereditary Peers to vote in parliamentary elections is a consequence of their removal, hence Amendment No. 158. The hereditary peerage is not disqualified in toto from voting in general elections. Hence the purpose of the Bill is to qualify those to whom it applies to be able so to do. That is the underlying purpose of Amendment No. 159.

In conclusion, I cannot help feeling that voting in parliamentary elections is too important a constitutional and human right for it to lie, however temporarily, in the hands of the Secretary of State. If it is right--the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, has with some passion admitted it to be so--that the hereditary peerage should be granted that right, it must of necessity follow

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that it should be conferred upon them freely and absolutely by primary legislation. I pray in aid the words of the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn:

    "My point is that it is a good idea to treat everyone who lives in this country equally".--[Official Report, 27/4/99; col. 252.]

That being so, I invite the Government to respond favourably to whichever of the two alternatives we offer them. I beg to move.

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