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Lord Elton: I have two amendments in this group which probe in perhaps a slightly narrower field than the amendment of my noble friend. They are based on paragraph 18 of the Explanatory Notes to the Bill which point out that the disqualifications of hereditary Peers from voting will,

I have taken the wording of Amendment No. 129 as closely as I could from that advice. Unfortunately, either by my error, that of the typist or I know not who, the last line of the amendment refers to 1st February 2000. The gap when hereditary Peers might not be able to vote ends in 2001. My purpose in substituting "shall" for "may" is to get from the Government an explanation of the circumstances in which the Secretary of State might not make an order. I presume that is when the Session finishes before 10th October, but I would like that on the record. Also, the words of Amendment No. 129 spell out in place of the words

    "as he considers appropriate" the exact purpose of the order that he is required to make. It is purely for clarification.

10 p.m.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: There are a number of amendments in the group. One of them, Amendment No. 125, is in the name of my noble friend Lord Strathclyde and myself. All the amendments address the same issue--the consequences of the passage of the Bill on the right of Members of your Lordships' House who are hereditary Peers to vote at British general elections. I say "British" general elections because hereditary Peers are now allowed to vote at Scottish and Welsh general elections--which I presume some of my noble friends and other noble Lords did earlier this month.

The matter was reasonably clear cut before Weatherill, although there were some issues of timing. It is not quite so clear cut now that the Committee has agreed to the noble Lord's amendment. There will be two categories of hereditary Peers--those who are able to sit and vote here and those who cannot, either because they have not stood for election or have not been elected. The Government will have to turn their mind to how to deal with that problem.

I have no argument with the proposition that the 92 hereditary Peers who remain here after the end of this Session, if that is when the Government get their

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Bill, should be in the same boat as the rest of us and not be allowed to vote at general elections. However, it seems unfair on the others that they will be deprived of the right to vote in any general election in future before we move to stage two or in any by-election. I have not had the opportunity to check, but there may be one or two hereditary Peers living in the constituency currently occupied by Mr. Dennis Canavan, who has indicated that having been elected to the Scottish Parliament by a huge majority, after being deemed unfit to stand as a Labour Party candidate, it is his intention to resign his seat at Westminster. He thinks that it is not right to be a Member of both Houses.

If other Members of the other place who have been elected to the Scottish Parliament were to take the same view, there would be a number of by-elections the length and breadth of Scotland, and a number of hereditary Peers would certainly be living in those constituencies. Let us suppose that those by-elections happened after their removal from your Lordships' House. It would seem unfair that those Peers should not have a vote in any such by-elections. All the amendments address the same problem. My noble friend Lord Elton, for example, tries to put beyond doubt the right of disqualified Peers to vote, as indeed does Amendment No. 125 which stands in my name, among others. It makes it clear what is to happen.

I am not an expert on these matters, but I gather that the human rights legislation so beloved of the Government states bluntly that people should not be deprived of their right to vote. If the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, is to respond, I have no doubt that he will address this problem. What will happen if we have a period during which certain Members of your Lordships' House are no longer allowed to sit here but are no longer allowed to vote in by-elections or a general election? We have to do something about it. It is not good enough to say that the Secretary of State may by order do something. He may be slow. He may decide not to do so. It would be better to put the provision on the face of the Bill.

There are two problems. When all hereditary Peers are removed, presumably at the end of this Session, how would they immediately collect their right to vote, especially, as has been indicated by one of my noble friends, if the removal was after 10th October? I believe that there is an answer to that because nowadays one can register during the course of the year that one's eligibility arises and one is added to the register. No doubt the noble and learned Lord will help me on that. However, it becomes more difficult when we have two classes of hereditary Peers: those who will remain here and therefore, I think, should not have a right to vote in general elections; and those who will not be able to attend here who, I believe, should have the right to vote. All the amendments address the same point.

My noble friend Lord Northesk said that he would not move the amendment, but the point is simple, so I shall raise it. I refer to the right to vote in European elections. The first time I read this simple Bill--it did not take me long--I wondered about the phrase "or the European Parliament". I understand that all noble Lords

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are able to vote in the European parliamentary elections which are about to take place. Therefore I could not understand those words. They may well fall into the category of unnecessary words described by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale. The noble and learned Lord is not here, but perhaps I may remind the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, how keen his learned colleague is to remove unnecessary words from the statute. Are those words unnecessary? If they are not unnecessary perhaps we can be told which of our number is not allowed to vote in the European elections next month.

The Earl of Northesk: Perhaps I may clarify a point raised by my noble friend on the Front Bench. The reason I chose to decouple Amendment No. 127 was precisely as he explained. It is such a simple matter that I wanted the Government to have the opportunity to grant it willy-nilly.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I thought that it was such a simple matter that even the Government Front Bench could deal with it.

Viscount Mountgarret: I had not intended to intervene on this amendment. I have tabled Amendment No. 119. However, the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, has highlighted the substance of what I was going to say on Amendment No. 119. It is summed up in the word "enfranchisement": the right to vote and to be represented in Parliament.

If I am right--perhaps the noble Lord will correct me if I misheard him--he said that he felt that the 90 privileged hereditary Peers who may remain in your Lordships' House during the transitional period should have the same rights and privileges (perhaps it should be the other way round) as those who will not remain in your Lordships' House. Did I mishear the noble Lord? If I have not, I cannot go along with that. The whole purpose of removing the right of noble Lords to vote is because they are represented already in your Lordships' House, in Parliament. Therefore, if 650-odd hereditary Peers are to trot off into the sunset they must have the right to vote. Unfortunately, if this part of the Bill does not come into force until a couple of years after the passing of the Act, we shall have an uncomfortable situation in which 650-odd Peers will not only have their right to vote removed but will be unrepresented.

That is a serious matter because noble Lords probably know well the old expression, which is enshrined in the written American constitution, "no taxation without representation". As we do not have a written constitution, in this country it is enshrined by convention. In fact, Lord Campden, who was Lord Chancellor from 1766 to 1770, said in this House on 10th February 1766:

    "Taxation and representation are inseparable. Whatever is a man's own is absolutely his own. No man hath the right to take it from him without his consent either expressed by himself or representative. Whoever attempts to do it attempts an injury. Whoever does it commits a robbery. He throws down and destroys the distinction between liberty and slavery".

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    Those are strong words and I am sure that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor will be somewhat hesitant in flying in the face of what was said most clearly by his illustrious and noble predecessor. In my view, those words hold as good now as they did then.

As regards representation and voting, it is essential that the machinery of reform of your Lordships' House must coincide with a general election. It might be said that the Bill can be passed now and that it will be all right at the next general election, but when will the next general election be? I seem to remember that there was not a general election during the war and that we had a coalition government. With the state that the world is in at the moment, it is not too far fetched to think that we might have a lot of unrest coming our way. Therefore, it is not just a case of 650 hereditary Peers waiting for a couple of years before becoming disenfranchised, but it may be--I sincerely hope not--much longer. I hope that the Government will bear that point seriously in mind and address it in due course.

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