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Lord Falconer of Thoroton: I fully understand the noble Lord's point. He is right to identify that what we envisage is that hereditary Peers would get onto the electoral register on the first possible date that such a new register is published, which is in February 2000. I also recognise the possibility--although I have to say it looks moderately remote--that there could be a general election before that date. Obviously we would look at the position if that were to occur, but, as at present advised, it would be our intention to put hereditary Peers on the electoral register from February 2000, which we think will meet all likely eventualities.
Lord Elton: I should remind the noble and learned Lord that most orders of this sort are required to be laid for 40 days before they become effective. Therefore, the machinery may need more than a cursory glance. Nevertheless, I am content for the moment.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: I am grateful to the noble Lord for reminding me of that point. Obviously we would need to look into the matter to ensure that there was no unsuitable delay in relation to people coming onto that register. I give way to the noble Earl.
Earl Ferrers: The noble and learned Lord may be satisfied on that point, but can he satisfy me on the following one? Although it may be an extension of the imagination to think that a general election may be called, it is not an extension of the imagination to think that a by-election may be called. In that case, would not hereditary Peers be excluded from voting?
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: I recognise the possibility--and I do not mean this in an offensive way-- that there may be the occasional hereditary Peer who may have a by-election in the place where he lives. It seems to me to be extremely unlikely. We are talking about one or two people. It would put those people in the same position as those who, for example, become 18 in the time that the register is being drawn up. They have the same sort of difficulty that hereditary Peers might have. One has to look at this with the appropriate sense of proportion. I give way to the noble Viscount.
Viscount Mountgarret: I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord for giving way. However, if I heard him right, surely it is a most cavalier attitude to take to say that one or two hereditary Peers may be disenfranchised and unable to vote and to say so as if it did not matter. It does matter; it matters very much indeed. On reflection, I hope that noble Lords will realise that this matter must be taken a good deal more seriously.
Earl Ferrers: Quite a few of us would love to be 18 again; indeed, we would be happy to suffer such privations in order to be so. However, it is rather different when you are older and the Government are deliberately excluding people. Perhaps the noble and learned Lord will be good enough to think about this again, even though I see the noble Baroness the Leader of the House is shaking her head. There is a real point here.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: I have set out the Government's position. It is a very important point, but it seems to me that we have taken an appropriate stance in relation to it. I give way to the noble Lord.
Lord Trefgarne: I am much obliged. The difference on this occasion is that we have before us legislation in which we could do something about the difficulty identified. It is the change to the legislation that the noble and learned Lord is resisting, not the difficulty, which he accepts.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: I am saying that what we propose in order to ensure an orderly means of getting hereditary Peers onto the electoral register is that they should be treated in a sensible way which will ensure that they get there with the proper procedures having been gone through. I fully appreciate that there may be a by-election where a hereditary Peer may be deprived of the right to vote because it occurs before February 2000. We have to balance that against the sensible proposals that we have been making. The Government do not take the view that that remote possibility undermines the whole process that we have put in place.
Lord Kenyon: Does the Minister accept that it is not a matter of hereditary Peers getting their names onto the electoral register? They are already on it for the purpose of local authority elections, and for those of us who live in Wales or Scotland for the purposes of the Welsh Assembly or the Scottish Parliament. They are also there for the purposes of the European elections at which noble Lords are allowed to vote.
As regards the age of 18, if the Minister were to consult electoral registration officers, he would be told that for the purposes of preparing the list they ask for the names of people of the age of 17. On the electoral register the date of birth of anyone between the ages of 17 and 18 is recorded so that when the date of a general
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: The returning officer ultimately needs to have a list of people who can vote. You need to put people on the list for the purposes of voting in a general election for the House of Commons. You cannot, by an Act of Parliament, simply deem that a huge number of people should be put onto that list when they are not there. Some process needs to be gone through.
Lord Kenyon: They are there. All that is on the list against my name is a little "p" which informs the returning officer that I am not allowed to vote in parliamentary elections but I am allowed to vote in any other election. My name is on the list already.
Viscount Trenchard: In the past two general elections I have been given a card to vote with. I have gone with my wife to the polling station and pointed out to the returning officer that unfortunately I am not entitled to use that.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: I think that is probably a mistake. The noble Viscount was on the list but not for the purposes of voting in parliamentary elections. One needs to be on the list for the purposes of voting in parliamentary elections; that is the way our system works in relation to parliamentary elections, and hereditary Peers are treated in exactly the same way as everyone else. If they are not on the list for the purposes of parliamentary elections, they cannot vote in parliamentary elections. We need a process whereby they can get onto the list appropriately.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord for giving way. My noble friend has made a valid point. All Peers are on the electoral register because we can vote at local government elections or, in the case of Wales and Scotland, at Welsh and Scottish parliamentary elections. I appreciate that the noble and learned Lord may not wish to give an answer to this point this evening but perhaps he will consider it. Would it not be possible to add a simple amendment to the Bill, perhaps in the form of a new clause, to indicate that those people--I thought I had "l" in front of my name, but perhaps the situation in Wales is different and the letter "p" is used--who have "l" or
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: I am quite sure that does not apply to all noble Lords. I am amazed that the Committee can say that this measure applies to everyone here. It appears that each noble Lord knows what situation applies to all the others and that all noble Lords are on the electoral register. In order to go onto the electoral register one has to fill in a form. I am glad that all noble Lords are confident that every single one of your Lordships has filled in that form. As with ordinary people, I imagine that some will have done so and some--
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