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Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: Perhaps I may intervene briefly. I believe that my noble friend Lord Norrie has raised interesting points about the European convention. What I find particularly interesting is that an Act in this respect, which was passed with much trumpeting and one about which I know the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, feels proud, will not actually come into effect, as I understand it, for some time to come--

Lord Williams of Mostyn: Perhaps I may assist the noble Lord. I signed a parliamentary Answer today indicating that the Bill will not be delayed until 2001 and that it will come into effect on 2nd October in the year 2000.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: That is still a year and a few months ahead. So it is a little ahead of right now. I suppose that making sure legislation comes into effect quite quickly is a good thing, but a delay of well over a year before this one comes into effect is quite interesting.

It is true, as my noble friend said, that the European Convention on Human Rights impinges on people's electoral rights. Indeed, I was reminded of a Gibraltar case, which one of its citizens--I believe it was a woman--brought, and won, against the British Government stating that it was against the convention to deny her the right to vote in European parliamentary elections. The Government are persisting with that denial of human rights, despite the efforts of my noble friend Lord Bethell to help them get within the law.

When Mr. Tommy Sheridan of the Scottish Socialist Party was threatened with non-registration by the registrar, the very threat of taking that case to the European Court of Human Rights appears to have persuaded the registrar that he should register Mr. Sheridan. The latter eventually proved that he had political support by winning one of the seats in the City of Glasgow for the Scottish Parliament. I do not actually think that he will win for the European Parliament, because I believe that is rather too big a hurdle for him to negotiate.

There are some points here that are worth the Government's attention. My noble friend has already raised them, but perhaps I may restate them. First, is it the Government's view that an hereditary peerage creates a right or an interest in property? If that is not so, can the Minister tell us what is the Government's

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view in that respect? Secondly, can the Minister set out the arguments against the latter? After all, it is the desire of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor to remove all dubiety from this Bill and to make it beyond doubt that all hereditary Peers will be removed in totality from the House. Therefore, it would be quite useful if the Government were to explain, even briefly, why they are confident--I am sure they must be--that their Bill is safe from the European Convention.

Lord Northbrook: Before the Minister replies, perhaps I may make two points to add to my noble friend's recent comments. First, if indeed hereditary Peers do have property rights in this House, is there scope to claim compensation if their human rights are breached? Secondly, there may be a gap between hereditary Peers losing their voting rights here and being able to vote in a parliamentary election. That gap, however small it may be, seems to me to be a loss of human rights.

The Earl of Northesk: To endorse the comments of my noble friend Lord Mackay I refer to the response of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, to my noble friend Lord Trefgarne last night. In addressing the concern that Clause 4(3) in the Bill may offend against the ECHR, the noble and learned Lord gave a seven word reply. He said,

    "The answer is no, it does not". I gently suggest that your Lordships deserve a fuller answer than that. I have every respect for the legal expertise and acumen of the noble and learned Lord and I respect his opinion. However, in this matter do we not deserve a fuller explanation of why the noble and learned Lord's and the Government's opinion is as it is? Perhaps the noble Baroness the Lord Privy Seal will also elaborate on that point.

Baroness Jay of Paddington: The noble Lord, Lord Norrie, who introduced the amendment we are discussing has neither apologised nor withdrawn the extremely unfortunate remarks that he made about me yesterday. I have now of course had the opportunity to read his remarks in Hansard. As regards Amendment No. 120A, I simply say to the noble Lord and to those who have spoken to the amendment that I was not--to use the unfortunate language of yesterday of the noble Lord, Lord Norrie--dissembling, deliberately or otherwise when I signed the declaration stating that this Bill is fully compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. As regards the other points raised about elections and property, my noble friends have replied fully to the relevant amendments on the third day of the Committee stage. This amendment is irrelevant.

Lord Norrie: I am grateful for the noble Baroness's reply. I mention in passing the recent decision of the European Court of Human Rights and the case of Mr. Demicoli and the Parliament of Malta. Further to the advice provided to the Joint Committee on privileges stated in its report dated 30th March 1999, page 76, paragraph 284, the several witnesses before the committee included the Lord Chief Justice who drew

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the committee's attention to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights concerning proceedings of the British Parliament.

These developments clearly indicate that parliamentary sovereignty in this country is reduced in its scope and power. Specific actions by parliaments are appealable to the human rights court. The abolition of hereditary and property rights, especially those of a minority group, are rights protected by the European Court. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 121 not moved.]

[Amendment No. 121A had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]

[Amendment No. 122 not moved.]

The Deputy Chairman of Committees: We now come to Amendment No. 123 and also to Nos. 124, 125, 126 and 127 which have already been debated.

The Earl of Northesk moved Amendment No. 127:

Page 1, line 19, leave out ("or the European Parliament")

The noble Earl said: I indicated last night that I would return to Amendment No. 127 and I shall do so briefly. It is a modest affair but it is no less important for that.

Earl Ferrers: I hope I may interrupt. Amendment No. 123 may have been debated but I do not think that it has been called. My noble friend is discussing Amendment No. 127.

Lord Trefgarne: I hope I may assist the noble Lord in the Chair. I do not intend to move Amendments Nos. 123 and 124. The other amendments in the group stand in the names of other noble Lords who will decide for themselves what to do. As I understand it, my noble friend Lord Northesk intends to speak to Amendment No. 127.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees: I understand that Amendment No. 123 is not moved.

[Amendments Nos. 123 to 126 not moved.]

The Deputy Chairman of Committees: We now return to Amendment No. 127.

The Earl of Northesk: I apologise for that little hiccup. As I said, Amendment No. 127 is a modest affair but it is no less important for that. The fact of the matter is that hereditary Peers are not disqualified from voting in elections to the European Parliament. Our debate last night on Amendment No. 114 demonstrated that quite palpably. I know that I have not inadvertently broken an electoral rule by voting in European elections. What, then, is the purpose of making provision for this existing right to be transferred, however temporarily, into the hands of the Secretary of State? As my noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish inquired last night,

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"Are those words unnecessary?" The answer is, yes. I invite the Minister to accept the amendment and to remove them. I beg to move.

Lord Trefgarne: Before the noble and learned Lord replies I hope I may say that I share the mystification of my noble friend Lord Northesk as to why these words are included in the Bill. Noble Lords already have the right to vote in European parliamentary elections. I myself have exercised that right in the past. I hope therefore that the Government will accept the amendment.

The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Lord Falconer of Thoroton): The power in Clause 4(3) of the Bill, as the noble Earl, Lord Northesk, rightly points out, allows the Secretary of State to make transitional provision in respect of the entitlement of holders of hereditary peerages in relation to European parliamentary elections. As he rightly says, Peers are currently able to vote in European parliamentary elections. Neither the Bill nor any order made under it will affect that position. Why is the provision there? It is intended to use the power so as to allow a holder of a hereditary peerage who is resident overseas and who benefits from the transitional provisions in relation to UK parliamentary elections to be able to vote in European parliamentary elections on the basis of his or her entitlement to vote in UK parliamentary elections, without the need to show entitlement under Section 3 of the Representation of the People Act 1985 which makes provision in relation to Peers resident overseas and European parliamentary elections. The power has been taken merely to relieve hereditary Peers of the burden of going through two administrative processes. Those immortal words I uttered in identical form yesterday.

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