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Lord Elton: Is the noble Lord taking this argument to its logical conclusion and suggesting that all life Peers should also retire when they have proved incapable of conducting the business of the House?
Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank: I would not take that view. It is very straightforward. No one is disputing the entitlement of life Peers to remain here, whatever duties they perform. But the argument in this clause as regards the 15 is the justification for what are called the "excepted Peers". This is an exceptional arrangement. That is why I take exception to it and raise such questions.
I do not wish to detain the Members of the Committee too long on matters with which they are familiar. Nevertheless, I shall detain the Chamber for as long as I choose. There is also the question of the runner-up who is to fill a vacancy. Is it seriously suggested--there may be a misunderstanding here, and I should be very glad to be corrected if I am wrong--that someone who has left your Lordships' House, retired to the country, put up his feet and been away for two or three years should be brought back to this Chamber to fill a vacancy because one of the 15 has dropped out?
Further, there is the question of subsection (5) of Standing Order 61, which states that at the beginning of every Session a number of noble Lords proposed by the Committee of Selection are appointed Deputy Chairmen of Committees. Is the Committee of Selection expected--indeed, is it required--to choose from the 15? If it is so required, what provision is there in the Standing Orders or in Clause 2 which would bind the House in that way? If there is no such provision, perhaps the Committee of Selection will choose none of the 15. So why have the 15 here at all? Again, I merely ask for an explanation of how far Clause 2 and the proposed draft Standing Orders supersede our present arrangements in the House.
Similarly, what happens if the House says no to one of the 15? The committee will have selected the 15 but, presumably, the House is free to say no in that respect. If I am wrong, I hope that I will be told that I am wrong to suggest that it will say no to one of the 15 whose name comes forward from the Committee of Selection. Having never done a day's work in the post for which he was selected, will that person be allowed to sit on the Back Benches as if nothing had happened?
There is just one other consideration and I shall pursue it no further. I see that the draft Standing Orders refer to "Deputy Speakers". I remember the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, referred to Deputy Speakers or Deputy Chairmen. There is some distinction between the two. However, I would be grateful if the Members of the Committee could be told how far the provisions for Deputy Speakers in the draft Standing Orders apply to Deputy Chairmen. Alternatively, are they wholly interchangeable?
I am sorry to say this, but I believe this to be a silly provision. I am sure that the arrangement was arrived at in good faith. I can see why the three parties who were responsible for it are committed to it. However, as a gesture of conciliation, perhaps they could think again, as we can all do from time to time and come back on Report with something else; otherwise it will be very sad indeed. Meanwhile, the Committee should exercise its judgment on whether or not these amendments should be part of the Bill. I beg to move.
Viscount Cranborne: The noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, quite rightly reminded your Lordships that no three Members of your Lordships' House can possibly commit your Lordships to come to a particular judgment. It is only right, especially in this Chamber--which, after all, spends most of its time scrutinising legislation--that noble Lords should insist, above all, that this particular legislation should be properly scrutinised. I have no quarrel with the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, in that respect. However, your Lordships will be astonished to hear that I have a mild disagreement with the noble Lord as regards a number of other comments he made.
In speaking to this group of amendments, perhaps I may reiterate my agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, that the detailed mechanics of the arrangement we are now discussing should be embodied in the Standing Orders of the House. That would at least make clear and ensure that those mechanics remain the business of your Lordships' House rather than of the other place. If noble Lords think about it, I am sure they will realise that there is a good deal to be said for that view. After all, detailed mechanics tend to be just that, and this Chamber is a House of Parliament with a long tradition of ordering its own affairs. It seems to me that that is one long tradition which it would be wise to continue.
I am not surprised to find the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, and his associates suggesting once again that the 75 Peers elected in the first category should be elected by all Members of your Lordships' House. I am conscious of the fact that I am repeating myself. I hope that the noble Lord will forgive me. Obviously, he did not agree with the argument I deployed on the previous occasion. I fear therefore that I shall have to return to the charge and try to deploy it again.
It seems to me an odd principle that any assembly, any House of Parliament, should have the right to elect its own members. That is, after all, a privilege of a club. I am well aware that this Chamber is often described as the best club in London for good and sufficient reason. However, I think the Committee will also agree that that is not the primary purpose of the existence of this place. Its primary purpose is to act as a House of Parliament. Therefore, for its own membership to select who should sit here seems perverse.
It is perfectly true that the Government, and indeed a large number of the Committee, quarrel with the way in which a large proportion of the membership of this Chamber is selected at present. After all, that is the main reason for the existence of the Bill in the first place. It is perfectly legitimate to quarrel with that. I have made it clear to the Chamber many times that I am strongly in favour of a more thoroughgoing reform. That does not mean to say that the existing constituency does not have its existing legitimacy, and that legitimacy does not spring from the approval of the whole membership of this Chamber. Indeed, I imagine that some Members of this Chamber might not gain election if--dare I say it?--the right to deny membership was accorded to your Lordships. I do not consider that a sensible procedure. For that reason alone I find it difficult to defend the idea that your Lordships should transform this Chamber into White's.
I made clear the previous time we debated this matter the argument in favour of the whole Chamber selecting the pool of 15 who would be available to serve as deputy chairmen, deputy speakers or in various positions to ensure that the workings of this Chamber continue. I believe that a number of people, some of whom, interestingly enough, sit on the Back Benches behind the Government, have suggested that at least for the moment we need a number of people to help in those respects. I make no comment about that. If, however, we need such a pool, it is at least arguable that the whole Chamber should be able to exercise its judgment. Whether that is an argument strong enough to counter the one that I have put in favour of the 75 elected Peers being elected by the hereditaries themselves on the grounds that we should not act like a club but as a House of Parliament is a nice point. Certainly, I would be happy to be guided by the Chamber as a whole on that matter. If I were to be wholly consistent--I have been told that consistency is the enemy of practical politics--I would see the force of the point that the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, makes in that respect, although, as I say, there are arguments on the other side.
I realise that the noble Lord is understandably upset that his party was not consulted on these matters. He is also perhaps upset that a large number of the able hereditary Peers, who, for some obscure reason, sit on the Liberal Benches, will not appear under the amendment as Members of your Lordships' House. Nevertheless, for the reasons I have tried to give, I find myself wholly opposed to the group of amendments proposed by the noble Lord and his noble friends. I am not opposed to them because I advocate--as he suggested--a wholly elected Chamber for stage two. I do not advocate that. I am opposed to them because it seems to me that we have an incentive for the Government to move to stage two. If, in some way, the agreement is undermined or negated by the Committee in the exercise of its judgment--which is what this Chamber exists to exercise--we shall find ourselves back where we started and in some difficulty, and, in my case, wholly believing that the Government will then have no incentive to progress to stage two at all.
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