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The Earl of Onslow: Can the noble and learned Lord tell the Committee of any occasion when there have been 350 hereditary Peers present in your Lordships' House?

The Lord Chancellor: The answer is no, and that sharply makes the point that I endeavour to make. The amendment would mean that the votes of those who cared so little for the membership of this House that

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they had not bothered to become active Members would count as much as the votes of regular attenders. I respectfully submit to the Committee and to those noble Lords who have tabled this amendment that it has not been thought through and it should not be pressed.

Lord Clifford of Chudleigh: I am very grateful to noble Lords who have spoken to Amendment No. 2 and to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, who, rightly, sought an assurance, as I do. I was fascinated by the observations of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor. He spoke not only about best endeavours but said that he had never seen 350 hereditary Peers in the House. I thought that the whole point of this Bill is to get rid of the so-called overwhelming number of hereditary Peers who constantly interfere with government legislation. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

4.30 p.m.

Lord Willoughby de Broke moved Amendment No. 3:

Page 1, line 8, at end insert--
("( ) Standing Orders of the House shall provide that in any election held to determine who is a person to be excepted from section 1, the electorate shall consist of all peers who, in the session of Parliament ending with that in which this Act is passed, attended a sitting of the House or of a committee of the House on not less than 6 of the days on which the House sat.")

The noble Lord said: My amendment is intended to give the Committee an opportunity to debate who should constitute the electoral college that elects the group of hereditary Peers who will remain Members of your Lordships' House during the interim period between the so-called stage one and stage two. This amendment is not intended to interfere with the principles set out in the Weatherill amendment that there should be one system by which all parties and Cross-Benches elect the hereditary Peers. Having attended some parts of the Committee stage and filled in gaps by reading Hansard, I am aware that there has been considerable interest in the detail of how even part of a legislative Chamber should be elected.

In introducing his amendment the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, made no mention of the method of election other than to say that the details would be set out in Standing Orders, which is fair enough. But, as far as I am aware, there has never been anything more than a presumption or understanding that, whatever the number, the hereditary Peers--the "affront to democracy" as we are called--who are to remain during the interim period will be elected only by their fellow hereditaries.

It is true that the draft Standing Orders go along with this presumption, but they remain at the moment only proposals in draft, as the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, pointed out and as the Clerk of the Parliaments makes clear on the opening page of that paper. They are therefore open to discussion and amendment. I am encouraged that a number of noble Lords appear to support the idea that an electoral college to elect the

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residual hereditary element for the respective parties and the Cross Benches should consist not only of hereditary Peers but all Members of your Lordships' House.

As the noble Lord, Lord Peston, said earlier, this is a House of Peers--a House of equals--and to bar one part from electing Members of the House is neither equitable nor sensible. It is not equitable because we are a House of equals and all Peers should have the right to vote; and it is not equitable because provisions have already been made in the draft Standing Orders for 15 hereditary Peers, the Deputy Chairmen, to be elected by the whole House. That was the import of the earlier amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank.

The noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, said in the debate on the Weatherill amendment:

    "Why are life Peers to be allowed to vote in that case"-- for the Deputy Chairmen--

    "but be denied a vote in choosing their political colleagues?".--[Official Report, 11/5/99; col. 1100.] Precisely. I do not believe it is sensible to have only hereditary Peers to form the electoral college, for two reasons, although no doubt there are others that may come to light later. First, many life Peers are regular attenders and participants in the debates and activities of this House. They know very well who does and does not work and contribute; they know the score. They should have a say in who joins them. After all, we are disposing of seats in Parliament. Secondly, too many of my fellow hereditary Peers either cannot or do not want to turn up. These infrequent or non-attenders will nonetheless, if they so wish, be able to put down their names on the electoral register to elect their fellow hereditary Peers and cast their vote. But how will they decide? They may or may not be assiduous readers of Hansard. If not, how will they decide where to put their cross? I shall not provide an answer to that question. Noble Lords are quite capable of filling in the dots on the drawing for themselves.

We come next to the question of numbers. Some noble Lords may say that a number of life Peers do not turn up either. For that reason my amendment provides that to qualify to vote Peers should have attended six times. I do not regard that as satisfactory; it is really a number that is plucked out of the air. I should like to hear other opinions as to what, if any, qualifications there should be in terms of attendance or speaking in debates. It is very difficult to decide that. After all, attendance in itself is no qualification. People can attend by being in the Bar or reading the Evening Standard. I believe that a qualification based on speaking would simply encourage "wind-baggery".

I do not know whether it is necessary to have a qualification at all, but I believe that it would be more legitimate--we have heard that word very often in our debates--if the 90 exceptions to this Bill were elected by the whole House rather than simply part of it. I do not propose to go round the "legitimacy" maypole again; we have already done so. However, I believe that it

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would be better for all Members of the House to elect the hereditary Peers who are to remain rather than only the condemned part of it. I beg to move.

Lord Coleraine: I rise to speak to Amendment No. 4, which is in my name. Very broadly, the amendment provides that the electorate is to consist of hereditary Peers

    "who, in any of the three successive sessions of Parliament ... attended a sitting of the House or of a committee of the House on not less than one-third of the days on which the House sat". This amendment is to be distinguished from that tabled by my noble friend. I have followed the terms of Weatherill and accept that the electorate is to be hereditary Peers, but I have no quarrel with the proposal put forward by my noble friend. I shall be interested to hear what others have to say.

My noble friend's amendment provides that the qualification should be attendance on Sittings on not less than six days. He has invited noble Lords' comments on that. My amendment provides effectively for one-third of Sittings per Session. I believe that what I propose is excessive. I would agree with a lesser period. On the other hand, I do not believe that my noble friend's suggestion is sufficient.

It might be better if the qualification did not arise in this Session. It would be easy for a number of Members of your Lordships' House to attend in order to acquire voting qualifications. My amendment is subject to the same qualification. It should provide a cut-off point at the beginning of the Session, or the end of the last Session. I think that the appropriate figure would be 10 per cent of the Peers in question attending Sittings of the House or Committees during one of the three years immediately before the start of the present Session.

I adopt the arguments put forward by my noble friend on the need for debating qualification. It does not make sense for a number of Peers, whether hereditary or life Peers or a mixture of both, to vote for people of whom they may be assumed to know nothing. We are not a club and, to adapt the words of my noble friend Lord Cranborne, we are a House of Parliament. It would be appropriate in a club for everyone to vote, but I do not think the same applies in this Parliament.

Viscount Bledisloe: I strongly support the thesis advanced by the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke. I equally strongly support the point made earlier by the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, and the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, that the right time to debate this issue is when the Procedure Committee has reported, having considered the arguments and when there is a scheme before us. I hope that the Committee will feel that the matter should be left to that stage.

Lord Coleraine: Does the noble Viscount accept that the time to debate these matters is now? By the time the Procedure Committee has reported, the position will be more or less cast in concrete and all we shall be able to do is to say yes or no.

Viscount Bledisloe: I do not accept that. The last report of the Procedure Committee was debated; the

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House was given a free choice; the House debated the matter, and decided. I hope that that will be the position again when the Procedure Committee reports on this issue.

The right time to advance the arguments is on a debate on the report of the Procedure Committee. However, perhaps I may answer the point made by the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne. When you vote for members of White's, you vote for, or perhaps against, those who were at school with you, or with your cousins, sisters or aunts. The aim should be to have the people best qualified to assist the House, and to form part of it. The people who know best who they are are the life Peers who have attended and not the old school friends who have been on their estates, or in the south of France, taking no part in the proceedings of this House.

4.45 p.m.

Viscount Cranborne: I find it remarkable that my noble friend Lord Willoughby de Broke and the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, are so seduced by what I describe, perhaps rather modishly, as an elitist argument. I shall not weary the Committee by repeating the arguments I put before noble Lords during discussion of a previous amendment, to which the noble Viscount kindly referred, except to repeat that I feel strongly that we are not a club and that only clubs elect themselves.

However much we may disapprove or approve of the hereditary peerage, the essence of Clause 2 as it now stands on the face of the Bill is that the 75, and to a lesser extent the 15, are here during the course of the transitional stage--the stage one before stage two--to represent the hereditary peerage. I have felt strongly that they should be here for the reasons I gave: they provide an incentive. Another reason relates to good government: if noble Lords finally accept the agreement, it prevents an enormous row and a good deal of ill will. Understandably, the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, has made that the principal reason for proposing his amendment; and I believe that he is right on that. Noble Lords' traditional role is to synthesise if possible, rather than to divide.

If, during the transitional phase, the objective of the 90--in particular, the 75 of the 90--is to represent the hereditary peerage, I should not be disposed to support what I described as the rather elitist approach of my noble friend and the noble Viscount. After all, the Members of another place are there to represent the electorate. The 75 and the 15 will be there to represent the hereditary peerage. Members of Parliament in another place are not chosen by people who exclusively read the New Statesman or the Economist. They are chosen by people who read The Times and the Sun. They are chosen by the literate and the illiterate; by those who are employed and unemployed. It is thought to be a virtue that you no longer have to have either a property or an intellectual qualification to vote for those who represent you.

With the greatest respect to the hereditary peerage, I venture to suggest that your Lordships' ranks increasingly contain all sorts of conditions of men and

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women. As traditional landed Peers become rarer due to the efluxion of time and no doubt the effects of taxation--notably perhaps the green baize in certain instances--more and more hereditary Peers find themselves earning a living like everyone else. Some do so in high, cultured callings; some in callings which require enormously difficult qualifications; and others in rather humbler and less elevated positions.

Nevertheless, it seems perfectly sensible that if that increasingly broad church is to be represented, it is only right that those who vote for their representatives should be the broadest of the electorate so long as that order is to be represented in this Chamber--just as there is no longer any property qualification for membership of another place.

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