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Lord Strathclyde: I am rather attracted to the amendment although I do not suggest for one moment that my noble friend should press it. I entirely accept his reasoning. However, I can see no fundamental objection to the principle that there should be a right to disclaim the right to sit and vote. After all, a hereditary Peer already has a right to disclaim under the great reforming Tory legislation of the late 1950s and early 1960s, which, among other things, brought life Peers to the House of Lords. However, as I am sure noble Lords are aware, that right is circumscribed at present. It may be exercised only within a given period and involves the surrender of title outside this House as well as privileges within it.

The new Weatherill peerages set up a new system and it is entirely reasonable to look at the rules. I believe the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, said this afternoon that he does not like the idea of older elected Peers staying on to preside on the Woolsack when they are not able. The obvious solution to that is to give them a voluntary opportunity to retire. It does not give them the right to sit and vote; it does not affect the numbers game and therefore there should be no issue of principle.

I understand that the Labour Party is not in favour of an age limit, and nor are we. This amendment could well deal with that issue in so far as Peers can be replaced when they have got to the stage when they no longer wish to come to your Lordships' House. Why do not the Government accept the principle underlying the amendment? Why not let us modernise to a small degree and allow this section of the House, which is after all elected, to be a working element and therefore to retire? I shall be intrigued to hear what objection the noble and learned Lord has to what is an imaginative idea.

The Lord Chancellor: The central point is that this suggestion arises in the context of this Bill, and what it comes down to is that there should be a right to disclaim at any time so as to give someone else a shot, while at the same time the Peer who disclaims retains his club rights. The question of whether somebody who has voluntarily requisitioned the membership of the House should have a statutory right of access to the facilities of the House should be a matter for the House itself.

The Earl of Onslow: To talk about "pub" rights when we are talking about something much more important is not acceptable.

The Lord Chancellor: It is in the amendment.

The Earl of Onslow: I accept that it is in the amendment. But it is trivial compared to the issue of,

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let us say, an elected Peer becoming involved in a major drug scandal or armed robbery. I know the idea of a doddery old marquess holding up Barclays Bank stretches the imagination, but it cannot possibly be right for him to continue; it would surely be right for him to have the ability to resign. If he is not allowed to go in the bar afterwards I do not mind; that was put in by the draftsman. That is not the main issue at stake; it is the right to resign. I am sorry to get mildly irritated with the Lord Chancellor. I have never done that before and will try never to do it again.

The Lord Chancellor: I must try not to encourage the noble Earl to do so. But he must stand up for the amendment he tabled. He must either say that he does not stand by it or he must support it. If I may remind him, he said that he wants a power, by instrument of disclaimer delivered to me the Lord Chancellor, to be able to disclaim the right to sit and vote as a Member of the House of Lords.

But the matter does not stop there. He goes on straightaway to say that,

    "The holder of a peerage who exercises the right of disclaimer ... shall retain rights of access to, and use of, the House of Lords and any premises occupied by the House". I apologise if it caused offence to describe them as "club" rights but that is an apt description which should not cause offence to the noble Earl. Whether there is something to be said for that will be a matter to be considered by the Committee.

It appears to me today that the position is that life Peers are Peers for life. I take the view, as at present advised, that the same position should apply to hereditary Peers as applies to life Peers; that is, that they should be Peers for life. It is on that basis that I have taken the view that the agreement made between myself and the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, entailed--though I do not recall that we actually said it in terms--that an excepted Peer would remain until phase two or for life, in the sense that it would be a position for life if not previously brought to an end by phase two. That appears to me to be an entirely consistent position and I do not think it is really timely to bring up an issue of disclaimer in this context.

10.45 p.m.

Lord Lucas : Is it not true though that life Peers are not representative Peers and that other groups of Peers in this House, notably the bishops and the law Lords, have different methods of being appointed and of continuing in office which accord with their own particular function and status in this House? It does not seem to me to be outwith the way in which this House operates at present that the hereditary Peers should have a different basis that they should be able to resign in order that the hereditary Peers who are active in this House can properly represent and carry out the function

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which, under the agreement which the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor has made, they are supposed to do.

The Lord Chancellor : I regard hereditary Peers as representative of the hereditary peerage and I regard life Peers as representative of the country.

Lord Monson: Would the noble and learned Lord not agree that if a life Peer who was appointed, say, 10 years ago, feels no longer inclined to attend very often, he need have no feelings of guilt, but if an elected hereditary Peer feels the same way he is bound to feel guilty because he will not be doing the job to which he was elected? There is a difference between the two.

Earl Ferrers: How can the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor say that life Peers are representative of the country?

The Lord Chancellor: The life peerage is representative of the whole country and the hereditary peerage owes its position to birth and the excepted Peers will be representatives of the hereditary peerage and no-one else.

Earl Ferrers: But life Peers are representative of the people who appointed the life Peers and nobody else.

The Lord Chancellor: No.

The Earl of Onslow: This wonderful argument about who is representative is arcane, to put it mildly. The idea that the life Peers are representative of the country does not hold a great deal of water. They were appointed for exactly the same reason as we hereditary Peers were over the centuries: some for merit, some for chicanery, some for money and some for all the other jolly things for which we have all been appointed to this House.

Your Lordships know perfectly well that I am a reformer and want this House to be properly reformed and to fulfil its function, but there is a fundamental difference in the representative limited part of the hereditary peerage. Those numbers are limited by statute. If somebody is doing 15 years for armed robbery, to put it at its ludicrous extent, he cannot come here and exercise his hereditary rights or his duties and he is therefore depriving somebody else. It is that point. A life Peer not doing his duty is not depriving your Lordships' House of a Member and it is that point on which I really wish to concentrate.

Of course it should not go into the Bill and of course the legalese, which I was far too idle to read, about club rights may be superfluous, and of course the Lord Chancellor, being a brilliant lawyer, needless to say put his teeth into that because all good lawyers try to avoid the issue which is difficult for them. They find an issue which is easy to cope with. That is why he was one of the stars of the Bar and that is why he is the noble and learned Lord Chancellor. I stand in awe of his brilliance and his imagination.

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He has, however, still ducked the question of how we get round the disqualification by crime, dishonour, age or incapacity of one person who is holding a place which somebody else could fulfil. I totally accept that this is an issue for the standing orders. I hope we can bring it up again in the standing orders but, with that, I am converted by the noble and learned Lord's brilliance and beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 31 not moved.]

Lord Strathclyde moved Amendment No. 32:

Page 1, line 17, at end insert--
("( ) If a vacancy arises by reason of the death or disqualification of an elected hereditary peer excepted from section 1 the vacancy shall be filled--
(a) until the end of the first Session of the Parliament after that in which this Act is passed, by the unsuccessful candidate who obtained the highest number of votes in the election at which the deceased or disqualified peer was elected; and
(b) for any subsequent Session of Parliament, by the holding of a by-election conducted in accordance with provision made by virtue of this section.")

The noble Lord said: The purpose of this amendment is both direct and simple. It is to provide for the hereditary Peers elected by this House to be representative Peers in this Chamber, if and when the Bill becomes law, to be replaced at by-elections. It does not lay down the procedures for those by-elections--although that was done, and done in statute, for the Irish representative peerage, even down to the method of breaking of a tie, which was achieved by the Clerk of the Parliaments drawing a name from a glass jar placed on the Table of the House.

There is thus nothing impossible about either envisaging or enacting a by-election system. It has been done before and it operated successfully for generations. The Government did not have to invent or even re-invent the wheel; they could have dusted down what we have. But they did not do so. Some of your Lordships may have found that, in itself, to be significant.

However, I do not propose to ask that this should all be set out in statute. I recognise the will of the Government and, perhaps, the will of the House, that much of the detail may be provided in Standing Orders, although I have never hidden the belief of these Benches that more should be on the face of the Bill. I am content to allow much of the details of the by-elections to be carried through in our discussions on Standing Orders. However, I feel very strongly that the principle of by-elections should appear on the face of the Bill. It is the proper way to provide for membership of a House that may have to endure for a long time.

It has been said before in our debates--and, indeed, by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor--that we do not need to think through the long-term future of the House. It is said that there will be a second House of Lords Bill before too long, although it is impossible to see such a Bill being presented before the end of this Parliament. Therefore, it is said that it is

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reasonable to allow hereditary Peers to be replaced on their deaths from the preference list that will follow the first election when this Bill becomes law.

In my amendment, I have come to meet the noble and learned Lord and to accept that viewpoint for the immediate future. I judge that that may be for the convenience of the House. I have even gone so far as to allow for one further Session at the beginning of the next Parliament when this top-up system may be used, but that will take us to the year 2001 or perhaps even to 2002. However, we cannot go on topping-up the House on the basis of elections held three or four years previously. In time, some of those Peers may become less qualified in the eyes of their colleagues, disinclined to serve or be otherwise engaged. Under these proposals, the government of that time, whether Labour or Conservative, will have an opportunity to bring forward reform proposals over three or perhaps four parliamentary Sessions. After that, I believe that the matter needs to be set on a proper and lasting footing.

We are not dealing here with a short-term fix; we are seeking to legislate in proper order. Legislation for the membership of a Parliament must be securely and clearly based and, in subscribing to these arrangements, the House must ensure that it is not open to be tampered with for the passing advantage of any party or combination of parties.

I do not believe that this should be an issue of principle between us and the noble and learned Lord. I am sure that it ought to be possible to find a way forward. Indeed, I should point out to him that there can be nothing that would more convince hereditary Peers on these Benches of his good faith than that he should open his mind further in this respect.

We heard today that the Liberal Democrats openly want to end the Weatherill peerage; they want to see it wither away. The House is not so full of well-wishers towards a representative hereditary peerage that we must rely only on the good faith, which I, for one, wholly accept, of the noble and learned Lord. However, if it is left only to Standing Orders, the fear is that the latter may be changed--and changed far more easily than primary legislation--by a new majority in an interim House and that there would not be the kind of security and stability that arrangements for the membership of this House require.

I know that the assurances of the noble and learned Lord are given in good faith, but I also think that we need more. I hope that he will be able to be even more positive in his reply than he has been to some of the previous amendments discussed this evening. I conclude by re-emphasising what I said at the beginning; namely, that we attach a great deal of importance to this amendment. It can come into force only when such time has elapsed that there is no stage two Bill. It is therefore in the hands of the Government--under the control of whichever party--to decide whether or not those by-elections should take place. I beg to move.

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