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The Earl of Onslow: It seems to me a ridiculous proposal to say that when there is a difficulty which is foreseeable now, we duck it and we should only do something if the problem arises, as it will inevitably, in 20 years' time. With respect, that is not an intelligent proposition.
I want the place to be reformed and I want it to have real influence and power. But I want to make certain, as far as I possibly can, that the interim House is a stand-alone interim House. If there is no method for replacing those people, it is deeply flawed as an Act of Parliament. The problem is visible now and, therefore, we should address it now. We should not say, "Oh well, it will go away because it is inconvenient". That is not an intelligent way to act.
Lord Mackie of Benshie: Does the noble Earl not agree that if the 1911 Act had in it the same sort of provision for a successor not to succeed, then the whole problem would have been resolved and now we should not have any hereditary Peers? Therefore, there is a certain advantage to that secondary method.
Lord Desai: One the absurdities of these fanciful scenarios of the transitional House lasting eight, 10 or 15 years is a very simple arithmetical one. Perhaps I may illustrate. There are only 18 Labour hereditary Peers; there will not be an electorate very soon. I know that some of my noble friends are young and hearty but, as we are drawing hypothetical pictures, it is conceivable that the whole thing will fail. Two Labour Peers must be elected and we may not reach the 90. The Act says that there has to be two hereditary Peers from the Labour Party. There may not be two left. Then what will we do?
As my noble friend Lord Richard said, when we come to those difficulties we will pass another Bill. We will have to trust the Parliament of the day to do it right. It has always happened that way; there has never been eternal legislation.
The Earl of Onslow: The Bill does not say anything about numbers of people; it just says 90. If one reads Clause 2, one will find that it says nothing about that at all. If it lasts longer than only next Wednesday, we have to make certain that it lasts properly. That is all I am suggesting. If the Government cannot see that that raises difficulties, God help us; that is all I can say.
Lord Coleraine: The arguments advanced by my noble friends are what the noble Lord, Lord Peston, referred to earlier as "ingenious arguments"; that is to say, if I understood him, that they are designed mainly
Lord Elton: The noble Lords, Lord Richard and Lord Desai, and now my noble friend Lord Coleraine, have all said that we will be able to deal with this difficulty when we arrive at it. The difficulty will be that we have arrived there because it has been impossible to legislate. The difficulty will not exist if phase two comes in. Phase two will only fail to come in if Parliament has not been able to legislate. To say the difficulty will be resolved by legislation therefore flies in the face of logic. Parliament will already have not been able to legislate or the difficulty would not have arisen.
I do not want to prolong the debate. It seems to me that there are two merits in the Weatherill amendment. One is that it perpetuates a motive for successive Governments to bring in phase two; the other is that when phase two comes in there will be an element in the House, which is neither appointed nor elected, to put its four-penn'orth into the argument, which will be a valuable thing to have. I believe that that is generally accepted.
Noble Lords opposite suggest that it is not necessary to provide for the possibility that Weatherill will have faded because all candidates will have been exhausted by the effluxion of time. The Government opposite have expressed their alarm at aeroplanes travelling a great distance to London, intending to arrive at Heathrow, with insufficient fuel on board. They are alarmed because the aircraft might not have been able to land there and would have had to go somewhere further off. That is exactly the principle we ask the Government to apply to this Bill. There should be sufficient fuel on board in the form of elected representative hereditary Peers, even if they cannot touch down in the three to seven years envisaged. That seems to me an entirely reasonable proposition. I hope that the Government will give careful attention to my noble friend's amendment.
Earl Ferrers: My noble friend Lord Elton said that he did not wish to prolong the debate for very much longer. I do not wish to prolong it for very much longer either other than for the duration of the modest speech which I propose to make if your Lordships will be kind enough to listen to it.
My noble friend Lord Onslow makes some remarkable speeches from time to time. Some of them are sensible and some of them are less so. This evening he was in sensible mode. He is quite right: if you can foresee something, for goodness' sake, legislate for it; do not wait to see what happens. The noble Lord, Lord Desai, said that when there is a real problem you can legislate for it and that if you legislate now, you make a mess. That is what has happened to the Government with this Bill. They are making a mess of it because they are legislating in a hurry. If we see something that could go wrong, for goodness' sake, let us put it right now and not wait for the thing to blow up in our faces in 10 years' time.
The Lord Chancellor: Having listened to the debate, I think the key question to ask is whether this is really a transitional measure or whether on its face the Bill should give effect to some principle about a continued right on the part of the hereditary peerage outside the House to be associated with decisions about who in the future may be a Member of the House.
Noble Lords on the Opposition Benches hope--there is no shame in this--that the Government will be blown off course and that what is intended to be transitional will prove to be permanent. That is why they stray into the language of saying that the 90 excepted Peers should stay on as representatives of the hereditary peerage and therefore that the entire hereditary peerage should have a continuing role in deciding who should fill the vacancies. That is what underlies these arguments. I have to say to noble Lords that such an approach could not find favour with us and certainly would not find favour with the other place.
I acknowledge that the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, has revised his earlier proposal and has conceded in his new amendment that the top-up system should not last just for the remainder of this Parliament but for the first Session of the next as well. I take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Elton. We have to consider all possibilities and we have to start from a premise that there will be no stage-two legislation--for if there was, this problem would not arise; that is to say, if the stage-two legislation came within the time-scale demarcated by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, in his amendment for the top-up system to continue to apply.
The noble Lord, Lord Coleraine, indicated that the Procedure Committee has given its answer, which is that, if the scheme exists for such length of time that the Standing Order provisions become unworkable, the House will be able to consider alternative methods of filling vacancies and to amend the Standing Order if
The more that we put on the face of the Bill, the more this House throws itself at the mercy of the other place. But if we leave these matters to standing orders to be dealt with as circumstances and need arise, then the discretion to determine the most effective method of replacements, should it prove necessary, remains with this House. Therefore, that is the route down which I continue to urge the Committee to go, and not to tempt the other place by seeking on the face of the Bill an apparently permanent role for the hereditary peerage excluded from this House to determine in the future who may sit in this House.
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