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Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, I wonder whether the noble and learned Lord could also confirm that at a later stage we discussed in principle the matter of by-elections, but came to no conclusion.

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, if the noble Viscount recalls that, I would not call it in question. Certainly we arrived at no agreement about by-elections.

The question therefore arises: if on the expiry of the first Session of the next Parliament there has been no stage two, then the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition says fastest losers by then surely cease to be an effective proxy. Let that be. The Government are willing to proceed on that hypothetical assumption. So let us look carefully at what the amendment says. It recognises the topping-up procedure currently provided for in the draft Standing Orders as an acceptable scheme to generate replacements until, and only until, the end of the first Session of the next Parliament. Thereafter, it provides that replacements should be decided by means of by-elections.

The noble Lord suggested that fastest losers may by that time no longer be considered by their hereditary colleagues to be the most suitable candidates for the post. I am willing to accept that that is a reasonable proposition on the assumptions on which it is based. I do not need to share the assumptions in order to accept that it is a reasonable proposition based on these assumptions, and that by-elections would be a reasonable alternative to fastest losers after the lapse of a few years. I have no objection to the suggestion that the end of the first Session of the next Parliament is a suitable cut-off point. This is a matter of judgment, of course. The contrary could be argued. But for myself and for the Government, the noble Lord's judgment on this appears to be reasonable and therefore one that we can accept.

The Standing Order, as presently drafted, does not rule out by-elections; and of course the Standing Orders have the great advantage of allowing the House maximum flexibility in the matter of replacements, both in deciding the method to adopt to replace excepted Peers once there are no available runners up, and in

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deciding the right time when to introduce a new method for replacement. That is why we have always believed, as a matter of principle, that such matters are far better dealt with in Standing Orders. But the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition has explained that he wants a measure of certainty; that he wants on the face of the Bill an express provision for by-elections to kick in at a predetermined point in time.

As for the detailed mechanics of the by-elections, the amendment appears to reflect the Government's view that the mechanics, the details of the by-elections, are not matters for the face of the Bill because the amendment which the noble Lord has brought before the House appears to envisage that the detailed provisions should be made elsewhere; and that, of course, is in Standing Orders.

So the Government's position is this. Against the possibility, which we do not accept will become reality, that the transitional House will last for longer than on many occasions I have indicated that it will last, and because we are persuaded to accept the proposition that after the passage of the period of time denoted in the noble Lord's amendment, by-elections are a reasonable alternative to the initial topping-up procedure for filling vacancies, we could be persuaded in favour of an amendment in relation to by-elections, but we could only accept an amendment coupled with Standing Orders which provided that hereditaries outside the House may of course stand, and only they may stand, but that they may not vote in the by-elections.

I want to make that point absolutely clear because it is the key to our willingness to entertain any amendment along the lines proposed on the face of the Bill. What we propose is that there will be in-House by-elections and no excluded hereditary Peer will have a right to vote in them.

The voters in a by-election to fill a vacancy arising among the 75 Peers elected in the first instance by the four party and Cross-Bench groups will be the excepted hereditary Peers in the relevant grouping. Thus this matters remains exclusively within this House.

By contrast, the voters in a by-election to fill a vacancy arising among the 15 elected to stand ready to serve as office-holders will be, as in the initial election for the 15, all Members of the House, in this case all life Peers and all excepted hereditary Peers. That is the rational and logical constituency, since any replacement in this category will be expected to stand ready to serve the whole House.

In the light of what I have said I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, will accept my assurance that the Government themselves will bring forward at Third Reading an amendment which gives effect to the proposition that I have outlined, I hope clearly, to the benefit of the House, and that he will therefore, when the time comes, withdraw his amendment. I can further assure the noble Lord that if this course is acceptable to him, then, once the amendment is in draft, we will discuss its terms with him.

The proposition that I have outlined, to be reflected in that amendment to be brought before the House by the Government on Third Reading, will of course also

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need to be reflected in draft standing orders to be considered by the Procedure Committee, and I would hope that that state of affairs could be achieved before Third Reading.

Those are the fullest assurances that I can give the noble Lord to encourage him to withdraw his amendment.

4 p.m.

Lord Denham: My Lords, I think that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor will accept that a large number of noble Lords on this side of the House have genuine fears that the interim House might go on very long indeed. We are very grateful for the assurance that the 92 hereditary Peers will carry on until stage two eventually comes.

Just suppose that that House goes on for a very long time and the party opposite get fed up with it. If it wanted to get rid of those 92 before stage two came, and it hit on the idea of getting rid of them by giving them all life peerages, although that would no doubt fulfil its commitment in its manifesto, I believe that it would be a breach of the Weatherill agreement. Does the noble and learned Lord agree?

Lord Ewing of Kirkford: My Lords, before my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor responds to the point that has just been made by the noble Lord, Lord Denham, perhaps I may put this to him.

I had not intended to participate in the debate, but I listened with some concern to my noble and learned friend's response to the amendment before us, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. It seems to me that there is a simple solution that would meet the point made by the noble Lord in his amendment and the feeling that seems to pervade the House. I refer to the principle that we in the Labour Party follow in the election of Members to the Council of Europe and the Western European Union and the appointment by the Conservative Party of Members to serve on those two bodies. We select so many pool Members and so many alternate Members.

I think that the Conservative Benches are to elect 42 Members to continue in the interim House. It seems to me a simple proposition that they should also elect 42 alternate Members at the same time. Then when it was necessary to consider a replacement the replacement would come from the 42 alternate Members who were elected at the same time as the substantive Members.

I think we are drifting into very difficult waters, when a very simple solution could be introduced on Third Reading. I ask my noble and learned friend to consider it before that stage.

Lord Mishcon: My Lords, I wonder whether my noble friend Lord Ewing is aware that an alternate Member does not exist only to inherit a membership, but has the right to participate in the proceedings of assemblies, or a board, because he or she is the alternate

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and can therefore participate in the proceedings prior to any death, resignation or whatever. That obviously is not what anybody wants.

Lord Ewing of Kirkford: My Lords, with the leave of the House, I say, with great respect to my noble friend Lord Mishcon, that my experience of alternate Members in Europe is that they replace those who are absent. And there is no more certain absence than the certainty of death.

Lord Goodhart: My Lords, are we still continuing with a mini-debate, or have we returned to the main debate?

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, I should like to respond to the two points that have been made, dealing first--

Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank: My Lords, my noble friend Lord Goodhart asked a question which is very relevant to the ability of other noble Lords to participate further in the proceedings. There was considerable concern in all parts of the House when the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor rose, as Members believed that that might put an end to the debate under our rules of order. I understood him to say that that was not the case, and that he was intervening. I should like to have this absolutely clear, so that there will be no further misunderstandings. When the noble and learned Lord has said what he wants now to say, will other Members of the House be free to speak in the normal way, if they wish? I understand that the Chief Whip is nodding assent. If that is confirmed, there will be no further problem.

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