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Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, what experience do new life Peers have when they come to this House?

Lord Goodhart: My Lords, life Peers come here because they have had experience in many capacities in public service.

The Earl of Errol: My Lords, I wish to make one point. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor referred to 75 Peers. I suspect that there will be some difference as to whether there are 90 or 75. The House should continue to have the option of being able to elect 15 hereditary Peers who probably have a greater sense of tradition and ceremonial because some of us take part in it every day or in our general lives. That option should be kept open. We should not be talking about 75 Peers only being included in a by-election. I disagree with everything that the previous speaker said.

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I do not believe that there is very much more to add after the response of the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, to my question. On the basis that I have said everything that I need to say, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 21A had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]

Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank moved Amendment No. 21B:

Page 1, line 14, at end insert--
("( ) If Standing Orders provide for any people to be excepted from section 1 in consequence of an election the method of election shall be determined by each party group and by the Cross-bench peers.")

The noble Lord said: My Lords, having listened with great interest to the debate on the previous amendment, I have to tell your Lordships that there

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have been no exciting overnight meetings between myself and the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor. At the same time, I hope that his accommodating positionon the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, will be regarded as a precedent and that he will have no great difficulty in accepting in the same kind of spirit the amendment which is now before the House.

During the course of the Report stage and Third Reading, we on these Benches do not intend to re-open the central issue of principle or detail of the Weatherill amendment. We have made our position very plain indeed. The House has decided and we do not intend to re-open those matters on which the view of the House has been plain, even where we have disagreed with it.

I believe it has been clear from our debate so far today that there are matters which were not covered by the agreement between the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor and the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne. This amendment deals with one aspect of that.

In the course of the debate in Committee on 25th May, I referred briefly to the matter. That was the day when the Bill was recommitted, with the Weatherill amendment becoming Clause 2. I explained then that, on the evidence available to me, it was clear that there had been no agreement between the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor and the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne. Therefore, it was a matter to be settled by the House without the noble and learned Lord saying, "We fully understand that it was part of the agreement, whether or not the House likes it and whether or not I believe that it is sensible. This is part of the agreement and I am sticking by it". That is a perfectly tenable position, even though an unsatisfactory one from the point of view of most of us.

As I say, this matter does not fall into that category. In the course of my brief intervention in that debate, I referred to two papers. I wish to refer to them again today. As the House will recall--certainly those who follow these matters in detail will--earlier this year, sometime after the Weatherill amendment had been promulgated but long before it was included in the Bill, the Lord Chancellor very reasonably convened a meeting of what was known as the "O" Committee under the principal official concerned in the Cabinet Office, Sir Quentin Thomas. The instructions of the committee--I am not in any way disputing them--were to try to decide how the framework and the detail of the Weatherill agreement could be embodied in Standing Orders if that seemed to be the best way to proceed. They were the terms of reference and, in effect, they formed the text from which the "O" Committee worked.

I have before me a paper Lords Reform: Cross-Benchers' Amendment: Description of Material for a Resolution. That paper was prepared at the behest of the Lord Chancellor. It was put before the "O" Committee on or about 15th February for discussion by the group at its first meeting, which was later in the month.

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Paragraph 4 of the paper said quite plainly that,

    "The method of election may be determined by each party group". What is not in dispute is that the elections within each party group will now be by the hereditary Peers. That is not what we prefer, but that is what the House decided. That is not in dispute and I do not require any comments from the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor on that.

What is also not in dispute--it was the purpose of another paper to which I shall soon refer--is that, whatever form the elections take, they would be supervised by the Clerk of the Parliaments and his staff. That is not in dispute either. The point at issue is very simple: should the three parties and the Cross-Benchers decide for themselves what the method of election should be?

I have referred to the paper prepared for and put forward by the Lord Chancellor. In confirmation of that, I wish to refer to another paper circulated by the Clerk of the Parliaments on 24th February. In paragraph 4 on the conduct of elections he said:

    "Two approaches to the elections of the 75 party peers are possible. One is that each party should conduct its own elections according to its own rules and inform the Returning Officer of the result. The other is that the Returning Officer should conduct all the elections according to common rules". In each of those alternative propositions there are two ideas. The first is the role of the returning officer and whether the groups should conduct their own elections and inform the returning officer of the result; or whether he should conduct the elections. I have made it absolutely clear that the view from these Benches is that the returning officer should conduct the elections.

The second idea contained in paragraph 4 of the Clerk of the Parliament's paper is whether the election should be conducted according to common rules or whether groups and the Cross Benches should decide how they want to choose. The hereditary Peers should decide how they want to choose those who are staying on.

That is the point at issue. All I have sought to establish so far is that these were not matters determined by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor and the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne. These are outside that territory. All those on all sides of the House who may have had reservations in the past as to whether they could vote against anything that was included within the agreement need not fear on that account. These matters are outside the agreement.

In the debate to which I referred earlier I hoped that, following my intervention--I refer to the day on which the Bill was recommitted--the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor would reply and make clear the position. But he did not reply during the course of the debate. I waited for some time because, following the normal practice of your Lordships' House, Ministers often write to us from time to time saying, "You raised a matter during the course of the debate and here is your reply". But one day and then another passed and the Lord Chancellor did not reply. There is no suggestion of discourtesy. I can only believe that it was an oversight.

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So on 10th June I wrote to the noble and learned Lord drawing his attention to what I had said at cols. 839 to 840 of the Official Report of Tuesday, 25th May 1999. I ended by saying,

    "I would be very grateful if you could let me know before next Tuesday"-- that was Tuesday of last week--

    "how you now see these matters". The noble and learned Lord did not reply. I do not believe for a moment that that was through a lack of courtesy. I do not believe that it was through oversight. The noble and learned Lord is highly competent, as the whole House knows, in the conduct of his affairs and he has a distinguished staff to serve him. I believe the only reasonable assumption is that the answer to my question is, "Yes, you are right and, yes, it is for the House to decide that matter." I do not believe that there is anything that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor can now say that would persuade me otherwise, in view of the passage of time--a full month--since I raised the matter in the House.

The question is a simple one. I hope that your Lordships will feel able to deal with it in a relaxed manner. Should the House dictate, should the House determine, should the Lord Chancellor instruct each group--the Conservative Party, his own ranks, the Cross Benches and the Liberal Democrats--should the House instruct us, on the way in which we should elect our hereditary Peers? Or should there be some degree of freedom?

This is a rare occasion when the House can make a legitimate decision on this important Bill in a painless way. My view is that the House should say, "Live and let live. Do it the way you want, subject only to making sure that events are conducted by the returning officer in such a way as to satisfy the natural criteria". The amendment says that. I hope very much that the House will be sympathetic to it. It does no harm to anyone. It does not infringe the Weatherill amendment. It stands on its virtue and I hope that your Lordships will believe that it deserves to be supported.

4.30 p.m.

Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, as so often happens, when listening to the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, I am for a moment seduced by the power and charm of his argument, particularly his peroration this afternoon. However, in spite of the seductive way in which he put his argument, I find myself in strong disagreement with the spirit and the letter of the amendment. As the noble Lord said, the "O" Group made clear in its report that there were two ways of approaching this question: whether the parties should be left to decide how they would elect the hereditary Peers to represent the hereditary peerage in your Lordships' House during the transition phase, or whether the House as a whole should agree on one method of election that would be followed, slavishly, no doubt, as the noble Lord may think, across all four categories--the three main parties and the Cross Benches.

I believe that before pursuing his amendment the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, may want to consider the distinction between election to a party organisation and

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election to a House of Parliament. It seems to me that election to a party organisation is of no moment except academically or for purposes of derision by any other organisation. It is a matter exclusively for the party. However, at stake here is membership of a party group but a party group that is part of a House of Parliament. I believe that there is a crucial distinction between a party which is an important part of the political mechanics of the way in which we conduct our affairs in this country and the integral part of the constitution which is how we select people to serve in either House of Parliament.

Therefore, it seems to me sensible that in another place there should be one way of electing people. In the past I have been attracted, and still am, to the idea of once again introducing university members, but I let that pass.

The approach in your Lordships' House has been more eclectic in that we have more than one way of selecting people for membership of this place: by virtue of hereditary peerage, by another method introduced in 1958 of life peerages, and by the way in which Bishops serve in the House. None the less, it is clear that no matter what the political allegiance of the membership of your Lordships' House, whichever route is chosen should be a route that is common to all Peers of that particular category, which does not take account of their party allegiance.

Therefore, that is an important distinction which is worth preserving. It is not election to a party committee, but election to membership of your Lordships' House during a transitional phase, which all of us hope will be short, but nevertheless must be taken seriously while it lasts. For that reason alone--there are other reasons-- I feel that the first option, so rightly pointed out and described by the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, should be rejected.

I hope that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor will agree that when we discussed this matter during the course of our conversations in the run-up to concluding our agreement--the degree of harmony of our conversations has been the most agreeable feature of our debate so far--he and I agreed that this was an overwhelming reason for rejecting the first option and that all Members of your Lordships' House elected under these transitional arrangements should be elected in the same way. I hope that your Lordships will see that there is force in that argument, and that in spite of the seductiveness of the arguments of the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, noble Lords will nevertheless reject his amendment.

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