Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Coleraine moved Amendment No. 21C:

Page 1, line 14, at end insert--
("( ) Standing orders of the House shall provide that the 90 excepted hereditary peers shall consist of the following categories--
(a)(i) 2 peers elected by the Labour hereditary peers;
(ii) 42 peers elected by the Conservative hereditary peers;
(iii) 3 peers elected by the Liberal Democrat hereditary peers; and
(iv) 28 peers elected by the Cross-bench hereditary peers; and
(b) 15 peers, elected by the whole House, from among those ready to serve as Deputy Speakers or in any other office as the House may require.")

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am speaking to Amendment No. 21C. I see from the grouping list that Amendment No. 58D has been grouped with it. However, apart from the fact that both amendments are tabled in my name, I cannot see much connection between the two. Therefore, I propose to speak only to Amendment No. 21C this afternoon.

I can explain in one sentence why I propose that this one significant part of the Weatherill amendment at least, if no other, should be on the face of the Bill. To reserve to Standing Orders provisions which relate to

22 Jun 1999 : Column 816

the election of Members of a House of Parliament would be a constitutional aberration, a direct assault on the rights of the other place and an affront to the parliamentary government of this country.

I have received a note to the effect that Amendment No. 21C is, prima facie, hybrid in the opinion of the Public Bill Office. It is right, therefore, that I should say a few words on this topic, although I suspect that others more knowledgeable and learned than I may dwell on it, and rightly so, at greater length. According to Erskine May,

    "The Speaker has defined a hybrid Bill as 'a public Bill which affects a particular private interest in a manner different from the private interest of other persons or bodies of the same category or class'". In this case the private interest in question is, as I understand it, that of a person, a hereditary Peer, to be elected to be a Member of this House by one of four electoral colleges according to his political allegiance, or, as the case may be, his lack of allegiance. This would give, for example, an independent Peer a different chance of successful election than a Conservative Peer, notwithstanding that we are told that one-tenth of each electoral college will be eligible for election. This fine point seems to me to be very much on a par with the question: how many angels can dance on a split hair?

I have my own doubts as to whether agreement to the amendment should make the Bill hybrid. I have had no advice and I put my doubts before the House as a complete amateur. But I find it peculiar indeed that the right of a Peer to sit in this House of Parliament is considered, "a particular private interest". If any right was a matter of solely public interest in the context of this Bill, I should have thought that this right was. But there you are. That particular reservation on my part, I hasten to add, has no bearing at all on this debate, for the purposes of which I freely acknowledge the full import of the Clerks' advice. What is relevant is that the hybridity rules are for the protection of private interests, so that it can be no proper objection to this amendment that agreement to it might make the Bill hybrid unless it can be shown that there are no compelling reasons why the amendment should not be pressed.

The noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, who I do not see in his place, when he introduced his amendment in Committee said,

    "why have we left so much to Standing Orders? We did so because we envisaged that the arrangements would be temporary and that this would be the most convenient way of making provision. This method has the advantage that more detailed provision on the face of the Bill would have to be agreed by another place, which would therefore have as great a say in determining the process as the House of Lords. Of course, another place could be trusted but in this way we order our own affairs in the matter".--[Official Report, 11/5/99; cols. 1091-92.] I cannot accept this analysis. Thirty months cannot properly be described as a temporary period. The retention of some hereditary Peers in this House by virtue of their hereditary peerages for even 30 months--which is my best estimate of the time after which the Weatherill amendment will be shown to have been spent--should not be dealt with by transitional provision. This is not a transitional measure.

22 Jun 1999 : Column 817

But what concerns me most is the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, that the other place should not be concerned with the election of hereditary Peers under his amendment. That seems to me to be not just a gratuitous insult to the other place, of which he was for many years the distinguished Speaker, but an affront to Parliament itself and to parliamentary democracy.

I need hardly point out that if this amendment is not on the face of the Bill, it will be technically possible for a later change in the Standing Orders of the House to change the political balance of this House.

I shall not detain the House further except to add that White's is but one of a multitude of clubs of which I am not a member. But to put it in the way that the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, put it is to treat this House as a club. Of course, a club can order its affairs, but this House is a House of Parliament and provisions affecting the election and political balance of about a sixth of our present membership can and must be decided by Parliament itself and by the Sovereign. They should not be dismissively treated as mere tedious administrative detail, suitable for rules and regulations. I ask your Lordships to accept this amendment. I beg to move.

5.15 p.m.

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, this is a perfectly sensible amendment in principle but I have one or two problems with the idea of putting it on the face of the Bill. I have always believed that many of the Weatherill propositions should go on the face of the Bill, particularly those which concern the by-elections that we discussed earlier this afternoon. However, I wonder whether the specific numbers in the current compromise are ones that the House would want to fix for all time, or until that day--mythical perhaps--when stage two will be delivered. This may be one matter that is best left to Standing Orders which can be changed only by leave of the House.

However, it is always good to have an opportunity to debate these matters. That is why I laid the whole draft Standing Order for debate in Committee, although I regret that few noble Lords took part on that occasion. But it may well be that before the course of stage one and a half is run, there will be good reasons to change the numbers or the political balance between the parties. There may be other reasons for that, for example--

Lord Harris of Greenwich: My Lords, perhaps I may ask the noble Lord a simple question. In what circumstances would he imagine it right--

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, my noble friend the Chief Whip earlier read out the rules for Report. We should follow them.

Lord Harris of Greenwich: My Lords, with great respect, I was merely asking a question in the course of a debate in which I had not spoken. I feel I am entirely right to ask the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, a very simple question. In what circumstances does the noble Lord think it would be right to change the proportion of party and Cross-Bench representation in the House?

22 Jun 1999 : Column 818

I do not necessarily disagree with him in terms of his conclusion about the amendment. Nevertheless, I am a little puzzled by what he is saying.

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, a situation one might envisage is if, in many years to come, there is a complete collapse of the Liberal Democrat Party. It might then be difficult to justify it having three seats at all. There might be an arrangement to renegotiate the position. The same would apply, of course, to other parties.

Another issue with which the noble Lord might have some sympathy is the future of the 15 above the 75 who are now to be selected as Deputy Speakers. For example, they could be subsumed into the rest of the 90; the House might want to consider that in four or five years' time. For my part, I see some attraction in that.

My noble friend should consider those points carefully before pressing the amendment any further. We are looking for an element of flexibility. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, was probably agreeing with me about that. It is worth discussing these matters but, on this issue, the Standing Orders are a good place for the numbers to be.

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, the Government's firm view, too, is that the detail of the Weatherill amendment and its consequences are not a matter for the Bill but for Standing Orders. The amendment does not make straightforward statutory provision for the numerical breakdown of the 90 excepted Peers between the different groupings or the different electorates. Instead it imposes a requirement that such provision shall be made in Standing Orders. To have the provision in both places renders the Standing Order empty, making it no more than a rubber stamp.

More substantively, there are two other major objections to the amendment. First, placing these provisions on the face of the Bill would remove the flexibility of the Standing Order in respect of the system for filling vacancies among the excepted Peers. This provision in the Bill would mean that we could not have the fastest loser system currently provided in the draft Standing Order because any replacement excepted Peer would have to be elected. It also means that excluded hereditary Peers would continue to be able to participate in the by-elections for replacements. That is not acceptable to the Government as a matter of principle, as I explained in giving my assurance about the amendment that the Government will bring forward on Third Reading, against which assurance the Leader of the Opposition withdrew his Amendment No. 21.

There is also a very serious hybridity point. The effect of the amendment would be to include in the Bill a specific allocation to different parties within the House. This would affect the private interests of some hereditary Peers differently from the private interests of other hereditary Peers. A question of hybridity would arise, at least prima facie, if the amendment were to be passed. I must advise the House that if the amendment were agreed to, it would be necessary for the Chairman of Committees to table a Motion after the conclusion of the Report stage to refer the Bill to the Examiners in

22 Jun 1999 : Column 819

respect of the amendment, with all the consequences for the timetable of the Bill and the legislative programme that that would entail. I urge the noble Lord, Lord Coleraine, to give great weight to that point and not to press the amendment.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page