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Lord Monson: My Lords, I agree in principle with a great deal of what my noble friend, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, has said in support of his two amendments

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moved just now. I did not rise to support him because I thought there was not the slightest chance of his amendments being accepted. However, the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Coleraine, are very much more modest and I think that they do deserve serious consideration.

It is not always appreciated what a tiny proportion of our time we spend in this House trooping through the Division Lobbies. Many a week goes by without a single Division taking place. But during those weeks a great deal of work is done both in the Chamber and in Select Committees. A great many novel or insufficiently understood ideas and propositions are expounded, some of which are subsequently taken up by the Government or one of the Opposition parties. Non-contentious drafting errors in Bills are drawn to the Government's attention. Penetrating Questions, Starred and for Written Answers, are tabled and asked. Voting is only a small part of the constructive work which this House does. Indeed, tonight, some Members of the Government Benches may believe that voting is very far from constructive.

Noble Lords who have been Members of this House for a few years know in their hearts, even if they will not admit it openly, that if only 92 hereditary Peers remain, a great deal of expertise will be lost to Parliament. Permitting an additional 90 hereditary Peers to continue to contribute verbally, although not otherwise, would ensure that Parliament would continue to benefit from that expertise without upsetting the political balance.

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, my noble friend Lord Coleraine challenged me to answer a few questions and I am delighted to be able to do so. First, perhaps I may say that if I were sitting on the Government Front Bench, seeing this kind of amendment would immediately urge me to rush along to whoever I had to obey and recommend acceptance of it. It deals with so many of the objections which have been made by noble Lords opposite during the course of the debates. It is very humble in its attempts to deal with the problem that a number of Peers who have enormous experience and knowledge outside this House will be excluded and that experience and knowledge will be lost. That is the answer to the question which my noble friend asked me.

Furthermore, the proposal is not an alternative to the Weatherill amendment. It is a complement to it and can work side by side with the amendment, which is now Clause 2. The comments I made at an earlier stage related to the general principle of the entire hereditary peerage returning to sit but not to vote. As a former Chief Whip, I would have found it tiresome to listen to many Peers speaking on an issue and delaying the vote. But under the terms of this amendment, there would be so few sitters but not voters--"Coleraine Peers", if I may christen them that--and I believe that it is acceptable.

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It would be nice to hear the Government suggest that this may be a way forward. I do not know the answer to the question of hybridity, but no doubt the Minister will have a reply. I hope that we shall hear a positive reply.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, urged me to rush along to the person I have to obey. I have done that and she told me not to accept the amendment! It is interesting that the passionate support which the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, gives to the amendment does not extend to calling on his troops to vote for it. But we have become used to that during the past weeks.

As always, the noble Lord, Lord Coleraine, put his points most moderately, courteously and persuasively, but he failed to persuade me. He suggests that there should be another 90 Peers in addition to the Weatherill Peers who would be entitled to speak but not to vote. Bearing in mind that we spent eight days in Committee on a one-clause Bill, I thought that there might be some attraction in stopping them speaking and just letting them vote! I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Coleraine, was putting his two questions to me. Obviously he was putting them to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, so I need not trouble to answer them.

This is now at least the eighth time--one forgets; time goes so quickly when one is having fun--that we have debated the idea that there should be some Peers with different voting rights to other Peers. We have had at least 16 different amendments. That is in addition to the rather truncated debates we had on Clause 2 and other alternative schemes. It is right to say that after all this time we have decided very few things. We have decided two at least: first, that the House does not wish to see a two-Writ system, which is what the noble Lord, in effect, contemplates; and, secondly, that the House does not wish to alter the numbers in Clause 2.

I therefore cannot support the amendments. I invite the noble Lord--as I believe he has indicated--not to put them to the vote.

9.45 p.m.

Lord Coleraine: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend on the Front Bench for his response to my amendment. He called it a humble amendment. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Richard, referred to it as having a certain grandeur. I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Richard, realised that I was trying to double the number of hereditary Peers in this House for the period of the interim Chamber.

As regards the suggestion that the amendment is contrary to the intention of the Bill, nothing could be more contrary to the intention of the Bill than the Weatherill amendment. Perhaps I may say to the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, that possibly the reason my noble Leader did not invite his friends behind him to join me in the Division Lobby was that he sensed I would not divide tonight. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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Lord Norrie moved Amendment No. 58DA:

After Clause 3, insert the following new clause--


(" . Before the end of the Session of Parliament in which this Act is passed the Secretary of State shall confirm to both Houses of Parliament that full consultation about the impact of this Act has taken place with the relevant authorities in the United Kingdom Crown Dependencies, in Britain's Overseas Territories and in the countries in which the terms of the Statute of Westminster 1931 may apply.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in speaking to Amendment No. 58DA I shall speak also to Amendment No. 63A and its listed schedules and Amendments Nos. 78A to D tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh.

In my previous speeches on the Bill and with my noble friend Lord Chesham I introduced the matter of the Commonwealth in relation to a reform of this House. I do so again because of the concerns about the apparent lack of consultations with the 53 governments of the Commonwealth states. I have widened the amendment to take into consideration the needs of the United Kingdom Crown dependencies and Britain's overseas territories. I do not believe that their views will be taken fully into account.

For Commonwealth states, the purpose of the amendment is to reflect the spirit and intent of the Statute of Westminster and the various Acts following that Statute so that this Bill does not become law until consultations with all the Commonwealth states, Crown dependencies and overseas territories have been concluded.

The amendment is introduced also in recognition of the courteous and friendly understanding by which each nation respects the laws of others, without prejudice to its own rights and interests; that is the Comity of Nations. It is also designed to uphold the constitutional rights of those hereditary Peers who are citizens of the Commonwealth states other than the United Kingdom as well as those of the Crown dependencies and Britain's overseas territories.

There has been some acrimony in the debates, both in and out of Parliament, about the effect of the Bill on the sovereign's hereditary rights. Much of that focuses upon the effect of the Act upon the sovereign's rights and titles. Some Commonwealth citizens in authority now complain about the pressure exerted on them to extract consent to the changes that the Act would make to the sovereign's rights and titles.

There seems to be a weaving of webs--of distraction and confusion--about the interpretation of simple facts. However, I cannot regard pronouncements made by Ministers as given law. Therefore I continue to challenge and differ with them. I see that the lack of support for many of the amendments proposed, designed to improve the Bill or to acknowledge existing laws and international commitments, allows the Government seemingly to ignore the legal rights of Commonwealth states and citizens. Perhaps I should be content to leave these matters to the courts.

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However, perhaps I may draw your Lordships' attention to some basic facts about the Commonwealth. It has a population of 1.7 billion; that is one-third of the world's total population. The composition of its peoples is overwhelmingly not Caucasian. This Parliament is representative of less than 3.5 per cent of the Commonwealth population, yet it now legislates on matters concerning more than 96 per cent of the Commonwealth peoples who are certainly ethnic majorities. That is not a democratic credential for the Bill.

In my speech at Committee stage, I stated that this Bill purports to remove the sovereign's hereditary right to create hereditary Peers with rights to attend this House. It is clear that the sovereign's right to create hereditary Peers as they now exist, will not be precisely the same if this Bill is enacted into law.

Allow me to draw an analogy to illustrate my issue by use of a question; namely, that as citizens we are generally all entitled to leave our unencumbered property and possessions to whomever we wish. However, if Parliament enacted a law which changed that right by saying that we may not leave our property to a political party, would that right be precisely the same after such a Bill was passed, as it was before? The answer is clearly "No". Thus, removing from hereditary Peers the right to attend and sit in this House, also removes the sovereign's right to create a hereditary Peer who has such a right. The former right is not the same as the latter. Thus there would be a change to the sovereign's hereditary titles and rights. That being so, we must look to the statutes which protect the sovereign's rights; in this instance, to the Statute of Westminster 1931.

Several eminent counsel have advised that this Bill cannot be lawfully presented for the Royal Assent unless and until the consent to the changes to the sovereign's titles have been given by the Commonwealth states. I believe the noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, will wish to expand on that matter. It has been well argued that the sovereign's hereditary title as Duke of Lancaster has been changed by the Act because as a Royal Duke, the sovereign is barred from attending and sitting here. That surely is a change to the sovereign's title. That dukedom's rights would no longer be what they were before the Act. Thus a specific hereditary right of the sovereign will be removed by the Act.

The Statute of Westminster 1931 is of immense and profound importance in our constitution. It represents, indeed enacts, a solemn promise made by our United Kingdom Parliament and a former sovereign not to legislate unilaterally on matters touching upon the Crown and the succession. The Government have not reported to Parliament, despite requests in this House, concerning any discussions, consultations or dialogues with any Commonwealth country concerning the effects of the Act. It is claimed that there is considerable disquiet among Commonwealth countries about this Bill. If that is unfounded, surely the Government can assist to allay concerns and fears by reporting to Parliament about their dialogues with the Commonwealth concerning this Bill. I ask that for a second time.

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It is of equal importance to recognise that this Bill seeks to remove specific rights of Commonwealth citizens who are hereditary Peers, and in so doing it also seeks to legislate for states such as India, Canada and New Zealand. That being so, the Act would breach the Commonwealth principle of equality between nations incorporated in the Indian Independence Act 1947. That is just one example.

Both amendments provide recognition for the "comity of nations", designed to ensure proper respect for the constitutional rights of those hereditary Peers who are citizens of Commonwealth members other than the United Kingdom. The Commonwealth has a proper and legitimate interest in the Bill. As one example, for the 16 Commonwealth countries of which the sovereign is also head of state, their interest is that the Act would remove their sovereign's hereditary rights and those of the heir.

There are many hereditary Peers who live in the Commonwealth and who are citizens of Commonwealth states. This Parliament, by its own enactments, does not have the power to legislate for the removal of the rights of Commonwealth citizens without their consent. So, from the heroic island of Malta to the solitary St. Helena; the far-distant Pitcairns; the rich prairies of Canada and the teeming cities of the Indian sub-continent, all Commonwealth members are equally to be involved in consultation and consent. That is an enormous but dutiful task to be accomplished. To proceed further with this Bill in its present form without seeking and obtaining the consent of all Commonwealth members would be an affront to those sovereign states.

It is already regarded as yet one further stealth manoeuvre away from the Commonwealth towards a so-called more democratic and perfect Union, an exclusively European one upon which British voters have recently thrown doubt, to say the least. The stealth is revealed as a step into the new Euroland and away from the Commonwealth, to the members of which we owe so much.

Are we really confronted by the spectre of a Government who are so determined to exercise their parliamentary majority and pass laws clearly in violation of international obligations? What example would this give to other states about violating international obligations and laws? What example would it be to our fellow citizens?

Finally, I am most conscious of my oath of allegiance to our sovereign. It is my personal belief that by supporting this Bill without amending it as I am proposing, I would violate that sworn oath which requires me to uphold the rights and titles of the sovereign and her heirs and successors. If my amendment is not accepted, the Act will change and diminish the sovereign's rights. That being so, I will keep my oath to uphold those rights, and I recommend the same view to your Lordships. I beg to move.

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