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Viscount Bledisloe: My Lords, the noble Earl is half right. The Irish Peers who were not elected had the right to stand for the House of Commons and, if elected, had the right to vote in another constituency. But they had no other right to vote.

Faced with that constitutional anomaly, the Conservative Front Bench has entirely abandoned the suggestion that the 75 Peers are to be in any way representative. At the meeting of the Procedure Committee they fell over themselves to disclaim any suggestion that the 75 were to be in any way representative of their hereditary colleagues, abandoning

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the only argument advanced by the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne. Having abandoned that point, they advanced no logical argument as to why the electorate should be restricted to the hereditary Peers. It is merely ordained as the will of the party leaders, not as a logical position.

The decision of the Procedure Committee was plainly based solely on the stated fact that election by hereditaries forms part of the Cranborne agreement. Very honourably, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor feels that while the Conservative Front Bench continues to insist that election should be by the hereditaries alone, he and his Front Bench colleagues are bound to follow their lead. I venture to suggest that one cannot feel that the Labour Party has any doctrinaire enthusiasm for the concept that the hereditaries have the sole right to elect. Indeed, I doubt whether the Government Front Bench has any view on the appropriate machinery other than a very understandable desire to ensure that some method of election is finally determined so that we can get on.

Others far better qualified than I will deal more fully with the agreement. Your Lordships have to decide whether the Conservative Front Bench should be entitled to impose on all parts of the House the system that appealed to the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, at the time of the negotiations, even though other parties might regard it as much more appropriate to allow their life Peers a say in the selection process.

The amendment would allow each party or group to decide for itself whether the Peers who are qualified to vote in its group election should consist of all the hereditaries and life Peers or only the hereditary Peers. That decision will be notified to the Clerk of the Parliaments by the leader of each party or the convenor. The Clerk of the Parliaments will not in any way be concerned with the mechanism by which each group reaches its decision. Once a party or group has decided on the composition of its qualified Peers, that decision will apply to the initial elections and to all subsequent by-elections.

If passed, the amendment would pay proper regard to the rights of independent groups to decide for themselves. In no way can it merit a party line or a party Whip. It is a matter solely for the views and conscience of each individual in the House.

One of the unfortunate consequences of the debates on the House of Lords Bill is that, for the first time, Members of the House have been distinguished from each other by virtue of the fact that they are hereditary or life Peers. That division is a great pity and every effort should be made to ensure that it disappears as quickly as possible after the Bill is passed. The process would be greatly assisted if the House recognised that all its Members are of equal value and have a right to an equal say in the election. I beg to move.

Moved, as an amendment to the Chairman of Committees' Motion, at end insert ("with the following amendments:

Page 1, line 5, leave out ("hereditary") and insert ("qualified")
Page 1, line 6, leave out ("hereditary") and insert ("qualified")
Page 1, line 7, leave out ("hereditary") and insert ("qualified")

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Page 1, line 8, leave out ("hereditary") and insert ("qualified")
Page 1, line 12, at end insert-
("(2A) Each of the Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties and the Cross Bench peers may decide whether the qualified peers for the party or group referred to in paragraph 2 above are to consist of
(i) all hereditary and life peers of that party or group, or
(ii) only the hereditary peers of that party or group.
Such decision shall be notified at least one month before the date of the elections to the Clerk of the Parliaments by the leader of each party and the Convenor of the Cross Benchers. If no such notification is given by any party or group, the qualified peers of that party or group shall be deemed to be only the hereditary peers.")
Page 2, line 11, leave out ("excepted hereditary peers") and insert ("qualified peers who are members of the House")
Page 2, line 21, after ("Paragraphs") insert ("(2A,)")
Page 2, line 26, leave out first ("hereditary")
Page 3, line 11, leave out ("but the numbers voting will be smaller since only hereditary peers will be voting")").--(Viscount Bledisloe.)

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I am not summing up the debate at this point. That is not my role today and we have had only a brief series of contributions so far. The Labour Peers have no great numerical interest in the results of the elections that we are discussing. I agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, that we do not have a doctrinaire enthusiasm for the procedures. We expect in the main to be able to watch the process in a splendidly disinterested way.

However, the process is important. The Government support the Standing Orders and the electoral arrangements agreed by the Procedure Committee. I am afraid that we cannot support the amendment moved by the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe.

The draft of the first Standing Order on hereditary Peers was the outcome of detailed discussion by the so-called "O" group of officials and party and Cross-Bench representatives. The group's remit was to give effect to the agreement between my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor and the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne. The draft, which was immediately placed in the Library--some time ago now--represented the best judgment of a consensus that it was thought could command general support. I believe that events have proved that judgment to be correct. The deliberations of the Procedure Committee, which approved the draft in its entirety and made only a few amendments to the draft electoral arrangements, certainly suggested that the scheme was likely to be acceptable to all sides of your Lordships' House.

The second Standing Order before the House today is new. It gives effect to the amendment which the Government intend to table at Third Reading, as my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor promised during discussions on the Bill at Report stage. The order makes provision for by-elections to fill vacancies arising among the Weatherill Peers in the unlikely event that the transitional House lasts beyond the First Session of the next Parliament. Your Lordships know from our debates on the subject that the Government were content to rely on the fastest loser system for the entire duration of the transitional House. We are confident that that system will work perfectly well for what we fully expect

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to be a matter of only a very few years. If, for whatever reason, that system failed to produce a replacement, we preferred to leave it to the discretion of the House to decide at the time how to fill a vacancy. To deal with the matter in Standing Orders would allow the flexibility that we thought, and still think, would be simplest and best.

However, the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition craves certainty in the matter; and we have agreed to propose a statutory provision. This of course rests on the hypothetical assumption that the transitional House lasts longer than any on this side of the House would like or, indeed, intend. As the by-elections Standing Order makes clear, only the relevant excepted hereditary Peers will be entitled to vote. Excluded hereditary Peers, who will no longer be Members of the House, will have no vote in that process.

In support of his argument, the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, made an important part of his case the assumption that Peers of ability and, indeed, of independence should be among the chosen few who will remain for the temporary period. I am sure we all subscribe to that view. Of course, we all want to see the most able individuals staying on in the transitional House. I see no reason to suppose that the hereditary Peers cannot be trusted to elect their colleagues on that basis.

However, regardless of whether or not we accept that thesis, the most important reason why we cannot accept this amendment is that, as my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor has had occasion to explain many times during the course of our debates on this subject, the hereditary composition of the electorate for the 75 was an inherent part of the agreement he reached with the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne. The agreement was reached on the basis that the elections within the party and other groups would be of hereditaries, by hereditaries, for hereditaries. I appreciate that there were Cross-Bench reservations about that at an earlier point, but indisputably it was one of the cornerstones of the "O" group, and that is why it is so clearly reflected in paragraph 2(i) of the first Standing Order, which faithfully gives effect to the agreement.

Finally, perhaps I may touch briefly on one of the arguments of the noble Viscount about the by-election procedure. He has expressed concern that limiting the electorate to hereditary Peers in the relevant party could make a mockery of the proposed by-election system for the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties. I shall make two points in response to that particular concern. First, as I have already said and I am happy to repeat, we have no expectation that by-elections will be necessary, because we expect to press ahead with stage two of reform before the relevant provision kicks in. Secondly, in the unlikely event that a by-election to replace a Labour or Liberal Democrat excepted Peer was required, it would of course be open to your Lordships' House to refer the matter to the Procedure Committee for it to take another look at an alternative option. For our part, therefore, we have no fears about what is likely to be a hypothetical scenario which, if it did materialise, could in any event be practically addressed at the time.

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I am sure that nothing I have said in my short intervention will come as a surprise to the House. The Government have argued consistently their position on these questions as they have arisen in the course of our extended debate. The noble Lord, Lord Boston, will sum up the debate later.

4.15 p.m.

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, perhaps it would be helpful if I were to follow the noble Baroness the Leader of the House and say a few words on behalf of these Benches. What we have before us today is essentially a technical decision. The House has already voted by a substantial majority for what have come to be known as the Weatherill arrangements. Perhaps I may again pay tribute to the role played by the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, and indeed my noble friend Lord Cranborne in securing the agreement.

At the time, the noble and learned Lord described it as an act of statesmanship. He was right to do so, because it is not easy for a government committed to a particular plan to look at it again, to see its weaknesses and to agree to change. The noble and learned Lord, after his initial volley of sulphur and brimstone in warning against any changes to the text of the House of Lords Bill, came to recognise that a wholly nominated House, as proposed in the Labour Party manifesto, was not an attractive or desirable prospect to the country. He recognised the value of the work carried out by hereditary Peers in this House. He agreed to keep a number of independent hereditary Peers, and we very much welcomed that change of heart, as I believe did the majority of the House. We should like to believe that the statesmanlike stance of the noble and learned Lord was shared by all his colleagues.

The principle of the Weatherill arrangement is not at issue today. The House has voted on that issue of principle. What is at issue are the practical details. We may not like all of the details; indeed, some of us may not like any of the details at all. However, the House has resolved that it wishes to retain some 92 hereditary Peers, and we must agree the means by which those Peers are elected. In that context, I pay tribute to the Clerk of the Parliaments, who has done a great service to the House in preparing for the Procedure Committee the paper which lies behind the proposal before your Lordships today.

The Procedure Committee examined the ideas with great care. The report before the House is acceptable to the Government, and it is acceptable to me. I must tell my noble friends that I shall support the Motion in the name of the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees, and I support the adoption of the Procedure Committee report unamended. In any Division, I shall urge my noble friends to do the same.

However, that is not to say that I regard the necessity for this system with anything other than distaste. It is still my view that the House of Lords Bill is a thoroughly bad Bill. It is a Bill that will weaken Parliament and further strengthen the hand of the

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executive, which is already too powerful in this country, whatever the colour of the party rosette it wears. But the Weatherill amendment makes a bad Bill somewhat less bad, and for that reason, we support it. I have no affection for these arrangements.

Equally, I have difficulties with some of the details of the voting system. I should perhaps have preferred all 90 Peers to be elected in one common system, and I should certainly have preferred a representative system on the Scottish or Irish model, with hereditary Peers outside the House electing replacements in any by-election. However, what we have here is a package. It may not be perfect, but it is one on which all parties in the Procedure Committee--except for the Liberal Democrats--were able to agree. I advise the House that a counsel of perfection may be a self-defeating course.

In another act of statesmanship, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor has agreed, on behalf of the Government, that hereditary Peers will be replaced in by-elections. As he knows, I do not instinctively favour this model of by-elections, but I believe that securing the principle of by-elections is more important than indefinite wrangling over the small print. I therefore advise the House to go along with what is proposed.

The noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, in his amendments to the Motion on the Procedure Committee report, has proposed that each party should be allowed to choose its own electoral college. He envisages that in some cases both life Peers and hereditary Peers should choose members of the 75. I cannot support the amendment. Indeed, I firmly oppose the amendment. I cannot agree that each party should determine its own election system. I oppose it for a number of reasons. First, the Clerk of the Parliaments has rightly reminded us that these are elections to a House of Parliament; more particularly, to a House of Peers. We are all equal, and that has always been the principle of the House--at least, until the Government introduced the divisive poison enshrined in this Bill.

Parties should not be given a decisive hand in deciding how Peers are chosen for this place. There should be a common system. Then, all those who come to this place as members of the 75 can say, "We came here by the same means and for the same purpose. No one of us has any election system that is more valid than another's".

I am sure that a common system would be right for this House. Even if I did not think that, I could not favour the amendment moved by the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, because it envisages that some elections for the 75 would be by both life Peers and hereditary Peers. I oppose that because I believe that the 75 Weatherill Peers are representative hereditary Peers. The system is logical and well precedented. The House has accepted such a system before and it is one that is likely to endure in the event that the Government, of whatever party, fail to come forward with a second stage of reform in the next Parliament.

It would be odd for life Peers to be able to vote in elections in which they could not stand. I fear that some of those who want an election by all Peers somehow do not trust hereditary Peers to make sensible choices. I do

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trust them. It will be a well informed election and, if by some chance it is not, it will be the electorate who are to blame. That hereditary Peers outside the House should elect representatives, I see as no odder than the people of this country sending representatives, whom they may not know at all, through elections to the other place.

The noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, mentioned the potential problem that might arise for the Liberal Democrats and the Labour Party with by-elections, but he ignored the possibility of hereditary Peers from those parties being elected to the 15, thus increasing the electorate for any potential by-elections of the 75. If, for whatever reason, the by-election system proposed becomes unworkable, it will be a simple matter for the House to change the Standing Orders to take account of that.

I believe that we should trust our fellow hereditary Peers in any election. I therefore believe that we should reject the amendment and stand by the Procedure Committee's report. I hope that my noble friends will agree.

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