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The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, looking around the House we can form a view on where all those QCs that used to be in the Commons wentto my right, to my left and across the way. We want a House with a strong independent element. We want a House whose Members have experience of other matters concurrent with taking part in the deliberations of the second Chamber. I do not think that any of us would disagree with that. I bow to the great experience of the noble Lord, Lord Renton, in indicating the importance of that.
Lord Graham of Edmonton: My Lords, in view of the fact that many speakers feel that the change is not acceptable, will my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor tell us whether any representations were made by them and how we get over the problem that in a House of 700 the Government cannot command the support of 200? These Benches represent 27 per cent of the House. I wonder whether, in the search for fairness and fair play, Members opposite have made any helpful suggestions on how that imbalance can be corrected.
The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, I have not heard any suggestions on how the imbalance can be corrected. Indeed, I have not heard any suggestions from the Benches opposite on how we move forward except to leave the position as it is with, for example, the Prime Minister deciding the size of the House, the numbers who can come in and the split between the parties. That, as I understand it, is the position of noble Lords opposite.
Viscount Bledisloe: My Lords, the noble and learned Lord has, or at least used to have, a decent grasp of the basic principles of contract law. I have to say that in those circumstances I find utterly unintelligible his assertion that the Statement is not a total renegation on the promises given by his predecessor on behalf of the Government. That was described as a compromise deal. In the passage cited by the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, the then Lord Chancellor said that the presence of the remaining hereditaries was,
The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, first, I defer completely to the noble Viscount in relation to contract law, in which he is one of the world's leading experts. Secondly, we are not reneging on our promise. It has been made clear time and time again in the course of this short debate that the position has completely changed. I do not think that anyone understood the effect of the position in 1999that the hereditaries could stay for ever and ever irrespective of what happened.
Lord Denham: My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House. The noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, quoted a predecessor of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor referring to what has subsequently become known as his amendment. But unfortunately he stopped a little too soon. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, further stated:
The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, not just in this House is that election very closely followed. Indeed, the possibility of a draw in the election is very much anticipated. A complete non-attendance at the election is also possible. It is an important issue. As I indicated in the Statement, all I can say in relation to the timing of the introduction of the Bill is that it will be when legislative time permits. I cannot confirm when it will be introduced. As regards at precisely what point it will become effective, I am afraid that I cannot say at the moment. In relation to the election to which my noble friend referred, the electorate will have to form their view, I am afraid, without knowing those details.
Lord Skidelsky: My Lords, I understand that it is the Government's intention to remove from our House Peers convicted of offences on the same basis as in the House of Commons. I think that is perfectly reasonable but I am rather alarmed at the principle of retrospection which was introduced, which seems designed to catch one person in particular. Will the noble and learned Lord reconsider that principle because we have a long-standing and justified prejudice in this country against the principle of retrospective legislation?
The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, the issue of retrospection must be looked at as a matter of principle, not by reference to any individual. So far as the principle is concerned, is it right that someone who has been convicted of a criminal offence and then sent to prison for more than 12 months should take part in the proceedings of this House? The principle that we think should apply is that that person should not do so. That is the principle that applies in the House of Commons. We think that the same principle should apply here.
The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, that question is nonsense. The noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, would have it that decisions about the numbers of Peers from each party should remain with the Prime Minister. What we propose is that that issue should be decided by the statutory appointments commission which has precisely the opposite effect to that which the noble Lord proposes. I am quite unable to understand why he wishes to preserve the status quo if he has the concerns which he has. I should be interested to know whether the Opposition are committed to reintroduce, first, the hereditary Peers' right to sit in this House and, secondly, whether it is their proposal that the statutory appointments commission should not have the kind of decision-making powers to which I referred.
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