HL Deb 27 April 1999 vol 600 cc232-300

House again in Committee on Clause 1.

Lord Randall of St. Budeaux had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No.14:

Page 1, line 5, at beginning insert ("Subject to subsection (2)")

The noble Lord said: On Tuesday 20th April. we had a full debate on Amendments Nos.14, 29 and 109. I have decided not to initiate further debate on this tonight. However, I reserve the right to speak on the matter at a later stage. I therefore ask the leave of the Committee to withdraw the amendment.

The Earl of Caithness

With the leave of the Committee, I should like to move Amendment No.14, and to say a few words on it. I did not do so previously. I believe that it is in order. We were confused on Tuesday, first, due to the time of night at which we debated the amendment, and secondly, because at that time the amendment was grouped with the amendment put forward by my noble friend Lord Selsdon on which many of us concentrated. I appreciate that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, answered some of the points, but because the amendment is important, it is worth retreading briefly some of the ground.

It is an important amendment because it is a possible alternative to the Weatherill amendment, which does not have universal support in the House and which we have yet to discuss. It would be helpful, therefore, to have a fuller discussion on this amendment.

I wish to ask the noble Lord, Lord Randall, to explain in a little more detail how the voting system will work. This is a House of fluctuating numbers, depending on the discussion and the time of day of that discussion. How would the votes be weighted so that a sensible result occurred on a Division?

I should like also to clarify one point which the noble Lord, Lord Randall, made at col.1138 of the Official Report of 20th April. He said: The Government would get their business immediately".

Lord Haskel

Perhaps I may ask the noble Earl a question. Is it in order to debate an amendment which has not been moved, and to ask the Peer concerned to respond after he has said that he will not move his amendment?

The Earl of Caithness

It is. The amendment is in the name of the House and anyone can speak to it even though it is not moved by the noble Lord on the Marshalled List. If the noble Lord considers the Standing Orders, I think that he may find the reference at page 111, or close to that page.

At col.1138 the noble Lord, Lord Randall, said that the Government will "get their business immediately ". Perhaps I may probe a little more. One of the great strengths of this House is that the Government do not always get their business immediately. I have said before, and I shall say again on many occasions, that one of the great strengths of this House is that the government of the day can be defeated. What provision does the noble Lord have in mind with regard to weighting a vote so that the Government can be defeated and another place have the time to think again on the issue?

I turn to what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, said in his brief reply to the noble Lord. I note a contradiction in the noble and learned Lord's argument. It is always nice to find that. At col.1150 of the Official Report of 20th April he said: Going through the seven points that underlie the noble Lord's speech. I believe that each one can be demonstrated either to be wrong or flawed". At col.1149 the noble and learned Lord agreed with the noble Lord, Lord Randall, on his first point. It is a small point, but it is rather fun when a noble and learned Lord makes a contradiction.

First, would the noble and learned Lord and the Government take a more benign attitude to the amendment if it were limited only to stage one so that the purport underlying the noble Lord's proposal would come to an end when the Government brought in their phase two? Secondly, the noble and learned Lord spoke to the noble Lord's third point, on the number of hereditary Peers who would be left. Would it be more acceptable to the noble and learned Lord and the Government if one limited the number of hereditary Peers right at the start? The days of the part-time politician are over, due to these reforms; and phase two will make it even less likely that someone can participate in this Chamber on a part-time basis. If one were to state that those hereditary Peers who had not attended, say, on average 25 per cent of the sittings of the last two Sessions would not be considered, the number of hereditary Peers would reduce quite remarkably, and the phased operation proposed by the noble Lord would then come into play. Therefore, there would not be so many hereditary Peers, which is what the Government want. I should be grateful for a reply to those points. I beg to move.

9 p.m.

Lord Geddes

I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Caithness for giving us the opportunity to re-open the debate on the three amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Randall. I discussed with the noble Lord outside the Chamber what I intended to say.

I apologise to your Lordships in advance because, although previously I had no opportunity, I have taken advice from the Clerks and have tabled an amendment which will appear in my name on the new Marshalled List. It will propose a variation on the theme of Amendment No.109. I wish to speak briefly to my amendment.

I pick up the point mentioned by the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun of Abernethy, in col.1142 on 20th April. Indeed, my noble friend Lord Caithness has mentioned it again. What concerns me about Amendment No.109 is that, as drafted, it gives unfettered power to the executive of the day. I make that point most seriously in an apolitical sense. I take no political view of the issue at all and in order to display my credentials in that respect I remind those of your Lordships who were here some years ago that I voted against my party on a three-line Whip on the then community charge.

I am looking at the issue from the point of view of the operation of Parliament in the round. I suggest that it is extremely important that this House in whatever guise—and I agree with Amendment No.29—should provide a check on the executive. That is important to the democracy of this country. We should be able to say to the executive of whatever political persuasion—I repeat that I take no party political line on this—that it should think again.

The amendment which I earlier tabled—and having had the opportunity to speak tonight I intend to withdraw it before it has even reached the Marshalled List—would read 180 degrees away from Amendment: No.109. I am trying to suggest that, given a weighting system of votes in this House, at all times there should be a weight, albeit a small weight, against the government of the day. In that case, using unparliamentary language, if every single Member of this House were to gang up against the government of the day, the government would be obliged to think again. That is the purpose of the amendment which I have put down. I repeat that I intend to withdraw it because I have had the opportunity tonight to discuss it. I urge your Lordships to think seriously about the ability of this House to be a check on the executive.

Lord Desai

I rise to speak briefly to the amendment. The amendment moved, or not moved, by my noble friend will do nothing that the noble Lord, Lord Geddes, wants to do. It will not keep the executive in check because the problem is that this second Chamber has never been taken seriously because of the presence of the hereditary peerage. Therefore, we have a de facto unicameral legislature.

The reform is in two stages. The first is to remove that element which subjects us to attack from down the corridor whenever we do anything constructive which the government of any colour do not like. They say, "You unelected hereditary Peers, go a way!' As the noble Lord probably knows, I do not want to he here either, but this is not the occasion to discuss the abolition of life Peers, too. However, the point is that so long as hereditary Peers are retained, in whatever guise—they are the nicest of people and I like them very much and shall love them ever after—they are detracting from the legitimacy of this House. If your Lordships wish to challenge the executive, do not vote for this amendment. No weighting system is good enough. What is needed is the removal of the hereditary peerage and then we can discuss numbers.

Lord Marlesford

Before the noble Lord sits down, will he explain what he means by the House of Lords never being taken seriously? Who has never taken the House of Lords seriously and since when?

Lord Desai

The House of Commons and the country. I can give many examples of when this House has taken a sensible position on a Bill and tried to amend it and that has been rejected. That is the argument put forward by Labour and Conservative governments. I recall Michael Howard as Home Secretary wanting to set up borstals for 13 year-old boys. The noble Lord, Lord Carr of Hadley, was against that. When the Bill was returned to this House, the noble Lord rose and said, "My Lords, we are right, but I am not going to press my amendment because we lack legitimacy ". Because we lack legitimacy we have a de facto unicameral legislature. I should like to have an effective second Chamber, but we shall not do so while the hereditary peerage is here.

Lord Marlesford

Again, before the noble Lord sits down, I know exactly what he wants but that is another matter. Of course there are occasions when the other place is greatly irritated by amendments made in this House, but over recent years thousands of amendments have been accepted by it. They would not have been made to improve the legislation without this House. Therefore, how can the noble Lord say that this House is not taken seriously? Surely, legislation is a serious matter.

Lord Desai

When it comes to the crunch, we do not matter.

Lord Goodhart

Why are we debating this at all? We are debating an amendment which has not been moved, when Amendment No.15 in a later group, in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, raises exactly the same sort of—

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

My understanding is that the amendment has been moved.

Lord Goodhart

My understanding is that the noble Lord, Lord Randall of St Budeaux, said that he was not moving it. It was moved not by the person in whose name it stood, but by members of the Conservative Party.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

It may be for the convenience of the Committee if I read out the relevant extract from the Companion: Amendments may be removed from the list of amendments at any time, at the wish of the proposer and with the agreement of any Lords who may have added their names to his. An amendment which has been tabled need not be moved. But where none of the Lords who are named as supporters of an amendment moves it, any other Lord may do so. That is what happened in this case.

Lord Goodhart

I am not suggesting that the amendment was moved out of order. What I am suggesting is that it is absurd when Amendment No.15, in the next group of amendments, raises precisely the same issue with the exception of Amendment No.109, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Randall of St Budeaux, which proposes that all Peers are equal but some Peers are more equal than others.

Lord Trefgarne

I too have been listening to the noble Lord, Lord Desai, and would like to pick up the point made by my noble friend Lord Marlesford. I do not think that the House of Lords is held in the disrepute that the noble Lord suggests. As my noble friend said, we have created a very good place for ourselves in the constitutional system over the years. I am sorry that the noble Lord does not think that. If he has such a low regard for the House of Lords, why did he bother to accept his peerage in the first place?

Lord Desai

Partly to get rid of the noble Lord. but partly for the following reason. Many people have accepted that the executive in this country is very powerful, and any party with a majority in another place can get through any legislation it wants. In the past 50 years only twice has the Parliament Act had to be invoked. So, by and large, the House of Commons can do what it likes, regardless of what we do. I rest my case.

I am not saying that we are disreputable. We are liked, but we are ineffective. I want us to be effective. I want us to defy the executive, and we shall not do so while the hereditary peerage is in the House of Lords.

Lord Trefgarne

The noble Lord is condemned by his own words. The Parliament Act has been used twice, as he said, or perhaps three times since the war, and that is because it has not been thought necessary, because the will of the House of Lords has generally prevailed. Therefore, the noble Lord is not correct. I am still wondering why he bothered to come here.

Lord Desai

To be able to help my party get rid of the hereditary peerage.

Viscount Cross

If I am in order, I should like to speak to Amendment No.29 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Randall. It is very good amendment. It has great merit, and if at a later stage the noble Lord should seek the opinion of the Committee I shall certainly support him.

In this country great institutions have evolved over the centuries by degrees, and this is a very good way to proceed. At the end of it, we should have a much smaller House of Lords. The heirs of hereditary Peers could become life Peers should they become distinguished and if they would like to accept such a peerage. This simple and practical solution would get over the difficulty as to who should remain as hereditary Peers and who should leave. I support the amendment.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

I am grateful for the opportunity to say a few words about the amendment because when I spoke at the end of the last day in Committee to a very large group I spoke only to the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Selsdon as I had hoped that we might carry on the debate until today on the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Randall of St Budeaux. I shall not say a great deal about it, but I could perhaps describe it as the rather more gentle approach to the question of reforming the House of Lords and more consistent with the way in which the British constitution tends to evolve rather than through revolutionary phases.

The noble Lord's proposals are certainly worthy of consideration. Both the noble Earl, Lord Longford, and the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, think there may be some merit in part of the amendment. It is a view fairly widely shared that there may be a better way of dealing with the Government's problem—or problems, because they have two problems. The one they trumpet is that of the hereditary peerage, but the true problem is the numbers one, because if the Labour Party had managed to hold on to many of the people who were made hereditary Peers over the last 50 years from the Labour Benches, or their successors, and it had a majority in the House of Lords, I am not sure that we would be having this discussion. Every time I hear a speech or read a book, heavy into the book is the numbers game. The Government are quite distressed about the numbers game.

The noble Lord, Lord Randall. has made an interesting suggestion. I was amazed that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, dismissed so readily what he described as the block vote. I thought that that was loved dearly by the Labour Party. The noble and learned Lord told me that it has gone to one-man, one-vote. That certainly was not the position in Wales in the attempt to make sure that Mr. Alun Michael was elected. One-man, one-vote was set aside for the purposes of that election. The block vote is known to the Labour Party and it understands it quite well. I am not greatly in favour of the block vote in any shape or form and I am not greatly in favour of that part of the noble Lord's amendment.

However, my noble friend Lord Caithness made a valid point when he suggested that it would be better if the noble Lord's amendment provided that those hereditary Peers who never or hardly ever attend should lose the right to do so and that those hereditary Peers who attend reasonably frequently or very frequently and take part in our proceedings should be phased out by the proposed method. If he did that, the noble Lord would go some way to answer some of the criticisms made.

The problem with weighting the voting system is that if the weighting represents the other place, that will mean inevitably that the Government have an overall majority, which will include the Cross-Benchers. In that case, the House will become a mere reflection of the majority in the House of Commons.

The suggestion is that there is to be a revising Chamber with its powers constrained by the Parliament Act. I have no problem with that, but believe that that will change once the hereditary Peers leave. In that event, it is fairly pointless merely to have a little echo of the House of Commons where the Whips can whip in a majority. I believe that there is general agreement on all sides of the Committee about that. One of the merits here is that people can act rather more independently of the Whips. I certainly bear the scars—although they are diminishing with the passage of time—on my back from occasions when I was beaten. I should point out to the noble Lord, Lord Desai, that the government then backed down in relation to the matter on which they were defeated. Therefore, the question of the Parliament Act did not arise.

I am sure all noble Lords were greatly disappointed to hear that the noble Lord, Lord Desai, would he happy to leave the House. We should be most unhappy if that were to happen.

Lord Desai

I assure the Committee that when I leave this House, I want to take the noble Lord with me.

9.15 p.m.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

It is all very well for the noble Lord who has all sorts of professorial things to do, but what should I find to do if I were not able to tease the Government and fulfil what I believe to be the responsibility of your Lordships' House?

One of the major defects in the proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Randall, is the weighting of the voting. I understand that he included that to get round the problem of his party's obsession with the numbers game. But some of the suggestions that my noble friend Lord Caithness and I have made about removing the "nevers and hardly-evers" would go a long way to help in that regard.

I sympathise with the Government's point about numbers although I believe that they rather over-estimate the problem. As I said, I had a number of defeats inflicted on me. That does not suggest to me that my noble friend Lord Strathclyde, the then Government Chief Whip, was able to whistle in huge armies of people to support the government. Occasionally we thought it better not to whip in too many Peers in case they were not persuaded by my argument. That is one problem with your Lordships' House. Your Lordships' House feels obliged to be persuaded by the argument. That is a totally alien idea to the House of Commons where the last thing that anybody is persuaded by is the argument. The Whips rule in the House of Commons; the argument does not matter. There is a major difference.

Therefore, although I believe that it is an ingenious weighting system, it is fundamentally wrong in its objective, which is to make this House a mere reflection of the other place. I certainly believe that the noble Lord's more gentle approach to the hereditary peerage would be in keeping with what we are told continually is the more gentle approach of this Government.

The Earl of Kinnoull

It may be for the convenience of the Committee if I speak to Amendment No.15, to appease the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

Amendment No.15 comes in the group after next. It may be sensible to wait until we reach that group.

The Earl of Kinnoull

I was not consulted about the grouping of Amendment No.15, but I am happy to comply with that.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

As we have had this debate once before, perhaps I may reply to only the specific points that are new in relation to this debate. First, the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, is absolutely right; there was a contradiction in what I said; namely, that what the noble Lord, Lord Randall, said was wrong and flawed in every respect. He is right to point out that I entirely agreed with him when the noble Lord, Lord Randall, said that the time had come for the end of the hereditary Peers and that was the settled view both of the country and this House. I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Randall, in relation to that.

Secondly, the noble Earl asked whether restricting the number of hereditary Peers who survived to those who regularly attended—that is slightly truncating his argument—would make it more palatable to the Government. The answer to that is no. The Government's position is that they believe the time has come for hereditary Peers to be removed from the legislative Chamber. They have indicated that they would support the Weatherill amendment if moved, but that involves removing 659 of the 750 hereditary Peers. That is their position.

The noble Lord, Lord Geddes, said that he would like a chamber where one party did not have an absolute majority. This Government have said that in the transitional House they seek broad parity with the Conservative Party in relation to numbers. That would mean that they would not have an overall majority in this House. Therefore, it would appear that the noble Lord, Lord Geddes, supports the proposals of this Government in relation to the transitional House.

I have great sympathy for the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart. I do not suggest for one moment that what happened was not in order, but it is rather difficult to follow, for a new boy: one is speaking to an amendment that has already been spoken to once before, the same issue will arise in the group after next, and one noble Lord speaks to an amendment that he has not yet put down on the Marshalled List and of which we do not know the details. I do not, for one moment, suggest that any of that was out of order.

The noble Viscount, Lord Cross, gave an excellent speech. However, I do not believe there was anything in it to which I have not replied. The noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, in the persuasive way for which he is so famous, skilfully seeks to give some support to the noble Lord, Lord Randall, without pointing out that his "rather slower" approach involves 15 years before 50 per cent of the hereditary Peers will have gone and 60 years before they will all have gone. That would be a very slow approach indeed.

Lord Randall of St. Budeaux

Because of the lateness of the evening, I shall be brief. First, perhaps I may respond to the points made by the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, as regards the way the voting system would work. I had decided to leave this until Report stage because it is almost impossible to talk about a formula and statistics in the House. I shall, however, prepare a note and put it in the Library for Members to read if they so wish.

The aim of the amendment is not to reduce the number of hereditary Peers—the fact that they are hereditary Peers is beside the point—but to reduce the number of Peers attending this House arbitrarily and on such a scale that I cannot accept it as a good thing to do. We do not know the quality of the people who will be going; what experience they have had, whether they are able to attend regularly, and so forth. For us to ignore that cannot, in principle, be right. For the sake of the House, let us take more of a measured approach. This would all have to be done in the context of the Government's manifesto. I am doing this because, as the Prime Minister knows, I am a keen supporter of him and my party on this matter.

Perhaps I may briefly talk about the weighting system in practical terms. This system ensures that those Members who are not members of the Government have their vote in the usual way, but those who would be supporters of the Government would have a vote times the weighting factor. This is necessary because if the number of hereditary Peers is to be reduced, if they are to be replaced or if they are not to be replaced by their heirs on their death, there is a system of rapid decline. As the Minister pointed out, it has an asintotic effect at the end. That is the mathematics. It declines very rapidly. I apologise for using mathematical terms, but it is incredibly simple. That is why I said it would be necessary for everybody to have a note to explain how it works. What, in fact, would happen is a rapid decline.

That is how we would vote. When we go through the Division Lobby, the Clerks would put their ticks on the paper in the usual way, but when they come to do the aggregate, they would have a look-up table which would say, "Instead of reading 323, please read 296". The Whips would come in in the usual way and nobody would really know the difference.

Lord Naseby

On a point of order—

Lord Randall of St. Budeaux

I would really prefer not to give way.

Lord Naseby

I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. I have a point of order. What happens on a cross-vote when some of the weighted voters decide to vote in the Content Lobby and some in the Not-Content Lobby? I hope the paper that is to be distributed will explain that in some detail.

Lord Randall of St. Budeaux

The vote still stands, of course. When Peers vote against the Government, the vote would be carried across.

Perhaps I can comment on the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Geddes, on the question of the unfettered power of the Government. That point was also raised by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish. In looking at the weighted voting system I tried to balance the points made by my noble friend Lord Richard, who is not in his seat, who talks convincingly about the democratic legitimacy of the Chamber. I tried to reflect the weighted voting system in this Chamber on the number of seats held by the government in another place. But of course one could change that for a system based on a greater independence of the House. I am open-minded on this. I chose the one that gives democratic legitimacy because more people raised that with me. One can change this around and I would be happy to change it at Report stage if that was felt to be desirable.

I thank the noble Viscount, Lord Cross, for his comments. I appreciate his courtesy in what he said. I wish to make one final point on the argument of the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, in relation to bad attenders. Again, that is a convincing argument. But I tried to obtain simplicity. And that simplicity arose—I do not intend to spend time on this—by my own personal analysis when I sat down one weekend and put down what I felt should be the objectives on which reform should be based. Then I put down on a piece of paper what should be the principles. Then I came up with my solution, which I feel is objective. I believe it is in the interests of the House that I arrived at that.

I say in a kindly way—one finds this in business—that oftentimes people sit down and design a product and then say, "Let us see how we can use this". That is the thinking of the 1950s. Modern thinking is that one sits down, decides what one's objectives are and comes up with the right solution. In doing that, one can obtain consensus and a decision based on the interests of this Chamber. I say to the Committee that will do what I believe to be right for this Chamber as well as being loyal to Tony Blair, the Prime Minister.

I do not want to spend more time on this. I should like to try to get everybody home and to bed early tonight.

Lord Northbrook

The noble Lord kindly explained to me around a week ago over dinner how his ingenious system works. As a point of order, can he say how the Cross-Benches weighting works? The whole idea of the weighted average system, which I hope my noble friend Lord Ferrers has had time to digest over the past week, is a good idea. It is simple; it is ingenious in its simplicity and achieves what the Government require in a just and equitable manner, albeit over a slightly longer period than perhaps they wished.

Lord Randall of St. Budeaux

I have regarded every body who is not on the government side—the Cross-Benchers, the Liberals and the Conservatives—as being equal; whether or not one is hereditary, all are equal. The system that I have devised would multiply the votes on this side of the Chamber by the weighting factor.

In practice, the principle of this weighting system would be placed before the Procedure Committee. Indeed, the Clerk of the Parliaments would actually draw up the formula and put it before the Procedure Committee. It would then, in turn, be endorsed by the House. So the principle of the system would be laid down by this Chamber. Again, that is placing the responsibility in this House rather than having it carried out by the executive. The more that we do in this House as parliamentarians, rather than the executive, the better.

Lord Goodhart

Before the noble Lord sits down, I wonder whether he realises that anything fewer than 25 votes for each Member of the Liberal Democrat Benches would be wholly unacceptable to us.

The Earl of Caithness

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Randall, for what he has said. Indeed, it has helped to clarify the thoughts that gave rise to the amendment. It has also proved how useful a Committee stage can be in this Chamber because, on Report, we could certainly never have had this debate in preparation for a further stage. I even hope that the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, if he paid attention, has learnt something that he would not have learnt by the moving of any of the subsequent amendments that he wanted to discuss. I say that because none of them refers to a weighted voting system.

I shall read the noble and learned Lord's response with interest. I shall also read with interest the paper that the noble Lord, Lord Randall, is going to place in the Library of the House; indeed, all noble Lords would benefit from doing so. Again, without this debate, the noble Lord would not have been able to say that he was going to do so and have that fact recorded in the Official Report. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

9.30 p.m.

Lord Norrie moved Amendment No.14A:

Page 1, line 5, at beginning insert ("Subject to subsection (2A)")

The noble Lord said: The time has come for close scrutiny of this Bill, most particularly its legalities. As I have said in earlier speeches, I have observed many alternative proposals for the reform of this House, some of which appear to most as convenient structural fixes. I am deeply concerned with the legalities of what this Bill purports to enact. I believe that it is defective in law.

A great deal of time and attention is being given to restructuring the House as a reform; but little, if any, is given to the far more substantive issue of a Bill removing hereditary rights. Does that difference of attention mean that we are not to be concerned with the legalities of the Bill? Alternatively, are we concerned only with how the House will be restructured?

In moving Amendment No.14A, I should like to speak also to Amendments Nos.30A and 68A as grouped on the list. The purpose of Amendments Nos.14A and 30A is based on the existence of property and personal rights of hereditary Peers, created by Letters Patent under the Great Seal. These rights are to a seat, a place and a voice in the Parliaments and assemblies of the United Kingdom.

In addition to rights created by Letters Patent, our common and customary laws for centuries, well before legal memory, have recognised as valid and enforceable the rights and property acquired by usage. The law indicates that these rights are acquired by a defined group, without use of force, about a specific place and openly for all to see. There are many substantive case-law precedents which affirm and recognise these rights, but which this Bill will remove.

Letters Patent may be abolished by statute. That is no different from a government abolishing all wills and deeds and covenants of property.

However, it is not parliamentary practice for common laws, particularly those concerning property and title, to be abolished by Parliament without first appointing a law commission to review them and Parliament considering its recommendations. The Government have not followed that practice.

Customary law is the foundation of parliamentary law. Custom is the sole basis in law for the process used to enact Bills into statutes. To abolish one customary law, especially concerning property, presents an undermining of and a challenge to all our laws based on and existing by custom. Such abolition challenges a fundamental principle of our English laws and does so without proper advice and consent.

All Peers have property rights in the Palace of Westminster. These rights of property are the same as those recognised in our courts, such as to walk across another man's field to attend church; to take water from a spring; to hold a horse race; to use another man's beach for drying fishing nets; or to hold a fair. Such rights are the basis and not the result of our constitutional laws. In my previous speeches on the reform of this House I proposed the convention of the constitution by which hereditary Peers would agree not to have their votes taken into account. This is the proposition in my Amendment No.68A. The great advantage of this amendment is that the Government would not need to introduce a Bill to abolish Letters Patent, nor rights existing in common law and custom. It also avoids having to pass a Bill to annul each Letters Patent for each hereditary peerage and the parliamentary time and expense of so doing.

The aim of Amendment No.68A is for the hereditary Peers to secure a statutory protection of their vote but that their votes are not taken into account in the passage of Bills and the rules of procedure in this House. At the same time the personal and property rights of hereditary Peers to attend, sit and speak would remain as established by common law and Letters Patent. A vote not counted is better than no vote at all. Even though by this amendment votes of hereditary Peers would not be counted, their views and opinions would still remain a valued and enduring indicator of opinion in Parliament. The revising role of the House is sustained by the quality of its best opinions. Hereditary Peers will remain a constant and abiding influence on governments and they will acquire perhaps even more profound influence when not associated with partisan views. Surely it is a mistake to believe that all power rests solely in a vote. Well formulated and delivered opinions and policies form the will of an electorate. As the pen is mightier than the sword, so a sound and independent opinion forms the vote.

I am glad to see that the noble Earl, Lord Longford, is present. His amendment suggests a two-Writ system. However, that amendment would specifically omit any voting by hereditary Peers. It would remove the right to vote completely. My amendment preserves the vote but not the right to have it taken into account. It provides for the greater democracy in Parliament desired and sought by the Government but without the need to abolish legal rights. It also takes into account the truth that the Government do not have a mandate from the electorate to rescind the property rights of hereditary Peers. They have a mandate to reform the House of Lords, but the Government did not declare how they would proceed. Their mandate cannot possibly be interpreted as an authority for them to abolish property rights, except perhaps by the most devious and tortuous twisting of the real significance and meaning of a political manifesto.

In my Second Reading speech the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor intervened before I sat down and asked me whether I challenged Parliament's power to rescind Letters Patent. I supported my reply in a letter to the noble and learned Lord where I answered no. However, I also said that the Government could not claim to have a mandate from the electorate to rescind property rights. This was never mentioned in the Labour Party's manifesto and therefore cannot have been supported by the electorate. My amendment would enact a protection and continuation of property rights without opposing the reform of this House; nor would it be adversarial to the Government's desire to achieve greater democracy in Parliament. I sincerely hope that the Government will see the pragmatism of my amendments.

Hereditary Peers would never have attracted such political focus if their votes were not counted in making the laws in Parliament. The amendment, if enacted, will relieve the problem of the inherited political power of an embedded Conservative majority.

This group of amendments also deals with matters concerning property rights created by Letters Patent and with the consequential legal issues invoked by the Statute of Westminster and the European Convention on Human Rights. These two matters will be examined in greater detail in relation to my Amendments Nos.111A and 120A at a later stage. But I touch on the Westminster Statute and European human rights issues today because my Amendment No.68A moderates the need to invoke the Westminster Statute and avoids human rights challenges in the courts.

The need to obtain the consent to this Bill from all the Commonwealth Parliaments is mandated in the preamble to the Statute of Westminster 1931. That is because, by removing the rights of hereditary Peers created by the sovereign's Letters Patent, the Bill directly diminishes the sovereign's own hereditary rights. By its very purpose, the Bill more than touches on the Queen's titles. It removes the hereditary right of our sovereign to create hereditary Peers who have the right to be Members of this House. That is the very substance of the sovereign's hereditary right. It is the Queen's right, inherent with her titles, to create hereditary Peers with the right to be Members of this House. By this Bill, the Queen and her successors will no longer be able to create hereditary Peers with a right to membership of this House. That is the basic purpose and effect of the Bill. As such, it directly invokes the Statute of Westminster since it changes the sovereign's rights and titles. I refer noble Lords to the preamble to the statute for serious consideration. If your Lordships and the Government will consent to it, my amendment avoids those profound dilemmas.

The amendment also avoids the prospect of an application to the European Court of Human Rights to decide whether the removal of an embedded Conservative majority in this Parliament is lawful. In the debate on the White Paper, I referred noble Lords to the successful Turkish case in the European Court. In my speech at Second Reading I stated that the Government are motivated by a political objective; namely, to remove a political group and thus change our constitution in so doing. That cannot be accepted as a lawful motive to achieve constitutional or democratic reform of our parliamentary government.

The Turkish case decided that it is not lawful under European human rights laws to exclude a group from political participation simply because it is politically regarded as undermining the structures of the state. The fact that this Government pursue greater democracy does not morally or lawfully entitle them to violate human rights laws. Thus my amendments provide a practical compromise and a legal alternative to achieving the greater democracy that the Government seek.

The Turkish decision protects the rights of all individuals, regardless of their political affiliations. Therefore I have to reject the view expressed by the noble Baroness the Leader of the House in the Explanatory Notes on the Bill that its provisions are compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. They are not. These amendments avoid those traps and snares that the Government have set for themselves and for the Opposition, and which lie set and ready in the provisions of the Statute of Westminster and the European Human Rights Convention and laws. The Government should carefully consider the substantial features of my amendments. I believe that they provide far stronger credentials to achieve greater democracy in Parliament than does this Bill.

Finally, will the Minister give the Committee an assurance that the Government, both prior to and during the passage of the Bill in Parliament thus far, have consulted with the Queen concerning the effect of the Bill in abolishing Her Majesty's hereditary rights and titles? If so, will the Minister also assure the Committee that the Government have advised the Queen, as Head of the Commonwealth, about the provisions of the Statute of Westminster 1931? Furthermore, have they advised Her Majesty that the Bill invokes the statute and thus its mandatory requirement to obtain the approval of the Commonwealth parliaments? I am willing to accept answers in writing to those questions if the Minister is unable to respond tonight. I beg to move.

9.45 p.m.

Lord Strabolgi

I am sure that we are all grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Norrie, for explaining the purpose of his amendments. As I understood him, he said that his Amendment No.30A gave personal and property rights to enter, sit and speak in the House of Lords as granted by Letters Patent. Letters Patent create a peerage and give the right to receive a Writ of Summons to attend Parliament. It is the Writ of Summons that must be presented, as was debated earlier today, before a Peer takes the Oath of Allegiance, either on introduction or at the beginning of any new parliament.

As was said earlier, Clause 4(2) makes clear that the right to receive a Writ will be abolished by the Bill—except perhaps for the various Peers who may be allowed to stay for a temporary period if the Weatherill amendment is accepted. Thus if any hereditary Peer arrives at the start of a new Parliament, claiming his rights under common law or based on the Letters Patent, and relying on his Patent as a talisman, he will not be able to sit unless he has taken the Oath—and he cannot take the Oath if he has no Writ of Summons. The amendment is therefore flawed in that way.

The amendment is also flawed because it does riot include all hereditary Peers. It relates only to peerages created under Letters Patent. This would exclude the 35 or so hereditary Peers who hold baronies created by a Writ of Summons, of which I am one. Baronies by Writ are the oldest baronies of all and are not dependent on Letters Patent, certainly not the 13 extant baronies dating from before 1387 when the first Patent was issued exceptionally by Richard II to John Beauchamp, who became Lord Kidderminster. Baronies by Writ are baronies of England and differ from the later baronies of Great Britain and the United Kingdom created by Letters Patent in that they allow descent to heirs general rather than to heirs male, thus allowing women to succeed, I am very glad to say, and, since 1963. to sit. I have no Letters Patent—your Lordships may think that it would not be of very great importance if I was not allowed to sit—but I have asked a number of other holders of Baronies by Writ whether they possess Letters Patent. Everyone said that they did not. and one or two said that they had never heard of them.

Amendment No.30A is an attempt to circumvent the provisions of the Bill. It is basically unsound and based on a false premise. I hope that the noble Lord will withdraw it. If he does not, I hope that the Committee will reject it.

Viscount Cranborne

I congratulate my noble friend Lord Norrie on provoking a magnificent response from the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, which will have come as no surprise to those who have heard his authoritative pronouncements in the Procedure Committee. It was extremely courageous of my noble friend to propose his amendments in front of the noble Lord. knowing, as I am sure he did, that he would elicit such an authoritative reply.

For reasons which I will not explain at any length, I would hesitate to rebut my noble friend's contention. I certainly would not wish to tangle with the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, on the matter of Peerages by Writ as opposed to Peerages by Letters Patent. Certainly, as the possessor of a relatively modern peerage compared to that of the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, I would not regard myself as an authority on the matter. What I should like to do is to refer to Amendment No.30A which was proposed by my noble friend and, with the greatest of respect to him, suggest to the Committee that, perhaps for non-technical reasons, my noble friend might care to withdraw that amendment. I suggest that not for technical reasons, but for purely practical ones.

If I understood my noble friend correctly, he dismissed somewhat airily the perils of two classes of Member of any House of Parliament. I wonder whether I may bring back my noble friend to that part of his argument. I have been quite attracted by some of the arguments that I have heard in your Lordships' House and elsewhere about the merits of Members of a reformed upper Chamber being drawn from different categories of people. Indeed, people from different sources should perhaps be suggested as Members of the reformed upper Chamber. But I would regard that as being very different from Members of any Chamber of Parliament, let alone the upper Chamber of this Parliament, enjoying different rights and privileges once here.

All of us have been astonished and riveted by the speeches of the hereditary Peers. We have never been bored and we have never been unimpressed in any way. We have hung, metaphorically, like Miss Prism from the lips of every noble Lord who has spoken. But I wonder whether that enthusiasm and respect would long survive the knowledge that a noble Lord who sat here by hereditary right or by Writ of Summons—in spite of the answer of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor a little earlier; perhaps we ought to be more precise—had detained us, however learnedly and entertainingly, when we knew, in the final analysis, that that noble Lord could not affect the final decision of the House because he did not enjoy the privilege of a vote.

As a former business manager in the House, I suspect that the Chief Whip and the Leader of the House, or perhaps their opposition opposite numbers, would increasingly find themselves the subject of complaints about some Peers keeping the House up purely because they were exercising rights which were different from the rights of other noble Lords. We would find two classes of Member who inevitably would be treated as such.

It has been one of the glories of your Lordships' House so far that all noble Lords who are Members of the present House, whether life Peers or hereditary Peers, are treated alike. There have sometimes been jibes from the Government Front Bench during the course of the present Parliament when votes have gone against the Government and they have endeavoured to say that that was entirely the fault of the presence of hereditary Peers. They are entitled to point that out. But I think that I am right in saying that when the noble Baroness the Leader of the House and her myrmidon, the Government Chief Whip, have been moved to make such remarks, it has in no way been in the spirit that under present circumstances any Member of your Lordships' House does not have the right to exercise that vote. They merely wish to remove that right; but while we still have that right, they acknowledge that we have the right to exercise it.

I suspect that if noble Lords were allowed by hereditary right to sit in your Lordships' House, as my noble friend proposes, and they were to venture to keep your Lordships up, as I am doing even now at a late hour, very soon for practical reasons they would find themselves the object of second-class status or discrimination of one kind or another.

I ask my noble friend to consider whether it is wise in any chamber to have two classes of member. As soon as it happens not only does it engender the kind of irritation that I have endeavoured to describe, together with the example that I have given, but it will begin to encourage invidious comparisons between members. Inevitably, different Members in the House with different rights will find themselves subject to all kinds of different treatment. I regard that as deeply injurious to the present harmonious relations between people who sit in this House having arrived by different routes.

While it is sensible to listen with respect and admiration to my noble friend, I wonder whether his Amendment No.30A carries with it more practical dangers whatever be the technical rights and wrongs of the case. I believe that he was very courageous in advance to quarrel with the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, on this matter.

Lord Carter

The noble Viscount referred to me as a myrmidon. I have looked up the word and see that it means either a hired ruffian or lowly servant. I just wonder which of the two the noble Viscount had in mind.

Viscount Cranborne

I would never regard the noble Lord the Government Chief Whip as a ruffian. He has certainly been hired, so perhaps that part of the description fits. Servant? Surely not. Perhaps I should find a better and more elegant word and I therefore withdraw the appellation.

The Earl of Northesk

I should like to address the question of personal and property rights raised by my noble friend Lord Norrie. Notwithstanding our first debate this afternoon on the issue of the Writ of Summons, I remain confused by the phase on the face of the Bill a member of the House of Lords". Consequently, as a first port of call can the Minister assist the Committee by advising where the statutory precedent for its use is to be found. It is my understanding that it has never been used before in an Act of Parliament.

No one should have any reason to doubt that the Government are aware that the concept of a hereditary peerage is not defined in statute; rather, as we are all aware—and I hope that I do not trespass on the sensibilities of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor as to its arcane nature—its definition is to be found in case law and precedent developed over time in line with the evolutionary character of our constitution.

Happily, consultations with the Library of this House on the point have elicited two key cases this century which have had the effect of restating the essential criteria to be considered in this context. First, there is the judgment in the claim of Viscountess Rhondda in 1922: A peerage is an inalienable incorporeal hereditament created by the act of the Sovereign which, if and when he creates it, carries with it certain attributes which attach to it not by any reason of any grant of those attributes by the Crown, but as essentially existing at common law by reason of the enablement created by the grant of the peerage". Secondly, the 1994 edition of Halsbury's Laws of England, following upon the Norfolk Earldom case of 1907. states: 'Peerage' may he defined as a dignity to which is attached the right to a summons by name to sit and vote in Parliament". My further researches on this point add considerable weight to the principles contained in the two passages that I have cited. In a debate on the viscountcy of my noble friend Lord Oxfuird in 1977 the noble and learned Lord. Lord Keith of Kinkel, commented (albeit in a case involving a Scottish peerage) thus: First of all, I suggest that it is desirable to understand the nature of a Scottish peerage. It is a species of heritable property which descends to heirs according to the canons which, in the law of Scotland, are appropriate to the descent of any kind of heritable property, and of course your Lordship will apareciate that land is the most important kind of heritable property-. —[Official Report, 27/6/77; co1.900.] Noble Lords will of course appreciate that land is the most important part of heritable property.

In the same debate, Lord Fraser of Tullybelton developed this theme: It seems to me that to deprive a small group of persons … of what is already a vested right, if they are able to prove it, without compensation and without very good reason, would be entirely wrong". —f Official Report, 27/6/77; col.910.] It is also worth noting that the Redesdale Committee's Third Report on Dignity of a Peer of the Realm, dated 1822, observes that, a peerage being a hereditament created de novo it can have no existence but according to the terms of its creation and must cease to exist the moment there should be a failure of those to whom it may be given by the words of the patent". I offer your Lordships one more quotation, from the Cowley v. Cowley case in 1901: the dignities of the peerage having been originally annexed to lands were considered as tenements or incorporeal hereditaments wherein a person might have a real estate; and although dignities are now become little more than personal honours and rights yet they are still classed under the head of real property". I cite those precedents for the record merely to support the substance of my noble friend's contention that property rights attach to the existence of a hereditary peerage.

In the circumstances, I simply ask the Government whether they in turn accept this or whether, despite those precedents, they have some other perceptions about this matter.

The Viscount of Oxfuird

My noble friend Lord Northesk quoted my own family peerage case, but what concerns me tonight is what is legal or illegal.

I am minded of the visit of Peter the Great of Russia to Westminster Hall in 1697. He was brought in by his guide and was shown this great building, which was defined as the greatest building in Europe. He saw people walking across the steps and asked who they were. His guide said, "Your Imperial Highness, they are lawyers". He said, "I have but two lawyers in my entire kingdom and I am minded to behead one of them the very day I return".

We have heard the manifesto of the Labour Party. Where stands the law in this matter? We have to debate for long hours in this Chamber. We are not taking the advice of our predecessors. I wonder whether I may remind noble Lords of my own peerage case—or rather, my late kinsman's peerage case—in which Lord Keith of Kinkel said: My Lords, the law on this problem is not an arcane one. It is entirely clear to those who are instructed and experienced in the law of Scotland about heritable property, and I suggest that it is a body of law which could not he repealed, as is suggested by the noble Lord"— he was referring to Lord Molson— without upsetting the whole basis of Scots peerage law. It would be possible perhaps to introduce by Act of Parliament some form of prescription of peerages, a species of limitation, but that would he an exception to the basic principle of Scots law that hereditable rights never prescribe. There is this consideration, too, my Loris: that having in view that every peerage not extinct or attained is vested in someone, even though he does not at present receive a Writ to attend, to introduce this prescription would involve taking away vested rights, and I do not think that this is a principle which is readily accepted in any Act of Parliament, at least not without some compensation being provided for". —[Official Report, 2716177; col.902.] What concerns me is that we speak of the law, and we are disinclined to refer to it. I am not a lawyer, but there are moments in this Chamber when we need guidance. I hope that the noble Lord on the Front Bench will give us firm and direct guidance in this matter.

Lord Trefgarne

My noble friend Lord Norrie raised a number of points. However, one point is perhaps more crucial than others. I hope that the Minister will address it. I refer to the concept of the property rights that attach to a peerage—indeed, the property rights attached to membership of this House which are being removed from the hereditary Peers. Is it the Government's view that there is no property right attached to membership of this House, and that therefore the Bill can be passed with equanimity?

A number of people have suggested to me that there are property rights attached to membership of this House. There are certainly property rights attached to a peerage generally. However, the peerage in its entirety is not being removed from hereditary Peers, but just the right to sit, vote and speak in this House. As noble Lords will recall, not only is the right to sit, vote and speak being removed, but also the so-called "club rights". Perhaps there is some benefit attached to those.

I hope that the Government have considered the matter and that the noble Lord will reply to it.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

This Bill is nothing to do with the abolition of the hereditary peerage. It is perhaps worth stating that. The noble Viscount, Lord Oxfuird, who spoke penultimately, said that we speak of law often and rarely refer to it. I think that I have listened to every speech on every occasion dealing with reform of this Chamber, and that has not been my listening experience.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Norrie, for moving Amendment No.14A and speaking to Amendments Nos.30A and 68A so courteously and fully. My noble friend Lord Strabolgi pointed out certain defects in the amendments. He put the points crisply: that the amendments were basically unsound and based on a false premise. Apart from that, there are other defects. The noble Lord argues, and I take up the challenge put by the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, that hereditary Peers have personal and property rights to enter, sit and speak in this House, and that to remove their places in this House is a denial of those rights. I repeat: this is nothing to do with hereditary titles or dignities. It has to do with the right to sit in a legislature. The right to sit in the upper Chamber of the legislature is not a property right. I shall develop that argument in a moment. I am answering as plainly as I can the question posed by the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne.

At Second Reading—it seems a long time ago, but it is not so temporally—the noble Viscount, Lord Torrington, said that the Letters Patent were a contract irrevocable even by an Act of Parliament. That is the absolutist, Bourbon view. I reject it. I do not think that it is sustainable politically, morally, socially or legally. I believe that the sovereignty of Parliament subsists and matters, and Parliament is sovereign. The world may change, but the contra-argument is that hereditary Peers are entitled, as a matter of right and as a matter of law, to their place in Parliament; that the hereditary Peers will in fact go on for ever. That is where we part company. It is said that any Act passed after the removal of the hereditary element would be invalid. That is plainly wrong for the reasons set out by the Lord Chancellor on earlier occasions. The terms of Letters Patent are not sacrosanct.

It is put to me that I ought to offer an example or two, so I shall. As your Lordships are fully aware, the Titles Deprivation Act 1917 provided for all privileges and rights to any dignity or title, whether in respect of a peerage or under Royal Warrant or Letters Patent, to cease and determine in respect of all Peers who supported the Germans during the First World War. So we are not rushing on heedlessly into establishing a new precedent.

It is well established law that Letters Patent are not sacrosanct. In the case of Viscountess Rhondda, to pronounce the name correctly, the Committee for Privileges does not accept the proposition that an Act of Parliament could not vary Letters Patent. We have the further example, which has been referred to on an occasion or two tonight, of Section 6 of the Peerage Act 1963 which overrode the terms of Letters Patent to give the right to sit in this House to Peeresses.

It is asserted, and I dispute it, that there is a personal property right to sit in this House. The noble Lord put his argument on two bases, and I believe that I summarise it fairly and briefly. One was the Statue of Westminster and the other was the European Convention on Human Rights. A number of us here, not least my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer sitting behind me and marginally to my left, introduced that with a good deal of pleasure. I am glad that our efforts have proved not to be entirely in vain, since it is designed for all citizens of this country to have their rights repatriated, but it will not help the noble Lord, Lord Norrie. The right to sit in this House is not a possession. It is not a piece of property like a house, a piece of land, a mountain bicycle or a video machine.

I listened to the noble Lord's argument with care and he gave as an example the Turkish litigation. That is nothing to this point because we are not excluding a group from participation in the legislative process. Quite the opposite; in this Bill will be seen the taking away of the long historic injustice that hereditary Peers are not able to vote in parliamentary elections. We are putting that right by giving those who have been deprived politically and legally their full entitlement to participate.

Noble Lords

Hear, hear!

Lord Williams of Mostyn

I am sorry that your Lordships are treating that point with levity, because it is extremely important that we are now visiting the underprivileged with their full rights. If they were not in prison—

Viscount Cranborne

Perhaps the Minister—

Noble Lords


Lord Williams of Mostyn

Perhaps I may finish my sentence because it is too good a point to miss. At least if they were not in prison they were disenfranchised and I still visited them.

Viscount Cranborne

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. Does he slightly exaggerate the generosity of the Government in this respect? After all, perhaps one of the reasons why Peers have been unable to vote in parliamentary elections is that they have a right to sit in one of the Houses of Parliament. If the Government intend to take away from certain existing Members of your Lordships' House their right to sit here, perhaps it is only equitable that they should be given the opportunity to vote in parliamentary elections for another place. I know that the noble Lord was displaying his usual rapier-like wit at our expense, but, nonetheless, perhaps he will admit that it was not merely the righting of a long-lost wrong; it was the taking away of one privilege and the granting of another in exchange.

10.15 p.m.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

I am sorry that with my lack of rapier-like wit I was unable to make my point plain. My point is that it is a good idea to treat everyone who lives in this country equally. That is the fundamental point of the Bill and the fundamental point of the Human Rights Act, now triumphantly on the statute book. Part of the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Norrie, deals with what I think I could call a conceptual vote, which is certainly novel to me. What he proposed, if I studied his amendment correctly, is that hereditary Peers should be entitled to vote, but that their vote should not be counted.

It would be wrong of me to say that that is a novel constitutional device in the whole history of the world, but it certainly strikes me as bizarre. If I had proposed it, the first to have objected would have been the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, saying that it would be quite wrong that those who voted would have a vote that should be disregarded. The noble Viscount made that point. I certainly would object to that. It would be deeply dismissive of those who had a vote but were not able to have it counted.

The noble Lord, Lord Norrie, also raised a question which demonstrated a pleasant proposition to me; namely. that at least two Members of the Committee were awake. One was the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, and the other was me. As soon as the noble Lord, Lord Norrie, mentioned this question we interrogated each other. the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, wondering idly whether I would fall into the trap and. I praying, nobly or ignobly, that I would not. The noble Lord, Lord Norrie, asked two questions: first, what was Her Majesty's view and, secondly, had we taken Her Majesty's view? As the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, well knows, that would be a wholly illegitimate set of questions for me to reply to, and accordingly I do not, on well-known constitutional bases.

The question of the Statute of Westminster has nothing to do with this at all. We are not interfering with the powers of the sovereign in the slightest way. Therefore, the extant dominions have no proper interest in these matters.

I know that a number of Members of the Committee are concerned about what may or may not happen. I have read with great care the different amendments—they are slightly different in shade and effect—that the noble Lord, Lord Norrie, has put forward. There is no exit that will he satisfactory, because we have come to our distinct conclusions. I have said on a number of occasions, because I mean it, that I recognise that other Members of the Committee have deeply held views. There will be no safeguard, beyond the possibility of the Weatherill amendment—and I say this with great care, without any aggression, malice or ill-thought—because we believe that the continuation of the hereditary principle, the capricious donation of birth, in the House of Lords, is no longer sustainable. That is the purpose behind our legislation. There is nothing by way of device or alternative, cosmetic amendment that will be acceptable to us.

Lord Northbrook

The noble Lord, Lord Norrie, mentioned the claim of Lady Rhondda. The speech of Viscount Birkenhead, the then Lord Chancellor is interesting. He said: What, then, becomes of the suggestion that the right to sit is not a right granted by Letters Patent? Literally it is true. The Letters Patent require the supplement of a writ. But they give a right to demand that writ and impose an obligation to receive it and to act upon it ". I should be interested to hear the Minister's comments on this speech.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

Viscount Birkenhead, sitting as Lord Chancellor, held that there was no need to interpret the Act, because there was no sustainable proposition that no Act could overturn the terms of Letters Patent. Letters Patent, I submit, because I believe this to be legally correct, cannot be above the general law of the land. The noble Lord, Lord Norrie, placed a good deal of emphasis on common law, on historical tradition. The fact is that no aspect of common law is capable of being sustained if Parliament decides the contrary by way of statute.

The Earl of Northesk

I too apologise to the Minister for my sub-standard pronunciation. I am but a humble Scots boy.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

I do my best to pronounce English words and sometimes I succeed.

Lord Norrie

I am delighted that my amendments have caused such massive reaction from noble Lords on the Benches opposite and I am happy too to see the smiles on their faces at this late hour. I thank the Minister for his extremely courteous and informative reply. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Lyell)

Before I call Amendment No.15, I must advise the Committee that if Amendment No.15 is accepted, I shall not be able to call Amendment No.16.

The Earl of Kinnoull moved Amendment No.15:

Page 1, line 5, after ("No-one") insert ("who after the day on which this Act is passed succeeds to a hereditary peerage")

The noble Earl said: I shall be very brief. Because of something of a mix-up in the Committee immediately after the dinner break, my noble friend Lord Caithness moved extremely ably and spoke to the amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Randall; that is, Amendments Nos.14, 29 and 109. At that time, it was my intention to speak to this amendment but the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, said that it had been agreed that Amendments Nos.15 and 21 should be taken together.

The purpose of the amendment is to avoid disruption to the working of the House as it moves into its interim period. That is the message. I do not intend to argue the point other than to refer to the excellent and persuasive speech of the noble Lord, Lord Randall, last week on the whole subject. I suggest that on that occasion he received a dusty answer from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, who said that the amendment would undermine the very foundation of the Government's Bill.

But how will the foundation of the Bill fare in the light of the Weatherill amendment? Is there a case for underpinning? I beg to move.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

We have debated this matter fully already. The amendment seeks to keep the 750 hereditary Peers who are already here to make up the alleged deficiencies of what will be a House with 500 life Peers. Even with the life Peers alone, this will be the largest second Chamber in the world. We have gone over those points time and time again and I shall not repeat them. The effect of the noble Earl's proposal is that the hereditary Peers would not be removed for 60 years and that 50 per cent would still he there after 15 years. That is in order to supplement what will still be the largest second Chamber in the world.

The Earl of Kinnoull

We heard the argument in relation to the 60 years last Tuesday when it was pointed out that we shall be in an interim period. That could not possibly last for 60 years.

Will the noble and learned Lord reply to my specific question about why this amendment would cause such massive disruption to the Government's Bill compared with the Weatherill amendment, which will also cause disruption?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

The noble Earl said that it was in order to keep the House going. I am pointing out that with 500 life Peers, I believe the House will adequately survive.

The Earl of Kinnoull

The noble and learned Lord said last week that the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Randall, would undermine the very foundation of the Government's Bill. I suggest that the Weatherill amendment does that too. What is the difference?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

The difference between the Weatherill amendment and this amendment is that 750 hereditary Peers survive under the "Randall amendment", if I may so call it, whereas 659 of those 750 go under the Weatherill amendment. That is the difference.

The Earl of Kinnoull

I thank the Minister for that mathematical reply. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Earl Ferrers moved Amendment No.16.

Page 1, line 5. leave out ("shall be") and insert ("who is")

The noble Earl said: In moving Amendment No.16 I should like to speak also to Amendment No.22. The effect of that amendment is that no one who is a Member of the House of Lords by virtue of a hereditary peerage, shall be entitled to vote in that House or in any committee of that House".

I suggest that that should satisfy all members of the Front Bench opposite. The great complaint is that the Conservative Party buses in great numbers of Members to vote down Labour governments of the day. That is totally untrue, but that is the accusation. However, if we cannot vote, that is perfectly all right and the Government have nothing to worry about. They will carry all their votes and a great time will be had by all.

I am a little windy about putting this suggestion to the Committee because I am aware that the Front Bench opposite is wary of our amendments. The noble Baroness the Leader of the House implied that she was fed up with having to repeat the same answers time and again. The fact is that if the Government cause upheaval to the whole of one House of Parliament they cannot expect it to go unnoticed. It is perfectly right that this Chamber should ask the Government what they are doing, why they are doing it and should penetrate their reasons. That is why I have no hesitation in putting forward the amendment.

All the members of the Front Bench—I say this with great courtesy, I believe—have done a tremendous job of saying nothing. They have put their heads down, rather like a Hereford bull, charged ahead and said, "Get rid of hereditary Peers; that is all we care about. We are not going to move to the left or to the right. We will not listen to any kind of argument. All we want to do is to get rid of the hereditary Peers."

The noble Baroness the Leader of the House said. I believe at Second Reading: It is my belief that the most thoughtful among the hereditary Peers"—

I am not one of those— of all political persuasions, know that the time has come to say, `Thank you and goodbye'".

I do not believe that the time has come to say thank you and goodbye. I think the time has come to say. "Thank you and please continue. " I apologise to the noble Baroness. Those remarks were made during the House of Lords reform debate of 14th October, not at Second Reading. The noble Baroness has perhaps changed her view since then. I have just refreshed my memory of what she said in that debate. She stated: Perhaps I may emphasise again that the purpose of this debate is to take stock and to listen to your Lordships". —[0fficial Report, 14/10/98; cols.921–2.]

I have to say that when I read that, I practically fell off my chair. I do not believe that the noble Baroness has listened very much. She has listened as if to a noise like dripping water in the background that she has to push to one side as being a great bore. The Government are making a considerable change. It is right that we should ask the Government why they are making it and test them as to whether they believe it is the right thing to do.

The noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate—

Noble Lords


Earl Ferrers

What did I say? I thought I said "the Lord Advocate".

Noble Lords

He is not the Lord Advocate.

10.30 p.m.

Earl Ferrers

I apologise. I was trying to be polite. the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, stated that there were 570 life Peers and that that should be enough to look after the interests of everyone. Frankly, I believe that an appalling amount of humbug goes on about this. There are many life Peers on the side of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, as well as on our side, who play no part at all. Many hereditary Peers play no part at al]. That does not matter. Those who play a part are told by the noble Baroness that the time has come to say goodbye to them; those who do not play a part are told that they are backwoodsmen and do not care what is going on. So hereditary Peers cannot win.

I could not help but be slightly amazed at the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Warner. I warned him that I would refer to it. He said, we still have a second Chamber with a potential size of nearly 1.300 Members and with a current maximum attendance of about 1, 150…The poor Americans and Canadians bumble along with a little over 100 in their senates. The Germans do even better with only about 70. The French seriously overdose"— an unfortunate expression— with over 300 in their Senate. Even when the hereditary Peers have been removed from this House, there will be over 500 life Peers and Bishops". —[official Report, 30/3/99; col.360.] So the argument went, "Get rid of all the hereditary Peers and we will be perfectly all right because we will still have 500 of them".

The noble Lord went on to say: Around 50 per cent of the adult population are women and 7 per cent, ire from ethnic minorities", and the Chamber does not reflect that. He then said at col.361: Basically, we are a club for older white males and are seen as such by many people outside this Chamber". I must say I wondered why the noble Lord bothered to become a Member merely to contribute to the problem. He contributes by adding to the "white males"; he contributes by adding to the ethnicity problem; and he contributes by adding to the gender problem. Anyhow, he has had the advantage of being here for six months and he gave us the benefit of his view which is that, after 600 years, your Lordships should be asked to go away.

The purpose of my speech is to say to the Committee that this is a very helpful amendment. I believe that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, is to respond to this amendment. I want to tell him that it is an extremely helpful amendment. He will get all that he wants. Hereditary Peers will not be able to vote and therefore they will not capsize the voting arrangements. But they will he able to contribute.

What is the harm in that? Members of this Chamber and many other people have referred to the expertise in your Lordships' House. I am sure noble Lords opposite think that all the expertise comes from life Peers. I am sure that a lot comes from life Peers, but quite a lot comes from hereditary Peers. If it is expertise that is wanted, let us hear about it. Let us bring all the knowledge that is available, from whatever source, into your Lordships' Chamber. When it comes to the crunch point and having a vote, hereditary Peers need not vote, and, indeed, would not be able to vote.

But what would happen in matters of heritage, art and agriculture if all the hereditary Peers were to go? I introduced a debate on agriculture just over one year ago in which only two speakers were from the party opposite. The majority of people who know about agriculture tend to be on this side of the Chamber, I leave it to Members of the Committee to decide why. I do not know who knows about agriculture in another place, but not many. Although many Members represent agricultural constituencies, they are mostly solicitors. teachers—or something funny like that—or sociologists: they are not agriculturists.

Agriculture is a great part of our heritage. Around 80 per cent of the countryside is covered by land, hut that: will not be reflected in another place or in this House if all the hereditary Peers go. I am sure that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, knows a lot about all facets of the law, as does his noble friend Lord Williams of Mostyn; but I do not know whether they know one end of a bullock from another. They may take the view that they do not like both ends and the middle is uncomfortable. Either way, it is important that people should know about the countryside and should care about what is going on there. Those views should be expressed. The noble Lord, Lord Carter, is pointed out to me. It is perfectly true that the noble Lord knows a lot about the countryside; but one man on the Government Front Bench is not many. Indeed, noble Lords opposite point with great glee to all the Peers sitting on the Front Bench here, and to all those sitting behind me. Of course they know about agriculture. I am also looking over there. If they know about agriculture, why did only two of their number take part in a debate which consisted of 35 speakers?

In fact, there is a good deal of expertise, not just in agriculture—indeed, it would be too childish to say so—but in many other respects, which can have a vent in this House. I venture to suggest that that is a good thing. Noble Lords may wonder who would come to this House and speak if they did not have the ability to vote. If they did not come here because they could not vote, noble Lords opposite would be quite content. They would say, "Well, people can come but they don't bother to do so. We can carry on quite happily without them".

I really cannot see what the objection is to saying that noble Lords and the hereditary peerage can continue. After all, the latter have been here for hundreds of years—indeed, noble Lords opposite cannot just regard it as something which is of no value at all and which can be quietly brushed aside. It is of value and cannot be pushed to one side. I cannot see why that cannot continue with hereditary Peers, and so on, being able to participate and talk but not to vote; and, incidentally, being able to come and participate in what happens in your Lordships' House.

If one has been a very good Foreign Secretary, such as my noble and learned friend Lord Howe, one might get promoted—some would say he was promoted—and be sent to the House of Lords. Indeed, my noble friend Lord Hurd was a very distinguished Foreign Secretary when he was in the other place. He, too, was promoted and came to this place. My noble friend Lord Carrington was also a very distinguished Foreign Secretary, but what will happen to him? He will get thrown out. That cannot be right. He will not be allowed to come into the House. He will not be allowed to come in and have lunch. Even retired bishops can come in and have lunch. If you are a Member of the House of Commons and you get thrown out, you can go there and have lunch. But, under the Government's Bill, if you are a Member of the House of Lords, they say: "No, we don't want anything to do with you at all. Go out, and never come in again".

I am quite sure that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, is a very genial character; indeed, I can see that in his face. We can all tell people's characters from what they look like. He will understand the reasoning behind this amendment. You cannot throw out 600 years of history and say, rather like kicking a bit of muck out of the house, "We don't want that any more". The fact is—I can understand this—they do not want hereditary Peers to come and vote. I understand that even if I do not accept it. However, there is really no reason why hereditary Peers should not participate and try to contribute to what is going on here thereby helping some noble Lords who are a little deficient in certain knowledgeable matters. Indeed, they could help your Lordships to come to conclusions upon which you could then enjoy voting—something in which the hereditary Peers would not be able to participate.

On reflection, I hope that the noble and learned Lord will consider that this is an acceptable amendment. I should remind him that one of the arts of getting a difficult Bill through is to accept certain amendments—in other words, throw the dogs a bone and keep them happy. Noble Lords opposite really have been deeply stubborn over all this. They have not moved an inch; as I said, they have just put their heads down like Hereford bulls and charged ahead. This would be a good opportunity for them to show that they really are quite understanding and that they would be prepared to help and give a little. If they were to do so, we would all make a good deal of progress and be a lot happier. Indeed, the Government would have conceded nothing of value. I beg to move.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees

I should advise Members of the Committee that if Amendment No.16 is accepted I shall not be able to call Amendments Nos.17 or 17A.

The Earl of Longford

I rise to express my support for the proposal put forward by the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers. Of course, I do so as a good Labour man of 63 years' standing. I joined the party, having started in the wrong direction, many years before the present Prime Minister was born. So I come forward as a good Labour man. In 1968 when I was the Leader of the House I brought the measure forward and it was supported by the Labour government, the Conservative leaders and everyone else, including the Liberals who were then mostly Labour if I remember rightly. But at any rate that was good Labour doctrine. So do not let us have any idea that it was some kind of strange perverted heresy.

The noble Earl was humorous about this matter. I speak with just as strong a feeling. Now having reached advanced years my sight is not so good and I cannot tell the difference between a life Peer and a hereditary when I look at them. I cannot even tell the difference between their speeches although my hearing is perfectly sound. They both seem to talk good sense. I realise that we see only some of the hereditaries here. Out of 750 hereditaries, a small proportion attend. It is no good trying to defend 750 hereditary Peers and their right to attend when two-thirds of them do not attend at all, or seldom attend. Therefore, the case for fundamentally altering the arrangements is irresistible. To prove that, I stayed up with the help of the Chief Whip and his unique staff until three in the morning to vote for a Second Reading. Nevertheless one could perfectly well tack on this proposal. It was accepted all those years ago by the Labour government of the time. There has been no real change since. The only argument produced by a government spokesman on the Front Bench the other day was that there were not many life Peers then. I do not think that that is a convincing argument. Either the measure made sense in those days or it makes sense now. Personally, I think it makes sense now.

I shall go to my grave saying that this House is a valuable House. I believe in this House; I believe in it as it is now. That does not mean that it is perfect; it needs reform, but reforms usually involve some damage somewhere. I want to minimise the damage. There will be grave damage if some of our best Members are kicked out, sacked and excluded. As I say, that will damage the House. The House will be a worse place without them. I am afraid therefore that I strongly support this amendment.

Lord Goodhart

We have had an interesting discussion on various versions of voting rights this evening. We started with the noble Lord, Lord Randall, who proposed that certain Members of your Lordships' House should have weighted votes. We then had the noble Lord, Lord Norrie, who proposed that certain Members of your Lordships' House should have weightless votes. Now we have heard the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, propose that certain Members of your Lordships' House should have no votes at all.

I had intended to make a speech to explain why we oppose the amendment of the noble Earl, but I have decided not to do so, not only because of the hour but also because I have decided that I could not possibly have put the case against first and second-class Members of your Lordships' House more clearly than the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, during the debate on Amendment No.14A. I am happy, therefore, to rest my case by endorsing everything that he said on that subject.

Lord Eden of Winton

As I understand it, this amendment goes right back to the very root of the Labour Party's manifesto commitment. I think I am right in saying that the Labour Party's manifesto commitment was presented as a reform of the House of Lords and a reform of Parliament. There seem to me to be two main reasons why the Labour Party put that forward and why it thought that it would achieve a great deal of support.

As I understand them, the two reasons are the following. First of all, there was the "class" factor, if I can call it that—the resentment that anyone by right of birth should be entitled to a place in Parliament and to exercise power over the legislative processes of Parliament. I think that that is an understandable point of view although I find it on the whole an unworthy position for a political party of this country to adopt.

The second reason was resentment against the built- in, weighted majority of the Conservative Party in this House, which the Labour Party understandably sought to rectify so that matters came into balance. That was the way it was presented. The two points were made strongly by government spokesmen at Second Reading, and riot just in this House; they were made forcefully in another place. The resentment against the inherited rights was made perfectly clear on the grounds that they had been acquired by birth and that they contributed to the incorrect, unworthy or unjustified balance in this House. That is the position.

If I have not expressed those points in the way that Members on the Benches opposite would express them, I apologise. Nevertheless, I believe that those are the two basic sentiments which inspired the inclusion of this reference in the Labour Party manifesto. There is no reform there—there is change, yes. If it had been about reform, we should not be going through all the paraphernalia of a Royal Commission, a Joint Committee of both Houses and consideration of all these factors. Had it been about reform, the Labour Party would have had its proposals ready and waiting. It was not about reform; it was about two elements that were a feature of the representation in this House against which the Labour Party had strong feelings of resentment.

The amendment proposed by my noble friend Lord Ferrers meets that very point. It removes the right to vote in this place by virtue of being an hereditary Peer. Is not that what the Labour Party manifesto said? It also removes the undue, over-weighted balance of votes on the part of the Conservative Party in this House. Is not that what the manifesto was all about? So I cannot understand why the Government should not accept my noble friend's amendment. It seems an eminently sensible, modest, moderate proposal, supported by the noble Earl opposite, who has long experience, and it fully meets the commitment in the manifesto. I very much hope that the Minister will accept it.

Lord Peston

Perhaps we on this side may be allowed to join in. It seems to me that some of the arguments proposed are simply wrong. I have tried desperately to understand the position of the Opposition on these matters and to look for rational argument.

The fundamental position with which I am concerned and, listening to the views from the Front Bench, my party is concerned, is that the hereditary principle is simply wrong. That is the beginning and end of the matter. It has nothing to do with the quality of the hereditary Peers.

Lord Eden of Winton

I apologise for interrupting the noble Lord. He said that the hereditary principle is wrong. As I understand it, the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, was at pains to make clear that what he was concerned to change was the right by heredity to sit and vote in this House. There was no question of attacking the fundamental principle of heredity, which continues.

Lord Peston

The noble Lord does not understand what I am saying, although he produced exactly the right words. It is not acceptable in any legislature of any parliament that people should sit, legislate, speak arid vote as a result of a hereditary position. That is the beginning, the end and the whole of it. It has nothing to do with the quality of hereditary Peers. I stand second to none in my admiration of many of them. I would never argue that they are somehow inferior to me or make a poorer contribution.

Perhaps I may say directly to the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, in terms of his quality, that he will not lose the right to be a nominated Peer. Some of us would very much welcome him, and others, here in that form. But it is intolerable that anybody at all—including noble Lords on this side of the House—should sit here simply because their fathers were here before them. That is the only principle involved. It has nothing to do with personal denigration; it has nothing to do with lack of appreciation. It certainly has nothing to do with agriculture. The notion that somehow or other that is the key element in the future of our great country is about as preposterous an argument as I have heard in many a long time—and, as the noble Earl knows, I have sat through many preposterous arguments. I have even put forward one or two myself.

That is why some of us are bewildered beyond belief as to what the Opposition are up to. The issue starts with the hereditary principle and ends with the hereditary principle. We are opposed to it. I am looking around and I can see several noble Lords whom I still regard as my friends. I would like to see them remain here. Under most of the likely reforms, the leaders of their parties will be in a position to nominate them, but they would then be here in their own right having been so nominated, as I am. They would be no worse than me. That would be their position.

Viscount Montgomery of Alamein

Can the noble Lord explain why nominated Peers have this great democratic principle at heart? Why should anyone who is nominated be any more democratic than someone who happens to be here by virtue of winning the genetic lottery?

Lord Peston

We are now going back to the beginning of our debates on this. The reason is that nominated Peers, whether on the opposition side—there are several nominated Peers there—or on this side—I am not saying that we are any good—were nominated by Prime Ministers and Leaders of the Opposition. That opportunity is still available to noble Lords opposite.

That is what the argument is about. It is not about who is better or who is worse, who are friends or who are enemies; it is about the hereditary principle which I heard my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor and my noble friends on the Front Bench argue against a few hours ago. Perhaps I may say to the noble Lord. Lord Eden, that I should like to believe that I would hold that view even if overwhelmingly the hereditary Peers were all socialists.

Baroness Knight of Collingtree

Before the noble Lord sits down, there are many on this side of the House who are considerably puzzled by what is being said on the other. The noble Lord has twice said that the hereditary principle is wrong. Will he say whether he extends that view to the Throne?

Lord Peston

That is an absurd question with which to intervene. We are discussing a House of Parliament within a parliamentary democracy. I am not for one moment suggesting that the eldest child of the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, cannot inherit his title; assuming that the noble Earl has great lands—I do not know whether he has or not—I am not for one moment suggesting that he cannot pass them on; I am not even suggesting that his genetic make-up and that of his dear wife cannot be passed on to his children. I am simply saying that no rational philosopher, when considering parliamentary democracy, would remotely argue for a hereditary peerage. That is what the Bill is about. It is not about the relative quality of hereditary Peers and life Peers. We have had at least five days of Second Reading-type debate; we are to have three days in Committee; and I am told that we have many more days to come. I should like to focus on the one central theme and agree that we disagree—I am not saying for one moment that we do not disagree—but we should forget all the extraneous stuff which keeps coming up and which simply has nothing to do with what the Bill is about. That is all I am trying to say.

Lord Palmer

Along with the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, I put my name to the amendment. One of his main reasons for putting forward the idea of hereditary Peers being able to speak and not vote—I am sure he will correct me if I am wrong—is that, as the Bill stands, the House will lose a great deal of expertise. One thinks of the noble Earl, Lord Longford, after his long parliamentary career and the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, who has spent many, many years in the House. I beg the Government Front Bench to take that point on board.

As the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, said, there are noble Lords with experience of conservation and the heritage. The noble Lord, Lord Peston, seemed to say, "Forget about agriculture", but agriculture is an extremely important industry. When I initiated a debate on agriculture, 21 noble Lords put down their names to speak, of whom 17 were hereditary Peers. Without those 17 hereditary Peers, the debate would have been a non-event.

I wholeheartedly support the noble Earl's amendment. It seems to meet the point to which the Government object—the right of hereditary Peers to troop through the Lobbies. If one interviewed some noble Lords on the Government Benches after they had been through the Division Lobbies and asked them what they had been voting about, some might say, "Have I been voting?" This amendment would remove that problem.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

As I understand it, the debate is something to do with agriculture. However, the fact is that I cannot understand the amendment, although it comes from the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, a man whom I greatly admire. I disapprove of the means of nominating hereditary Peers, but I make this practical suggestion. What is to stop the nomination of the very good Tories, and others who are hereditary Peers, so that they can speak and vote? That is logical. But we should not have turned loose on us the vast mass of backwoodsmen. I have listened to some of their recent speeches. Surely it would be a great blessing if they were not allowed to speak and we were content then with the good Tory hereditary Peers who abound on those Benches.

11 p.m.

Lord Coleraine

I have put my name to this amendment and I should like, with diffidence, to support most strongly the speech of my noble friend Lord Ferrers. In my view, an interim House, retaining as a transitional measure a considerable number of non-voting hereditary Peers, is greatly to be preferred to what the Bill offers.

My noble friend's amendment deals with the question of the political imbalance of the House, but more than that can be said about it. It can be said that the House would function with 500 life Peers and it may be that, according to the lights of the Prime Minister, it would function better than the present House. But what one has to look at is cumulation and not alternatives. It is certainly true that committees would be filled, Questions would be asked, speeches would be made, amendments would be moved and Divisions would take place, but functioning in that sense is not enough. Bare functioning is not what makes a second Chamber. Important functions of this present second Chamber include the scrutiny of legislation and the interrogation of government. In performing both those functions, the continued presence in the interim House of hereditary Peers in an advisory capacity or indeed as advocates would add considerable weight to that of the 500 life Peers because of the bank of parliamentary experience that hereditary Peers carry with them.

I shall be very interested to hear what my noble friend on the Front Bench has to say about this amendment. I hope I shall not hear that it falls within the ambit of the anathema announced by the Lord Chancellor at Second Reading. Equally, I shall be interested to hear the reply of the noble and learned Lord. It is not always wise to anticipate replies, but I expect him to refer to the manifesto and the mandate and then to pick up the point hinted at by the noble Lord, Lord Peston; namely, that what matters at the moment is not so much the political balance of the House of Lords as the fact that the hereditary principle is wrong. It is clear that the noble Lord, Lord Peston, will vote against the Weatherill amendment.

However, I have today tabled an amendment to the Weatherill amendment. Had my noble friend Lord Geddes not left the Chamber, I would have told him that I do not intend to withdraw it. The amendment would reduce the number of hereditary Peers entering the interim House with votes and allow a larger counter-balancing number of hereditary Peers to remain in the interim House without votes. There is nothing permanent about this. Such an amendment can be contained in and sheltered by the Weatherill amendment. It can therefore be discussed on its merits and cannot easily he challenged legitimately on the grounds that it offends either the manifesto or the Salisbury-Addison accord.

There will be room for argument as to the appropriate balance of voting and speaking Peers. As my noble friend Lord Cranborne made clear, there will be room for argument as to whether there should be second-class Peers in this House at all. That discussion is for another time. I speak as a potential second-class Peer. All I can say to my noble friend, who, if there is any justice in this world, is a potential first-class Peer, is that it seems a little rich to be told that all Peers should be equal in this House and that therefore I, as a second-class Peer, should go.

The Earl of Erroll

First, I should like to correct the impression that all Peers have vast rolling acres. I do not farm and never have. Governments of both political colours have ensured that through taxation. I have written computer programs, designed software systems, done smartcard development and am on the Internet daily. One can have the virtual votes of the noble Lord, Lord Norrie, on the Internet very easily. Secondly, I had not realised that former MPs can have lunch in the Palace whenever they feel like it, which sounds very attractive.

Lord Eden of Winton

I believe I am right in saying that former Members of Parliament who are Members of this House may enjoy the club premises of the other place but not if they cease to be Members of Parliament.

The Earl of Erroll

I misunderstood.

I am against the idea that Peers should be able to speak without having a vote. I believe that to be a great nuisance. On the other hand, it is most important that stage two legislation goes through. If a lot of Peers are to bore everyone to death in the interim and force through stage two, I believe that to be a very good thing.

Lord Desai

I do not want to go into the question of club rights, but noble Lords will no doubt agree that any Member of this House who has left it to become a Member of the other place is perfectly free to come to have lunch here.

In the long history of de-colonisation one is again and again presented with the foreign ruler who very touchingly asks, "What will you people do without us? How will you govern yourselves? We are so good, wise and nice. We hate to leave you to your own devices because we love you. Without our wisdom, experience and knowledge, how will you carry on?". There were some lovely rulers and law-makers. The point, however, as John Stuart Mill said long ago, is that "Self-government is better than good government".

What we are saying is that, good as hereditary peers are—and they are marvellous people—there cannot be any excuse in principle for them to be here. The idea that somehow, without their great wisdom, experience, knowledge and so on we will be bereft and the world will be poorer is just tosh—if that is parliamentary language.

As my noble friend Lord Peston said, it is very hard for us on this side to comprehend why people do not understand. It is not the hereditary principle as biology. We cannot change biology. We have children: sometimes we have some property which we pass on. That is not what is being discussed. When we speak of the hereditary principle we are not simply talking about. the hereditary principle but about the right of the first-born son of a hereditary Peer to come and legislate. That is what we do not want.

Once we do not want that, with the right to speak as with the right to vote, then we just want rid of it. That is clearly stated and I do not know why we have to go through endless debate: "Do let us come. Do let us give the benefit of our wisdom". Thank you very much, but can we please get on with it and have a good second Chamber?

Lord Hamilton of Dalzell

I would much rather stay in your Lordships' House and vote and speak, but I know that I could not do that if the House is balanced and it becomes a political House—which I would regret. The reason why I could not do it is that, when I inherited my position and my properties, I also inherited what I felt was an obligation to repay some of my good fortune by taking on an element of public service. I am chairman of three charities.

I can see some merit in these amendments, because at least if one could come here one would he more useful to those people whom one serves by, in any year, having to make the points they wish to make. I am fully aware that it is not only people with hereditary peerages who have a prominent position in public service; but one of the reasons we are asked to do these things is that we have a voice in your Lordships' House, in order to make the points which arise in these situations. Such points are not always made on the Floor of this House but by what are called "the usual channels", or at least they were during the last government. I find that they tend to be rather less active under the present one. Nonetheless, things change. We do have a valuable role to play by being able to make the points of the people we serve who are less fortunate than we are by having access to your Lordships' House.

Lord Monson

My name is on Amendment No.16 because it is a paving amendment, not only to Amendment No.22 which we have been discussing but also to Amendment No.23, to which I spoke last week. I still prefer my Amendment No.23 for a variety of reasons, but I do not intend to return to it tonight. I am happy to support Amendment No.22, which achieves most of the same objectives.

Almost exactly four hours ago the noble Lord, Lord Richard, complained that acceptance of Amendment No.13 and the two amendments grouped with it would mean that Labour would continue to be unfairly defeated by the in-built Conservative majority, or, to be more accurate, the in-built non-Labour majority, for a few months longer than would otherwise be the case. The noble Lord made a perfectly valid point. But he cannot object to this amendment on those grounds. On the contrary, acceptance of this amendment would help Labour to win more victories, unless the powerful, eloquent arguments of the non-voting hereditaries convinced a number of Labour Back-Benchers to change their views and defy the diktats of their Whips. It may be that prospect which alarms the Government Front Bench.

Lord Davies of Coity

As has been said so many times in this Chamber, the Labour Government have presented a Bill to both Houses of Parliament to achieve what was mooted nearly 100 years ago: to remove the right of hereditary Peers to vote and to sit in this Chamber in order to participate in the legislative process.

The purport of Amendment No.16 is, "Yes, we accept that we can no longer vote, but we want to sit and speak". At best that seems to be a damage limitation exercise and at worst something of a begging bowl. If it is a begging bowl, I regret that the hereditary Peers are displaying a lack of dignity which I would not have expected from them.

Why would they want to sit in this Chamber to speak but not to vote? Is it to maintain club rights; or is it to attempt to frustrate the activities of a future government because of their hereditary privilege? I find it incredible that these amendments have been put before us in this Chamber. I hope that they will be withdrawn. I hope that the hereditary Peers will recognise that the Labour Government, with the support of the British people, are putting forward a Bill that is not antagonistic to individuals but to a system whose removal is long overdue.

The hereditary Peers in this House may well justify the life peerages given to them for their expertise and their contribution. But the system has to be removed. It is no longer defensible. I do not think that it has been defensible for most of this century. It is not defensible today. I hope that the Opposition will recognise the views of the Labour Government which have the support of the British people, and that hereditary Peers will go from this House with the dignity and respect that they deserve but which they will lose if they perpetuate these arguments.

Baroness Knight of Collingtree

As a life Peer, I wish to make one point in support of the amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Ferrers. I can assure noble Lords that it is not only the hereditary Peers who support the amendments. I welcome and have found most valuable the views expressed to this House by hereditary Peers. But I want to keep the Cross-Benchers. The Cross-Bench element in this House is of crucial importance. We are sweeping away all the hereditary Cross-Benchers.

Noble Lords


Baroness Knight of Collingtree

Are noble Lords opposite saying that hereditary Peers can stay on the Cross-Benches? That seemed to be the reaction. I understand that we are referring to all hereditary Peers. I understand that 70 per cent of the Cross-Benchers are hereditary Peers. Nothing has been said in the course of debates on the Bill to reassure us that we shall still have that strong element of Cross-Bench Peers. I want them. I warmly support the amendment moved by my noble friend.

Lord Ellenborough

At this late hour, I support my noble friend Lord Ferrers, and especially as I put my name down to the amendment in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Longford, which was briefly debated in the rather confused debate on Tuesday last.

I believe that the Bill becomes increasingly pointless and unnecessary as we go along, especially if full reform is on the way. The object of the exercise is to remove 750 hereditary Peers. However, since about half or more never come, they have removed themselves for practical purposes. So that does not get the Government very far.

Then if the Weatherill amendment is passed, 100 or so of the most active and most frequent attenders will remain. That, too, does not get the Government very far in their objective. That leaves some 150 hereditary Peers whose future this and similar amendments address. I refer to those hereditary Peers who come fairly often, but some relatively seldom, especially when they feel they have a contribution to make.

During the two debates on the White Paper and Second Reading, a considerable number of noble Lords spoke in favour of the proposition that most hereditary Peers would no longer have a vote but should still be entitled to speak. As other noble Lords have said, it is difficult to see what objection the Government can have to such a non-divisive and acceptable way of proceeding.

Incidentally, the Labour Party manifesto is most misleading. It is, of course, my bedtime reading, but I have yet to find a page which refers to the removal of the hereditary Peers' right to speak. The media have taken up the proposal that hereditary Peers can no longer vote, but they never say that they can no longer speak. Many people come up to me and say, "Oh dear, it is bad luck that you won't be able to vote any more, but never mind because you will be able to speak".

In any case, the whole proposition of non-voting Peers was endorsed by the Labour government of 1968, in particular by such eminent Labour figures as the late Richard Crossman and the noble Earl, Lord Longford. The whole thrust was to provide for the need for the participation of a considerable number of part-time hereditary Peers with wide interests and experience who could make useful contributions. With or without the Weatherill amendment, that still makes sense. It deals successfully with the problem of the in-built Conservative majority and the hereditary principle and it provides continuity at least for as long as the transitional House exists.

The criticism made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, was that hereditary Peers coming to speak is no longer necessary because compared with 1968 there are so many more life Peers now. The only problem is that so many life Peers do not attend.

11.15 p.m.

Baroness Park of Monmouth

I thank my noble friend Lady Knight and I support the amendment because I am as concerned about defence and what will be said about it in this House as others have been about agriculture. I remember a defence debate last year with 35 speakers. Only two came from that side of the House. That is very serious.

I recognise that the Royal Commission will produce proposals for bringing expertise of every kind into this House. It may well solve that problem then, but in the mean time we could have a gap if the Government have their way. I believe that it is incumbent on us to consider our responsibility in that respect. We are better informed here than are Members in the other place. That is partly a matter of age and experience because most of the people in the other place, and most of the new arrivals here, are too young even to have done national service.

I am not being prejudiced; I am concerned about a very important subject. I hope that consideration will be given to that in our debates.

Lord Strathclyde

The most interesting speech I have heard tonight was that of the noble Lord, Lord Peston. He said that he did not know the position of the Opposition. Clearly, he did not sit through as many of the Second Reading speeches that were made from these Front Benches as I did. I shall refer him back to Second Reading and the speeches made from this Front Bench. He might then care to examine the report of my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern, where he will see another furtherance of a Tory position which is forward-thinking, and then he will contrast both those positions with that of his own party.

Lord Peston

I entirely concede that I have not had the stamina to listen to as many speeches as the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, and that is a weakness on my part. But what I do not understand is this: the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, in his brilliant report, which I have read, entirely accepts that the hereditary Peers must go. That is the beginning and the end of all this. What I am trying to work out, as a devoted Member of the House of Lords, is what the rest of all these amendments are about.

I am quite innocent in this matter. From my reading of his report, the position of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, and the position of his party is that the hereditary Peers must go. I just want to know what is going on here, day in, day out. That is all, and it is very simple.

The Earl of Clanwilliam

The noble Lord should wait for my amendment.

Lord Strathclyde

The first answer to that question is that we are desperately trying to improve what is an extremely bad Bill.

Lord Eden of Winton

I think the noble Lord, Lord Peston, indicated that the report of my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay recommended that hereditary peers should go. That is a misinterpretation. My noble and learned friend took as his starting point the assumption that the Bill now before the Committee had become an Act of Parliament.

Lord Peston

I have no idea what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, inwardly believes. I have only his report, which is totally predicated on the assumption that the hereditary Peers will go. I repeat that certainly the analytical part of that report is quite outstanding. That is why many of us sitting here who are interested in the next step cannot understand what the Opposition is doing about this stage, which does not seem to be consistent. I do not want to delay the Committee, because there is still a large number of amendments for it to deal with, but I would like to see some rationality and consistency from the Opposition.

Lord Strathclyde

I, too, do not particularly want to continue the debate about the report of my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern, which I, too, thought was excellent. It may well be that the noble Lord, Lord Peston's interpretation of that report is. somewhat different from mine. While his whoty elected option clearly removes the ability for the hereditary peerage to sit in the House of Lords, it does exactly the same for the life Peers, so I think there is no difference between us on that.

However, the other option clearly indicates that it is open to the independent appointments commission to recommend that hereditary Peers should continue to perform a function in the House of Lords. So I believe that his contention is wrong.

The major point that I want to make is to contrast that with the sheer negativity that we get from noble Lords opposite. We are told that this is a Bill that we must not debate, because it was in the manifesto and was passed by the people. We have heard today and at other parts of the Committee stage that somehow it is offensive to propose something different—even if not terribly radically different.

We find what the Bill does offensive. It creates a House of patronage, a House of cronies, a House of political appointees. Noble Lords opposite may not like that description. They may feel offended by But that is what the Bill does. I do not accuse any noble Lords of being like that; maybe some of them are. My point is that once the Bill is through, there will be a very great temptation to have more and more purely political appointees totally in the hands of the Prime Minister.

Later in the Bill, we shall reach amendments which deal with an appointments commission. There has been no indication whatever from the Government that they want to put such a commission in place now. I understand that the Prime Minister can, without any legislation, set up an appointments commission now to deal with this particular issue of what happens when a House comprises entirely appointees.

My noble friend Lord Ferrers accepts what many noble Lords have said on all sides of the House; that hereditary Peers have brought something valuable to the House which should not necessarily be abolished in one go.

In 1968, the then Labour government's position was that such a proposal was perfectly all right. It is the one which Mr. Wilson's government put forward, which was approved in this House, but it went wrong in another place for reasons which are now well known. If it was good enough in 1968, why is it not good enough now? Did the Labour Party consider it again in writing its manifesto and if not, why not? Were there discussions with the noble Earl, Lord Longford, who spoke yet again with such power on the subject this evening?

Moreover, the point was made this evening that, perversely, if the Government are so opposed to the hereditary peerage, by accepting this amendment they would achieve broad parity between the two main political parties so that they win the votes and they make it more likely that we shall go on to a stage two.

The fundamental problem that we have had with the Bill is that there is no vision of a second stage. That is what is missing from the Bill. The noble Baroness the Leader of the House said that she has a vision and ideas, but they are personal ideas and they must not be shared with anyone else. I understand that that is the discipline of the Labour Party. But somehow I sense that we are missing out on something. There is obviously a great seedbed of thought going on in the Labour Party, none of which is being shared with this House, the rest of the Labour Party or, indeed, the general public.

My noble friend Lord Cranborne, in an earlier intervention, made some extremely good points about the issue of sitting and voting. As a former Chief Whip, I have every sympathy with the points he raised, but I hope that in reply the Minister will concentrate not just on the points made by noble friend Lord Cranborne but address also the point made by my noble friend Lord Ferrers who said that he was like a dog who needed a bone. This is an extremely good bone.

Earl Ferrers

Perhaps I may interrupt my noble friend. I did not say that I was like a dog. I suggested that the Government should give something to others, as though they were dogs. But I did not say that I was a dog!

Lord Strathclyde

I could not quite work out what my noble friend was going to do with a bone if he was not a dog.

There are a number of issues on which the Government could be rather more generous and forward-thinking in their attitude towards proposals which have been made by noble Lords not just on this side of the Committee but also from their own Back Benches and from the Cross Benches. I hope that that is one area on which we shall receive a positive answer.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

Before the noble Lord sits down, I think we are entitled to know whether or not he is going to advise those in his party in this House how to vote in relation to this amendment and, in particular, whether he is going to recommend to them that they should vote, if it is pressed to a Division, in favour of an amendment which involves the continuation of the right of hereditary Peers to sit. So far, he has not indicated his position in relation to that.

Lord Strathclyde

I am not making this proposal. The Government have put forward a Bill and my noble friend has put forward a proposal. I was asking about the Government's attitude to this. A perfectly good proposal has been made by my noble friend. We have not put it forward from the Front Bench. A number of issues need to be answered and I hope that the Minister will do so. It is not for me to do the Government's job for them. They must come up with answers in relation to their own Bill.

11.30 p.m.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

I am amazed by that answer. Therefore, the position is that the leader of the Conservative Party in the House of Lords has no view, as I understand it, on whether those in his party in this House should vote for or against the amendment of the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, or if he does have a view he is not prepared to say what it is. I am slightly surprised by that. I thought that the purpose of his speech was to express the view of the Conservative Party on the amendment. I was obviously wrong.

I turn to the amendment. Perhaps I may apologise for not being the Lord Advocate. I should have mentioned earlier that I was not the Lord Advocate. I am quite sure that the noble Earl would have pitched his very persuasive speech in a different way.

I fully understand the purpose and intent of the noble Earl's amendment. He believes, because he has made it clear at all times, that the hereditary Peers should be entitled to stay in this House to vote and sit, by which he means they should take part fully in the proceedings. He accepts that the amendment relates only to the rights of hereditary Peers to sit but, without any shame or apology, and in a most eloquent speech, he puts that forward as an appropriate proposition. I respect him for holding that view and I understand it. However, I most vehemently disagree with it.

Underlying the Government's approach to the hereditary Peers is the belief that it is wrong in principle that a person should have a right to sit or vote in a legislative House on the basis only of that person's birth. They believe that there are many, many absolutely splendid hereditary Peers. I must tell the House that there are a large number of absolutely splendid people who are not hereditary Peers. These absolutely splendid people who, in some cases, though not many, are as splendid as the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, do not have the right to question the Government in the legislative Chamber; to sit on the committees in the House of Lords; to put down oral or written Questions; to participate in debates or seek to persuade other legislators of the rightness of their position. It seems to me unfair that simply by reason of birth a person has that right even if that right were not to include the right to vote. That is the position of this Government. I do not believe it could be made clearer. I do not think—

Lord Mancroft

The noble and learned Lord has been most persuasive and helpful, as always. Can he tell me how fair it is that you sit in your Lordships' House merely by friendship with the Prime Minister? Is that a good idea? What principle does that have?

A noble Lord

Ignore it.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

No, I shall not ignore it. As regards the appointment of life Peers, it seems to me that they are entitled to be regarded and appointed on merit and on the basis of their past experience. I am happy to he judged on that basis and it seems to be appropriate that I should be.

Lord Mancroft

Perhaps I may be forgiven if I have misled the Committee and, indeed, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer. I did not aim my remarks at any noble Lord in particular. nor would I dream of so doing. However, the issue has been raised and it is a correct issue. I do not defend the principle of the hereditary peerage. I have always said that to either attack it or defend it is ludicrous. But the principle that the executive that commands a majority in one House should also have the sole ability to appoint to the second Chamber is completely ludicrous. If that is a better principle than the hereditary one, I understand nothing of the principle.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

First, I apologise for misunderstanding the noble Lord's remark. I took it too personally when I should not have done so. Secondly, the position as regards the comments of the Prime Minister in relation to this matter is that we seek parity with the Conservative Party. We do not seek in any way to pack the House, nor do we have the ability to do that. Thirdly, it seems to me much more sensible that people should be appointed on the basis of their own qualities rather than those of their parents, and they can be so judged. It might be appropriate for me to finish my speech rather than continue with this argument.

We set out our position perfectly clearly. It seems to us that we have principle on our side. It is a clear and easily understood principle. It is the principle that goes through the Bill. The proposal of the noble Earl cuts right across that principle by allowing hereditary Peers to sit, albeit not vote, in this Chamber. We therefore object to it and ask the Committee to resist the amendment.

Perhaps I may deal with two other points in this regard. First, it is said that the Labour government proposed such an amendment in 1968, so why do they not agree to it now? That is a point made by my noble friend Lord Longford. The position in 1968 was that there were fewer than 160 life Peers, none of whom had over 10 years' experience. The position now is that there are 500 life Peers, appointed over a 41-year period. That is a radically different situation when considering the position in relation to this Chamber.

Our guiding principle throughout this Bill is that we believe it to be wrong for anyone to be a Member of Parliament on the basis of inheritance alone. That point was made clearly in the manifesto when we said that the right we sought to remove was to sit and to vote. So there can be no question but that we have made our position clear in the manifesto. I also agree entirely with the speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, who deprecates the idea of a two-tier system in the Lords. For all those reasons, I urge the Committee to reject the amendment.

Earl Ferrers

The noble and learned Lord—I believe I am permitted to call him such—as usual makes a very persuasive speech. I apologise if I referred to him as the Lord Advocate. That was a slip of the tongue. I should have said "the Minister of the Dome" and then I would have been all right.

The noble and learned Lord makes a persuasive speech; obdurate, as all the government speeches are because they just say "No, no, no" to everything, regardless of the argument. That is a great pity. He said that I put forward this amendment without any shame or apology. He is quite right. I feel no shame in putting it forward, and offer no apology either. I am trying to go along with the Government. They do not want hereditary Peers to vote. I say that that is fine for the purposes of this amendment; we are quite happy not to vote. But why not continue to allow our expertise to be expressed by allowing hereditary Peers to speak. should they so wish? The noble and learned Lord finds that difficult.

The noble Lord, Lord Peston, said that he listens to his own Front Bench. That underlines his problem. He listens to his Front Bench a little too much because they will say "No" to everything. He said that hereditary Peers are wrong; that is the beginning and the end of it. That really is, as I said earlier, hereditary cleansing. Get rid of all hereditary Peers. No matter what they can do; get rid of them.

Lord Peston

I heard the noble Earl make that remark earlier. It is most unlike him to use that kind of intemperate language. It is not "hereditary cleansing" because, unlike the analogy that echoes from that remark, none of us is saying that hereditary Peers should not sit in your Lordships' Chamber. We would welcome such people sitting here as nominated Peers. I enjoy that sort of intemperate language, but it is not very helpful on this occasion.

There is no suggestion that this Chamber would be a better place without the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers. We are simply saying that he should be here as a Peer nominated by the Leader of his Party, not because his father was Earl Ferrers.

Earl Ferrers

I do not believe it was intemperate language; it is factual language.

It does not matter which Member of the Front Bench opposite we choose; we can knock them all down like sparrows one after the other. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer; the Lord Chancellor; the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn; and the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, have all said that hereditary Peers are out. I am saying that that is the equivalent of cleansing.

The noble Lord, Lord Peston, shakes his head, but if he will stop shaking his head for half a minute until I get to the end of my sentence, he will hear me say that he said that I ought to be here—it was courteous of him to say so—by virtue of being appointed. But this Bill says nothing about appointment; it says "Get rid of hereditary Peers". It is true that some noble Lords opposite have said that when the Weatherill amendment comes into action, there will be 100 hereditary Peers. But what is this Bill about? Are we getting rid of all hereditary Peers or are we retaining 100 Peers? At the moment, we do not know. The Bill in front of us proposes to get rid of all hereditary Peers. If the Weatherill amendment is passed, 91 Peers, or whatever, can be retained. But is the Bill one for getting rid of hereditary Peers or one for retaining them? That is a pretty fundamental difference.

Noble Lords on the Front Bench opposite are in a quandary. They do not know. They have not told us whether we are all supposed to go or whether about a hundred of us will stay. We just do not know the answer. When that suggestion was put forward in another place, it was turned down. They said that they did not want any hereditary Peers at all. However, now the proposal is before us and everyone talks as if there will be a hundred or so hereditary Peers. That is the mess that the Government find themselves in. Indeed, that is why my noble friend Lord Strathclyde, the Leader of the Opposition, said that we do not know what is happening.

All I am trying to say to your Lordships in the most courteous way possible is that you can remove all the business of hereditary Peers voting to get over the problem that has infuriated people so much and still have the advantage of them talking. If that is a bore, then it is a bore. The noble Lord, Lord Davies of Coity, said something pretty extraordinary. After all, he has been here for only two years. He said, "All hereditary Peers ought to go. I am all right because I was appointed by my friends. " Apparently everyone else has got to go. The noble Lord added that his view has the support of the British people. Frankly, I do not think that it has. The proposal may be in the Labour Party manifesto. That does not mean that it has the support of the British people. I believe that many British people are glad to see the House of Lords as it is.

However, be that as it may—and I do not wish to continue the argument for too long—I think that it would be a good thing if, in the words of the Government, we were to proceed step by step. We should keep the hereditary Peers here who wish to come and speak but stop them from voting. In that way we would satisfy everyone. If noble Lords consider that a good idea, I would be happy if they would demonstrate their agreement. We have sat on these seats for long enough. Indeed, it is time for your Lordships to take a bit of exercise and come down on one side or the other of the argument. I wish to test the opinion of the Committee.

11.41 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No.16) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 41; Not-Contents, 82.

Division No.1
Alanbrooke, V. Hamilton of Dalzell, L
Annaly, L. Hemphill, L.
Belhaven and Stenton, L. Hooper, B.
Berners, B. Kintore, E.
Caithness, E. Knight of Collingtree, B.
Clanwilliam, E. Liverpool, E.
Clifford of Chudleigh, L. Longford, E.
Clinton, L. Lyell, L.
Coleraine, L. Mayhew of Twysden, L.
Coleridge, L. Monson, L.
Cross, V. Montrose, D.
Dixon-Smith, L. Napier and Ettrick, L.
Dundee, E. Norrie, L.
Dunleath, L. Northbrook, L.
Eden of Winton, L. [Teller.] Palmer, L.
Effingham, E. Park of Monmouth, B.
Ellenborough, L. Stockton, E.
Erroll, E. Torrington, V.
Ferrers, E. [Teller.] Trefgame, L.
Gray, L. Trenchard, V.
Wise, L.
Acton, L. Davies of Oldham, L.
Addington, L. Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, B.
Ahmed, L. Desai, L.
Alli, L. Dixon, L.
Amos, B. Donoughue, L.
Archer of Sandwell, L. Dubs, L.
Bach, L. Evans of Parkside, L.
Bassam of Brighton, L. Evans of Watford, L.
Berkeley, L. Falconer of Thoroton, L.
Blackstone, B. Farrington of Ribbleton, B.
Bragg, L. Gilbert, L.
Brooke of Alverthorpe, L. Goodhart, L.
Brookman, L. Gordon of Strathblane, L.
Burlison, L. Gould of Pottemewton, B.
Carlisle, E. Graham of Edmonton, L.
Carter, L. [Teller.] Hacking, L.
Chandos, V. Hardie, L.
Clarke of Hampstead, L. Harris of Haringey, L.
Clinton-Davis, L. Haskel, L.
Crawley. B. Hayman, B.
David, B. Hilton of Eggardon, B.
Davies of Coity, L. Hollis of Heigham, B.
Hoyle, L. Prys-Davies, L.
Hughes of Woodside, L. Puttnam, L.
Hunt of Kings Heath, L. Ramsay of Cartvale, B.
Islwyn. L. Rea, L.
Jay of Paddington, B. [Lord Privy Rendell of Babergh, B.
Seal] Richard, L.
Kennedy of The Shaws, B. Sainsbury of Turville, L.
Macdonald of Tradeston, L. Sawyer, L.
McIntosh of Haringey, L. Simon, V.
[Teller.] Simon of Highbury, L.
Mackie of Benshie, L. Smith of Gilmorehill, B.
McNair, L. Symons of Vernham Dean, B.
Monkswell, L. Taylor of Blackburn, L.
Morris of Castle Morris, L. Thomas of Macclesfield, L.
Newby, L. Thornton, B.
Nicholson of Winterbourne, B. Tomlinson, L.
Nicol, B. Tordoff, L.
Patel, L. Whitty. L.
Peston, L. Williams of Mostyn, L.
Pitkeathley, B. Young of Old Scone, B.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

11.51 p.m.

Lord Trefgarne moved Amendment No.17:

Page 1, line 5, leave out ("be a member of") and insert ("attend, sit or vote in")

The noble Lord said: The words "by virtue of" already appear in Clause 1. I should like to propose a different form of words for the reference to a Member of this House. It has already been suggested that this wording is not particularly apt for the Bill. Clause 1 focuses on the right of a Peer to be a functioning part of the parliamentary process, and precedence in the Appellate Jurisdictions Act, the Titles Deprivation Act and the Life Peerages Act undoubtedly shows that relevant rights are to attend, sit and vote in the House of Lords. My amendment therefore brings this Bill into line with precedent and clarifies what I suggest is some awkwardness in the present drafting. I beg to move.

The Earl of Northesk

I should mention at the outset that the purpose of my noble friend Lord Trefgarne, and myself in this amendment may perhaps have been slightly clearer had we been able to move our Amendments Nos.7 and 8 on the original Marshalled List. To use the Government's phrase, and mindful of our debate on the Writ issue, those were stand-alone attempts to re-work the wording of Clause 1, partly to probe the Government's intention and partly to assist them in delivering that intention more accurately and properly. In the event, those debates have not taken place, so we have not been able to tease out the Government on this issue. Therefore, some of our doubts about the intention of Clause 1 remain. I make no more of the point than that.

I make no apology for repeating this point, but from the moment the Bill was first published there were many noble Lords, myself included, who had difficulty with the phrase used in Clause 1, "member of the House of Lords". I still do. What does it mean? More importantly, what is its force in statute? That is a question that the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, declined to address when I asked him about it previously.

Following the amendment of my noble friends on the Front Bench and that of my noble friend Lord Norrie these questions assume even greater pertinence. I repeat the comment of my noble friend Lord Trefgarne that it is interesting to note that the two most recent precedents in this regard—the Life Peerages Act 1958 and the Peerage Act 1963—both avoid reference to "membership of the House of Lords". Both use the more accurate—I am bound to say more elegant—construction that we propose in the amendment; namely, the right to attend the House of Lords and to sit and vote in that House.

It is the same precedent to be found in the Appellate Jurisdiction Act and the Titles Deprivation Act, to which the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, referred previously. I simply ask, therefore, why the Government have chosen to draft Clause 1 in the way that they have. I repeat: it would assist the Committee if the Government Front Bench could advise us of the statutory precedent for the phrase, member of the House of Lords". In advance of any reply, and without wishing to stretch the point too far, I suggest that it is a nebulous concept. We are bound to assume that the Government's intent in Clause 1 is to focus upon removing the current right of the hereditary peerage as a functioning part of the legislative and parliamentary process. We have been told that often enough.

It is worth noting the wording in the manifesto. it states: As an initial, self-contained reform, not de pendent on further reform in the future, the right of hereditary peers to sit and vote in the House of Lords will be ended by statute". This is wholly cognisant of, and consistent, with our amendment. It concentrates upon the rights of "sitting" and "voting" in the House. Clearly, the Bill, for whatever reason, has lost something in translation. It might deliver the spirit of the manifesto commitment, but not its letter. In so doing, it loses much of its impact because, contrary to the way in which Clause 1 is constructed and as intimated by the Lofthouse opinion, it is not membership of the House per se that permits hereditary Peers to be part of the process; rather, it is attendance at this House on command of the Crown in Writs of Summons and the associated rights of sitting and voting.

A persistent theme of the Bill, which I mentioned at Second Reading and which has echoed throughout our debate today, is that however much the Government may eulogise it, simplicity of drafting is no substitute for legislative clarity and coherence. The Government's rhetoric has on occasions characterised the hereditary peerage as being anachronistic and illegitimate. In passing, I simply make the obvious point that no such clarity attaches to all the other and subsequent: elements of the reform of the House. Necessarily, therefore, the question before us as a House of legislative scrutiny has to be whether the drafting will achieve the desired effect. At the very least, if only because of the Lofthouse opinion, there is room for speculation that the use of the woolly phrase, member of the House of Lords", will not do so. The Committee's discussions on the amendments of my noble friends on the Front Bench earlier today amply demonstrate that point.

One other thought occurs to me about this. All of us, whatever the route that has brought us to this House, are acutely aware of the duties and obligations that are inter-weaved within our rights of attendance. In some small way, the use of the phrase, member of the House of Lords", unpicks that stitching. In effect, it emphasises not the dignity of the status of your Lordship's House, but the perceived privilege that the Government maintain—too often they have done so in an unseemly way—attaches to the continued presence of the hereditary peerage. A small suspicion looms in my mind. Could it be that the text of the Bill owes as much to making a categoric political statement as it does to giving legislative effect to the Government's policy intention? Does not confusing the two purposes mean that neither is satisfied?

In conclusion, albeit that my noble friend Lord Trefgarne and myself are only seeking to probe the Government on the issue at this stage, I cannot see that they can seriously object to the amendment. After all—although he is no longer in his place, I think I can assist the noble Lord, Lord Peston here—it does much to assist their purpose.


Lord Mayhew of Twysden

During the course of his interventions this afternoon the Lord Chancellor said that he welcomed the questions that were put to him. I therefore felt that it was only a matter of oversight that had led him not to answer some questions that I had ventured to put to him in a modest contribution that I had made. I asked him whether the term "member of the House of Lords"had been judicially defined and how the Government themselves, if they insisted on employing it in the Bill, defined it. For whatever reason, the noble and learned Lord did not answer those questions. Yet I think that they are rather important for reasons which I will not go over again but which were well rehearsed, particularly in the context of the opinion of Mr. John Lofthouse, which was much mentioned earlier this afternoon.

The amendment put forward by my noble friend Lord Trefgarne overcomes the difficulty that is inherent in the employment, for the first time in statute, of this term. No one quite knows what is meant by "member of the House of Lords". It has the merit, of course, of being simple in the words which are used. We are all in favour of simple language provided that the simple language has a simple meaning. But so far we have not been given any meaning, simple or otherwise, and a great deal turns upon it.

I know that the Government are sceptical, to put it charitably, about the motives of those of us who have put forward amendments with a view to securing greater clarity in the Bill. For my part, I bear that scepticism philosophically because I believe it is important that this House should hold to its task of reviewing, revising and improving the quality of legislation. What, as I understand it, my noble friend intends in the amendment is to put beyond peradventure what the Government are seeking to overturn.

We hear a great deal about the manifesto—far too much—and how unjust it is that people should have the right to attend, sit and vote in the House by reason of the accident of birth. It is that, in terms, which is put forward by my noble friend in this amendment. I shall wait now with great anticipation to hear why the Government will not abandon this hitherto totally undefined term and adopt the amendment moved by my noble friend.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

This amendment returns the Committee to some of the questions with which we started off earlier today, or earlier yesterday, depending on how one wishes to look at it. It arises out of discussions and also out of the opinion of Mr. John Lofthouse, as my noble and learned friend Lord Mayhew has just said. As my noble friends have explained, the problem is that the expression "member of the House of Lords" may well be one without any legal meaning. I see that the Lord Advocate is with us. He may well like to give us the Scottish view on this matter. I was disappointed that he did not come to give me a Scottish view on the earlier amendments in the name of my noble friend Lord Gray.

Earlier today my noble and learned friend Lord Mayhew asked the Lord Chancellor to state unequivocally where the phrase "a member of the House of Lords" had been construed in law and he made that point again because the response he received was probably not very satisfactory. The response was more or less that the phrase is a concept that the man in the street can easily understand. I am not entirely sure whether that is the same as construed in law. I wonder whether the man in the street does understand. Does the man in the street understand that Irish Peers do not necessarily sit in your Lordships' House unless they have UK peerages or that Peers with courtesy titles, with the exception of my noble friend Lord Cranborne, are not allowed to sit here?

For example, my noble friend Lord Selkirk of Douglas is flying the flag as Lord James Douglas-Hamilton in his campaign to gain a seat in the Scottish Parliament, a campaign which I am pretty confident will be successful, and successful on the first-past-the-post system at that. My noble friend had the problem that not many people understood why Lord James Douglas-Hamilton in the past did not sit in the House of Lords and only now sits in this House as Lord Selkirk of Douglas. I do not believe that the man in the street clearly understands the concept.

I also have in mind my honourable friend the Member of Parliament for Devizes, the Earl of Ancram. People may be very confused as to why he sits in the other place and not in this House. The reason is that his is a courtesy title and he is heir to the Marquess of Lothian.

1 do not believe that the man in the street can readily understand some of the nuances of titles. It is not a satisfactory' answer simply to say that there is no problem with construction because the man in the street understands it. That is not good enough.

If we are to have this law, the concept of a hereditary peerage should be properly defined. My noble friends have explained why they have used the phrase attend, sit or vote in". That wording has been used in the past. In the past one often heard the argument advanced by parliamentary draftsmen that this was the way it had always been done and it should carry on being done in this way. Some members of the present Government during the passage of the Scotland Bill used the same argument when we suggested that certain words and phrases were not necessary in that measure. They said that that was the way it had always been done. It put the matter beyond doubt because that legal terminology had been used down the ages in legislation. My noble friends suggest the same here.

I shall be interested to hear the noble Lord's explanation of the earlier comment of his noble and learned friend about the understanding of the man in the street. I believe I have proved fairly conclusively that it is very much in doubt that the man in the street understands it because of the complexities to which I referred earlier.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

We chose this wording deliberately to make it as comprehensive as possible. I am not aware of what the man in the street thinks of Lord James Douglas-Hamilton, as he then was, but if he asks me I shall explain that he possessed that title because he had disclaimed a senior one.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

I always seek to be helpful. His title of Lord James Douglas-Hamilton was a courtesy title as he was the younger son of the Duke of Hamilton.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

Precisely. But, if anyone has investigated the arcane streams of Scottish peerages, I believe it is correct that he disclaimed his opportunity to use the subordinate title, which nevertheless was a substantive one. If I remember correctly, the titles of the Duke of Hamilton descend in a peculiarly Scottish way. I am glad to see that I have the support of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, on these occasions, as so often. If the man in the street, or his wife, then approached me about the problem of the Earl of Ancram I would point out that he was not a real Peer at all but had a courtesy title since his father, the present Marquess, is still alive and the Earl of Ancram—otherwise known as Michael Ancram—is not in receipt of the happy beneficence of a Writ of Acceleration.

I turn to the particular question raised by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew of Twysden. I am not aware that I am able to point to any judicial definition of. member of the House of Lords", Or, member of the House of Commons". I am absolutely certain, sure and positive that I cannot point to any legal definition of, member of the Welsh Assembly". Nevertheless, those expressions are found in statute. If someone is expelled from membership of the House of Commons I apprehend that judges will have no difficulty in construing it.

We wanted to have a simple definition that was as comprehensive as possible. It includes the right to attend, sit or vote in the House of Lords. I imagine that it would also include the right to the use of the facilities, otherwise known as club rights.

I think we have it plain, simple and understandable. We do not want continuing arguments in the future as to whether there are any other functions beyond attendance, sitting or voting which might have been former rights of Peers. That is the reason we have adopted this formulation.

Lord Marlesford

I am deeply puzzled, because:if one reads the Explanatory Notes to the Bill one sees the word "membership" defined as the right to sit arid vote. Surely it is the opposite way round? It ought to be. The Bill should have the technical terms of sitting and voting; the Explanatory Notes should have the tnan in the street's meaning of "member".

I would have thought that my noble friend's amendment was extremely sound. It is much better to have the words in the Explanatory Notes in the Bill and the words in the Bill in the Explanatory Notes.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

Not really, because this amendment talks about attendance, sitting and vottng, whereas "attendance" is not found in the Explanatory Notes.

Lord Marlesford

That is merely an omission.

Lord Northbrook

Could the Minister comment on counsel's view that Clause 1 as it stands does not change the law? This again goes to what we talked about earlier: that nobody is a Member of the House of Lords by virtue of hereditary peerage but the membership is conferred by the obedience to the Writ of Summons. There is therefore a need for the amendment proposed by my noble friend Lord Trefgarne.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

We had almost a full two hours on this point, but I can still remember it. What the Lord Chancellor said, and therefore it must be right, was that a hereditary peerage inheres in the person presently entitled to it. However, the right to come to this place depends on the Writ of Summons.

That was the position earlier today and it remains the position now.

The Earl of Northesk

It is self-evident that noble Lords opposite set great store by the manifesto, so hope to pursue this point a little further. It is also self-evident—returning to what my noble friend on the Front Bench said about the man in the street—that the manifesto refers specifically to sitting and voting.

I wonder why the matter has changed in translation from the manifesto, which presumably is understood by the man in the street, in terms of drafting and legislation. I make that point simply because one could be tempted to the conclusion that the intent of the Government here is to make the phrasing of the Bill so comprehensive and transparently intelligible to the man in the street because they now believe that the man in the street did not actually understand the manifesto.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

First, I did not mention the manifesto. Secondly, it has been asserted without any evidence that I have discovered that only 2 per cent of the men in the street understood the manifesto and therefore we wanted to make it clear for the other 98 per cent.

Earl Ferrers

Could I ask the noble Lord a question for my own comprehension, without irritating him too much? He did let something go rather quickly and I did not hear him properly. He spoke about club rights. Did he say that hereditary Peers would continue to have club rights?

Lord Williams of Mostyn

Certainly not, and the noble Lord never irritates me. We always have the most harmonious of relationships, which is why our respective friends deeply suspect us.

I did not say that existing hereditary Peers would be entitled to the continuation of club rights. I did not say that, nor did I mean it.

Earl Ferrers

Would the noble Lord be good enough to say what he did say about club rights?

Lord Williams of Mostyn

Of course. I was perhaps speaking a little quickly because of the lateness of the hour. What I said was that the three activities described in the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, might not sufficiently encompass all aspects of membership of this House: for instance, coming in for a cup of tea; using the car park; using the coat hook, and similar related activities. That might be something rather wider than attending, sitting and voting. For the avoidance of doubt, I simply mentioned that club rights might, for instance, be the object of some noble Lords' future ambitions, and I did not want them to be disappointed by not putting the formula as comprehensively, plainly and simply as possible.

12.15 a.m.

Lord Trefgarne

One of the features of ministerial replies to amendments during the course of these proceedings is that they often raise as many questions as they answer. I fear that that has happened again this evening and I cannot promise the noble Lord that we shall not return to the matter at the next stage. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Clifford of Chudleigh moved Amendment No.17A:

Page 1, line 5, leave out from ("be") to end of line 6 and insert ("by virtue solely of a hereditary peerage a member entitled to vote in the House of Lords except on constitutional matters, pending the implementation of measures ensuring comprehensive reform of the House of Lords which maintain existing powers to control the Executive and such measures receiving Royal Assent")

The noble Lord said: At this early hour of the morning, I thank all noble Lords for being present as I move Amendment No.17A standing in my name. As is so often the case, unless one reads the Bill and the amendment together, the position can be difficult for the man in the street such as myself to understand. It may be wise for me to go through the amendment.

The Bill states: Be it enacted by the Queen's most Excellent Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal".

My amendment provides that no one shall, by virtue solely of a hereditary peerage [be] a member entitled to vote in the House of Lords except on constitutional matters".

I do not need to continue with the remainder of the amendment.

There is only one way to know the will of the people, and that is to listen to them. Her Majesty's Government are determined at this stage of the House of Lords Bill to remove a vast number of listeners to many diverse opinions—rural, agricultural, urban or industrial. On defence we have heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Park of Monmouth. There are also views expressed on finance. Those listeners express the views heard when speaking on legislation passing through this House.

We are discussing stage one of a reform Bill relating to this legislature. Should noble Lords allow this stage to pass unchallenged, unheeded, the power of the executive will thrive. It will blossom and completely overshadow the importance of the will of the people.

On 21st April a conference was held in the Moses Room. Counsel's opinion was heard and questioned. The opinion is available in the House of Lords Library and is therefore in the public domain. Copies are available to all Members of the House and some have already been posted to noble Lords. During the conference it was made clear that the executive is not empowered to ensure the passage of this Bill by the use of the Parliament Acts. This House should not fear rejecting the Bill by the threat of the use of the Parliament Acts. It is quite apparent that another place is incapable of controlling the powers of the executive. If we are to be responsible to the will of the people we in the House of Lords must do so.

In Amendment No.31, my noble friend Lord Weatherill and others raise a principle which must be applauded; that a certain number of hereditary Peers should be permitted to vote. I argue that such an amendment might be best raised in stage two, and so comply with the wishes of so many of your Lordships that stages one and two should be considered together.

We should consider the two stages together precisely because the will of the people must be pursued. Hence, I recommend that the hereditary Peers should retain the opportunity to vote on all constitutional matters. There are so many sound opinions to be heard from life and hereditary Peers; opinions influenced by the feelings of millions of people outside the walls of Westminster. I call upon your Lordships to consider this amendment favourably. I beg to move.

Baroness Jay of Paddington

I shall attempt to reply to the noble Lord's amendment with great animation in order not to invite the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, to suggest that I am either exhausted or bored with the proceedings of this House. I am certainly not. If he says that some of our replies are somewhat familiar, I say to him and the noble Lord, Lord Clifford, that this displays not boredom or exhaustion but the lateness of the hour, and apologise. It may be because a great many of the same arguments are deployed in advancing some of the amendments.

The noble Lord's amendment is another valiant attempt to find a combination of circumstances in which hereditary Peers can remain in your Lordships' House with certain rights. I am sure that the Committee will not be surprised to hear me say that it is no more acceptable to the Government than were the others. I understand the proposal to be that the hereditary Peers should retain their right to sit but not to vote except on constitutional matters. However, those constitutional matters are not precisely or fully defined.

The noble Lord, in moving the amendment, referred to the Parliament Acts, but of course the amendment does not refer to those pieces of legislation. Clearly, the context of the amendment and the way it was introduced suggest that any additional rights given to hereditary Peers would include a Bill, any Bill, to give effect to stage two of reform of your Lordships' House. I am afraid to say to the Committee that all I can say is, "Here we are again". This is yet another proposal to delay the removal of the hereditary Peers so that they are present and able to vote in any way—although my suspicions are that they would vote against any proposal for further reform.

The noble Lord suggested that in some way hereditary Peers may be guardians in a particular form of the constitution. But in this House any individual Peer or groups of individual Peers would nit perform that role; it is the House as a whole which performs the role and function of guardian and peruser of the constitution. The House without the hereditary Peers will retain its same place in the constitution and in perusal of constitutional matters as now.

This amendment, like all the others along these lines, fails to address the fact that the Government see no justification for the principle of continued hereditary membership of your Lordships' House. As my noble friend Lord Williams said in reply to an earlier amendment some two or three hours ago, this simply will not do. It is no good noble Lords trying different permutations in the hope that eventually they will light on one to which the Government will say "Yes".

We have already indicated that the only amendment to which we are likely to give a favourable response—and that will of course depend on the nature and type of debate surrounding it—is the one in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill. We have already indicated that that is one which we would look at with some degree of enthusiasm, but it is not contained in the amendment before us tonight. Therefore, I would ask the noble Lord to withdraw it, and if he wishes to press it I would ask the Committee to reject it.

Lord Strathclyde

I do not think that the noble Baroness has given quite as much thought to her reply as I would have expected. I did not gain the impression from what the noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh. said that this is just an attempt to preserve the hereditary peerage in the House of Lords for a little longer. It goes rather deeper than that. This is about the powers of the House of Lords, and it is also about the nature of the interim House.

As I said earlier, in reply to a speech by the noble Lord, Lord Peston, what we are talking about in the Bill is not the removal of the hereditary peerage; it is the creation of a House of patronage. Some noble Lords do not like that word, but that is what it is, because nobody will be a Member of the House unless it is as a resift of that patronage. Moreover, that patronage will be in the hands of the Prime Minister. No statement that the Prime Minister has made to date—if the noble Baroness wants to make a correction I shall be very happy to hear it—has indicated to me that he will not be able to control the total numbers coming to the House.

The noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, was asking the noble Baroness whether she recognised that there is a danger in the fact that another place will therefore be able to control the membership of the House of Lords, and that very serious constitutional issues arise. The noble Baroness shakes her head, and I hope she will reply in a moment to tell me why that is not the case; I look forward to that. Is there not therefore a considerable danger that constitutional change will be able to go through the House with very little debate, because it has been controlled by the Prime Minister of the day?

The solution of the noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, is to retain hereditary Peers to deal specifically with constitutional issues. That may or may not be the right way. What I would like to tease out of the Government is whether they believe there is a case for having some form of special measure to deal with constitutional issues.

We have been down this road before. In 1911 it was decided that a septennial Act, as it was then, a quinquennial Act as it has now come to be known, which was clearly a constitutional safeguard, would not form part of the Parliament Act. I know that the Government have no intention of changing that, so they have already accepted that there is a role for the House in constitutional matters. All that I am asking is this: do they think that there is an extension of that, perhaps a threshold, for instance? I think that in. the Scottish Parliament there is a threshold for changing constitutional matters.

So again the Government have done some thinking on these matters, which I welcome; it is refreshing. If that is not the right solution, there may be others. This is an issue to which we shall have to return, and I would very much welcome hearing the thoughts of the noble Baroness on it.

Baroness Jay of Paddington

As always, I am very much indebted to the noble Lord for raising these very interesting broad principles, which, I agree, may well form part of our discussions on the second stage of reform, or indeed on the reference to the Royal Commission. They are in no way contained in the amendment before us.

Lord Strathclyde

I apologise to the noble Baroness. I have no intention of straying into stage two. I would hope that stage two would solve these problems. I would hope that once the Labour Party has thought about these things it will come up with a solution. That is not what the Bill is creating. It is not creating stage two. It is creating an interim House. This is a matter of safeguards in the interim House. We are creating a House of patronage, entirely in the hands of the Prime Minister.

The question that I am putting to the noble Baroness—and I agree on stage two—is this: does she not think that there should be some greater safeguards to ensure that the untrammelled powers of the Prime Minister of the day should not be used against the interests of the country?

12.30 a.m.

Baroness Jay of Paddington

I am very ready to engage with the noble Lord in precisely such a discussion. He will recall the speech of my right honourable friend the Prime Minister last autumn when he said that he would reduce his individual powers of patronage which led to the very sensible and somewhat detailed proposals in the White Paper on the interim House which I am sure the noble Lord and other Members of the Committee have had an opportunity to study.

However, I cannot see anything in the amendment we are now considering that raises any of those issues. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, or the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, if he is championing this amendment as a broad constitutional issue, will be courteous enough to explain to the Committee the meaning of the second part of the amendment, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Clifford, as "other matters" and the words: pending the implementation of measures ensuring comprehensive reform of the House of Lords which maintain existing powers to control the Executive and such measures receiving Royal Assent".

Lord Strathclyde

I welcome the noble Baroness's affirmation that the Prime Minister is going to do something. But when will that be? Will it be before the passage of the Bill, before the end of the Session, at the start of the next Session or next year? The Prime Minister thinks that it is important, otherwise he would not have said that he is going to do something. I presume that there has been discussion at the centre of government about which the noble Baroness will know and can inform the Committee. That would be welcome.

The amendment is one way of dealing with the issue of untrammelled powers. It may not be the solution. I merely ask whether the Government recognise that there is an issue here which needs to be resolved.

Baroness Jay of Paddington

Perhaps I am not being entirely clear. I recognise that there are interesting issues which the noble Lord raises but in no way are they embraced by the amendment under consideration by the Committee.

Lord Harlech

I wish to address the Minister. There is a serious issue here in relation to the concept of a parliamentary democracy which is extremely important. It is happening now. What is being undermined is freedom of speech. As Nelson Mandela explained clearly to his own people and to the people of the world upon inauguration back into the Commonwealth, if you have institutions which are serious and keep a democracy in order you should keep in place those institutions and be very careful that you do not destroy them. I urge the Committee to read the speech: it is a good one.

Lord Clifford of Chudleigh

I thank all those who have spoken in support of the amendment. I thank the noble Baroness the Leader of the House. I should like to answer her question in part. I repeat the part of my speech in which I referred to existing powers to control the executive. I should say to the noble Baroness, while she is having a little giggle on the Front Bench. that she should listen to the public. It is the public who tell me that they are extremely disappointed that there does not seem to be any control over the executive exercised by another place. That is why I raised that issue. It was not to score brownie points.

The Front Bench of Her Majesty's Government should understand that I speak as an independent Peer. The Government are aiming to make sure that the independent Peers are retained in the House and would like it to have that independence. I am not here to delay the House. Our main role—it does not matter whether we are life or hereditary Peers—is to ensure that we ask the other place to think again and not to rush things. We do not wish to see the legislators trip up. We want to see things done correctly. I am not trying to waste time, as I am being accused of. I shall sit down but I ask Members of the Committee to bear in mind that I shall probably revisit this issue on Report having given everyone the opportunity of reading counsel's opinion. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Earl of Clanwilliam moved Amendment No.18.

Page 1, line 5, after ("Lords") insert ("only")

The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment I shall speak also to Amendments Nos.26, 64 and 153. Amendment No.26, which is the main one, cannot be claimed to be a wrecking or delaying amendment. Indeed, it is not even anything to do with arcane construction in the legal sense. It throws a crumb, which I hope Members opposite will pick up.

In moving the amendment I am conscious that it goes against the grain of the feelings of those Members of the Committee who call for the elimination of all hereditary involvement in our Parliament. But Members will observe a caveat which provides a degree of democratic legitimacy to hereditary Peers; a legitimacy that is the cause. shall I say, of the resentment or perhaps disquiet that occasions the demands for our removal.

This House has been established as a House of hereditary Peers for some 750 years, maintained notably by the noble Lords, Lord Strabolgi and Lord Berkeley, from the opposite Benches, who, unfortunately, are not in their places. It is they and their fellows who have fashioned the principles and manners of our debate. The more recent appointees who have come to this House have come to learn, appreciate and uphold these ways and means. We, the hereditaries, are not to be rubbished into the dustbin of history. The Stalinist putsch is not by any means in the traditions of this House.

Without wishing to lecture noble Lords, perhaps I may say that these principles and manners are unique in that they are a matter not only of admiration and envy throughout the democratic world and in other legislative chambers; but are also regarded in amazement. I was expecting a roar of laughter at that. The amazement is in the understanding that they are manners that work well and better than in most political fora.

These are activities and advantages that the other place does not enjoy. If the reformed Chamber is to be elected, appointed or a mixture of both, it is important that such traditions are respected and protected. I suggest that a hereditary element should be preserved provided that that element can justify its democratic legitimacy. What better way is there of creating such democratic legitimacy than at the polls in the United Kingdom and in service in our political institutions as Amendment No.26 provides.

Seven years service will provide a double test at the polls and a sufficient degree of proficiency in the political field to enable Peers to make a worthwhile contribution to the debates in the Chamber both as politicians and as concerns their outside interests. Such will be necessary if they are to have sufficient income to perform their duties adequately and will, by definition, provide an expertise in the life of the country outside the somewhat incestuous life of politics. Hereditary Peers, as has been pointed out by noble Lords throughout the Chamber, have a varied and remarkable experience which is a source worthy of tapping.

A hereditary Peer will have the privilege only during his lifetime and it would be up to his or her heirs to prove their right in their own turn to gain the privilege under the amendment. Thus there will be in perpetuity the right of a hereditary Peer to qualify, sit and vote in the upper Chamber. I emphasise the word "qualify". That, I believe, would he a reasonable and proper remembrance and memorial to the service that we and our forebears have left to the British Parliament.

It may be objected that an unusual number of Peer; would be created who would seriously change the balance of the House. That could be a matter for the appointments commission.

There are several more pages to my speech. I should like to refer in particular to a remark made by the noble Lord, Lord Charteris of Amisfield, at Second Reading. He voiced concern at the possible implication for the monarchy of the demise of the hereditary principle. The noble Baroness, Lady Jay, assured us that Her Majesty is content with this Bill. Nevertheless, we have heard from many quarters that there is concern throughout the country that the Bill is the thin edge of the wedge prising the constitution apart towards a republic.

I need only refer to, Blairite think-tank wants to downgrade the Queen's foreigr. role". which appeared in yesterday's Evening Standard to impress upon your Lordships the need for everybody in this Chamber to understand that there is a fear that this Bill will affect the legitimacy of the monarchy. Let us beware of throwing the baby out with the bathwater in our rush to complete the third way.

It is also evident that there is an element of the Weatherill amendment which indicates that there is a use for hereditary Peers, even though they will wittier on the vine. This amendment ensures that there w ill always be a place for hereditary Peers who can earn it and deserve it to sit, speak and vote in your Lordships' Chamber. I beg to move.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

Although it is late, my noble friend has come forward with an ingenious amendment. The Government seemed to have only two objections to hereditary Peers. One was the numbers game; namely, that far too many hereditary Peers seem to end up, even if their forebears had been appointed by Labour governments, on the Conservative Benches. I suggested earlier that perhaps if more hereditary Peers sat on the Labour Benches we might not be having this Bill. But I detected from the body language on the Government Benches that I was perhaps wrong.

Perhaps it is the second point that irritates them; that is, a lack of democratic legitimacy. My noble friend Lord Clanwilliam has given the Government an opportunity to look at the possibility of retaining sonic hereditary Peers, but only those who have received democratic legitimacy by being elected Members, perhaps not of an elected second Chamber but of other elected bodies in the country. He listed them in his Amendment No.26.

The first is the House of Commons. Of course, there are no examples of that nature because currently no hereditary Peer can be elected to the House of Commons unless they renounce their Peerage. We are discussing the position on the assumption that this Bill passes and hereditary Peers no longer have a seat here and have a right to vote and stand for election to the House of Commons. In those circumstances there may well he somebody who is elected to the House of Commons who would therefore fall into the category of this amendment.

But there are Members of your Lordships' Chamber who are undoubtedly represented in the other groups. I wondered whether the amendment could be christened the Stockton amendment. My noble friend Lord Stockton is standing for the European Parliament and I confidently predict that he will be elected. My noble friends Lord Bethell and Lord Inglewood are also standing and I equally confidently predict that they will be elected. I can certainly do it in the case of my noble friend Lord Inglewood because he is in the happy position, given the ridiculous electoral system, that he does not have to do a hand's turn to be elected because he is number one on the list. I happen to know my noble friend is working very hard, but that is one of the consequences of the list system. It is only people like my noble friend Lord Stockton who is in what I think they call the cusp position in the list who has to do some solid work. If he succeeds, he gets elected; if he does not succeed in attracting a few more votes, he does not get elected.

I point that out as an aside to show how iniquitous the list system is. But your Lordships know it is iniquitous despite the votes we had on the subject. As I calculate, my noble friends Lord Stockton, Lord Bethell and Lord Inglewood will be elected to the European Parliament. If, after a couple of terms in that Parliament, they decide they have had enough or get dropped down the list, whatever may happen to the list system, and they leave the European Parliament, then they certainly have democratic legitimacy. In fact they will have more democratic legitimacy than many life Peers. They will have been elected for 10 years; that is more than many life Peers. They will have been elected for 10 years—for two five-year terms—and that is more than can be said for many life Peers. I only managed eight years in the other place. So the European Parliament is a good example in that respect. My noble friend Lord O'Hagan was a member of the European Parliament and is obviously a hereditary Member of this place. He was certainly elected democratically for the European Parliament and would fall within my noble friend's amendment.

As to the Scottish Parliament, I have already indicated that my noble friend Lord Selkirk of Douglas, flying under his pre-title day, is even more confusing to most people because he inherited the title of the Earldom of Selkirk long after he became Lord James Douglas-Hamilton. Indeed, it has to be said that he was Lord James Douglas-Hamilton all the time that he was the Member of Parliament for Edinburgh West. He then inherited the Earldom of Selkirk, which he gave up. Unfortunately, the electorate then gave him up and he came here as Lord Selkirk of Douglas. However, my noble friend will end up in the Scottish Parliament. Some of us think that he ought to be the speaker of that parliament. Knowing his tenacity, I suspect that he will be elected to that parliament for a number of terms. Therefore, when he decides to retire from the Scottish Parliament, it seems to me that it would be reasonable to say that he had certainly been democratically elected and that he could resume his seat in your Lordships' House.

My noble friend Lord Sempill is also standing for the Scottish Parliament and the same argument holds for him. If he were to be elected for, say, a few terms, he would certainly have plenty of democratic legitimacy. To show that this is not just a Tory concern, I should point out to the Committee that the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, is standing for the Liberal Democrats. If he were to be elected for a couple of terms, it would be reasonable to claim that he had plenty of democratic legitimacy if he wanted to come here.

Members of the Committee may be pleased to know that I am not aware of any hereditary Peers who are thinking about standing for the Northern Ireland Assembly. Therefore, I am afraid that I shall just have to pass that by. Similarly, I do not believe that any hereditary Peers are standing for the Welsh Assembly, although I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, who is a life Peer, intends to do so. However, he would not fall under this provision.

We do not have regional assemblies in England; indeed, I doubt very much that we will ever have them. I believe that that is one of these little pies in the sky which get kicked about so as to keep the people happy and the West Lothian question at bay. The proposition of regional assemblies in England seems to me to show a total failure to understand the West Lothian question or, indeed, federal states. Nevertheless, we shall leave that to one side.

There is, of course, the new Greater London Authority. I imagine that some hereditary Peers—I know not who—may be standing in that respect. There is certainly a life Peer who is more than a little interested in leading the Greater London Authority as the elected mayor; namely, my noble friend Lord Archer of Weston-Super-Mare. There are also many hereditary Members of your Lordships' House who serve on local authorities, some of whom have given a good deal more service than seven years. Indeed, some of them have given decades of serious and excellent service to local government. That probably applies to Members from all sides. They have been democratically elected time after time. It seems to me to be quite reasonable to suggest that, when they cease to be members of those bodies, they could come to this House.

My noble friend has been very generous in his amendment. He says that this provision should apply when people cease to be members of such bodies. I am afraid that I would have gone a good deal further and said that when they achieve seven years' service, even though they may continue to be members of such bodies, they may come here to give us the benefit of their wisdom and advice, derived from their membership of such democratically elected assemblies.

I could go on, but I shall resist the temptation to do so. In his amendments, I believe that my noble friend has actually lighted on a way which may help the Government to bring to this Chamber people who have democratic credibility and legitimacy and who come from a background of other democratically elected bodies in our country. Indeed, I think it is right to give some presence to those bodies in your Lordships' House as a revising Chamber. I certainly know that in any discussion about local government, those of your Lordships who serve or have served in local government, as I did a long time ago, bring a good deal of knowledge to the debates; indeed, much more knowledge than people who have had no experience of local government.

Moreover, the same could be true of Members of the European Parliament. I think ex-Members of the European Parliament bring much wisdom and knowledge to your Lordships' House when matters European are discussed. I think my noble friend Lord Clanwilliam has a good point. I look forward to the Minister giving a sympathetic answer.

Lord Carter

The Committee should—

Noble Lords


Lord Carter

The Committee should know that Chief Whips are only allowed out after midnight.

In replying to Amendment No.18 I shall speak also to Amendments Nos.26, 64 and 153. Amendment No.18 is a paving amendment for Amendment No.26. Amendments Nos.64 and 153 are consequential. As the noble Earl said, Amendment No.26 is at the heart of the group. The amendment seeks to allow hereditary Peers who have served for seven years in any of the bodies listed in the amendment to receive a Writ of Summons to sit and vote in the House of Lords. In the case of the House of Commons, any hereditary Peer elected to that Chamber will be entitled to a Writ of Summons on the day after he ceases to be an MP. This has the effect of ensuring that such a Peer who has been elected to the Commons and subsequently loses his or her seat in an election can continue to remain in the legislature by taking a seat in the second Chamber. Therefore it is proposed that a Peer who has been rejected by the electorate comes straight to the House of Lords. That seems to me a rather curious concept of the democratic legitimacy that the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, referred to.

The Earl of Clanwilliam

I know the noble Lord will be glad that I am not talking about organic farming but the fact that the person concerned has done seven years' service in a relevant body is sufficient. The whole point of the amendment is that seven years' appropriate service is proof of democratic legitimacy.

Lord Carter

I am not sure that the noble Earl entirely understands his own amendment. It states that if a Peer has lost his seat in the House of Commons he immediately receives a Writ of Summons to come to the House of Lords. Therefore he has been rejected by the electorate but he comes to the House of Lords.

If a hereditary Peer is currently sitting in one of the eight bodies specified in the amendment, and has been for seven years, he will be able to continue in the Lords after this Bill is passed. I must point out that the amendment refers to a regional assembly in England, but that concept does not yet exist. Also the amendment is not clear as to whether the Peer will sit for life or for the duration of a parliament. The amendment refers to a Writ of Summons which of course entitles the bearer to attendance for the duration of one parliament only. If it were for life, a Peer who had been a Member of the House of Commons could not seek re-election there. My speaking notes state that this amendment rather misses the point. After what I have just said, I think that that is rather a kindly way of looking at the amendment.

The Bill is designed to end the rights of hereditary Peers to sit and vote in your Lordships' House. The Committee will not be surprised at that piece of information. That is not because we think they are all incapable of holding public office and that they should prove their worth in another elected body but because we do not accept as a matter of principle that in social, economic or any other terms the hereditary Peers can reasonably be considered to be representative of the people of the country as a whole.

The noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrednish, says that the amendment is ingenious. Many years on the Opposition Front Bench have taught me that when someone uses the word "ingenious" he is a little bereft of argument. The noble Lord gave a long list of Peers in various legislatures. He displayed his knowledge of many colleagues. If I did not know the noble Lord better, I would say he was engaged in something of a filibuster.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

If I had been engaged in something of a filibuster, I would have listed all Members of your Lordships' House who are members of local authorities and explained the work that they did. That would have taken a longer time because many Members of this Chamber are members of local authorities. Therefore the noble Lord should be cautious as regards accusing me of perhaps filibustering, because I can do so.

Lord Carter

Well, we all know that. That is why I said it was only something of a filibuster. I also noticed that the noble Lord carefully did not deal with the central weakness of the amendment which I have already pointed out. Allowing the bodies listed in this amendment to act as a kind of workplace where hereditary Peers can spend a seven-year apprenticeship before entering this Chamber is a rather curious approach to the parliamentary process. If hereditary Peers wish to continue in the public service and stand for election to another body, that is all well and good. But to suggest that once they have completed a seven-year stint they can then by right return to this place is unacceptable. Why does this amendment discriminate against all the others who have served in an elected Chamber for seven years? Why are hereditary Peers particularly selected for this process?

The amendment is defective in drafting; it is wrong in principle; it is bad in logic. I trust that the noble Earl will withdraw it.

Lord Harlech

It is of interest not merely to those of us in the Chamber at this late hour but to the country as a whole that the Minister and he who convenes this House is also in a position where he convenes agricultural workers, who provide food for this country. That is important. My reason for referring briefly to this matter is that you cannot start to explain how you cannot do that that is on statute and still have an organised union. You must be careful as to whom you are organising, the union or the country. You must be very careful what you say.

Lord Carter

I refer the noble Lord to page 65 of the Companion to the Standing Orders, which clearly states that a debate must be relevant to the question before the House.

The Earl of Clanwilliam

I thank the noble Lord for his answer to my amendment. My introduction was curtailed. It was only six minutes. I threw away several pages of notes.

The object, which the noble Lord seems to have missed, was to retain an element of the hereditary principle. As I said, I know that noble Lords opposite do not like that principle, but I suggested a way whereby a small amount of that vital element should be retained as a memorial to the service of hereditary Peers in this House. I shall return to the matter at the next stage. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Earl Ferrers: moved Amendment No.19:

Page 1, line 5. leave out ("by virtue or) and insert ("because he holds")

The noble Earl said: I shall also speak to Amendments Nos.68 and 155. I can tell the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, who will reply, that he need not be too worried and apply himself too hard, as he normally does, to the amendment. This is an exploratory amendment. It attempts to find out exactly what is meant. The three amendments deal with the same point. The phrase in the Bill is, "by virtue of". Clause 1 states that, No-one shall be a member of the House of Lords by virtue of a hereditary peerage".

I do not know what "by virtue of means. I merely think that it is better to say, "No-one shall be a member of the House of Lords because he holds a hereditary peerage". It is simpler and more understandable. "By virtue of seems to encompass something rather greater than "because he holds". I can give only one example, although it is not the reason for tabling the amendment. It could be said that my noble friend Lord Cranborne holds his position by virtue of a hereditary peerage even though he does not sit in this Chamber because he holds a hereditary peerage. The words may have been chosen deliberately to exclude my noble friend. If that is so, it is slightly ungenerous. I merely think it is easier to use the words, "because he holds"; then everyone knows where they are. I beg to move.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

I think the answer to the noble Earl's question is essentially contained in paragraph 6 of the Explanatory Notes. It indicates that, The exclusion from membership applies to all those who are members of the House by virtue of a hereditary peerage, including … any holder of a peerage by virtue of acceleration…and …any holder of a hereditary peerage by virtue of the termination of a peerage in abeyance". We were looking for a proposition that was sufficiently flexible to cover direct and indirect relationships. "By virtue of achieves that. We chose a broad proposition in order to be sure that any Member of the House whose membership was in any way connected or related to hereditary peerages would have his membership of the House ended. I can confirm the thought that was in the mind of the noble Earl.

Earl Ferrers

Oh dear! Oh dear! I was holding out hopes that the noble Lord and the Government would be more generous. My noble friend is here by accelerated arrangement—whatever the description is—and came up by that route. Having been a Member of another place, he could have been made a life Peer. Had he been made a life Peer, he would have been continued; because he is here by accelerated promotion, he will be discontinued even though he is not an hereditary Peer. That seems to be a bit tough. The noble Lord can relax; I shall not dispute the matter any further. I do not say that I will not revisit the problem later, but I am grateful to him for explaining what I thought were rather complex words. I am glad to know that there is a reason for the complexity. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

1 a.m.

Earl Ferrers moved Amendment No.20:

Page 1, line 5, leave out second ("a") and insert ("an")

The noble Earl said: In moving Amendment No.20, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos.63, 122 and 156. This is a matter of very considerable importance. It is one of a scholastic nature, at which I am not particularly expert. One wonders why one puts "a" hereditary as opposed to "an" hereditary. One talks and writes about "an" hotel and it is a perfectly normal thing to do when the word "a" precedes the letter "h".

Being a prudent kind of fellow, I tried to find the correct way of dealing with this matter. I looked in the second edition of Fowler's Modern English Usage, which states: A is used before all consonants except silent h"—

Noble Lords

The "h" is silent.

Earl Ferrers

Noble Lords keep saying "silent"; I am speaking. (a history, an hour); an was formerly usual before an unaccented syllable beginning with h and is still often seen and heard (an historian, an hotel, an hysterical scene, an hereditary title, an habitual offender)". That comes from Fowler's Modern English Usage. I defy even the Government to beat that. I suggest that "an" is a more appropriate word to use than "a". I beg to move.

Lord Henley

As the noble Lord the Government Chief Whip has made a guest appearance, I wonder whether I can make a brief guest appearance. I moved a similar though slightly different semantic amendment on a Home Office Bill with which the noble Lord, Lord Williams, was dealing. He accepted the semantic point I was making on that occasion. I wonder whether he will accept the semantic point being made by the noble Earl on this occasion?

Lord Newby

This is one of the most important issues we have discussed today. As part of my preparation for the debate I, too, looked up the usage of the words. I looked in Collins Dictionary which said that "an'' was formerly often used before words that began with "h" and are unstressed on the first syllable. In British English this usage is now obsolescent. I could not believe that the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, would indulge in obsolescent usage. I was therefore extremely surprised that he tabled the amendment. He rather condemned himself out of his own mouth because in his first speech this afternoon he talked about a singular hereditary Peer and he used the phrase "a hereditary Peer". It seems to me that he is more in tune with Collins Dictionary than with Fowler's. This amendment is ill thought through and, in view of his own repudiation of the usage earlier today, I hope that the noble Earl will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

The Earl of Northesk

Perhaps I may make one brief point. I am gratified to note that the noble Lord, Lord Newby, has spent a fair part of today's debate keeping count of how many times my noble friend Lord Ferrers used "a" as opposed to "an".

Lord Williams of Mostyn

I, too, studied Fowler's Modern English Usage— the second edition. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew of Twysden, knows perfectly well that one always ought to give a full citation. He and I were both brought up to do that. The noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, said: A is used before all consonants, except silent h (a history, an (lour): an was formerly usual before an unaccented syllable beginning with h and is still often seen and heard (an historian …an hereditary title.) But now that the h in such words is pronounced the distinction has become anomalous and will no doubt disappear in time". We do not want to overthrow precedents in this House. The phrase "a hereditary peerage"is to be found in the Peerage Act of 1963 and the Parliament (No.2) Bill of 1968—I mention that for the benefit of the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne—which was the last attempt at reforming your Lordships' House. The Parliament Act 1911 in its preamble speaks of a second Chamber constituted on "a" popular instead of hereditary basis.

If the noble Earl had asked me for my personal opinion, I would have sided with him on the basis that one does not want to rush forward too quickly in altering the ways of pronunciation. Some people say "an"hereditary Peer. In fact the noble Earl was not as astute as always because on an earlier amendment I did myself fall into the gross error of saying "an" hereditary Peer but I hastily corrected myself so that he should not catch me.

In all the circumstances, particularly as I am responsible for the amendment—the single word "but"—in the Government of Wales Bill, I think we ought to stick to "a" on this occasion. But it is a point to which we probably ought to return at Report stage and Third Reading!

Lord Goodhart

In view of the reference to something that is "anomalous and will no doubt disappear in time", does the noble Lord accept that "an" hereditary Peer is peculiarly appropriate?

Earl Ferrers

I was interested in the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Newby. The trouble is that he read the wrong book. If he had read Fowler's instead of Collins he would have come to a different conclusion. I was also fascinated that he should have done me the courtesy of counting whether I had used "a" or "an". It is perfectly true that I used "a", because when in Rome one does as the Romans do. The Bill uses ''a". But I noticed that the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, used "an" and I thought, "Hooray, hurrah, now here is a person who will accept my perfectly modest amendment". The noble Lord was generous enough to say that in his heart of hearts he would side with me. I suggest that he does side with me. This is a fairly important matter. The noble Lord continued with the quotation from Fowler's Modern English Usage that: But now that the h in such words is pronounced the distinction has become anomalous and will no doubt disappear in time". That is speculative. The fact is that it is not anomalous at the moment and it suggests that "an" is the correct word, as the noble Lord incidentally and inadvertently used himself. This is an important matter. I wish to test the opinion of the Committee.

1.9 a.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No.2.0) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 31; Not-Contents, 63.

Division No.2
Anelay of St. Johns, B. HolmPatrick, L.
Annaly, L. Iveagh, E.
Bemers, B. Luke, L.
Blatch, B. Lyell, L.
Bumham, L. Mancroft, L.
Byford, B. Miller of Hendon. B.
Chesham, L. Monson, L.
Clanwilliam, E. Mountevans, L.
Clinton, L. Norrie, L.
Coleraine, L. Northesk, E.
Coleridge, L. Norton of Louth, L.
EdenofWinton, L. Stockton, E.
Ferrers, E. [Teller.] Trefgame, L. [Teller]
Gray, L. Trenchard, V.
Hamilton of Dalzell, L. Weir, V.
Henley, L.
Acton, L. Harris of Haringey, L.
Addington, L. Hayman, B.
Ahmed, L Hilton of Eggardon, B.
Alli, L. Hollis of Heigham, B.
Amos, B. Hoyle, L.
Archer of Sandwell, L. Hughes of Woodside, L.
Bach, L. Hunt of Kings Heath, L.
Bassam of Brighton, L. Jay of Paddington, B. [Lord Privy
Blackstone, B. Seel.]
Bragg, L. Kennedy of The Shaws, B.
Brooke of Alverthorpe, L. Macdonald of Tradeston, L.
Burlison, L. Mclntosh of Haringey, L.
Carlisle, E. [Teller.]
Carter, L. [Teller.] McNair, L.
Chandos V Monkswell, L.
Clinton-Davis, L. Morris of Castle Morris, L.
Crawley, B. Newby, L.
David, B. Nicol, B.
DaviesofCoity, L Pitkeathley. B.
Davies of Oldham, L. Ramsay of Cartvale, B.
RendellofBabergh, B.
Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, B. Richard, L.
Desai, L. Sainsbury of Turville, L.
Donoughue, L. Sawyer, L.
Dubs, L. Simon, V.
Falconer of Thoroton, L. Simon of Highbury, L.
Farrington of Ribbleton, B. Smith of Gilmorehill, B.
Goodhart, L. Symons of Vemham Dean, B.
Gordon of Strathblane, L. Thomas of Macclesfield, L.
Gould of Pottemewton, B. Thornton, B.
Graham of Edmonton, L. Whitty. L.
Hacking, L. Williams of Mostyn, L.
Hardie, L. Young of Old Scone, B.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

1.18 a.m.

[Amendments Nos.21 to 23 not moved.]

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

I beg to move that the House do now resume.

Moved accordingly and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.

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