House of Lords Bill — 3 Mar 1999
Oliver Letwin MP, West Dorset voted in the minority (Aye).
I beg to move amendment No. 22, in page 1, line 17, leave out from beginning to end of line 3 on page 2 and insert--
'(2) Holders of hereditary peerages shall be entered on to the electoral register at the end of the Session of Parliament in which this Act is passed and at any time after the end of Session of Parliament in which this Act is passed the holders of hereditary peerages shall be entitled to vote in elections to the House of Commons.'.
the test--considers the action appropriate. We would not want that if we were starting with a clean piece of paper and considering what primary legislation a responsible House of Commons should pass.
I regret that that is not the end of the matter. Having given the wide powers, including the Henry VIII provision, clause 4(4)(b) adds the third vice of which we have seen all too much--and again in the context of a major constitutional Bill. As the Secretary of State was being given the widest possible powers, including the power by order to modify an enactment--something dreadful that has crept into our legislation--one might have thought that there would have been an attempt to create an element of constitutional or juridical decency by allowing the House of Commons to vote the thing in before it became an order. Not a bit of it! Clause 4(4)(b) provides for the order to be made by negative resolution. We all know what that means: on the whole, such orders go through on the nod. I do not say that these provisions will, because they are matters of great moment. Someone may pick them up and they may be debated. However, there is no point in negative resolution procedure unless the Government want to weight things in favour of their going through on the nod.
This is a major constitutional Bill that does something of importance in conveying a democratic right to a set of people, but it is done in a way that exhibits each of the three tendencies--the negative resolution procedure; the power to repeal and change Acts by order; and decisions being governed only by an appropriateness test--that have most bedevilled primary legislation over the past five, 10 or 15 years. Those tendencies started their sorry journey into legislative history 20, 30 or 40 years ago. If they were absolutely necessary, I suppose that we could understand it, but they are not.
Amendment No. 22 is designed to resolve the problem cleanly and clearly. It would put straightforwardly into statute provisions equivalent to the admirable clarity of clause 2. It would compel the entry into the electoral register of the names of those who need to be given democratic rights, with no orders, no negative resolutions and no Henry VIII clauses. That would end the need for the rest of clause 4. We cannot see the slightest reason why it should prove inoperable or why the Government should resist it.
In fact, this is where the whole thing begins to be interesting rather than merely a sorry tale. We have much scratched our heads asking ourselves why, given that the Leader of the House did not ask for it to be done in this way, it was done in this way. Why did all the learned, clever people employed by the Government to think these things through choose to display in a major constitutional Bill all the vices in a compact Christmas package? Perhaps it was oversight, but we doubt it. On reflection, we think that there is a reason, which has to do with the ghost in the machine that we see in the whole Bill and to which we have often alluded.
Question put, That the amendment be made:--
The Committee divided: Ayes 125, Noes 315.
Votes by party, red entries are votes against the majority for that party.
What is Tell? '+1 tell' means that in addition one member of that party was a teller for that division lobby.
What are Boths? An MP can vote both aye and no in the same division. The boths page explains this.
What is Turnout? This is measured against the total membership of the party at the time of the vote.
|Party||Majority (No)||Minority (Aye)||Both||Turnout|
|Con||0||123 (+2 tell)||0||77.2%|
|Lab||287 (+2 tell)||0||0||69.3%|