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Peers' Voting Rights
17 January 2001
Volume 620

2.46 p.m.

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asked Her Majesty's Government:

In the light of the Human Rights Act 1998, when they will seek to amend the law to allow Members of the House of Lords to vote in parliamentary elections.

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My Lords, we have no plans to do so. Members of your Lordships' House already have an opportunity to have their views expressed in Parliament in our debates. Members also have a very direct say and influence in the legislative process. If Members were also able to be represented in another place they would be uniquely privileged. We do not believe that this is desirable. We are satisfied that this view is in accordance with Article 3 of the First Protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights, which concerns the right to free elections.

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My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. While I appreciate his arguments, perhaps I may suggest that those normally deployed against Members of the House of Lords voting in parliamentary elections make far less sense today than they did in the days of hereditary Peers. We are all commoners now in one form or another—we do not constitute a separate class—and therefore deserve a say in how the more powerful other place is composed and constituted. Perhaps I may also suggest that the right to vote in parliamentary elections—

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Question!

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My Lords, perhaps I may ask the Minister whether the Government, when considering proposals for reform of your Lordships' House, will take into account not only its composition but the right of its Members to vote in parliamentary elections?

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My Lords, the noble Lord is a distinguished political theoretician. I am very interested in his views. No doubt they are shared elsewhere. This is all part of a longer and wider debate.

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My Lords, does the Minister agree that it would be a very strange reading of the Human Rights Act or the European Convention on Human Rights if Members of this House, who have voluntarily chosen to be here—unlike, for example, the guests of Her Majesty's Prison Service—were suddenly to get an enforceable right to vote for Members of the other House under the European Convention on Human Rights? Would not that be a very strange reading of the convention?

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My Lords, the long and the short answer is "Yes".

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My Lords, using the arguments deployed by the Minister, why do Members of Parliament have votes?

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My Lords, I think the official response is that they are not Members of Parliament when the election takes place.

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My Lords, will my noble friend consider this proposition: that there should be no taxation without representation? As this House has no control over taxation, should we not be represented in the House that does?

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My Lords, I am happy to give the matter consideration; however, it is probably completely beyond me.

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My Lords, surely the Minister is right. There is no case for our having someone to represent us in Parliament when we have the privilege of being able to represent ourselves. Would there not be strength in the argument advanced by the noble Lord only if we were to lose our right to influence the legislative process? Can we be assured by the Government that there are no plans to alter our existing right to play a part in the legislative process?

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My Lords, I am more than happy to give that assurance. The noble Lord will recall that when certain hereditaries lost their right to be Members of this legislature, they gained the right to vote in a general election.

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My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the issue it not so much influence on the details of the legislative programme as influence on which government is elected? Surely that is a right that we ought to be entitled to exercise.

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My Lords, my noble friend is entitled to his opinions. As I said, this debate goes wider than the Question. Perhaps it will be discussed further in the future.

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My Lords, does the Minister agree that to say that a question is part of another, wider debate is the kind of all-purpose answer which does not fit any bill at all. I hope that the Minister—to whom I wish to be nothing but fair—will refrain from following his own lamentable example.

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My Lords, I do believe that the matter is part of a wider debate. I do not accept the noble Lord's interpretation of my responses.