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Baroness Jay of Paddington: We dealt at some length in relation to another amendment with the relevance of what was happening in Scotland, what was happening to the Scottish peerage, and the representation from Scotland by life Peers in your Lordships' House. We agreed that that was not immediately relevant to the transitional House where, for example, the Scottish Peers would be more than adequately represented. As I said in response to the noble Earl earlier, proportionate creation in relation to the Liberal Democrats and other groupings in your Lordships' Chamber is one of the commitments that we have given.
We are talking about numbers. We had detailed discussion on an earlier amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Rowallan, in relation to active hereditary Peers who might be included as an exclusion from Clause 1 of the Bill. The Committee in general agreed that simple attendance was not something which signified active or indeed committed membership. I cited to the Committee, and I am delighted to do so again, one noble Lord who was recorded as having attended 100 times in the last Session but has not yet made a maiden speech even though he has been a Member for 40 years. On that basis we have to deal in what the noble Earl might describe as crude numbers rather than trying to have a more subjective assessment of activity or worthwhile contribution.
Lord Lucas: We are dealing here with whether the worth of the Weatherill amendment and the worth of the transitional House as a place to work and legislate in are dependent on executive action or should have a statutory basis. The Government made some worthwhile propositions as to how the House should be balanced and how Cross-Bench Peers should be appointed. But they will not put those into statute.
That is a crucial weakness in the Bill as it stands. It would be worth sacrificing the Weatherill amendment to press that home. Weatherill is worth nothing if the Chamber that is left following the passage of this Bill is worth nothing. If we are to have broad parity and a Lib-Lab alliance which almost has a majority in this House, it requires very little extra for the Government to tip it to the point where we have the opposite of what we have at the moment. That is a position about which the Government have so rightly complained for many years; that is, one-party dominance in the House.
The constitution of the House is important. It is the crux of this legislation and we must have something in the Bill. I do not mind what form it is in, but we must move the Government from where they are now.
Baroness Jay of Paddington: I am grateful for the noble Lord's intervention, but somewhat confused. The noble Lord is saying that he is in doubt as to whether membership of the transitional House will be worthwhile, whereas the Committee this afternoon ensured precisely the mix for which he and other noble Lords on the Opposition Benches were arguing in the transitional House.
I accept that what he said also depends on the overall composition of the Chamber, which is not related to the Official Opposition. There is only one Official Opposition party in this Chamber at any one time. But if the government of the day--that is, the Labour Party--are to have broad parity with the Official Opposition, that means parity with the Conservative Party. I am sure the noble Lord is aware that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has already said (this is the subject of subsequent amendments which we shall no doubt discuss on Thursday) that the number of Peers who sit on the Cross-Benches, the independent Peers, should be determined by an appointments commission and not by personal patronage. I should have thought that that would be an additional guarantee to the noble Lord that there would be an additional mix to the combination which he fears.
I also point out to the noble Lord--I do this simply in the spirit of information rather than making a party political point, because it is obviously not a party political point that is on my side in this argument--that he will have noted the position which the Liberal Democrat Party took on the important decision of whether or not to support the Weatherill amendment earlier this afternoon. I do not think that suggests a group of people working in tied coalition to make any long-term changes to your Lordships' House.
Lord Lucas: Of course I acknowledge what the Government have said and what the Government intend to do. The Government promise that this will be a short-term Chamber--the transitional Chamber--that will be with us for only a couple of years. Then, surely, it cannot matter to the Government that we have something in the Bill which ties them down to particular proportions and to particular arrangements within the Chamber which guarantee some measure of balance which they have already promised. I am simply asking the Government to put in words in the Bill what they have already said that they will do. The transitional Chamber will be gone in a couple of years if they fulfil their promises to us. This cannot matter to them, but it
Baroness Jay of Paddington: I do not wish to prolong this debate, but is the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, seriously suggesting that he will invite the Committee to support the amendment in the name of the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition which, as we have already demonstrated, does not add up arithmetically?
Lord Lucas: I was merely starting a debate which we shall continue at great length on Thursday. However, we may not need to prolong it on Thursday if we are able to get answers now to some of the crucial questions on the earlier amendments. In that case we may not need to discuss the later ones in such great detail.
Lord Strathclyde: I think the whole Committee will have recognised what an important issue this is. The Committee will also have noted that my noble friend Lord Rotherwick, when he eventually spoke to his amendment, was a considerably better exponent of it than I was.
I thank my noble friend Lord Cranborne for his support. I entirely agree with what he says about the obsession that so many have with statistics. One of the great arguments I had with the noble Lord, Lord Richard, when he was Leader of the Opposition, and indeed when he was Leader of the House, concerned the fact that one can prove practically whatever one wants with regard to the House of Lords by the use of statistics. However, it is only when one examines exactly what those statistics mean that one gets a clearer view of the issues we are dealing with.
I have been taken to task by a number of Members of the Committee, including the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, and the noble Baroness, on account of my mathematics. I surrender; I do not pretend that the figures were entirely correct.
Lord Strathclyde: I was looking for two things; first, a broad acceptance of the principle that there should be a cap on the Chamber--I shall return to that--and, secondly, to have a stab at the right figure. I mentioned a rather rough figure of about 500 life Peers. As a result of the Weatherill amendment the Conservative Party and the Labour Party would achieve roughly 50 Peers, and the Labour Party, to achieve parity with the Conservative Party, would need about 40 or 50 Peers. That left a ceiling of about 15 or 20 before we hit the magic figure of 615.
The figure of 615 is irrelevant. It could be 630, it could be 650, perhaps even 750. I am tempted to put down an amendment at a higher figure, if the Government's obsession is to get the figure absolutely right, because then I am happy to debate each individual figure.
My noble friend Lord Caithness talked about the possibility of a coalition between the Liberal Democrats and the Labour Party. In that event, obviously there would be a massive amount in favour of the parties of government. Would that necessitate a reduction in the number of Peers?
Lord Newby: I hesitate to raise the question of arithmetic again so late in the evening, but I would just point out to the noble Lord that, with the Weatherill amendment in place, the Labour Party is 53 adrift of the Conservative Party, at least. There would be 47 Liberal Democrats and 150 Cross-Benchers, so, if the official Opposition and the Cross-Benchers were to vote together, there would be, by my rough calculation, a majority against the Government of 150. I do not see that that demonstrates any sign of government domination of the House of Lords.