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Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank: The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, says that this is a probing amendment. I certainly do not want to delay the Committee but the amendment raises a number of interesting issues that go beyond the points made by the noble Lord. Subsection (2) of Amendment No. 135 states:

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I do not believe that the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, mentioned that in the period 1992-96 the average loss through death of life Peers was 19. So it must be noted that, give or take one or two, the noble Lord is proposing that there should be no more recommendations in a year than there is likely to be wastage through death. In other words, the Chamber will continue with a constant number.

It has been widely agreed in the terms of the Government's White Paper that there must be a balancing of the numbers on a political basis. Even were there to be no more nominations of Conservative Peers during the life of the new Chamber, it would still not be possible to redress the balance given the disproportionate numbers at present.

Paragraph 19 of Chapter 3 of the Government's White Paper and paragraph 7 of Chapter 6 set out the Government's understanding of the present position and also their intention for the future. The White Paper indicates the balance since the last election between the three principal parties. The figures are plain for everyone to see.

I seek to draw to the attention of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, that there is no possibility, even if the new House survives a great deal longer than most noble Lords would wish it to do, in balancing the new Chamber, given the figures for votes cast in the last election on the basis of no change whatever in the numbers. That is the simple arithmetic which everyone must recognise.

It depends on when the figures are taken, but in broad terms 46 party life Peers are Conservatives, 42 are Labour, and 12 per cent are Liberal Democrats. So there must be some "coming down" in the number of Conservative life Peers. We all understand that there has to be an increase in the number of Labour life Peers. And there must be, to use the words in the White Paper, considerable proportionate creations of Liberal Democrats to obtain what would properly be our share of political life Peers.

So when we look at a figure of 20, and then allow, as I understand it, five for the Cross-Benches, it is plainly nonsense to believe that, were an amendment of this kind to be carried, it would contribute in any way at all to what I should like to believe would be the intentions of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, as well as those expressed by the Government--and which I am sure are shared by the whole Committee.

Baroness Jay of Paddington: I suppose that we should be grateful in debating this amendment that the Opposition Front Bench officially recognises that some sort of proper balance of forces within this House is desirable. It has never seemed particularly to worry them in the past. Even last evening we were told by the Opposition Chief Whip that it is really this side that has the majority, and that is perhaps because we work harder.

There are two problems with this amendment. The first is that it is unnecessary. We have repeatedly made it clear that we do not intend to flood the House with new Labour Peers. We have committed ourselves, as the

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noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, just said, to seeking only broad parity with the main Opposition party, to maintaining proportionate creations and to maintaining a Cross-Bench presence.

The second problem is slightly different. What the amendment does not do is enable any serious rebalancing of the relative party strengths in the House to take place because it deals only with new creations and not with existing numbers--what might be called the stock of Members. So although there is provision for new creations to be proportioned, the formula ignores both current disproportions and vacancies in the total existing membership created by death--as I said, the stock of existing Peers.

Would it, for example, under this amendment be open to the Prime Minister not to offer the Conservatives any new peerages on the grounds that they had suffered no deaths, but to appoint the seven new life Peers to which he was entitled, since Labour has suffered more than seven deaths, and to offer the Liberal Democrats their two; or would all batches of creations need to be in strict proportion regardless of the underlying circumstances?

I also remind the Committee that there are many more than three registered political parties. There are a dozen represented in the other place alone. Presumably they would have to share one, or sometimes two, appointments a year. Is that, for example, to be done on the basis of strict rotation, or on the basis of which party can put forward the most deserving candidate?

As I said, the Government's White Paper addressed the question of the stock of membership of the House, since it is that which determines relative party strengths and which in turn ought to reflect the outcome of a general election. A proposal which applies shares of the popular vote only to the flow of new creations, or seeks to put a ceiling on new creations alone does not take account of those realities. Therefore, this amendment is irrelevant politically and would not work in practice. However, I understand that the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, is anxious to join in the conversations that I have agreed to have with the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, on the basis of his previous amendments. I should obviously be very happy if he would do so.

Lord Elton: Will the noble Baroness tell the Committee, as this is a probing amendment, whether the Government have in mind any optimum number for the total membership of this House? What is the proposed best size for doing the work that the Government have in mind for it?

Baroness Jay of Paddington: I am sure that the noble Lord can do the arithmetic in relation to the subsequent House, which involves the 500-odd life Peers and other creations on whatever formulas achieve that. The longer-term arrangements would obviously be appropriate for discussion by the Royal Commission.

7.15 p.m.

Lord Strathclyde: I was only trying to get to the principle; namely, the question put by my noble friend Lord Elton as to whether or not the noble Baroness felt

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that it would ever be right to impose an annual cap, barring some of the difficulties that she raised. Obviously the answer is no, there should not be a cap; there should be complete freedom for the Prime Minister to choose as many as he wants. The intention of this debate was not to give the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, the opportunity to make the case for more Liberal Democrat Peers, although I am glad that he did not miss that opportunity.

Is it the Government's intention to move to the composition of this House reflecting votes in a general election in the interim House, or is it to wait until we arrive at the longer-term, stage two reforms?

Baroness Jay of Paddington: I am sure the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition has read the very precise comments on this matter in the White Paper referring to the transitional House.

Lord Strathclyde: So there is no further thinking on that! Well, this has been a useful debate, and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 135A and 135B not moved.]

Lord Trefgarne moved Amendment No. 135C:

After Clause 4, insert the following new clause--


(" . Peers who are disqualified from attending the House of Lords by virtue of section 1 shall nevertheless remain entitled to attend State Openings of Parliament.")

The noble Lord said: Perhaps I may also speak to Amendment No. 135D. Earlier in proceedings on the Bill there was some discussion about the so-called club rights. This amendment is not about those rights, but about a much narrower point; namely, the possibility--the desirability as I see it--of hereditary Peers attending the State Opening of Parliament, as I propose in this amendment. Amendment No. 135D raises an even more important point; namely, sitting on the steps of the Throne.

At an earlier stage I asked whether, for example, Privy Counsellors who were hereditary Peers would be allowed to sit on the steps of the Throne. At present, Privy Counsellors from the other place, from this House, or from neither House, may come and sit on the steps of the Throne. Indeed, I have discovered that one or two other slightly unexpected people are entitled to sit on the steps of the Throne. For example, I understand that the Dean of Westminster possesses those rights, and noble Lords may say that that is quite right too.

I should like to hear what the Government have in mind with regard to these particular matters. I believe that it would be appropriate for hereditary Peers to continue to attend the State Opening of Parliament. Of course, the hereditary Peers will not remain in the same numbers as now. I imagine that no new hereditary Peers are likely to be created in the foreseeable future; thus the number of hereditary Peers will decline. Indeed, I do not imagine that every hereditary Peer would want to attend anyway. I should also like to hear about the question of sitting on the steps of the Throne, and also

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possibly about the question of access to this House by those who presently have access by virtue of their relationship to a hereditary Peer. I beg to move.

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