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Lord Falconer of Thoroton: First, my noble friend Lord Randall of St. Budeaux described the process in relation to Lords reform as not being sufficiently transparent. We have always made clear our position. Stage one is the removal of hereditary Peers, a Royal Commission, and then stage two. It is hard to be clearer. The chairman of the Royal Commission is a Conservative Member of this House. Anyone can submit evidence in relation to it. I cannot think of a clearer way in which to have a debate.
Secondly, my noble friend asked whether the Government thought it appropriate for a number of options to be presented to the Chamber. The Government do not think that appropriate. The Government have a clear policy in relation to reform of this House, in particular stage one. The Government also think that the composition of this Chamber is not just a matter for this House. There are wider considerations beyond the wishes of this House, in particular the wishes of another place and of the people. The future of this House is not a matter to be decided simply by the Members of this House determining a menu for the other place. We do not think that that is an appropriate way to proceed.
Thirdly, my noble friend said that there were two prongs to his proposal: first, that hereditary Peers should survive until they die; and, secondly, that there should be weighted voting. He put that two-pronged proposal forward at an earlier stage of the Committee. At that stage it was not put forward for the interim House but as a long-term solution. He said fairly in the course of his speech on the previous occasion that he believed the general view in this House was that the time for a hereditary legislature was gone. With respect, we agree with him.
The proposal he makes in relation to hereditary Peers staying until they die means that after two parliaments the figure will be 50 per cent of their number. They would survive for about 60 years on the basis of actuarial tables. While I am glad that many of them will survive for a long time, that does not meet in any shape or form our manifesto commitment to remove the hereditary Peers. So we cannot accept the first part of his proposal.
The second part of the noble Lord's proposal is put forward on the basis that it helps the Government meet their proposal to have parity in relation to this House. The effect of Clause 1 to which this House has agreed
The effect of the Weatherill amendment is that there will be a slightly greater disparity because there are more Conservative than Labour hereditary Peers. But it does not make the disparity so great that it cannot appropriately be dealt with by the direct method that I suggest. We believe that there is no need for a weighted system to achieve parity between the two main parties in the House.
I turn to the detail of the amendment. There is nothing in the proposals about the composition of the commission or its status. Is it to be connected with the House, or right outside it? Nor is there anything about the considerations which the commission has to take into account in formulating its recommendations. I can see considerable dangers in a number of schemes. How does one fix the ratios to take account of the changing membership of the House? Is it to be entirely a matter for the commission to determine how great the Government's advantage over the main Opposition party should be? Is any consideration to be given as to how likely people are to vote in drawing up the weightings? What weight does a vote carry when a Peer votes against his own party?
Finally, I must point out the logical flaw in this amendment. It requires the commission to report before the Session in which the Bill is passed. As I understand it, therefore, the commission has already reported on the basis of these proposals.
The proposals do not stand up either in detail or in principle. I hope that my noble friend will note that with the exception of the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, there was essentially no support in the Chamber for his proposal. I hope that he will bear that in mind when he considers what to do at Report stage.
The Minister stated that he could not support the idea of options. That is a pity. I realise that both Front Benches have made a deal. I am aware that 80 or 90 Peers will have seats. However, I still believe that the House should decide on this issue.
I refer to the point raised by my noble friend Lord Davies of Coity. The issue has nothing to do with block voting. The point was raised that someone from this side of the Chamber might vote in the other Lobby. In that case, the weighted voting goes through. The situation is very easy.
The noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, mentioned the confusion. We discussed it over dinner in the Home Room one evening. Perhaps I may put it in practical terms. The position is simple. One would move the column one inch in the printed form which the Clerks fill in. Then one adds up the list in the same way as now. There is then a little "look-up table" because we do not want to do multiplication; and that is it. There is nothing complicated.
Lord Randall of St. Budeaux: We beg to differ on that. The noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, said that we seek to make this Chamber like the House of Commons. That is the last thing we want to do. We are trying to get a House which is independent and has maintained its level of expertise and overall parliamentary system. As regards the "contents" or "not contents", it does not matter which Lobby one goes through because the weighted voting system is exactly the same.
Lord Crickhowell: I respect the noble Lord for the argument he has advanced about the Bill, but I do not understand why, if we go into the Division Lobbies, he should have two-and-a-half times my vote on any issue about which we might happen to differ.
Lord Randall of St. Budeaux: There is an arrangement in this House under which there is a much greater proportion of Conservative Peers than Labour Peers. I have been through the figures of every government defeat since 1997 and I believe that there is total inequity. I believe that the Government are having a rough deal. Therefore, the purpose of the amendment is to try to achieve equity in the voting, but, at the same time, to maintain the independence of the House.
These views are debatable and the whole point of the Royal Commission is to confirm that situation. The commission will probably need to meet only on two days in order to discuss the matter. It would be extraordinarily simple.
Lord Crickhowell: The commission can decide on the technical details, but it cannot decide on the principle. Perhaps I may give an example of a particular issue which arose under the previous Conservative Government; the War Crimes Bill. I, with a string of Cabinet colleagues in the Conservative Government, went through the Lobby against that Government and against the majority in the House of Commons. It is not the kind of issue on which the membership of a political party should decide that one vote is greater than another. That above all was the kind of issue in respect of which individual Members of this House decided on the merits. I was in the Lobby not only with a number of former Conservative Cabinet Ministers but a large number of Labour Members who took the same view. I believe that all our votes should count as equal.
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