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Lord Clifford of Chudleigh: I must admire the visual ability of the noble Lord, Lord Coleraine, who in moving his Amendment No. 11 said that he had an idea of what was in my speech. To be called "transparent" is quite flattering.
Lord Clifford of Chudleigh: I accept what the noble Lord says. I believe he mentioned hereditary Peers. I hate to disappoint him and hope that by the end of what I have to say he will appreciate the point.
Bearing in mind the countless opinions expressed on the Weatherill amendment, the fact remains that, whatever the defects in the Bill, all of us as parliamentarians have a primary, overriding duty to debate, advise and assist in controlling the supine government majority in another place. We must, accordingly, so amend the Weatherill amendment that while this rather regrettable Bill is being cured-- and perhaps endlessly litigated, the task of the Royal Commission being further complicated in consequence--this House can continue to operate in an effective manner. By this I mean that the House must extend and apply the best of its forces and practices until such time as a full and comprehensive reform of the House has, after due debate and democratic consideration, been implemented. That is the goal at which my amendment is aimed.
I now proceed to consider the amendment in detail. The Weatherill amendment seems to me to have altered fundamentally the balance of the Bill. It is necessary now to look at the interim Chamber as a whole. Therefore, I flag up the further amendments that I shall table at Report stage. Very briefly, those amendments seek to ensure that until full reform all current Peers should be entitled to speak and vote on constitutional issues and everything else. It is the duty of this House to draw on its full reserve of varied expertise until the Government carry out their promise of full reform.
The second amendment to which I speak tonight needs a little further explanation. I am concerned about the composition of the House at a time when the Bill is likely to run into insuperable legal difficulties. Those difficulties will inevitably confuse and delay the final reforms. That in turn makes the composition of the interim House even more important. Accordingly, the 230 Peers, both hereditary and life (so avoiding the possible "flooding" of the House), to whom reference has been made, are voting Peers on all except constitutional matters on which the whole House should continue to be able to vote. I suggest that the Labour, Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Cross Benches should each have 50 Peers and that the Bishops and equivalents--not all Anglicans--and present and former Law Lords should each have 15. If anyone says that this
Lord Mackie of Benshie: I have listened to yet another complex speech. I shall listen to many more. I have a simple question to ask the noble and learned Lord. Does he not regret that he did not conduct negotiations on the simple matter of the number of life peerages necessary to balance the House?
Lord Desai: A number of amendments seek to improve Clause 2. It is an impossible task. Clause 2 is so bad that it cannot be improved. I do not like Clause 2. I did not vote for it; and every device to increase or decrease the number provided for in Clause 2 is completely beside the point because, in principle, Clause 2 is bad.
The only choice we have is 90 or zero. As my noble and learned friend explained again and again--and he will have to explain several times again today--the significance of 90 is that it is the number agreed upon. There is no other rationale. Because 90 is the number agreed upon, that number sticks. After that point has been conceded, one can devise many different schemes. People talk about alphabet soup: this is a number soup. We go from 45 to 56, 105, 106, 140, 172, 180 and 230. Take any number and we shall give it to you.
Lord Howie of Troon: Is not the point that the number 90 was agreed on only because all the amendments were withdrawn earlier in Committee? Had we had a normal Committee stage, the number 90 would not have been agreed until we reached the end of a debate on the Weatherill amendment plus the amendments to it.
The number of 90 was arrived at before any stage of the Bill. It was announced in December last. It had nothing to do with the Committee stage or when the Bill came to this House. The figure was agreed upon for various reasons to assist a smooth passage through this House. I respect that reason but it does not please me sufficiently to enable me to support Clause 2.
Viscount Tenby: We are surely in danger of being overwhelmed by a bombardment of numbers. You name it, we have it here somewhere. I am almost tempted to say that the only number we have not heard is 600; but in view of the experience of the Light Brigade that is probably a relief. I am reminded of James Thurber who, when telephoning and being told that he had the wrong number, said, "If it's the wrong number, why did you answer?"
I say with the greatest diffidence and respect to the movers of the amendments, toilers all in the statistical vineyard, these are the wrong numbers. Why then are we discussing them at such inordinate length? We can go on putting up numbers ad nauseam. But it is surely unrealistic to believe that any of the alternative numbers, however persuasively advocated as some have been, would command the support of the majority of Members of the Committee.
We all now know the formula from which the numbers have been calculated. It is rough and ready perhaps, as we have now learned, without any rationale. But I believe that the numbers are generous; they will ensure that the work of this House continues efficiently in the interim period; and they are now incorporated in the Bill on the wishes of the vast majority of noble Lords in this Chamber.
Lord Mackay of Drumadoon: Perhaps I may follow the theme advanced by the noble Lord, Lord Desai, and the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby. We have to some extent moved on from the discussions that took place between my noble friend Lord Cranborne and the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor who entered into a compromise, an agreement--call it what one will--perhaps for different purposes. We were told what we were allowed to be told about what those discussions covered and the outcome. In the light of that information, by a substantial majority the Committee agreed to incorporate the new Clause 2 into the Bill.
I fully accept that we did so after a number of noble Lords, and indeed my noble friends, had withdrawn amendments previously tabled concerning the precise figure. However, it was the view of the Front Bench of which I am part that the Committee believed the figure of about 90 to be a sensible compromise in all the circumstances. No doubt if, before the negotiations had taken place, each Member of your Lordships' House had been asked to put in an envelope the number he would like we would have had a wide range of numbers. But at the end of the day a compromise was reached. As the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor has said on more than one occasion, the test of a good compromise is that those who reach it are not entirely satisfied with the outcome. I believe that to be not entirely satisfied with the outcome is better than trying to work out what the arithmetic means.
The noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, spoke to Amendment No. 14. Not for the first time the Liberal Democrats stand on their own as the only quarter of the Chamber which seeks to reduce the number. It is interesting to note that from all other sides of the Chamber amendments seek to increase the number. I found it difficult to follow the arithmetic of the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart. I had the distinct impression that at the end of the day it would leave the Liberal Democrats in a somewhat better position than they might be if the figure of 90 remains, certainly vis-a-vis these Benches, and for that reason I am instinctively opposed to it.
The Committee has already heard the arguments advanced by my noble friend Lord Coleraine in his probing amendments, not only from these Benches but also others. There is much merit in them. However, the time has come to face up to reality. The Government will not accept any change to the figure of 90. There is no hope of another place accepting such a change. Therefore, for different reasons, I support the views expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Desai, and the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, that the time has come to move on.
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