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The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, there are two reasons why we believe that this amendment is inappropriate. First, we do not think that we should do anything in this Bill which appears to pre-empt the conclusions and recommendations of the Royal Commission. A statutory provision of the kind envisaged in this amendment would inevitably be taken as giving an indication of what in future would be a suitable overall size for the second Chamber. Indeed, noble Lords opposite, in one of their earlier promotions of an amendment of this kind, made that linkage explicit when they proposed a number which was identical with the very figure which they had recommended in their evidence to the Royal Commission. We believe that the Royal Commission should be allowed to formulate its own recommendation, starting from the functions of the second Chamber, and without any attempt by us to pre-judge the number that it might produce.

Secondly, we believe that it adds nothing to the undertakings which the Government have already given about the way in which life peerages will be created in future. The real safeguards about abuse of the appointments process are related to the balance of forces in the House, not the overall numbers. In our White Paper, and in successive debates in this House, we have spelled out what those guarantees are. None the less, I suppose that it is some three months since the issue was last addressed. Therefore, perhaps the time for repetition has arrived. I can do no better than to repeat and endorse what my noble friend the Leader of the House said on 1st May. She said,

I have said before that I am confident that the transitional period will be short and that during that time there will be no question of anything other than broad parity and proportionate creations to which the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, referred.

The noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, asked me to give him from the Dispatch Box some free legal advice. It now seems to be a very long time since I last gave legal advice for little reward. I am not about to begin giving it free even when the request is made from as necessitous a source as the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne!

However, I can say that Pepper v. Hart has no bearing on these undertakings because they are not an exegesis of any provisions of the Bill. I repeat that the undertakings previously given on stage two issues are

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for another day. We urge the House to reject this amendment if the noble Lord decides to press it to a Division.

Lord Kingsland: My Lords, I say briefly to the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, that had he had the discussion that was suggested to him by my noble friend Lord Caithness he would have seen clearly that the appropriate figure was well below the one he quoted. Far from having a margin for manoeuvre of three or four, he would have had a margin of between 30 and 35.

I thank the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor for underlining the principles set out by the noble Baroness the Lord Privy Seal at Committee and Report stages. However, I very much regret the fact that the noble and learned Lord is not prepared to incorporate a ceiling into the Bill given the reasons that I have suggested. I do not accept that, in some way, the Bill should be unconstrained by a maximum figure because of the work presently being undertaken by the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham. Indeed, it seems to me that the best way to further the work of that noble Lord is to insert an overall figure. But the Lord Chancellor has given undertakings. The Opposition will be vigilant in ensuring that they are met. In those circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 3 [Appointments Commission]:

Lord Coleraine moved Amendment No. 9:

Page 2, line 21, leave out ("least") and insert ("most").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving this amendment I shall speak also to Amendment No. 10. The two amendments in effect make one amendment to the Bill. The matter at issue is Clause 3, the appointments commission, which was inserted into the Bill after a Division on the advice of my noble friends on the Front Bench. It is one amendment about which in my opinion it can possibly be said, using the jargon of these Benches, it makes a bad Bill a little better.

Clause 3 of the Bill gives certain functions to the appointments commission and one of them, set out in subsection (4), is that,

    "It shall ... make proposals to the Prime Minister for nomination as Cross Bench peers".

However, the subsection says that it should do that,

    "at least every 6 months, and at most every year".

There is a certain internal inconsistency about that arrangement. I suggest it should have provided that the commission make proposals "at most" every six months and "at least" every year.

Amendment No. 9 is designed to clarify an inconsistency or error in an amendment which I supported at an earlier stage and I hope it will find favour with the House. I beg to move.

5 p.m.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I am sorry to tell my noble friend that I cannot get too worked up about exchanging "most" for "least" and

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"least" for "most". However, what is important about this part of the Bill is that we seek some assurances from the Government in relation to Clause 3 and the wider aspects of the commission's work. Whether the commission makes recommendations at six-monthly intervals and at least once a year may be important, but it is not nearly as important as the fact of the commission itself.

Clause 3 is in the nature of an amendment which your Lordships insisted on inserting in the Bill in an attempt to ensure that this House does not become a House of patronage dependent entirely on the Prime Minister of the government of the day.

Of course, the Government will assure us, as they have done, that they intend to set up such a commission. I suggest that the Government Chief Whip, who is to reply to this debate, will give us those assurances and say that my noble friend need not trouble with his amendments. It is a "trust us" operation. But your Lordships know all the various "trust us" phrases. This is very much, "I am from the Government. Trust me".

I say to the Government, "We are trying to be helpful to you, so trust us". By asking for this commission we are helping the Government to fulfil their commitments. So perhaps the Government Chief Whip will tell us when we will get an appointments commission. Do the Government intend to ask the House of Commons to remove this clause from the Bill on the ground that they will give us an appointments commission off their own bat? If so, when will we get it? How many lists will be drawn up for your Lordships' House before we get it? In particular, will we have an appointments commission before the millennium list comes about? I have great fears that it will be as large and extravagant-looking as the Dome.

The Government have been long on promises on this commission and short on action. Therefore, I hope today, while I am not going to bother too much about "most" and "least", that the Government will give us an assurance that the commission will be set up very quickly after the Bill's passage and prior to the publication of the lists of new Members of your Lordships' House at the turn of the year.

Lord Elton: My Lords, I hope that the Government's anxiety to answer the important questions asked by my noble friend Lord Mackay will not obscure to them the importance of the drafting changes my noble friend Lord Coleraine drew to their attention. If we do something every six months, we do it more often than if we do it every year. It means that the two qualifying words are the wrong way round, as my noble friend rightly pointed out.

Lord Carter: My Lords, the purpose of Amendments Nos. 9 and 10 seems to be to correct the grammar of the original clause, which was drafted by the Opposition. I am surprised the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, as a former teacher, is not concerned about the grammar in the Bill; it is important.

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The appointments commission will be set up as soon as practicable after the passing of this Bill. It is pretty rich of the noble Lord to ask that question. It was the insertion of Clause 3 which delayed the setting up of the commission because the clause is defective. However, it is the clause in the Bill which is presently before Parliament and the activities of the Opposition, as the noble Lord well knows, in inserting the clause in the Bill against the wishes of the Government delayed the setting up of the commission.

Amendments Nos. 9 and 10 seek to correct the grammar of the original amendment. But to the Government it is a matter of stunning neutrality whether or not the amendments are accepted. It was a clause inserted by the Opposition against the wishes of the Government; we were opposed to its insertion. We have already made it clear that we shall be asking our right honourable and honourable friends in the other place to take it out. Amendments Nos. 9 and 10 do not make any difference to our overall attitude to the clause.

Having said that, the noble Lord, Lord Coleraine, is probably right in his proposals. At the least he has shown that the present drafting of Clause 3 is ambiguous. We assume that its intention is to provide that the appointments commission may make two rounds of appointments a year and must make one. But is that what it says? The noble Lord thinks not and I have some sympathy with him. The question is whether we are defining frequency or interval. The House will have to determine which it thinks is right and vote accordingly if the noble Lord presses the amendment. From these Benches, we shall not oppose it.

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