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Viscount Cranborne: The Government have given unequivocal undertakings in Committee about the matter of broad parity and the fact that they do not seek more than broad parity during the time that the interim House will operate. I am pleased to see the noble Lord the Captain of the Gentlemen-at-Arms nodding his head and once again giving that undertaking.
I have observed previously that the last thing I would dream of doing is to doubt the word of either the noble Lord or the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor who has also given an unequivocal undertaking. However, we have also heard expressed during debates a feeling that there is at least a chance--I hope not a large one--that the interim House may last longer than perhaps the noble Lord and I would like. When we legislate, it is the worst case that we have to anticipate rather than the one we would prefer to see. It is incumbent on your Lordships to legislate in this case as in all others so that people of ill will find it difficult to break the intention of the legislation we are considering, as well as people of such good will as the noble Lord.
It is for that reason that I find myself considering my noble friend's amendment, Amendment No. 91, with considerable sympathy. In spite of giving the undertakings to which I referred, the Government have consistently refused to contemplate incorporating such an undertaking on the face of the Bill. I was not entirely clear from the answer given by the noble and learned Lord when he dealt with the point a few days ago what was the real reason. He may have been relying on a version of Pepper v. Hart to see him through; I do not
That observation is relevant to Amendment No. 91 for the reason given by my noble friends Lord Strathclyde and Lord Rotherwick. With the abolition of the hereditary Peers, or most of them, during the life of the interim House, we shall see a much smaller House by definition. Were this House to last much longer than the present Prime Minister's tenure of office in Downing Street, none can speak with greater authority than I in saying that politics is an unpredictable business. It is at least possible that an unscrupulous Prime Minister might follow the present incumbent and there could be circumstances in which it might seem convenient to such a person to flood your Lordships' House. With a smaller number of Peers, flooding becomes easier than in the present House. For that reason the Government might wish to think of the virtues of putting a maximum figure on the smaller House in the way proposed by my noble friend Lord Strathclyde. I do not have as high hopes as I would wish about the possibility of the Government looking sympathetically on my plea that they should incorporate their undertaking on broad parity on the face of the Bill. I can see from the smile playing about the cavalier lips of the Captain of the Gentlemen-at-Arms that my suspicion may indeed be correct in that respect.
One safeguard would be ideal, but if it were to be rejected by the Government I suspect that a lesser but nevertheless effective safeguard might commend itself to the Committee as being not as good, but at least would be something to reassure us, as my noble friend Lord Rotherwick suggested. I do not know whether the number of 615 is right. My noble friend Lord Strathclyde, with his experience as the Opposition Chief Whip, is much better at these calculations than I am. For an interim House a larger rather than a smaller number might be appropriate.
There is a very sensible reason for that. In the best sense, I suspect that the interim House will remain an amateur House rather than a professional one. I welcome that. I suspect that the ethos and practice of your Lordships' House, with all its advantages, derives to a very marked extent from the fact that it is in the best sense an amateur House. We should glory in that description while its present composition or, as a result of this evening, the new composition contemplated in this Bill, obtains.
I know that an amateur House almost by definition will encompass the useful membership of people who do not attend very often. I and a number of Members of the Committee can think of a large number of Peers on all sides of the House, but perhaps most notably represented on the Cross-Benches, who are very great experts in their particular field. That expertise is shared rarely with your Lordships, but when those Peers attend they speak with great authority on their subjects. In doing so they make a disproportionate contribution beyond the very few occasions on which they are able to come to this House because of their other activities.
I believe that we are making a mistake. I sometimes believe that the Government's crude use of the broad membership figures of the various groupings within your Lordships' House results in a misjudgment when, by implication, they suggest that the frequency of attendance is necessarily the only virtue. I venture to suggest to the Committee that in an amateur House there is a quality argument rather than just one of quantity. Therefore, I suspect that if we were to impose a ceiling in an amateur House, a rather larger number would be practicable rather than a small one. If by some mischance stage two tends to produce more of a professional House in the political sense, I dare say that we would contemplate a smaller number than 615. Meanwhile, for the reasons that I have given, I certainly would be very happy to take the advice of my noble friend the Leader of the Opposition. In principle I support this amendment. I look forward greatly to hearing the Government's arguments as to why it should not be incorporated into the Bill.
Lord Carter: The noble Viscount was kind enough to refer to me in his speech. I was struck by his remark as regards the successor to Mr. Blair being an unscrupulous Prime Minister. Did the noble Viscount have in mind a Labour successor or a Conservative one?
Viscount Cranborne: The noble Lord knows as well as I one of the glories of this House. Whips like my noble friend Lord Henley have experience of it perhaps every day. The Whip lies lightly across the Committee's back. In the best traditions of this House I make no distinction between the amount of unscrupulousness that lies on the Leader of either party. I merely speculate that it is possible, whoever wins the next election or whoever succeeds Mr. Blair.
Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank: The amendment standing in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, and others specifies that the number of Members entitled to sit in your Lordships' House should be 615. The noble Viscount said that he did not know whether or not that was the right figure. It seems to me to be very important to find out whether it is or is not the correct number. Although I admit that at half-past 10 at night my mental arithmetic is not what it should be, I cannot work out the figures. I hope that the House will bear with me for a moment if I try to make some calculations. I very much hope that the Official Report will get the figures right.
As I understand it, as of 1st April there were 170 Conservative life Peers, 157 Labour life Peers, 44 Liberal Democrat life Peers and 122 life Peers on the Cross-Benches. If the Weatherill amendment remains part of the Bill beyond its re-committal we must add 42 Conservative Peers, two Labour Peers, three Liberal Democrat Peers and 28 Cross-Benchers. If one adds in the 15 of unknown quantity one arrives at 588. My question is addressed less to the Leader of the House than to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. Given a figure of 588 on the basis that the Weatherill amendment has
I believe that there has been great emphasis both today and on previous occasions on broad parity between the parties. However, I remind noble Lords that the White Paper, in particular that part which deals with the question of balance, looks beyond the question of broad parity between the larger parties and considers proportionality. If I am right in saying that the figure of 615 does not even give room for broad parity, then least of all does it give room for proportionality on top of that.
I agree that there is virtue in having a House that is not excessively large. When we move in due course to the question of the second stage, I shall be very much in favour of a House of 400 or 500 Members. It is quite wrong that the second Chamber of our Parliament should have more Members than the House of Commons. By common consent, the House of Commons has too many already. I would be prepared to settle at that stage for 400 or 500 noble Lords. However, we are referring to the transitional House. If that House is to fulfil the requirements set out by the Government in the White Paper and is fairly to represent the feeling in all quarters of the House as to what that House should be, I am not yet convinced that 615 is the right number. If it can be proved to be other I shall be prepared to look at this amendment at a later stage, but I need to hear convincing evidence that 615 is realistic within the criteria set by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde.
Lord Desai: If the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, added the Bishops the number would be nearer the 615 than he believes. With 26 Bishops one is nearly there. In principle, I oppose the amendment. Noble Lords may be aware that I am not in favour of a transitional House but a directly elected Chamber. However, while the transitional House remains it has been the privilege of the Prime Minister for centuries to flood this House. That is a democratic right. It is a paradox.
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