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The Earl of Erroll: If the noble Lord will give way, it is the sovereign who creates Peers. For several generations the monarch has been advised by the Prime Minister. It is not a historic constitutional democratic right for the Prime Minister to create peerages willy-nilly.
Lord Desai: I shall continue. The revolution of 1911 would not have occurred if the Prime Minister had not insisted, with the sovereign, on his right to flood the House of Lords. I know that it is the monarch who creates the Peers, but we know that in the constitution it is the Prime Minister who de facto floods the House of Lords. The constitutional privilege is neither here nor there.
It is insidious to say that a Labour Prime Minister, or any subsequent Prime Minister, cannot be trusted with the future of this country, but hereditary Peers can. I do not think there is any logic to that. I hope that if the Committee divides it will reject the amendment.
The Earl of Erroll: My point arises precisely from the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Desai. The Prime Minister should not be able to flood the Chamber. If we set a limit and bring it up to broad parity, that parity will be kept for a significant number of years because it will be dead men's shoes. It will be difficult for future Prime Ministers to flood an interim House. We can then have stage two and sort the situation out properly.
The Earl of Caithness: The noble Lord, Lord Desai, is right. The Prime Minister will continue to have unfettered power to appoint whatever number of Peers he likes, regardless of the Appointments Commission which we hope to investigate in a little more detail on Thursday afternoon. From the little we have been told, and from the little there is in the paper on reform of the House of Lords, it is clear, as is stated in paragraph 12, that the Prime Minister will decide the overall number of nominations to be made to Her Majesty. The Prime Minister can appoint many more of his party than another party.
I take issue with my noble friend Lord Cranborne on a number of points. Although I agree with him in principle that we should remain an amateur House, by the passage of this Bill and the hereditary cleansing that goes with it, there is no question that the Chamber will become a more professional House, whether or not we like it. The end of the part-time Peer is here.
Viscount Cranborne: It is only with the greatest diffidence that I venture to disagree with my noble friend, who has long experience of this place. Is what he says really so? My noble friend has only to look at the attendance record of life Peers to see that there is parity in absence as well as in presence.
The Earl of Caithness: I had intended to talk about the attendance levels. I am grateful to my noble friend for raising that point. Those Peers who do not come often, but who, when they attend, carry disproportionate weight to their arguments because they are experts in their field will be lost. I cannot envisage many hereditaries who do not turn up on a regular basis but
However, I should like to look at the attendance records, because this is where we come to the point of broad parity. As I said at Second Reading, one gets totally different figures and a different interpretation of the House if one looks at the totals and at those who actually attend. If one looks at the attendance levels of the top 100 Peers one will find that 25 were Labour and 16 were Conservative. Yet in the top 100 there were 46 Conservatives and 30 Labour. It could be argued--and I know this is how the Government will argue--that the Conservatives have a higher attendance record overall and therefore there should be an increased number of life Peers. But when we actually look at those who do the work among the life Peers, we find that Labour Peers are already predominant. If we look at the top 200, the top 300 or the top 400, in each case there is a greater proportion and a greater number of Labour life Peers than Conservative life Peers.
That all stems from the fact that they were appointed for two very different reasons. A number of Conservative life Peers were appointed for award and a great many of the Labour life Peers were appointed as working Peers, and they have done an excellent job. It is a totally different system, but it does mean that the transitional House starts off on a very unequal basis. If the Labour Government wish to go for broad parity, they have that already in the attendance of life Peers, and the majority will be further increased should they wish to look at the overall totals.
The political landscape has now changed as a result of the elections last week. A great flirtation is now going on between the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats. Should not the parity be between Labour and Liberal Democrats and the Conservative Party because that party is as good as the Government, or as bad as the Government, whichever way you look at it? They cannot wait to get into bed with them in Scotland and Wales, and so it will not be long before they are doing the same thing down here. I hope that we will get a further elucidation of broad parity, because this is crucial to how the future House is going to work.
Without doubt there is already a majority of Labour life Peers actively working in this House. That calls for a limitation on the total number of Peers who will be able to attend the House. I would welcome a further amendment which would have the effect that life Peers who have not attended regularly, whatever that proportion is, should be disbarred from taking part in the successor Chamber. That takes me back to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Desai, as it would then allow the Prime Minister of the day to bring in a certain number of new Peers who would be working, conscientious Peers. We wish the value of this House to be increased, and that presumably is the way in which things could go.
The Earl of Northesk: The noble Lord, Lord Desai, is always a difficult act to follow! I have just one brief point to make in the particular context of Amendment No. 91 in the name of my noble friends on the Front Bench. I have been very struck by a comment in the Labour Party's submission to the Royal Commission. I quote:
Baroness Jay of Paddington: I am delighted to respond to the debate and delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Rotherwick, appeared to speak to his amendment. I am also pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, was able to act as surrogate mover of both amendments on behalf of the noble Lord, Lord Rotherwick.
The amendments appear to suggest that only the hereditary Peers stand between the Prime Minister and unfettered executive power of patronage. However, although I do not wish to enter into the realms of the hypothetical, we are in the area of political and psychological supposition about the intentions of the Government and my right honourable friend the Prime Minister.
It is unlikely that noble Lords opposite would find Amendment No. 70 acceptable because it attacks their powers to nominate their own Members of the House in exactly the same way as it does the Government. That was the point made by the noble Earl, Lord Caithness. I do not intend to enter into the discussion between the noble Lord, Lord Desai, the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, and the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, about the relative value of the amateur or the professional House. However, I would say to the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, that we had an interesting discussion about the value or otherwise of the attendance record as a recognition of a working Peer--or an active Peer, as the noble Lord, Lord Rowallan, preferred--during the debate on Amendment No. 52. The noble Lord, Lord Rowallan, then sought to retain hereditary Peers who had a good attendance record, and the Committee agreed that a good attendance record does not necessarily equate with playing an active role in the activities of the House.
Perhaps I may say to the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, with great courtesy, that it gives offence to Members on this side of the Committee when he describes the process of this Bill as being "hereditary cleansing" and I hope that we can seek to avoid the use of that phrase. It is worth recalling that the Crown has always had the
We discussed the intentions of the Government--again, I am in the realms of psychological if not political supposition--on earlier amendments in this regard. I re-emphasise that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister and the Government Benches have reiterated on relevant occasions in Committee and tried to make plain that we do not intend to seek more than broad parity between the Labour Party in the House and the main opposition party. We will allow proportionate creations from the other parties and we intend to maintain a significant Cross-Bench presence. All of those pledges are designed to ensure that your Lordships' House becomes genuinely bipartisan and is better equipped for the primary function of taking a dispassionate look at the details of legislation.
I suggest that that is a more sensible approach than an arbitrary ceiling on numbers because they do not create the balance, or imbalance, in your Lordships' House which we experience; it is a matter of political balance.
I turn to the arithmetic included in Amendment No. 91. I share with the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, a concern about adding up the figures "on the hoof". The numbers included in the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, may not be true. We can, of course, discuss that in detail if the noble Lord wishes to return to it. As I add it up, there are currently 531 life Peers, including the Law Lords and Bishops. We have just agreed this afternoon in accepting Amendment No. 31, that a further 92 should be added.
To return to the amendment we have just discussed about Peers of first creation and those who have Writs of Acceleration, the Government have offered life peerages to the hereditary Peers of first creation. I believe it was accepted that that was with the approval of the House. That, perhaps, would add another four or five to the total. I stand to be corrected but, overall, that comes to a total of nearly 630, approximately 15 above the numbers included in the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde.
I am not sure whether these figures would be acceptable to the House. They are the ones which have been given to me as being the most accurate and therefore the most appropriate to consider. What would happen if we took the overall ceiling figure envisaged by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde? Would we count on up to 15 vacancies occurring without any replacements being envisaged? What would happen if
On this side of the House, the Government have another objection to the amendment. It was an integral part of the compromise which we discussed at length earlier this afternoon and which has now been given expression in the acceptance of Amendment No. 31 that the Government would be entitled to create as many life Peers as would be necessary to achieve our objective--that is, broad parity between the main Opposition party and ourselves. That is at least 40 on the basis of the numbers implied by Amendment No. 31. That does not take any account of the continuing present imbalance or the results of the elections for deputy speakers.
Therefore, I think noble Lords will see that the figures proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, are unacceptable, in terms both of the overall proposals of the Bill and, indeed, of the proposals which the Committee has accepted through Amendment No. 31. As the noble Lord said in proposing the amendment, it was really designed not to have the detailed discussion about these numbers which, as the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers rightly said, we can all discuss at length and in detail, but to explore the intentions of the Government about the new creations.
I can only repeat, as I did in replying to the noble Lord, Lord Rotherwick, that we have intended and do intend to maintain this broad parity. We do not intend to seek a majority position for this party or any other government party in this House. We are committed to maintaining and, indeed, achieving the proportionate creations from the other parties and we are committed to maintaining the significant independent Cross-Bench presence.
I suggest to the Committee that we have made far greater commitments on both these matters than any other party represented in your Lordships' House and certainly more than has ever been delivered on. As regards overall numbers, however, noble Lords opposite have already been claiming--I suggest without enormous conviction, and this has arisen on several of the amendments we have discussed today--that existing life Peers would be inadequate to keep the work of the House going. I suggest that the amendment, as it stands, would introduce an element which would make it impossible to recruit as many Peers as may be necessary, given the remarks made earlier in discussions on other amendments.
For all these detailed and, perhaps the Committee may feel, rather nit-picking points about the numbers under consideration, but also because of the broad principles, I urge noble Lords not to press their amendments. If they do, I urge the Committee to reject them.
The Earl of Caithness: The noble Baroness did not fully answer my question. She was obviously referring to broad parity in gross numbers and not in numbers of regular attenders. Perhaps she can clarify that point.
What happens if there is a Lib-Lab pact in Scotland and Wales? Do the Liberal Peers in Scotland and Wales vote in the same way as the Labour Party Peers? If there is a binding pact in Scotland and Wales, that alters the broad parity down here.
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