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Lord Strathclyde: I entirely agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Newby, has just said. That is the point. I am not trying to get broad parity between the parties. It is the Government that are trying to get broad parity. All that I am trying to do, as an extension of that principle, is to think ahead to the likely effects if there is a coalition between the Liberal Democrats and the party of government, which is a possibility. Even the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, will accept that.
Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank: This is a very late hour for such wise words. The idea that there is a continuing love-in between the Government and the Liberal Democrats is very far from the truth. I have known the noble Baroness the Leader of the House for a very long time, and I love her dearly, but she is a very tough cookie. Beyond that, she really is Old Labour, and she is terribly loyal to the Prime Minister, but she still believes in the two-party system. It is very difficult to get her to believe that the third party matters at all. I would much rather negotiate with, and would get a great deal more out of, the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, than I shall ever get out of the noble Baroness the Leader of the House.
The noble Lord, Lord Desai, gets rather excited when we talk about the abuse of the power of the Prime Minister. I have no doubt that the present Prime Minister will behave very well, but there may be others. We do not know how long this stage will last. And, as my noble friend Lord Lucas put it rather elegantly at the end, it would make no difference at all to the Government to accept such an amendment, because they have made their intentions utterly clear: they will not massively increase the House. If it matters to us, why do they not accept the principle?
I am rather hoping that the noble Baroness will give a positive assurance in answer to that question. That will allow me to withdraw Amendment No. 70 and perhaps the Government and the Opposition can come forward with a suitable amendment on Report. Is the noble Baroness able to give us any further thoughts?
Baroness Jay of Paddington: At the risk of making the Committee feel that I am guilty of tedious repetition, I simply say again that it seems to me that one must have a clear view of the arithmetic--and do not let us quibble about the number--in relation to the number of life Peers plus those who are already Members of the House on the Cross-Benches and the numbers who will be retained now under the accepted Amendment No. 31. That has been confirmed by the noble Lord, Lord Newby.
Let us say that we have agreed that x will be the number. Within x, the Government will merely seek to ensure that there is almost precise parity with the Official Opposition. That is a guarantee of the overall ceiling, which is rather clear, on the size of the House.
Lord Strathclyde: The noble Baroness makes a good point about the detail of the amendment but says nothing about the principle. However, I shall read what the noble Baroness has said and I shall see whether I can convert her assurances into an amendment which we can bring forward at another stage of the Bill. On behalf of my noble friend, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
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