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Lord Clifford of Chudleigh: The amendment raised by the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, surprised one or two of us by the fact that it appeared today, before the review of the Weatherill amendment. We had heard about the possibility of such an amendment being brought forward in stage two.
I applaud the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, for putting forward the point that those who stay in this House will be subject to self-selection. It is absolutely vital that we do not impose on the general public once again. It is fair and just that the election of Members of this House should be appreciated by another place.
Another point which is quite interesting appears in subsection (6) with its reference to a Writ of Summons. The Committee may recall that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, had received counsel's advice from Mr. Lofthouse. That is a point that will be subject to further comment at Report or possibly before.
It is very worth while to recollect what the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, said about parity within parties; it is essential. He is not the only Peer to have mentioned that. I do not entirely agree with the figures that he put forward and I do not necessarily agree with the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, my Convenor. Nevertheless, if one can achieve an absolute and fair balance between the political parties, the general public will give a great
Lord Haskel: I voted for the Weatherill amendment and I do not have the slightest intention of changing my mind. It is wrong for the Committee to debate something which is really a comment on the Weatherill amendment. I believe that that amendment should stand. We should debate it next Tuesday, which will be the right time to discuss any changes to it. It is quite pointless to indulge in a long debate on the proposals of the noble Lord, Lord Pearson. The Committee has given its view and voted for the Weatherill amendment by an overwhelming majority. That is the view of the Committee.
Baroness Park of Monmouth: I shall be very brief. I am taking my life in my hands because I differ from my noble friend Lord Peyton. That takes courage. I voted for the Weatherill amendment, which I believe is a good answer. However, this amendment contains valuable aspects. As the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, pointed out last week, no fewer than 138 hereditary Peers play an important and valued part in our Committees. The Weatherill amendment will make that impossible.
I respect the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, for his amendment. It gives a great deal of weight to the Cross Benches in which I also believe very strongly. I do not intend to vote for the amendment, but it has quality and it should have been discussed.
Lord Milverton: I believe the amendment has quality and points which should be noted. I did not vote for the Weatherill amendment for many reasons. The figure given is too clear-cut. My noble friend's amendment has points which should be considered. It could possibly make the Weatherill amendment better than it is.
Lord Strathclyde: I congratulate my noble friend Lord Pearson of Rannoch on bringing forward a comprehensive scheme for reforming the House. It is widely known that he has always thought constructively and deeply on these and many other matters. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Richard, is no longer in his place as he is another Member of this House who has put a great deal of time and effort into thinking up alternative schemes. However, I recognise the difference between my noble friend's scheme and that of the noble Lord, Lord Richard. His scheme is a stage-two provision, while that of my noble friend relates to stage one. That is an alternative to the scheme approved by the Committee and known colloquially as the "Weatherill amendment".
We have had a useful debate. The only sadness is that, apart from the noble Lord, Lord Haskel, there has been no criticism at all from the Labour Party. I can only assume that it believes that this amendment has more merit than may otherwise be the case. I can understand why. My noble friend has put forward a seductive argument. It sounded like the Budgets that are
The main achievement of this amendment is that it meets the demand for broad parity between the parties. I know that the Government hold dear to that point of view. Indeed, many of us believe that the real motivation behind this view is just that; namely, broad parity. I fear that 240 Cross-Benchers in a House of 753 is more than I believe the Government would be prepared to accept. The "Pearson proposal", if I may call it that, means that 31.8 per cent of the House would comprise Cross-Benchers. I note that the Government found it inconvenient to accept Amendment No. 134, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, which put a floor of 30 per cent on Cross-Benchers.
The new clause that we are currently discussing means that only 23 per cent. of Members would be Cross-Benchers. With the addition of the Weatherill amendment, that would mean a total of just under 25 per cent would be Cross-Benchers. This amendment also avoids creating the kind of division between categories of Peer that the Government's legislation has injected into the House. It sets a ceiling of 700 on the size of the House. That figure is not much too large although I suspect that it is at the extreme end of what is desirable.
Another advantage is that it sets up a regular procedure for renewing the membership of the House. I welcome my noble friend's thinking and analysis. But there are also defects. It leaves too much to be determined by decisions in Standing Orders. I shall not repeat the speech that I made on that earlier this afternoon, but the same reasons apply.
The most substantive point against this amendment is that it seeks to set up an alternative arrangement to that already passed by the House last Tuesday in the Weatherill amendment. For that reason, I very much welcome the debate. This amendment is a valuable alternative. Perhaps at another time it might have been a better alternative than the one we have already approved. However, if the Government showed a willingness and an interest in reopening the issue and wanted to discuss this matter further, I am sure that we in the Conservative Party would gladly take part in that debate. My noble friend has put forward valuable ideas, but in view of the fact that the House is being driven by the Government's framework, I am sorry to say that I shall be unable to support him if he presses this amendment tonight.
Baroness Jay of Paddington: In moving his amendment, the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, described it as both a radical proposal and a pipedream. From the Government's point of view, it falls more into the latter category than the first. I agree with what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Peyton of Yeovil, and my noble friend Lord Haskel if the amendment is intended to be solely a proposition for the transitional House.
But I am advised by what other noble Lords have just said, including the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, that the amendment is intended to be solely a proposal for the transitional House. In that case I reinforce the point already made that this is an alternative to the Weatherill amendment to which the Committee has already agreed and the Government would not be prepared to support it if the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, sought the opinion of the Committee on this matter. Clearly, it will be for the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, who said he regarded some of the proposals as seductive, to decide whether or not he finds the amendment sufficiently seductive to abstain or vote against it.
The Earl of Caithness: Perhaps the noble Baroness can be a little more forthcoming. She will recall that the debate on the Weatherill amendment was slightly truncated and many of us who wished to speak were not allowed to do so. What would be the thoughts of the noble Baroness on my noble friend's amendment if on re-commitment the clause with the Weatherill amendment did not stand part of the Bill?
Baroness Jay of Paddington: Since the noble Earl invites me once again to go into detail on something that I have described as a proposition that the Government cannot accept in principle perhaps I may simply demonstrate, using figures provided by the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, how this particular amendment would be completely unworkable. I refer to the proposal related to the Labour Party. Subsection (2)(b) provides for 200 Labour Peers to be elected by the Labour Party. As the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, himself pointed out, currently the number of Peers on the Labour Benches is 176. Of those, 55 were created during the Session preceding that in which the Bill will be passed. Therefore, under the provisions of subsection (1)(d) they will automatically qualify for continuing membership without the need to be elected. That leaves 121 Labour Peers who are being asked to elect up to 200 Labour Peers.
Therefore, under this amendment when the initial election takes place there may not be even 200 voters, let alone 200 candidates. I could express detailed concerns about many other parts of the noble Lord's amendment. If the noble Earl wishes it I shall do so. However, in principle the Government do not accept this
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