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Lord Coleraine moved, as an amendment to Amendment No. 25, Amendment No. 26:

Line 46, after ("party;") insert--
("( ) the proportion of peers of the second opposition party to peers of the main opposition party remains the same as the proportion of life peers of the second opposition party to life peers of the main opposition party was on the day before the passing of this Act;")

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I was very glad to hear my noble friend on the Front Bench say, as I understood him, that his amendment would preclude the Prime Minister from overriding or overruling the appointments suggested by the appointments commission. On that basis, I give my wholehearted support to his amendment, which seems to be one of the most significant amendments with which we have had to deal to date, arising in a most significant and delicate part of the Bill.

My noble friend has invited me not to press my amendment which seeks to put the scrutiny of Liberal Democrat Peers on the face of the Bill. He has told me that that is dealt with satisfactorily by government proposals. In my ignorance, from where I sit I am not fully aware of the proposals. I therefore wish to develop the argument, to which I still adhere, that this provision should appear in the amendment.

If there is no control over the number of Liberal Democrat Peers or life Peers for the period of the interim House, in my opinion that House will be delivered into the hands of the Labour Government. At the moment we have some guidance in the White Paper

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about the appointment of Liberal Democrat life Peers. Paragraph 7 of Chapter 6 states:

    "We set out in our manifesto the broad principle which we believe should govern the appointment of life peers but our present intention is to move towards broad parity between Labour and the Conservatives. The principle of broad parity and proportionate creations from the Liberal Democrat and other parties would be maintained throughout the transitional period".

When I spoke to an amendment in my name in Committee, at col. 812 of the Official Report of 25th May, I pressed the Government to say what was meant by "proportionate creations" because I did not know. To what were the creations to be proportionate: to Conservative life Peers in the House, to Labour life Peers, or what? The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor responded at col. 818 by saying that he would not take up much time replying to my amendment because he had been advised that were it to be accepted it would make the Bill hybrid and he assumed that, on that ground alone, I would not seek to divide the Committee. He was correct. However, that did not seem a satisfactory reply.

I then put down a Question for written reply asking how many Liberal Democrats would be offered nominations for life peerages, in accordance with the White Paper arrangements for proportional creations, on the assumption that the Bill was passed with the Weatherill amendment. The noble and learned Lord's answer was as follows:

    "The Government's commitment to proportionate creations for the Liberal Democrats and other political parties in the House of Lords reform White Paper was a commitment for the lifetime of the transitional House. It should be read in the context of the manifesto commitment to move, over time, towards more accurately reflecting the proportion of votes cast in the previous general election. Numbers cannot presently be specified".--[Official Report, 9/6/99; col. WA 158.]

Why must it be read "in the context of the manifesto commitment"? What does "in the context" mean? Is it or is it not the case that the Lord Chancellor intends the proportionate creation arrangement exactly to implement the manifesto commitment for the period of the interim House? What does "over time" mean? How much time? Does that mean the life of the interim House? Perhaps I may try to specify the figures if the Government cannot presently do so.

We are talking about nominations for life peerages. According to the figures available, at the beginning of the month there were 170 Conservative life Peers and 44 Liberal Democrat life Peers. At the 1997 general election, the Conservatives secured around 9,600,000 votes and the Liberal Democrats around 5,200,000 votes. If no further Conservative Peers are created, I calculate that on these figures the Liberal Democrats would be entitled to a further 48 life Peers to give them a total of 92. If the Weatherill Peers of the Conservative Party are also taken into account, and the 50 Deputy Chairmen are disregarded, the Liberal Democrats would become entitled instead to a further 71 life Peers, making a total of 115. These creations could, if it suited the Government, be made over time--that is to say, at any time during the lifetime of the interim House--and the interim House could well exist for so short a time as 30 months.

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It is small wonder that the Liberal Democrat opposition to the Weatherill amendment, although vociferous, has lacked a certain punch. The amendment that I propose adopts a different interpretation of proportionate creation and, in view of what my noble friend on the Front Bench has said, I do not propose to deal with it in this speech. The numbers game that I have had to indulge in can only be taken so far. But what it clearly shows--I welcome correction if I am wrong--is that the number of future Liberal Democrat life Peers proposed by the Government is not insignificant, has not yet been properly considered, and should be very carefully considered indeed. I hope that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, or whoever is to reply, will give some guidance to the House as to whether I have my figures in any way right--I see that the noble Baroness the Lord Privy Seal shakes her head--and if not, why not? I hope that my noble friend has found my thoughts on the matter useful. I beg to move.

Lord Acton: My Lords, subsection (4) of Amendment No. 25 states that the commission,

    "shall, at least every 6 months, and at most every year, make proposals to the Prime Minister for nomination as Cross Bench peers, sufficient at least to fill any vacancies among Cross Bench peers that may occur through death, disqualification or a decision to join a political party represented in the House of Lords". I am puzzled by that second "at least", which appears to give the commission power to propose an unlimited number of Cross-Bench Peers which the Prime Minister must submit to Her Majesty under subsection (5) of the new clause. I cannot reconcile that power of the commission with Amendment No. 52, which stands in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, and three other noble Lords.

Amendment No. 52 limits the number of Peers to 659. I am sorry for the mathematics, but as of 1st June there were 499 life Peers and 26 Bishops. Six life Peers were created in the Queen's Birthday Honours List and 36 new working Peers were created last week. Adding the 92 Weatherill Peers gives a total of precisely 659, which I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, will wish to discuss when he comes to Amendment No. 52. Reading the two amendments together, how can the commission propose any more Cross-Bench Peers than strictly for replacement? Surely the power apparently given by the words "at least" in subsection (4) of Amendment No. 25 for the commission to propose more than replacement numbers of Cross-Bench Peers contradicts the Opposition's policy in Amendment No. 52.

6 p.m.

Lord Stanley of Alderley: My Lords, perhaps a noble Lord on the Liberal Democrat Benches wishes to speak.

Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank: My Lords, if that is the preference of the noble Lord, I shall be very happy to speak now to Amendment No. 40A, which stands in my name and the names of my noble friends.

The purpose of the amendment is to embody in the Bill through the agency of an appointments commission the declared intention of the Government in their White

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Paper with regard to party balance within the House. I listened carefully to what the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, said but I do not think he claimed that the amendment he moved on behalf of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, and others did that in detail, and not to the extent that Amendment No. 40A does.

Perhaps I may draw the attention of the House to some of the paragraphs of the White Paper, although I think that some of them are now becoming boringly familiar to all of us. Paragraph 19 of Chapter 3 of the White Paper refers to the distribution of votes between the three main parties in the general elections of 1992 and 1997. Chapter 6 of the White Paper deals with the transitional House. Two paragraphs of Chapter 6 are wholly germane to what we are now discussing. Paragraph 5 states:

    "Our objective will be to ensure that over time party appointees as life peers more accurately reflect the proportion of votes cast at the previous general election". We are all familiar with that idea. Paragraph 7 states that,

    "our present intention is to move towards broad parity between Labour and the Conservatives. The principle of broad parity and proportionate creations from the Liberal Democrat and other parties would be maintained throughout the transitional period". That is the declared policy of the Government. I do not wish today to quarrel with it in so far as it is set out in the White Paper. What I seek to do is to write that on the face of the Bill.

I remember a debate we had almost three years ago, on 4th July 1996. It was the second day of a debate on the constitution. In the debate I referred to the desirability of an independent commission on representation. I referred to choosing Cross-Bench Peers. In fact, I said that there were three tasks or duties: first, choosing Cross-Bench Peers; secondly, receiving nominations from the party leaders--in that sense acting as a conduit because they would always have to be subject to the usual scrutiny--and, thirdly, ensuring political balance; indeed, translating the votes cast in the general election into seats in this House. At the time, that was regarded as a far-fetched proposal. Both the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, and the noble Lord, Lord Richard, who were then leading their respective parties, shook their heads in disbelief at such an outrageous proposal, which looked like interfering with the prerogative of the Prime Minister. But I am delighted that in a relatively short period of time the Government were converted to the proposal and it is now acceptable to the Conservative Party, although it wants to put it on the face of the Bill by means of an unacceptable amendment.

The proposal to choose Cross-Bench Peers has been agreed; the proposal to receive nominations from party leaders has been agreed; but ensuring political balance is the issue which we did not fully debate during the earlier stages of the Bill. On these Benches we believe that it is crucial. It neatly completes the role of the commission. It would be the job of an independent commission to translate the votes cast in previous elections, in so far as that was possible--I am not arguing that it would be possible to translate the votes

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for 1997 into a transitional House immediately without making it extremely cumbersome--over a period of time, into seats in this House.

On 13th May my noble friend Lord Harris of Greenwich made a powerful speech in your Lordships' House. Unlike what was suggested in good faith by the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, he did not deny in any way the case for a commission. What he did, and absolutely rightly, was to draw attention to the creation of life Peers under Margaret Thatcher and John Major and to the abuses of prime ministerial power involved. He then referred to,

    "an absolute torrent of humbug" from the Conservative Benches, which seemed to imply that their governments had not behaved in that rather outrageous way.

I want to be totally conciliatory and I want to be fair between Prime Ministers of both parties. We recognise--anyone with experience of government will know this--that all Prime Ministers are tempted from time to time to abuse their power of appointment of life Peers to this House. That is a natural condition of politics from which none of us can escape. I accept entirely what the present Prime Minister, Mr Blair, has said in good faith, but Prime Ministers change and all Prime Ministers come under pressure. It is very commonplace in Cabinet that after the Prime Minister has looked to the Leader of the Commons for the following week's business he turns to the Leader of the Lords and says, "Any problem in the Lords?", or something to that effect, and, quickly turning his head away, hopes that the answer will be no. But if the Leader of the Lords suggests that there is a problem, the Prime Minister will say, "Why?". If the Leader of the Lords says that it is due to the voting habits of the Cross Benches or, more particularly, of the Liberal Democrats, someone else who has important business will say that it is intolerable that the Cross Benches or the Liberal Democrats should be voting against the Government and defeating them. I am very glad to see the Government Chief Whip shaking his head in approval of my analysis. That is what happens. That is the way of the world. There is no manner in which we can escape it except by removing that element of discretion from the Prime Minister.

There is no argument about the principle. The Government conceded it in the White Paper. The Conservative Party has conceded it as well. There is no argument about the principle of the balance within the transitional House. That has been agreed. The only question is whether we should help the Prime Minister of the day to resist temptation and make sure that he follows a policy written on the face of the Bill rather than find himself under pressure from the Home Secretary, the Foreign Secretary or the Deputy Prime Minister who may ask, "Why are we losing votes in the other House? Surely the Cross Benches or the Liberal Democrats do not need any more life Peers next time".

That is the proposal. It is a totally reasonable one, as I believe all Members of the House will, on reflection, believe it to be. The only argument against it is that in some way it should not be on the face of the Bill but

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should be an understanding. However, if it is an understanding, I would wager that the Prime Minister of the day--I see the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, in his place: I do not think that we can enter into another wager--whoever he or she may be, would not act in the spirit of our debate.

We shall all listen with very great care to the response of the Leader of the House. I very much hope that she will put flesh on the bones of what appears in the White Paper and give reassurances to those who have doubts about the matter. But she cannot speak finally for this Prime Minister or any other. That is the reason for the amendment standing in my name.

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