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Lord Acton: My Lords, is the noble Lord in order in speaking to an amendment that he does not intend to move at this stage?

Lord Kingsland: My Lords, the noble Lord, justifiably, makes a fair point. I do not intend to press the amendment to a vote. I do intend to move it. I apologise. He is quite right to intervene and I beg the pardon of the House.

Lord Peston: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Acton, is a stickler for procedure in the House.

Lord Kingsland: My Lords, I could not agree more with the noble Lord, Lord Peston.

What is important about this amendment is the notion of an overall cap on numbers in this House. We have had, on a number of occasions from the Government Front Bench, an undertaking that the right honourable gentleman the Prime Minister is keen to limit his powers of patronage in relation to this House. A number of related undertakings of an informal nature have already been given in that respect.

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Therefore, it is my submission that the Prime Minister and the noble Baroness the Leader of the House should have no difficulty in accepting an overall cap on numbers. It seems to me to correspond with the Government's wishes. With an overall cap, it will be impossible for the present Government, or any future government, to manipulate numbers in this House in order to obtain a particular result. If the Government really mean what they say about their wish to limit their powers of patronage, it is difficult to see how they can have any difficulties with this amendment. I beg to move.

The Earl of Caithness: My Lords, the amendment standing in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Stanley is grouped with this one. It is therefore appropriate that I speak to it. Our amendment is also a serious attempt to define a limit to the number of Members in this House. Otherwise, it is on an exponential curve, depending on which government is in power, with unlimited patronage, to be able to create as many new Peers as they want in order to see their business through.

On 11th May, the noble Baroness Lady Jay said:

    "Let us say that we have agreed that x will be the number ... That is a guarantee of the overall ceiling".--[Official Report, 11/5/99; col. 1194.] What the Government have not said is what x should be. There have been rather confusing statements on what it is likely to be. Therefore I hope that this time we shall receive a more satisfactory answer.

In our amendment I have put forward a figure of 830. That has been carefully calculated. I have sent my workings to the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn. I have also given them to my Front Bench. I was about to place them in the Library for the convenience of the House when the new list of life Peers came out, which distorted my figures, so I thought it best not to do so.

The question of Conservative and Labour Peers is fairly easy to address because the idea is one of broad parity. I disagree with my noble friend about the precise figures. I think it more likely that 64 Labour life Peers will be needed to bring the number up to parity with the Conservatives when the Weatherill amendment is taken into account--which not all of us have accepted as the right solution to the future of this House.

The Cross-Benchers are more of a wild card. I calculated that their influence would be reduced from 28 per cent of the House to 17 per cent. Then, the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, confounded my figures even further. On 22nd of this month, in answer to the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, he said (at col. 896) that the Government's intention was to keep the Cross-Bench Peers at about 26 per cent.

I then come to the Liberal Peers. My noble friend Lord Kingsland did not mention them, but they seem to me to be the party that should bear the best in terms of new creations, if statements in the Labour Party manifesto and answers to questions put to the Government are correct. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor stated in a Written Answer on 9th June

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(col. WA 157) that the number of Liberal Peers would be proportional, and referred to the manifesto. It states that the number of Peers should be proportional to the number of votes cast at the last election, and the Liberal Party received 17 per cent of the vote. So, in my figures, I allowed the Liberals 17 per cent in the revised House, which brought them an increase of some 90 Peers--hence my figure of 830. I also had to include the other parties which received 7 per cent of the vote at the general election. They, too, were to be represented according to the Government's manifesto. That was my serious attempt to arrive at a figure of 830. Clearly we need to set a limit. I do not want to reiterate what my noble friend Lord Kingsland said on that point, as he put it far better than I ever could.

What concerns me is what exactly the Government mean when they refer to proportionality with regard to the Liberals. That is one of the unanswered questions. I reiterate a point that I have made previously. In the revised Chamber, unless a cap is set on the numbers, the ability of the interim reformed House to ask the executive to think again will be seriously reduced.

Lord Acton : My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, I should be grateful if he could help me. I am more than slightly confused. Is he putting forward the figure of 830 or is he not?

The Earl of Caithness: My Lords, when I tabled the amendment, that was the closest I could get to an accurate number on the information I had received from the Government, both in this House and through Written Answers. I have now said that that figure is wrong because of the new list of life Peers. As the noble Lord knows, four Conservative life Peers were created in the last list, which means that, to match those for broad parity, on top of my total there need to be a further four Labour Peers.

7 p.m.

Lord Acton: My Lords, is the noble Lord therefore saying that this is in effect a probing amendment at Report stage?

The Earl of Caithness: My Lords, far from it. There are two strands to this amendment. One is the need to set a limit. I thought that it would be helpful to the House to work out, to the best of my ability, what that number should be. I have tried to explain to the House. I am sorry if the noble Lord has not fully understood me; that is entirely my fault. I sought to put in a figure as close as I could to what I think would be the realistic figure, given what I have been told so far.

Lord Peston: My Lords, I think it is probably still in order to address noble Lords as "my Lords", although pace the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, some of us have titles which we think are rather superior to "Lord".

We have strayed yet again into the debate which I hope we shall have next year and beyond on constructing the new House of Lords. Something is clearly bewitching noble Lords opposite in that they

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would rather debate that matter than the Bill before your Lordships' House, a point which has been made several times.

It is clear, in my judgement, that when, next year, we get on with the business of constructing the new House, we must talk about its size. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, will find that he will have no difficulty persuading noble Lords on this side that we must have a view on that matter. It happens that, in my view, the numbers we are talking about are not very sensible; I would go for a much smaller Chamber. However, I do not think that this is the occasion to discuss that matter.

The only point I want to make is the singular inappropriateness of the number 659. It is one of a class of numbers--namely, the prime numbers--which one would not choose in setting up a legislative assembly because of the difficulty of dividing it. I know that the amendment refers to "the maximum number"; none the less, I utter this word of warning: when the time comes, we should accept a number which has many divisors. Six hundred is the kind of number I have in mind. The noble Lord said that he would not test the opinion of the House on this matter. I should like to encourage him to come back to topics of this kind next year or the year after; I shall certainly want to do so. I hope that he will agree with me in due course that we should go for a number with many factors so that we can divide the parties and the Cross-Benchers in a sensible way.

Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank: My Lords, I recall that on 11th May we considered Amendment No. 70 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, and others which proposed a new clause. The figure contained in that amendment was 615. The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, explained carefully how that figure had been reached. Few Members of your Lordships' House agreed with him. I put the figure higher than that; the noble Lord, Lord Desai, added in the Bishops; I think it was the Leader of the House, the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, who said that the figure should be 630; and my noble friend Lord Newby also came up with some good figures. We all knew that we were not very good at mental arithmetic, and it was a jolly but rather pointless occasion. At the end of the debate, the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, agreed that he must have got the figure wrong. That is where we left the matter.

We now have another amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, and others. The noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, has said that they have got it wrong again and that 659 is not the figure to which we add up.

I should like to go through all the figures which I believe the House should consider.

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