HL Deb 26 October 1999 vol 606 cc184-205

(" . The maximum number of persons entitled to receive a writ of summons to the House of Lords and to sit and vote in that House is 750.").

The noble Lord said: My Lord, Amendment No. 8 seeks to place a limit of 750 on the size of your Lordships' House. Those of your Lordships who have had a chance to glance at the manifesto of the Labour Party and the Government's White Paper on reforming your Lordships' House will be aware that distinct principles underlie the plans for the composition of your Lordships' House at stages one and two.

For the composition of the House at stage one, the principle will be that each time there is a general election there will be an adjustment in the number of life Peers to reflect the overall result. The principle for the transitional House is that there will be broad parity between the Government and the main opposition party, with proportional increases for the other parties and a substantial representation by the Cross-Benchers.

Today we are considering the transitional House, but I cannot resist saying, in passing, that the plans for the House at stage two, if they reflect what is said in the Labour Party's manifesto, are seriously flawed. I say that for two reasons. First, if we have to adjust the number of life Peers each time there is a general election in order to reflect the result of that election, your Lordships' House will grow in size exponentially. Very soon its membership will exceed 1,000 and more.

Secondly, if the composition of your Lordships' House reflects the composition of another place, if this House is a photograph of another place, what control will your Lordships' House be able to exercise on that other place? Therefore, I hope that between now and the time when the Government consider their plans for stage two they will reflect on the principles set out in their manifesto and reconsider the position.

As regards the composition of the transitional House, the principle of broad parity has been made crystal clear by the noble Baroness the Lord Privy Seal both in Committee and at Report stage. Perhaps I may draw your Lordships' attention, first, to the Hansard report of 11th May 1999. The noble Baroness said, somewhat late in the evening: Let us say that we have agreed that x will be the number"— that is, the total number of Members of your Lordships' House. She continued: 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". —[Official Report, 11/5/99; col. 1194.]

Just before that, the noble Baroness elucidated the meaning of the expression "Official Opposition", by saying: There is only one Official Opposition party in this Chamber at any one time. But if the government of the day—that is, the Labour Party—are to have broad parity with the Official Opposition, that means parity with the Conservative Party".— [Official Report, 11/5/99; col. 1191.] Just over a month and a half later, on Report on 30th June, the noble Baroness the Lord Privy Seal again addressed her mind to this particular matter. The noble Baroness quoted paragraph 7 on page 32 of the Government's White Paper, Reforming the House of Lords, which stated: 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".—[Official Report, 30/6/99; col. 347.]

It is my submission that nothing could be clearer than those statements about where the Government stand on the situation which will be maintained throughout the life of your Lordships' House in its transitional stage.

The noble Baroness also hazarded on Report a view of what the total number would be that would properly reflect those principles in the event that—I should qualify myself—the Weatherill amendment were to pass and become law. The noble Baroness estimated that the size of your Lordships' House would be in the order of 700 Members.

Your Lordships will no doubt be pleased to hear that Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition have made their own calculations. Taking into account the Weatherill amendment and applying to it the principles of parity between the Government and the Official Opposition party, proportionate increases for the Liberals, and a substantial representation for the Cross-Benchers, we believe that the figure that will be arrived at will be somewhere between 715 and 720 Members.

Lord Callaghan of Cardiff

Too many.

Lord Kingsland

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, says "Too many". That, I believe, is a matter which he might take up with someone he knows very well on his own Front Bench.

Noble Lords

Hear, hear!

Lord Kingsland

My Lords, that will leave the Government some 30 to 35 spaces to fill in the way that they believe appropriate within the rules that they themselves have imposed upon themselves. The noble Baroness also said on Report that she felt that that number was adequate to meet the various tasks that the transitional House would face throughout its life, however long or short that may be.

I am well aware that when the noble and learned Lord comes to reply, he may well say to me, "What is all the fuss about, then? The principles are clear: the number is going to be something over 710. Why do we need a fixed number in the Act at all?"

My answer to that question is in two parts. First, we do not yet know—and indeed cannot yet know—how long the transitional phase will take. We hear optimistic estimates from the Government of two or three years. But let us suppose that the transitional phase lasts five, 10, 15, or even 20 years. What weight will undertakings given in Committee and in the Report stage of the Bill as it goes through your Lordships' House carry 10, 15, or 20 years later with the government of the day?

Let us suppose that the government of the day find that your Lordships' House, with a composition consistent with the principles of broad parity, does not like a Bill that is served up to them by the other place. Let us suppose that your Lordships' House is obstinate. Fifteen or 20 years later a government might well say, "We are going to change the rules", which they can do unless there is an overall cap on the size of the House.

Secondly, the Government have expressed themselves to be quite determined in their intention to move to stage two. Many pundits talk about the shape of the House in stage two. I heard the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, say that about 700 would be too many. Many believe that the second Chamber should have fewer Members than another place. Many also believe that your Lordships' House should have a substantial number of elected Members.

If that is to be the case, the number of life Peers likely to survive at stage two could be no more than 200, 250 or perhaps 300—we cannot be sure. However, one thing of which we can be sure is that the larger the transitional House grows, the fewer life Peers will survive to serve in the stage two House.

Therefore, the larger the transitional House grows, the bigger the problem facing the government who seek to shift your Lordships from stage one to stage two. I wonder whether, in the course of those debates, the voices in your Lordships' House will demonstrate the graceful self-restraint which the voices of noble Lords have demonstrated throughout the debate on this Bill.

4.30 p.m.

Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank

My Lords, as I believe the House is aware, the procedures for Third Reading in this place differ from those in another place. There are times—I must admit that this is one—when I believe that the other place has it right. In the other place, there are no amendments on Third Reading. The whole Bill is revisited, much of it having been dealt with on Second Reading, if the Bill is considered in its entirety with further amendments. I have felt for some time that it is a change in our procedure which at some stage should be properly considered.

Certainly I reflected on that matter today when I looked at the amendments, most of which, although they were not repetitive, could easily have been proposed at an earlier stage of the Bill. Most of the ground is familiar to those of us who have sat through many days of debate over a period now of some six months. There is always an argument for some sensible tidying up at this stage, and I certainly should not complain about that. I do not complain about the government amendments in that respect. However, it was very much in the spirit of our view about how Third Reading should be treated that my noble friend Lord Goodhart made it clear that we did not intend to vote on the previous amendment. Indeed, it is not our intention to vote in favour of any of the amendments before the House today.

The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, chose not to move the amendment standing in his name. It would have been very bold of him to do so because he remembers our fourth day in Committee, as do I and as does the House. On that occasion the noble Lord moved an amendment to the effect that a figure of 615 Peers should be written into the Bill, being roughly the figure that the Government would need. However, again as the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, will recall, in his very engaging way, 45 minutes later he said, I surrender; I do not pretend that the figures were entirely correct".—[Official Report, 11/5/99; col. 1192.] Therefore, when I say that the noble Lord is bold, it is in allowing this amendment to stand and in allowing the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, to propose it.

I draw attention to one other occasion in the course of our earlier debates. That was during a debate on Report on 2nd June. Then, the noble Baroness the Leader of the House confirmed our understanding of the object of broad parity between the two largest parties in your Lordships' House and proportionate creations for the Liberal Democrats and for other parties. The meaning of "proportionate" is as set out in the Government's White Paper in relation to votes cast at the previous election.

Because I, too, may get my sums wrong, I am reluctant to embark upon a detailed study of the figures, about which there must be still some doubt until our four little elections have taken place. However, it appears likely that when the Bill reaches the statute book about 665 Peers will be entitled to sit. But at that stage there would be no broad parity between the Labour Benches and the Conservative Opposition. In accordance with paragraph 7 of Chapter 6 of the White Paper and the view expressed in this House—a view not opposed from the Conservative Benches—it will be entirely in order for the Government to make additional creations to make up the number. I would put that figure at about 40, but the figure might differ by five or six either way. At the same time, it would be appropriate to make proportionate creations, again in keeping with the plain undertaking that the Government have given openly.

If we had broad parity and proportionate creations, my estimate would then be that the number of Peers entitled to sit in your Lordships' House would rise from 665 to about 740. The significance of that figure is that there will be, either between the passage of this Bill and the end of this Parliament or the passage of this Bill and the next stage, vacancies for 10 additional Peers. Again, there would have to be broad parity and again there would have to be proportionate creations. In that case, there would be room for about four new additional Conservative Peers between now and an unknown date.

Some good working Peers will lose in the ballot. What about them? There will be former Cabinet Ministers knocking at the door. What about them? There will be men and women who have contributed generously to party funds. What about them? However, I put it to noble Lords on the Opposition Benches that, with only four additional Peers at their disposal, they will not have much scope between the passage of this Bill and the next stage. It is a sobering thought. It is not for me to give advice to those on the Conservative Benches, but I should be extremely cautious indeed in tabling such an amendment unless a figure had been agreed in advance with Ministers and with the Liberal Democrats. If it had been an agreed figure, they could then have decided whether it should be 750, 775 or 800—think of a number and write it into an amendment.

It is ironic that the Conservative Party, which year after year has been content with a House of nearly 1,300 Peers, should suddenly feel that there must be a cap, and a cap of only 750. It is a very odd way to proceed. I should like to know the logic in it.

Of course, I agree that with a figure of 750 there would be too many Peers. I said that on a previous occasion. If the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, was not listening at that time, he can read what I said in Hansard. A House of 750 would be much too big for the long term. Indeed, I have mentioned a House of perhaps 300 to 400. However, we need to see how the transitional interim House works: whether the Members who are now sitting on these Benches and will still be here in a few months' time will be active working Peers; whether it may be necessary to supplement them; or whether it will be possible to reduce the numbers. We do not know. To Conservative Peers and to all your Lordships sitting here today—there are many faces that we have not often seen before and I am very glad to welcome them—I say respectfully that they should think very carefully and do the sums for themselves, because they may be excluding the possibility that they themselves will be sitting here again after this Bill has passed.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, on Report my noble friend Lord Stanley and I also moved an amendment on the question of numbers. The noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, was right to draw attention to the difficulty in deciding what the numbers should be. It was precisely for that reason, after discussion on the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Stanley, and myself, that I wrote to my noble friend Lord Kingsland on the Front Bench, and to the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, to see if a meeting could be arranged to discuss the numbers.

I had the courtesy of a reply from my noble friend on the Front Bench. I did not receive a reply from the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers. I saw the noble Lord some time later outside the Chamber and reminded him that I had written to him. He promised to get in touch with me to discuss the matter. We have not had that meeting because he has not been in touch with me. It is for that reason that I wholly support the number proposed by my noble friend Lord Kingsland.

It disappointed me somewhat that the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, did not acknowledge my letter or follow up our brief discussion outside the Chamber. However, it occurred to me that that was perhaps done out of the kindness of his heart because there had been some sort of deal between the Liberal Democrat Party and the Labour Party on the question of proportionality about which he did not wish to tell me and he thought that it was better that I should be kept in the dark.

My noble friend Lord Kingsland drew to the attention of the House the remarks of the noble Baroness the Leader of the House at col. 347 of Hansard on 30th June. That was in reply to a question which I asked the noble Baroness about what exactly she meant by "proportionate". As your Lordships will have listened to my noble friend Lord Kingsland, I shall not read that out again. However, the noble Baroness did not answer my question. I believe that I asked the Government Front Bench on four or five occasions what exactly they meant by "proportionate" as it related to the other parties in this House. We understand what they mean by broad parity between the Labour Party and the Conservative Party, but there is no clear definition of "proportionality".

I believe that my noble friend Lord Kingsland summed up the matter extremely well when he said that there is great concern about the exponential growth that this House could achieve if the interim stage were to last a long time. It is with that concern in mind that I support my noble friend in his amendment and hope that he will take it to a Division.

Lord Acton

My Lords, before the noble Earl sits down, can he remind us what his figure was at Report stage?

The Earl of Caithness

Yes, my Lords, indeed I can. I believe that my noble friend Lord Stanley and I proposed a figure in excess of 800, but since then I have had the opportunity to discuss the matter with my noble friend Lord Kingsland and have agreed his figure.

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, it is always a pleasure to disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, particularly when he endeavours to import the habits of another place into your Lordships' House. The noble Lord and I were together briefly in another place. One of the things that I noted was that it was not particularly effective as a revising Chamber.

If a large proportion of our time is to act as what his noble friend, the noble Earl, Lord Russell, called "the legislative housemaid", it seems to me that whatever the merits or demerits of the way we handle Bills, there is a great deal to be said for maintaining the habit of your Lordships' House of being able to introduce amendments at Third Reading as well as at earlier stages.

The size of both Houses of Parliament is a question which, quite rightly, is beginning to exercise people interested in this constitution at a time of change. I venture to suggest to your Lordships a sensible and compelling case for reducing the size of another place. It is one which I suggested in a Bill to which your Lordships were kind enough to give a Second Reading this summer.

There is, perhaps, a rather more difficult argument to put forward in favour of a smaller or very small upper House, reformed or otherwise, for one simple reason advanced with great clarity and elegance, if I may say so, by my noble and learned friend Lord Howe of Aberavon, in his evidence to the Royal Commission chaired by my noble friend Lord Wakeham.

My noble and learned pointed out that so long as your Lordships' House is peopled by unpaid amateurs—I use the word "amateurs" in the best sense, as a compliment rather than an insult—it is inevitable, particularly when those amateur politicians are expert and active in their respective fields of endeavours, that they will tend to turn up sometimes rather sparingly. Nevertheless, as your Lordships know, many Members of your Lordships' House are listened to with great attention even though they are only occasional contributors to your Lordships' debates. They are busy acquiring their experience, authority and expertise in their individual realms of endeavour.

As my noble and learned friend points out in his evidence, this is an argument for a larger House in the upper Chamber as opposed to a smaller House in another place. That is a distinction which, even at this late stage, I should like to draw to the attention of your Lordships.

There is an argument for a larger upper House so long as we are not a House of professional, paid, full-time politicians. I hope that your Lordships would agree that we already have one House too many consisting of those. To have a second would be perverse.

The argument put forward so elegantly, as usual, by my noble friend Lord Kingsland boils down to the question of broad balance. That is a phrase with which I became familiar during the course of my conversations with the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor. As the whole House knows, that was an integral part of the agreement to which we came. It was put before your Lordships' House and your Lordships have finally to decide one way or the other today.

To what extent can we rely on the undertaking given by the noble and learned Lord and his colleagues in the Government that during the transitional phase of your Lordships' House, which has been ushered in by this Bill, they will seek no absolute majority but merely parity with the principal opposition party which, at present, is my party?

One of the agreeable aspects of dealing with the noble and learned Lord—I pay tribute to him once again—is that through thick and thin he has unquestionably stuck to the letter and spirit of our agreement. Based on experience, I have no doubt, therefore, that the noble and learned Lord will stick to his word, as I am sure will his colleagues.

The high proportion of your Lordships who have been members of Cabinets will know that Governments of both complexions are subject to intense pressures which, rather regrettably, once in a while cause them to undermine the undertakings given by their predecessors. This is not an ad hominem attack on Members of the present Government.

If by some misadventure the transitional House lasts rather longer than both the noble and learned Lord and I would like, it becomes important to have some means of assuring ourselves that it would be difficult, under those circumstances, for his successors to abrogate the agreement he has made and which I have no doubt he will keep.

It may be appropriate for me to ask the noble and learned Lord for a legal opinion. Perhaps I am entitled to do that on the Floor of this House without him charging me. That request is stimulated by the experience of sitting as a lay member of the Privileges Committee during the hearings that took place in recent days.

During the course of those proceedings, some play was made about the extent to which judges can rely on the famous Pepper v. Hart judgment. I believe I understood correctly that noble and learned Lords sitting as judges on that committee made it clear that they were not altogether happy that the Pepper v. Hart principle should apply without qualification and, indeed, that many of them had endeavoured to hedge around the Pepper v. Hart conclusion with all sorts of restrictions.

In view of the undertakings that have been given by the noble and learned Lord, the noble Baroness the Leader of the House and all Members of the Government who have spoken on this matter, to what extent will Pepper v. Hart principles be available for us to rely upon in the matter of broad parity? If not at all, my noble friend Lord Kingsland is right to wonder how far we can rely in the long term on the undertakings given by the noble and learned Lord if, by some misadventure, this transitional House was to last longer than his tenure of office, which I hope will be a very long one.

That is my question and why I venture to suggest that the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, is wrong to suggest that we should undertake in this instance the procedures from another place. I also suggest that my noble friend Lord Kingsland is right, even at this late stage, to press for some reassurance from the noble and learned Lord on this important matter.

4.45 p.m.

Lord Annan

There is a simple way of reducing the numbers in the House. However, I would not table an amendment because I realise that it would gain virtually no support. I refer to the fact that there should be a retiring age for appointed Peers, such as myself, who reach an age when perhaps their utility becomes markedly less.

Perhaps I may say how much I enjoy listening to the noble Viscount. Curiously, he reminds me of Milton's Comus. The noble Viscount will remember that in that masque there is a noble lady who becomes lost in a forest, having been separated from her two brothers. She meets a shepherd who, of course, is Comus in disguise. He says, "Come along with me and I'll show you the way out of the forest" and leads her to his palace. There he is surrounded by his rout of oughly-headed monsters. He makes no pretence at all about what he is at. I, under fair pretense of friendly ends With well-plac't words of glozing courtesie Wind me into the easie-hearted man And hugg him into snares". Nobody will accuse the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor of being an easy-hearted man: warm-hearted, yes, but easy-hearted, no. As for the noble Baroness, I cannot conceive she would wish to be hugged by any Member of the Opposition.

Nevertheless, why has this dilemma arisen? It is because of what we call the Weatherill amendment. Here again, the noble Viscount is so remarkably like Comus because he always referred to it as the Weatherill amendment.

Thus I hurl My dazzling spells into the spungy ayr Of power to cheat the eye with blear illusion". The illusion is that it was the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, who invented it. Of course, it was the noble Viscount who did that and increased our numbers in the interim stage. I have no doubt that that will cause great trouble to the Government at the second stage, when every effort will be made to prolong the life of the 90 Members. It is for that reason that I ask the House not follow the line that the noble Viscount has taken.

I ask the noble Baroness a very important point. If by any chance the Third Reading was refused or the Bill was not passed, I ask for an assurance that the so-called Weatherill agreement would not be reintroduced into the House in another place. That assurance would give some people great pleasure.

The Earl of Perth

My Lords, I wish to make one point. As I read the amendment, I came to the conclusion that it was a very ingenious way of preventing any future government—I stress "any future government"—from swamping the House by creating a great number of Peers. In the early part of the debates many noble Lords tried to find ways of achieving that. I hope that the Government will look at this amendment for a second time and see that from their point of view it could have a real advantage. It would avoid the Lloyd-George method of threatening the House. Therefore, I hope that your Lordships will consider this amendment in that sense. That point has not been touched on by anyone else although it is inherent in the amendment. That is all-important. There is to be a transitional House. If this amendment is included in the Bill now, it has to be taken into account at a later stage.

The Lord Chancellor

My Lords, there are two reasons why we believe that this amendment is inappropriate. First, we do not think that we should do anything in this Bill which appears to pre-empt the conclusions and recommendations of the Royal Commission. A statutory provision of the kind envisaged in this amendment would inevitably be taken as giving an indication of what in future would be a suitable overall size for the second Chamber. Indeed, noble Lords opposite, in one of their earlier promotions of an amendment of this kind, made that linkage explicit when they proposed a number which was identical with the very figure which they had recommended in their evidence to the Royal Commission. We believe that the Royal Commission should be allowed to formulate its own recommendation, starting from the functions of the second Chamber, and without any attempt by us to pre-judge the number that it might produce.

Secondly, we believe that it adds nothing to the undertakings which the Government have already given about the way in which life peerages will be created in future. The real safeguards about abuse of the appointments process are related to the balance of forces in the House, not the overall numbers. In our White Paper, and in successive debates in this House, we have spelled out what those guarantees are. None the less, I suppose that it is some three months since the issue was last addressed. Therefore, perhaps the time for repetition has arrived. I can do no better than to repeat and endorse what my noble friend the Leader of the House said on 1st May. She said, 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".—[Official Report, 1/5/99,co1.1188]. I have said before that I am confident that the transitional period will be short and that during that time there will be no question of anything other than broad parity and proportionate creations to which the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, referred.

The noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, asked me to give him from the Dispatch Box some free legal advice. It now seems to be a very long time since I last gave legal advice for little reward. I am not about to begin giving it free even when the request is made from as necessitous a source as the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne!

However, I can say that Pepper v. Hart has no bearing on these undertakings because they are not an exegesis of any provisions of the Bill. I repeat that the undertakings previously given on stage two issues are for another day. We urge the House to reject this amendment if the noble Lord decides to press it to a Division.

Lord Kingsland

My Lords, I say briefly to the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, that had he had the discussion that was suggested to him by my noble friend Lord Caithness he would have seen clearly that the appropriate figure was well below the one he quoted. Far from having a margin for manoeuvre of three or four, he would have had a margin of between 30 and 35.

I thank the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor for underlining the principles set out by the noble Baroness the Lord Privy Seal at Committee and Report stages. However, I very much regret the fact that the noble and learned Lord is not prepared to incorporate a ceiling into the Bill given the reasons that I have suggested. I do not accept that, in some way, the Bill should be unconstrained by a maximum figure because of the work presently being undertaken by the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham. Indeed, it seems to me that the best way to further the work of that noble Lord is to insert an overall figure. But the Lord Chancellor has given undertakings. The Opposition will be vigilant in ensuring that they are met. In those circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 3 [Appointments Commission]:

Lord Coleraine moved Amendment No. 9: Page 2, line 21, leave out ("least") and insert ("most").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving this amendment I shall speak also to Amendment No. 10. The two amendments in effect make one amendment to the Bill. The matter at issue is Clause 3, the appointments commission, which was inserted into the Bill after a Division on the advice of my noble friends on the Front Bench. It is one amendment about which in my opinion it can possibly be said, using the jargon of these Benches, it makes a bad Bill a little better.

Clause 3 of the Bill gives certain functions to the appointments commission and one of them, set out in subsection (4), is that, It shall … make proposals to the Prime Minister for nomination as Cross Bench peers". However, the subsection says that it should do that, at least every 6 months, and at most every year". There is a certain internal inconsistency about that arrangement. I suggest it should have provided that the commission make proposals "at most" every six months and "at least" every year.

Amendment No. 9 is designed to clarify an inconsistency or error in an amendment which I supported at an earlier stage and I hope it will find favour with the House. I beg to move.

5 p.m.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, I am sorry to tell my noble friend that I cannot get too worked up about exchanging "most" for "least" and "least" for "most''. However, what is important about this part of the Bill is that we seek some assurances from the Government in relation to Clause 3 and the wider aspects of the commission's work. Whether the commission makes recommendations at six-monthly intervals and at least once a year may be important, but it is not nearly as important as the fact of the commission itself.

Clause 3 is in the nature of an amendment which your Lordships insisted on inserting in the Bill in an attempt to ensure that this House does not become a House of patronage dependent entirely on the Prime Minister of the government of the day.

Of course, the Government will assure us, as they have done, that they intend to set up such a commission. I suggest that the Government Chief Whip, who is to reply to this debate, will give us those assurances and say that my noble friend need not trouble with his amendments. It is a "trust us" operation. But your Lordships know all the various "trust us" phrases. This is very much, "I am from the Government. Trust me".

I say to the Government, "We are trying to be helpful to you, so trust us". By asking for this commission we are helping the Government to fulfil their commitments. So perhaps the Government Chief Whip will tell us when we will get an appointments commission. Do the Government intend to ask the House of Commons to remove this clause from the Bill on the ground that they will give us an appointments commission off their own bat? If so, when will we get it? How many lists will be drawn up for your Lordships' House before we get it? In particular, will we have an appointments commission before the millennium list comes about? I have great fears that it will be as large and extravagant-looking as the Dome.

The Government have been long on promises on this commission and short on action. Therefore, I hope today, while I am not going to bother too much about "most" and "least", that the Government will give us an assurance that the commission will be set up very quickly after the Bill's passage and prior to the publication of the lists of new Members of your Lordships' House at the turn of the year.

Lord Elton

My Lords, I hope that the Government's anxiety to answer the important questions asked by my noble friend Lord Mackay will not obscure to them the importance of the drafting changes my noble friend Lord Coleraine drew to their attention. If we do something every six months, we do it more often than if we do it every year. It means that the two qualifying words are the wrong way round, as my noble friend rightly pointed out.

Lord Carter

My Lords, the purpose of Amendments Nos. 9 and 10 seems to be to correct the grammar of the original clause, which was drafted by the Opposition. I am surprised the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, as a former teacher, is not concerned about the grammar in the Bill; it is important.

The appointments commission will be set up as soon as practicable after the passing of this Bill. It is pretty rich of the noble Lord to ask that question. It was the insertion of Clause 3 which delayed the setting up of the commission because the clause is defective. However, it is the clause in the Bill which is presently before Parliament and the activities of the Opposition, as the noble Lord well knows, in inserting the clause in the Bill against the wishes of the Government delayed the setting up of the commission.

Amendments Nos. 9 and 10 seek to correct the grammar of the original amendment. But to the Government it is a matter of stunning neutrality whether or not the amendments are accepted. It was a clause inserted by the Opposition against the wishes of the Government; we were opposed to its insertion. We have already made it clear that we shall be asking our right honourable and honourable friends in the other place to take it out. Amendments Nos. 9 and 10 do not make any difference to our overall attitude to the clause.

Having said that, the noble Lord, Lord Coleraine, is probably right in his proposals. At the least he has shown that the present drafting of Clause 3 is ambiguous. We assume that its intention is to provide that the appointments commission may make two rounds of appointments a year and must make one. But is that what it says? The noble Lord thinks not and I have some sympathy with him. The question is whether we are defining frequency or interval. The House will have to determine which it thinks is right and vote accordingly if the noble Lord presses the amendment. From these Benches, we shall not oppose it.

Lord Coleraine

My Lords, I am sorry that my noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish did not feel that this was something to get worked up about when the amendment he and his colleagues moved is possibly inaccurate. However, having listened to the Government Chief Whip, and in the hope that this amendment will have the approval of my Front Bench, I commend it to the House.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Coleraine moved Amendment No. 10: Page 2, line 21, leave out ("most") and insert ("least").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Coleraine moved Amendment No. 11: Page 2, line 40, leave out ("life").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 11, which also affects Clause 3, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 12.

One of the functions of the commission under this clause is to report to Parliament whether or not certain criteria are being observed. One of the criteria, according to the Bill as it now stands, is that, the proportion of the Cross Bench peers to the total number of life peers in the House remains as it was on the day before the passing of this Act".

The effect of that paragraph is to compare a mixture of life and hereditary Peers existing on the Cross Benches before the Act with life Peers only on their Benches and the Benches of the House after the Act. The effect would be to greatly magnify the number of Cross-Bench Peers who would be entitled, under the amendment, to sit, and to provide for a much greater number than was ever in the contemplation of my noble friends.

In this case I am taking a view that will diminish the rights of the Cross-Benchers under my noble friend's amendment whereas before I was trying to make it work more satisfactorily in their favour. Subsection(7)(c) should read, "the proportion of the Cross Bench peers to the total number of peers in the House remains the same as the proportion of the Cross Bench life peers to the total number of life peers in the House". I beg to move.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, I think, on past experience, that I shall tell my noble friend that I am not very fussed one way or another and the Government will promptly indicate that they quite favour his amendment. Then we will all be happy. I can see my noble friend's point. From the way that the clause is drafted, it seems to compare all Peers on the one hand, and then, on the other hand, life Peers. My noble friend's amendment would make it quite clear that the proportionality would be of life Peers on the Cross Benches to life Peers in the House at the time that the Bill comes into place.

Although I may be wrong, I calculate that the Bill as it currently stands would require that the present proportion of Cross-Bench Peers to the total of life Peers, which would have to be maintained, would be about 23.6 per cent. I do not know quite how the 0.6 per cent of the Cross Benches feel about that, but I suppose whether or not anyone gets in on that figure will depend very much on what it is a percentage of.

I do not quite know what the consequence of my noble friend's amendment would be in terms of a significant number change to the Bill as it stands. No doubt the Chief Whip will again inform us. If he is quite relaxed about it, then I am happy to be relaxed about it. However, I am not relaxed about the knowledge that, frankly, whatever we do with this clause, the Government propose to knock it out in the other place. I really do not accept the excuse that the commission would have been set up by now if we had not tabled this amendment. I cannot for the life of me see why this new clause changes anything. Indeed, the Government could simply set up the commission, or indicate when they intend to do so, regardless of what we seek to insert in the Bill—especially as they are quite clear that they will overturn it in the other place. I look forward to hearing what the Chief Whip has to say.

Lord Carter

My Lords, before I deal with the amendment, perhaps I may respond to the point just made by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish. As I said earlier, we were advised that it would be inappropriate to try to set up the commission if there was a Bill before Parliament which was designed to establish a commission in a way with which the Government did not agree. I give way to the noble Lord.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord. I do not agree with his argument, but I will accept it for the moment. Does that mean that the moment this Bill is passed we can expect the Government, within a week or two, to indicate the setting up of the commission?

Lord Carter

My Lords, the commission will be set up as soon as practicable after the Bill is passed. I will not say that that will happen in a couple of weeks, as the noble Lord would like me to. It will be very quickly after the Bill is passed. In fact, it would have been established by now in shadow and would, perhaps, be considering the New Year's Honours, but the Opposition have delayed the process by inserting Clause 3 into the Bill.

I turn now to Amendments Nos. 11 and 12—

Lord Tebbit

My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord can tell me whether my memory is wrong in recalling that certain commissions or shadow commissions were set up in connection with Northern Ireland while the Northern Ireland legislation was actually going through the House? It did not seem to restrain the Government then, so why should it restrain them now?

Lord Carter

My Lords, I am told that there was no amendment to that legislation which would have taken out the power of the commission. Therefore, the noble Lord's point is not correct. We were advised that it would be constitutionally inappropriate.

The purpose of Amendments Nos. 11 and 12 is to allow the Weatherill Peers to count towards maintaining the proper proportion of Cross-Bench Peers and to ensure that a true comparison of like with like is taking place. As with the previous amendments, we do not think that these amendments make the difference between acceptability or not of Clause 3 as a whole. In any case, they deal only with a reporting requirement, and not with the actual criteria for creations.

Once again, I think that the noble Lord may have spotted a genuine problem with the drafting of Clause 3—I wonder who did the drafting for the Opposition. We assume that the intention of Clause 3(7)(c) is to provide that the Cross-Bench share of the House remains roughly where it is now. Comparisons of the Cross-Bench share of the whole House and the Cross-Bench life Peer share of all life Peers both produce a figure between 20 per cent and 25 per cent. This is the sort of figure which I had always understood most people regarded as a reasonable and a ballpark figure for the transitional House.

However, a strict analysis of the current wording of the clause would suggest that, in future, the proper Cross-Bench share would be two-thirds of the House, as that is the proportion that all Cross-Bench Peers, including hereditary Peers, currently bear to the total number of life Peers. The comparison could be made accurate by inserting the word "life" into the clause before the term "Cross Bench".

The noble Lord has proposed a different approach, which takes account of the Weatherill Peers on both sides of the equation. As between the two approaches, we make no judgment. But either would be better than what is presently there. Therefore, if the noble Lord wishes to press the amendment to a vote, or put the matter to the House, we shall not resist it. That is entirely without prejudice to what my honourable friends in another place will do to the clause as a whole when the Bill is returned to them.

Lord Coleraine

My Lords, it seemed to me that my noble friend did get a little hit more healthily worked up about getting this right. He said that he could not work out the true figures. I must confess that I did not have them to hand, but I knew that there were about 220 Cross-Benchers who were hereditary Peers and that that was bound to have a considerable effect. I was glad that the noble Lord from the Government Front. Bench was able to provide me with the full figures. I hope that this amendment will find favour. I seek the opinion of the House.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Coleraine moved Amendment No. 12: Page 2, line 41. leave out ("as it was") and insert ("the same as the proportion of the Cross Bench life peers to the total number of life peers in the House").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

5.15 p.m.

Lord Stanley of Alderley moved Amendment No. 13: Page 2, line 42, at end insert ("; and (d) more than half of the total membership of the House of Lords is composed of peers who, in the opinion of the Commission have experience of, and expertise in, fields other than (or in addition to) politics").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, we have degrouped this amendment with Amendment No. 14 and have informed the Table, both Front Benches and the Deputy Speaker.

My noble friend Lord Caithness and I moved similar amendments to this in Committee and on Report, a principle of which received support from both Front Benches. The noble Baroness, Lady Jay, was particularly sympathetic on Report. Her main objection was that the time was not right. I hope that your Lordships will agree with us that this most certainly is the time to decide, and let the public know, who are to be the future Members of the interim House, which, inevitably, must influence the final reformed House—if that is ever to happen.

Indeed, the prime concern of the odd person outside the Chamber, who is at all interested in your Lordships' House. is not that the hereditary Peers should continue but who is to follow us. I should have liked a much more explicit amendment, but then I fear it would have been considered a wrecking amendment; and this amendment is not. The amendment spells this out by stating that over 50 per cent of the Members should have had, or, more importantly, continue to have, experience and expertise in some other sphere than politics. Everyone in your Lordships' House knows those who fall within that category. They have been referred to today, not least by my noble friend Lord Cranborne. Sometimes they are euphemistically called "specialist Peers".

Although I have not put my name forward for one of the 92 hereditary vacancies, I am most anxious that your Lordships' House should have credibility in the future. Bearing in mind that the standing of professional politicians is at an all-time low—partly because they are alleged to know everything about nothing—this amendment would ensure that your Lordships' House would not be so condemned. It would ensure that at least 50 per cent of the Members' main reason to be there was outside party politics. I am absolutely convinced that that is what the great majority of people would like to see.

Before I get castigated by the loyal party members, I should say that I fully accept that there is a need for the dedicated, professional politician. However, like good claret, even though it is French, too much of it is disastrous. In any event, our amendment suggests that 49 per cent of the House could be dedicated party politicians.

On Report, the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, had the following problems with our amendment. She asked whether the Law Lords and Bishops would be included. They, like life Peers, would, as of right, be Members of the interim Chamber. Of course if the noble Baroness wants to allow our amendment to affect the composition of the final reformed Chamber I am sure that we on this side of the House would be delighted, but somehow or other I doubt whether she or her noble friends would appreciate that very much.

The noble Baroness and other noble Lords—I think the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, in particular—asked how expertise and experience would be defined. The Prime Minister has promised us an appointments commission; indeed it is now in the Bill. As the noble Lord, Lord Carter, has said, if it is taken out of the Bill it will be put back again quite soon afterwards. If the appointments commission cannot make a decision on that matter, I know not what use it will be. For instance—if I may make a personal point here—I know that even I after a few minutes' conversation can tell whether someone who claims to be a competent and experienced farmer has those qualifications. Please do not say therefore that my amendment is defective because the body cannot judge who is who. If it cannot do that, please let us not have an appointments commission.

The noble Baroness's final objection—I have to say she would be inconsistent if she did not say that—was. "Never do today what you can put off until tomorrow", in which she was supported, I am sorry to say, by the noble Lord, Lord Peston, whom I do not think is present.

Noble Lords

He is!

Lord Stanley of Alderley

My Lords, I see that he is. Over the past 28 years I have had the privilege to move amendments to 78 different Bills. This will be the last, which I fully realise will be a great relief to the Government and no doubt to many, if not most, of my own Front Bench. I beg to move.

Lord Peston

My Lords, I am sure we are all indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley, and the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, for tabling this amendment. There is nothing much of interest or seriousness on the Marshalled List of amendments and as we have many hours ahead of us we may as well go into one of our favourite modes which is that of a sixth form debating society. This is precisely the kind of thing that is so beloved by sixth formers.

In introducing the amendment the noble Lord, Lord Stanley, did not feel that he had any obligation to meet the kind of point that the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, had made; namely, of telling us what he meant by experience and expertise, or telling us how we determine that separately from politics. My experience of life has been—notice that I use the word—that those who most protest that they are not political and are not committed always turn out to behave in a definite and particular way. I remember when I was a student at the London School of Economics that one of the most famous professors said that he always considered all problems on their merits. A brave student piped up and said, "Yes, and then you always end up voting Conservative!"

I take a dim view of this kind of amendment. I think that it is insulting to those who devote themselves to politics. Speaking as a party hack who always loyally supports my own Front Bench, I have never felt that it was disreputable for someone to say, "I devote my life to politics". Indeed I do not see how parliamentary democracy can work without people who are committed to politics. I am less enamoured than some Peers of the Cross-Benchers. I am much more enamoured of the committed political Peers who take a party Whip and make a contribution in a definite and positive way.

I have two further remarks. It seems to me that my noble friend the Leader of the House was quite right; namely, this is not the time—nor in this Bill—for this kind of amendment. Further, once you start to go down this line, you end up with essentially unworkable amendments. As I say, I think that it is useful to occupy the hours with this kind of debate because I cannot see that the other amendments are useful. But subject to filling out the time, I really do think that it is about time this Bill is passed into law.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I support my noble friend Lord Stanley on the amendment. As he has said, we have tabled this kind of amendment before but we have widened it for the very reasons that he spelt out so clearly, as indeed did my noble friend Lord Cranborne on an earlier amendment.

It is our duty as a House—and indeed I believe it to be the duty of the interim Chamber—to review, revise and improve on the quality of draft legislation. I am not disrespectful of full-time politicians. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Peston, for whom we have much admiration, that they play a useful part. I have no hesitation in saying that I was a full-time politician for 10 years of my life and I believe that that will be an essential ingredient of the House. However, I also believe—I hope that your Lordships will agree with this—that an added ingredient of this House, as opposed to another Chamber, is that it gives a wide breadth of experience outside politics which is necessary for the revision of draft legislation. There are plenty of examples all around the House. I refer to the Labour Benches and the noble Viscount, Lord Chandos, with his experience of the City. If he is not part of the interim House, his experience will be missed.

I believe that the last thing this House wants to become is a cosy cartel of professional politicians. I believe that we also want Peers who do not attend on an every day basis. I think that those who attend infrequently are listened to and are well respected. They have played an important part in this Chamber. I hope that a similar kind of Peer will be included in the interim Chamber.

Over many years my noble friend Lord Stanley and I have tabled amendments together, when in opposition in the 1970s and when in government in the 1980s. It has been a great pleasure to work with him. I believe that the whole House will miss my noble friend. I tried to persuade him to put his name into "the hat" but the House will be the poorer for his going. I think that the least one can do is to pay tribute to him by accepting this amendment.

The Earl of Kinnoull

My Lords, I support this amendment. Amendment No. 14 is drafted in parallel terms. It has one major difference; namely, that it includes mixed ages. When we are talking about a criterion—

Lord Carter

My Lords, I believe that we have degrouped Amendment No. 14, as I believe that the noble Lord wished. Therefore I think that it would be better to discuss Amendment No. 14 when we reach that amendment.

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, I echo briefly the closing words of my noble friend Lord Caithness when he paid tribute to my noble friend Lord Stanley of Alderley who has been such a distinguished Member of this House for so long and has brought his real expertise, knowledge, understanding, and—dare I say, as a former government chief whip—independent nature to this House. As the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, will remember well, on more than one occasion the Conservative government lost a measure at the hands of the noble Lord, Lord Stanley. It is a deep regret to me that my noble friend has not put his name forward to stand in the elections.

It is in that tone that I express my great respect for both my noble friends who have put forward their ideas. The aim of the amendment is one that I can sympathise with; namely, to ensure that the House retains the broad spectrum of rounded experience that it has always had. We do not want to become a House of professional politicians fawning on ministerial answers and proposing laudatory Motions in praise of whoever happens to be the Prime Minister of the day. I understand that the Government have said that they want a more representative House, but at times that has seemed to mean little more than obedience to the political correctness of whoever is Prime Minister.

We have proposed a new, open, independent and statutory system of appointment. For the life of me I cannot understand why the Government seem unwilling to accept it wholeheartedly. After all, they said they wanted it and the Labour Party's propaganda states that the Prime Minister has given up patronage already. It does not feel like it from where I am looking or, I imagine, from where some noble Lords on the other side sit.

When he winds up, I hope that the Government Chief Whip will confirm that the Government want a broad range of experience and accept that the spirit of the amendment is right. I know what my noble friends intend in moving the amendment—we should all sympathise with it—and I wish I could be confident that the Government will accept it.

The amendment also gives your Lordships an opportunity to ask the Government some direct questions about the appointments commission, questions that so far they have not begun to answer. Can the Government Chief Whip confirm that the Government will follow the lines put forward by the House in the amendment that has been accepted into the Bill? Will they set up a statutory commission or will it be run at the whim of the Prime Minister? Are they preparing a commission already? If not, why not? When do the Government propose to have the commission in place? Will it be ready to deal with recommendations that are put forward by the Prime Minister for the New Year's Honours List?

It will not have escaped the notice of the House that it was recently mentioned in the press—it may or may not be true—that the New Year's Honours List in recognition of the millennium will be very substantial and that we can expect a number of new Members.

It is important that these questions are answered today. My noble friends are entirely correct to have probed this matter. If the Government stay silent behind promises that have already passed their expiry date, the suspicion will grow that they do not want an appointments commission until they have appointed a House that suits their purposes. That would greatly damage the House.

5.30 p.m.

Lord Carter

My Lords, before I turn to the amendments and deal with the remarks of the Leader of the Opposition, perhaps I may pay a further tribute, on behalf of these Benches and personally, to the noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley. He referred to the amendments and the changes to Bills that he has made in the past. He will remember that we shared some amendments with which we defeated the previous government on agriculture Bills. I remember particularly one important amendment on rural housing. He said that he could tell whether a farm was any good from a few moments' conversation. I prefer to look at the crops and livestock.

Turning to the points raised by the Leader of the Opposition in regard to the appointments commission, we have made our intentions absolutely clear: it will be set up under the Nolan rules; it will be non-statutory and a public body; and it will be set up as soon as practicable after the passing of the Bill. The insertion of Clause 3 into the Bill has delayed the setting up of the commission. Clause 3 introduced into the Bill an incompatible provision. We were advised that it was improper on constitutional grounds to proceed with a different approach while Clause 3 remained in the Bill. That is the advice we received. The insertion of Clause 3 has delayed the setting up of the appointments commission. It is not for me to comment on the possible contents of the New Year's Honours List.

As the noble Lord said, Amendment No. 13 seeks to draw continued attention to the desirability that the House of Lords should continue to contain a significant non-political element. As with the last group of amendments, we regard this issue as more of a private one between noble Lords opposite and their own Front Bench, who supported the insertion of Clause 3 into the Bill. The succession of amendments demonstrates just how badly the clause was drafted. As we pointed out on Report when noble Lords moved an amendment which would have obliged the appointments commission to ensure that 50 per cent of the House had non-political expertise, there seem to us to be formidable problems of definition in the approach. How does one decide what "experience of" and "expertise in" mean? How recent does it have to be? How full time? To continue the farming analogy, is it based on conversations the appointments commission may have with potential Members of the House, or does it look at their crops and livestock—that is, at their practical experience?

The amendment simply requires the appointments commission to report on whether the criteria have been met. It does not say what it is to do about it if they have not been met. There is no provision for saying that the commission must immediately nominate sufficient Cross-Bench Peers to meet the requirement; nor could the appointments commission prevent the parties making further nominations on their own account which could dilute the non-political element again.

On the whole, unlike the previous group of amendments, we consider that this provision will—to paraphrase an expression often used by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde—make a bad clause worse. I would advise the noble Lord to withdraw the amendment. As with previous amendments, if he wishes to ask the House to include it in the clause, we shall not resist.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, perhaps I may ask one question. The noble Lord said that Clause 3 would inhibit or delay the setting up of the commission. Why should that be so?

Lord Carter

My Lords, I have been given to understand that there is an incompatible provision present in the Bill which concerns the way we intend to set up the appointments commission. We were advised that it would be constitutionally inappropriate to proceed with a different approach while Clause 3 remains in the Bill—a Bill which is before Parliament and which has not yet received the opinion of the other place.

Lord Stanley of Alderley

My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken, including the noble Lord, Lord Peston. I did not agree with him because I had already said that I like party hacks just as much as I like the noble Lord.

I am touched and flattered by the remarks made about me. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Carter, is not moving the amendment with me because he would have then had the pleasure of destroying his own arguments, as he has done in the past.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 14 not moved.]

Earl Ferrers moved Amendment No. 15: After Clause 3, insert the following new clause—

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