§ 4.28 p.m.
§ Lord Simon of Glaisdale rose to call attention to the appropriate powers and constitution of a second Chamber within the British Constitution; and to move for Papers.
§ The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, I presume to say that I am quite content with the powers and constitution of your Lordships' House as they are at the moment. However, proposals for alteration are in the air. Nothing like the same consideration and public debate has taken place in relation to these proposals as took place, for example, between 1910 and 1925. Therefore it seemed to me that your Lordships' House, as the most appropriate forum of all, would give great benefit by giving thought, even in this short debate, to this question. I hope that in due course the usual channels may provide time for the ampler debate that is needed, when the noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal has finished wearing out our features on his legislative grindstone. I hope that we can then turn to what seems to me to be the more profitable task for your Lordships; namely, to discuss broad issues of policy, particularly future policy such as this.
§ As this is a short debate and a very big subject, I do not propose to do more than try to set out heads of agenda, so to speak, for your Lordships' consideration. I hope thus to provide additional time for noble Lords whom your Lordships will undoubtedly wish to hear at the greatest length possible. However, as I cannot see the clock I should be grateful if a noble Lord in my vicinity would alert 607 me when I have been talking for 12 minutes, when I shall bring my observations to an end if I have not done so before then.
§ The Motion refers both to powers and to constitution, or in other words composition; indeed, those are related. The powers to be given to a second Chamber must be affected by the duties expected from the Chamber, and vice versa. In the end there must be a balance between those two considerations.
§ First, one should ask whether there is a need for two parliamentary Chambers. It is true that all parties in this country, so far as I know, are united on the subject; and in almost every case that I can call to mind foreign opinion demands two parliamentary Chambers. But if we ask why that is so it may help us to analyse what is required. Two parliamentary Chambers are presumably required because one Chamber, whether by composition or by power—or more likely by both—cannot perform all the tasks that are demanded of it which are necessary for the performance of a parliamentary Chamber.
§ I have been using the term "parliamentary Chamber" rather than "legislative Chamber" advertently, for the reasons which I think I have already made obvious. If it is the case that we need two Chambers because one is not sufficiently copious and flexible to deal with all the tasks demanded, does it not follow that it would be uneconomic if the second Chamber merely duplicated the first in respect of either powers or composition?
§ I placed the Motion in the context of the British Constitution. I have assumed thereby that the other place, the House of Commons, will continue to exercise much the same powers, particularly concerning finance, and have much the same composition in the future. I know that parties above the gangway on the Opposition side of the House would wish to have a system of proportional representation, and that might come as a result of bargaining in a hung parliament; but on the whole that seems to me unlikely. Moreover, if it did come about, the whole subject of your Lordships' present consideration would have to be thought out anew. So I assume that the lower Chamber will be first-past-the-post on the principle as at present electorally devised.
§ The advantages of the first-past-the-post system were stated cogently recently by the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, in the debate on the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter. I will not waste your Lordships' time in repeating them, because it is the disadvantages which point to the composition and powers of the second Chamber which are really in question today.
§ The first of those disadvantages is that although the members represent their constituents in an elected Chamber that Chamber is not necessarily representative in political colour of the electorate as a whole. Indeed, since 1945 we have never had in government a party which commanded the votes of the majority of the electorate. The second disadvantage is that a first-past-the-post system gives inadequate weight and representation to minorities, not least to Cross-Bench opinion, which I think is a 608 very powerful political consideration. I think that that is strongly represented in your Lordships' House. The third disadvantage—and I appeal to the several noble Lords and the noble Baroness who have had experience of the other place—is the sharply polemical nature of its politics, both on the hustings and in the Chamber. Of course, that has its advantage, but the disadvantage is a very real one. It is that such politics become distasteful to many people who would be usefully represented in a parliament, particularly the elderly statesmen of great experience whose expertise should be drawn on.
§ If I am right, those disadvantages point to a not wholly elected second Chamber. If it is to be elected in part, should that part not be elected by proportional representation on a regional basis in order to be complementary? The non-elected part could be either a hereditary element or what used to be called "fancy franchises" such as the chairmen of the Trades Union Congress and the CBI, the vice chancellors of universities—although I realise that at present they are unlikely to be popular with the Government—senior judges and similar people. The third way of having your non-elected element is the present system of appointees.
§ As for the hereditary element, in the past it has been subject to contumely: the fourteenth wearer of a noble nose—Lloyd George down in Limehouse, and so on —but in these days we really know much more about genetics and the cultural influence of a political ambiance.
§ We need not be afraid of the hereditary element. It has real advantages, particularly by way of continuity and tradition. In a debate like this, noble Lords must be conscious that at the Dispatch Box, where the noble Lord the Leader of the House will shortly speak, there spoke Disraeli, Salisbury and Rosebery as Prime Ministers, noble Lords who were ex-Prime Ministers, like Balfour, Baldwin and many others. Today we are greatly honoured by the presence of three former Prime Ministers in our midst.
§ It therefore seems to me that there is a strong argument for continuance of the hereditary element. It would be advantageous if it were recruited like the representative Peers of Scotland and Ireland in the former constitution, and by proportional representation so that there would be a regional element and an element of young Peers, who have proved themselves so valuable in this House in recent practice.
§ I would not countenance the fancy franchises simply because one does not know where to stop. If you are to have the Moderator of one Free Church, where do you stop? My specific would be that we should continue with the present system of appointment, which works well.
§ Perhaps I may refer briefly to three other matters. First, in this context, should we not reconsider the need for a written constitution? Secondly, there is the question of finance, a subject which, as the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, intends to speak, I can safely leave to him. We have seen in the recent student loans Bill that the control of finance is absolutely clinching. I take it that that would remain in the 609 House of Commons. The third matter, with which I do not think the House of Commons deals well, is scrutiny of legislation. I merely call to noble Lords' recollection the proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Rippon of Hexham, that we should have a specialised committee in order to scrutinise legislation quite apart from policy. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.
§ 4.43 p.m.
§ Lord Beloff
My Lords, we have all had frequent occasion to thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, for guidance on our constitutional position and the proper practices of this House, but this afternoon we are grateful to him again in another respect for raising this as a general issue of national policy and for his cogent suggestions as to possible change.
We perhaps tend occasionally to fall into a degree of self-admiring complacency. We say on all sides of the House, "We are a revising Chamber—jolly good thing" but does that represent our true beliefs? We know, for instance, that Her Majesty's Opposition, which may—I say no more than that—be transformed in a couple of years into Her Majesty's Government, hold a different view. They are committed not only to abolishing this Chamber in its present form, but to replacing it with an elected body.
In the review of policy published by the Labour Party last year, it gave some details as to what they would consist of It would be a regionally elected body. It would have some functions in revision or scrutiny of legislation. It would have a curious power to delay ordinary legislation by only one return to the other place. However, on matters in which governments were thought to have infringed human rights in that legislation, the new second Chamber would have the power to delay the implementation of legislation for the rest of that Parliament.
Those are all interesting ideas, but they raise a great many questions. We have the opportunity this afternoon, with the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, replying for the Opposition, to put to him some questions which may be in our minds. What, for instance, is the assumption about the kind of people who would seek election? Would they be tempted to serve by the offer of salaries? What other reasons could be given to them to serve? Is it expected that they would, like so many Members of the European Parliament, be either young politicians on the make or elderly politicians in retreat?
With regard to the protection of constitutional rights and human rights, how are those rights to be defined unless we have a written constitution with a Bill of Rights? If we are to have a written constitution with a Bill of Rights, why should a Chamber of a legislature be entrusted with defending them when, in every other democratic system, that is thought to be an appropriate matter for a court of law? Is there not some confusion in the question of what is legislative and what is judicial?
We are also told in the policy statement that the House would differ from the present one not only in being wholly elected, but in having no Ministers 610 present. I find it difficult to see how legislation can usefully be discussed in the absence of those responsible for putting it forward. Therefore, one must again ask what kind of consideration it is thought that a body with no ministerial representation could give to legislation.
It is also laid down that no legislation should be introduced originally into the second Chamber. One wonders what kind of parliamentary timetable is envisaged for that future bicameral legislature. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, is prepared to answer those questions because they are clearly matters of considerable interest.
§ Lord Mishcon
My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, would deliver his own speech instead of making me manufacture mine.
§ Lord Beloff
My Lords, it seems to me to be not uncommon in this House to ask questions of representatives of political parties about documents to which they are publicly committed. I have not made, and would not venture to make, a speech for the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, but he often asks questions of this side of the House and that is, after all, common form in our procedure. It would certainly not be for me to speculate on what his answers will be. So much then for Her Majesty's would-be Government.
However, I should point out that there is some relevance in their proposals for the future and their attitude to our present proceedings which occasionally seem to me to be dominated by the idea that no precedent should be set which could in any way strengthen the revising powers of this Chamber. For instance, on Monday we had the last round on the student loans Bill, to which spokesmen of Her Majesty's Opposition, along with some members of my own party and members of the other Opposition parties, have given consistent opposition. Yet, when it came to the vote, although a number of Peers on the Labour Benches voted in accordance with their views, the Front Bench remained mute and glued, if I may say so, to the Bench. The understanding is that it was decided that no precedent should be set by which the House of Commons could be asked to think again more than once. That, as I said, is in accordance with the proposals for the new second Chamber.
However, on our side of the House there may also be questions upon which my noble friend the Leader of the House may wish to enlarge. What is the true attitude of Her Majesty's Ministers to the revising functions of this House? Are they happy with the way in which those functions are exercised? It appears to some us that in certain quarters it is thought that the House of Lords is a rather disagreeable nuisance, that it occasionally presses for measures which Ministers have already decided are unacceptable, and that the business should be to get the Government's measures through with the maximum of celerity.
I hope that the noble Lord the Leader of the House will say that I am judging on too few instances for a generalisation to be possible. But if we are to defend the House with its present composition and present 611 powers, it can be done only on the basis that governments of whatever complexion are prepared to take seriously the often expert opinion which the current system favours in the present House.
§ There are other possible weaknesses which the Procedure Committee looks at from time to time: whether we could make more use of our committees and so forth. After a decade of experience in your Lordships' House it seems to me that there is something much more crucial and difficult to tackle, which brings me back to the question of Ministers. I believe that it is difficult for this House fully to exercise either its powers of questioning the Executive or its legislative powers when in most cases the individual who responds from the Front Bench is a junior Minister or even a Whip with only that status. It means that, whereas in another place the responsible Minister can respond immediately if he so desires and can explain his point of view or the reason why the point of view expressed in criticism of his policy is unacceptable, in this House the most that we can obtain is an assurance that our views will be conveyed to the senior Minister in another place. I am sure that that is always done effectively, though occasionally, one feels, a little grudgingly. But is that really sufficient?
§ If we are to prolong the life of this House as it has developed over the centuries, might there not come a time when Ministers of the Crown from another place occasionally help us to understand and follow the thrust of their policies?
§ 4.55 p.m.
§ The Earl of Longford
My Lords, I must begin with an apology to both the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon, who introduced the debate in such an interesting fashion, and the noble Lord, the Leader of the House, who is to reply. I must also apologise to the whole House because I am afraid that I have to leave early in order to discuss these matters before a much less select audience. It is an audience of perhaps millions of people, yet I think I may say that although we are less numerous we are perhaps better informed.
The fact that my name appears early in the list of speakers does not mean that my leaders attach any significance to my contribution. It will be entirely impersonal. I hope that it will not embarrass the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon. If he is embarrassed by it, I am sure that he can handle the situation and will laugh it off.
The noble Lord, Lord Beloff, set an impossible standard for himself. I have known him make the greatest of attacks on the Government. Today he has been an almost slavish admirer of the Government. At least, that is what I gather from his attitude to the Opposition. The noble Lord has in my time made the most deadly attack on the Government ever mounted from the Conservative Benches; but we did not have that today. The noble Lord put a series of questions to my noble friend, which I am sure he will handle perfectly.
I do not wish to provoke the noble Lord. However, there was a fundamental omission in his speech. He 612 did not say whether or not he can justify the present composition of this House? I love the House of Lords; I am grateful for many years of happiness here. It is a peculiar place. No one has ever copied it; no one is ever likely to.
Let us consider its composition. I have made a few inquiries and I have obtained some figures from my party office which I imagine will be substantially accepted. There are 782 hereditary Peers out of 1,176 Members. In other words, two-thirds of noble Lords are hereditary. Straightaway that makes it a very peculiar Chamber. How many of those 782 hereditary Peers take the Labour Whip? The answer is 12. That makes the voting system absurd.
Of course it is absurd. One has here the best debates in the world and the worst voting system. No one could possibly justify the voting system and on one has ever done so, at least not in my hearing. That is why the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, wisely did not attach himself to it. So that is the situation today. To put it another way, there are four times as many Peers taking the Conservative Whip as take the Labour Whip. How can a Labour Government be expected to lie down indefinitely under that situation? It would be absurd to suppose that they would do so.
In my few remarks I shall imagine—though it is far from being the case—that my revered leader, who is the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, has asked for my advice on what the Labour Party ought to do if returned to power. I offer a few thoughts of my own.
There are three options open to a Labour Government. The first is to do nothing, or nothing substantial. The second is to proceed by way of consensus. The third is to proceed without consensus. For the first Labour Government following the election there is a good deal to be said for doing nothing or at any rate doing nothing substantial. There will be great social injustices to be put right, much poverty to relieve and many other very important matters to tackle. So my first piece of advice to that government is to think long and carefully before doing anything at all about reform of the House of Lords. However, that could not remain the position. A party could not say, "We are too busy to think about it." Eventually, one has to come up with a point of view.
The question therefore arises of whether one could find a consensus or must go on without one. In 1968 a consensus was almost agreed. It was agreed between the leaders of the two parties. I was about to say that I took the initiative but in fact it came originally from the Clerk's Table, and from the late Henry Burrows, who recommended to me on the golf links at Rye, where we met every week, to consider what he called the two-writ plan. When I had just missed a putt, he would say to me, "You do believe in the two-writ plan, don't you?"
Eventually, when I became Leader of the House I recommended the two-writ plan. The subject was taken up by more important people and very nearly became the law of the land. It did not do so; it was sabotaged by eminent people on the far Right or far Left in the House of Commons. That was what happened to the last attempt at a consensus. If 613 anyone thinks that a fundamental consensus is possible, I shall be delighted to frame one again. However, I cannot think that any consensus is likely in view of the position that I have explained about the hereditary peerage.
If I were a Member of the Conservative Party I should think long and carefully before I abandoned such a colossal advantage. Members would have to be very hard pressed—perhaps having to consider that the Chamber was about to be abolished —before they agreed to that. It is true that the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, in his memoirs has recommended an elected second Chamber. It is not impossible to consider a consensus, but it seems unlikely.
We are therefore faced with the question of the approach of the Labour Government, if not in the next parliament then in the following one. If one gets rid of the hereditary element, one is left with the question of whether one has an elected or appointed Chamber. I do not believe that a combination of the two would be a very happy solution although some countries adopt that method.
I speak personally. Although the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, is entitled to make debating points about the policy provisionally stated by my party, and we are a very long way from seeing that carried into force, we are still at the stage when those within the Labour Party are entitled to offer guidance and thoughts, however humbly, to those who frame our policy.
I believe that an elected Chamber would produce a second class version of the House of Commons. I am not in favour of that. We are then left with the suggestion of an appointed Chamber. One big disadvantage about that which will occur to everybody is that it places enormous patronage in the hands of the Prime Minister of the day. So far as possible, that is mitigated. The Prime Minister consults with other leaders and so on. Nevertheless, it is a fundamental difficulty. I do not think that it will be completely overcome in any form of appointed Chamber.
The best approach that I can suggest is that some statutory commission be set up and that the Prime Minister should be under a statutory obligation to consult that commission before making appointments. Whatever method is adopted, it will never be perfect. However, if one were looking to the long-term future, one should proceed along that line.
It will not have escaped the notice of noble Lords that in the very notable debate on student loans recently the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, expressed strong disapproval of the student loans measure. Perhaps I may complete the remark; I know that the noble Lord will be on his feet in a moment. He expressed the most damning criticism of that measure. However, when it came to the vote he voted in the Conservative Lobby. That is the situation with regard to party politics. With the huge Conservative majority, that will be the position until there is a fundamental reform.
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
My Lords, before the noble Earl leaves that matter, I hope that he will consult Hansard a little more carefully than he appears to 614 have done. He will see that on the amendments that really mattered my vote was cast in favour of the amendments and against the Government. Perhaps he will be good enough to withdraw the general effect of what he said a moment ago.
§ The Earl of Longford
My Lords, I shall only add to the general effect by saying that the noble Lord showed increased wisdom as the debates went on.
I have allowed myself to be distracted. I intended to say a word about hereditary Peers. It will not have escaped notice that the main initiative—the crucial Motion —was taken by a hereditary Peer if ever there was one, the noble Earl, Lord Russell. There is no name more famous in the hereditary peerage than that of Russell. We must therefore face the fact, as it was faced in 1968 when we spoke of reforms, that a great many hereditary Peers ought to be appointed Peers. I therefore close on that note. It would be a tragedy if the great wisdom and faithfulness of the hereditary Peers in this House were lost.
§ 5.7 p.m.
§ Lord Addington
In speaking on this debate, I feel a little shy in coming to the fore. Not only am I very much younger and less experienced in the procedure of this House, and also have no experience in the procedure of another place but also, as a hereditary Peer I feel that to a very great extent I shall be criticising what I am said to stand for.
The debate calls into question the appropriate powers and constitution of a second Chamber within the British Constitution. I suggest that before we discuss the second Chamber we must first look at the British Constitution as it currently stands. At the moment the House of Commons sits very long hours. I believe that they are the longest of any legislative body anywhere. It still cannot get through its entire workload. On many occasions we seem to be picking up the pieces and debating subjects that have not been debated in another place. On certain occasions the guillotine comes down very hard. We are indeed a gilded dustpan and brush. I suggest that if that situation continues there is no point in discussing procedure here because we have a body with fundamental flaws. It has the initiative, power and prestige behind it but we would be just tinkering with the edges.
The party for which I speak is very strongly in favour of great reform of the procedure of the government of this country. As is well known, we are in favour of some system of proportional representation. Because of the first-past-the-post system we have been very hard-pressed to achieve an appropriate representation of the number of votes cast in our favour. Such a system does not gain great favour with the other political parties. I freely admit that the political party on my left is starting to take steps towards proportional representation for government of at least part of the country. The Scottish party is suggesting that if there were an assembly for Scotland it should have a PR selection process for those who sit on it. However, we do not feel that one can undertake any fundamental reforms unless one first reforms the House of Commons. That is the basic point with which I entirely agree.
615 I cannot see how one can countenance a situation where one has an elected Chamber, with a second chamber—a subservient Chamber—elected by a different system. If a PR system were used, the Chamber would have a better claim to being a more representational body, when confronted by a House of Commons which was selected by a first-past-the-post system. I can safely say that if I had such legitimacy behind me, I would have absolutely no hesitation in disagreeing with and voting against any measure that was brought forward from another Chamber. If I felt that I had more legitimacy I would consider that I had the absolute right to oppose such a measure.
If we are to take steps to overcome the problem, we must start other reforms, looking first at ourselves. All Members on this side of the House have on occasion been angered by the fact that many Members of your Lordships' House who are not seen for months or literally years on end arrive and will outvote those of us who regularly attend. It is a matter that has caused great consternation in this House and brings the Chamber into disrepute outside.
I do not know what can be done about that. My favourite suggestion is that anybody who is not prepared to turn up for a small proportion of the number of days that we sit in one parliamentary year might, for instance, lose their voting rights in the next. It would mean that those who are not prepared to take an interest in and at least listen to the debates should not be able to influence the procedure of the House until they have done so. In that way we can keep their opinions which on many occasions are valid. I agree that many noble Lords can attend for only one or two days in a Session but they would be able to speak with knowledge and expertise when required. I suggest that that is the first issue we should look at when reforming the Chamber unless we are prepared to undertake a major constitutional change which would ultimately be required before an elected Chamber could replace the House.
It is often suggested to me outside the Chamber that we should become a totally nominated House. That second suggested change has precedent in the 1968 reforms. However, as was pointed out by the noble Earl, Lord Longford, there is a danger that whoever is in charge of the nominations to this House would soon create a new Chamber. Furthermore, with each change of government there may be a new influx of Peers. There could be several thousand Members of this House after 20 years.
I suggest that such a situation is not only farcical but extremely dangerous. Effectively it would create a body of yes-men in the Chamber. That has not happened yet. In respect of the student loans Bill the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, went against his normal stance of supporting the Government. I am personally grateful and was glad that he voted with us for many of the substantive amendments. I suggest that there is a danger of creating such a body; for instance, by appointing people with vested interests in doing what the Government say or creating interests for them in order to ensure that they will do so.
616 We must look carefully at the way in which we behave if we are to retain any degree of credibility. At present our standing is high. Before I came to this House it was suggested that not only would I be a much younger Member but vaguely akin to something from a different planet; that Members of the House would not know what was going on and I should be much more aware. I can safely tell all and sundry that when I arrived I soon became aware of my ignorance on the vast majority of matters. We have a high standing and we must maintain it. Our first priority should be to make reforms which will ensure that we do so. Any fundamental reform must look on this Chamber as being part of the whole legislative process. If we lose sight of that anything that we do will become superfluous.
§ 5.13 p.m.
§ Lord Somers
My Lords, I first wish to apologise to your Lordships and to the noble Lord the Leader of the House because I must leave before the end of the debate. I shall read carefully everything that has been said. When we discussed the matter some years ago, a suggestion was made which then appealed to me. It was that we should have a two-tier House consisting of Peers who could speak and vote, and Peers who could only speak. After thinking about the matter carefully, I realised that such a system would create two difficulties. First, who will make the selection; and, secondly, on what grounds will they do so? The more I thought about the matter, the more I realised that the best prescription for your Lordships' House is that which already exists; a mixture of heredity and life Peers.
I have been a Member of this House for almost 40 years. I remember the time when life Peers first arrived and I am the first to say that they have made an enormous contribution. The House is more alive than it was when I first arrived. However, the hereditary system should be preserved. I wish to say a few words about it because a great deal of abuse has been thrown at it. It is not so extraordinary that the hereditary system should work; it works in other walks of life. For instance. Bach would not have been such a superb musician had it not been for the fact that his father, brothers, uncles and practically his whole family were professional musicians. Therefore, the hereditary system has an influence. I am the first to admit that sometimes the system makes mistakes; but so does the electoral system. There cannot be many noble Lords who are unable to name members of one elected body or another who are by no means suitable for the work that they are supposed to carry out.
I wish to mention one outstanding member of the hereditary system; of course, I am speaking of Her Majesty the Queen. Some noble Lords may say that it is not a similar case, but I believe that it is precisely and exactly the same. Her Majesty the Queen occupies her position simply and solely because she is the daughter of His late Majesty King George VI and for no other reason. But how magnificently she has fulfilled that position!
§ Lord Somers
My Lords, nobody could work harder than the Queen. There is no 36-hour week for her; she is on duty practically all day, every day. She seldom has a day to herself. She attends countless events many of which can be of little interest to her although she never betrays the fact. She visits every corner of the globe—if it is possible for a sphere to have corners—and everywhere she goes she arouses admiration, loyalty and love.
§ Lord Somers
Can your Lordships honestly see any elected head of state doing so much? I certainly cannot.
Many noble Lords said that an electoral system would be ideal for your Lordships' House. However, it must be remembered that such a system has a great disadvantage. The elected Member always looks back at his electorate before doing or saying anything and wondering whether his future re-election will be affected. Therefore, he cannot have a completely disinterested mind. This House does not have that disadvantage and to a large extent that is the most splendid thing about it. Sometimes I wish the independence could be a little more widespread. With the exception of the Government Front Bench, I should like to see the House consisting entirely of Cross-Benchers. That is by no means because I sit on the Cross-Benches—and if any noble Lord thinks that, he has it the wrong way round. I sit on the Cross-Benches because I dislike party politics. Party politics are the poison of practically the whole world. They make it impossible to give an absolutely unbiased view. However, that is my own personal opinion.
As regards this evening's debate, I believe that a second Chamber is absolutely essential, and except for perhaps minor alterations I should like to see it preserved as it is.
§ 5.20 p.m.
§ Lord Diamond
My Lords, it gives me particular pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Somers—my twin. His experience of this House in years is exactly double mine—that is, 40 years against 20—but the number of years for which we have been on the earth is exactly the same.
I express my deep gratitude to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, for introducing this subject and for inviting the Leader of the House—I am grateful to him for attending and for listening to all the speeches so far —through the usual channels to try to afford time for a fuller debate because obviously the topics to be considered are far too lengthy, important and wide-ranging to be considered satisfactorily under the form of a short debate.
To begin with, I wish to concentrate on two points which I think are of considerable importance. I hope that your Lordships do not consider them to be of minor importance. They are matters which affect our rights and powers under the heading of this debate. We have two delaying powers in order to enable us to maintain certain important principles such as the democratic principle involved in limiting 618 the length of a Parliament or the independence of the judiciary involved in not allowing one House alone to dismiss a judge. Over those important constitutional principles we have an absolute veto; that is, the consent of both Houses is required and there is no question of the other House overriding us if we disagree on those matters.
In order to enable us to maintain our power to consider and revise legislation, we have a limited power of delay. That arises because of course it would be a matter of doubt as to whether the other place would give serious consideration to all our suggestions unless there lay behind that the muscle of being able to delay for a period. Expressed simply, that period of delay is one year but that is perhaps an over-simplification.
In short, we have those powers to enable us to ensure that that somewhat rumbustious, necessarily partisan and guillotine-friendly body which we call the other place gives serious consideration to our suggestions and should—to use the regular phrase—be brought to think again. That is my understanding, which is perhaps over-simplified, of the present constitutional position.
As to the power of delay, in 1911 it was made clear that that power was intended to be used. Has it been used? It has been used hardly at all. It has been felt to be too dangerous; would possibly give rise to a conflict with the other place; and, as with any other muscle, there is always the danger of atrophy setting in through lack of exercise of the power.
Why are we afraid to use it? The answer is that it is too strong a power. It has been likened to the sting of a bee; that is only to be used in the final resort and only to be used once. We all know what happens to the bee afterwards. I take the view that we should reduce that power of delay to six months as was recommended in the 1968 White Paper. That would give to the other place the appearance of being helpful to it but in practice it would give to us the likelihood of using a power which we are afraid to use. Therefore, in practice, that would add immeasurably to our real power of delay.
As to the veto, that exists for the major reasons which I have indicted. It also exists with regard to statutory instruments. There was a very interesting series of speeches on Monday, as noble Lords present will remember. Why on earth do we regard statutory instruments, delegated legislation generally, as being in the same category as the maintenance of democracy and justice? Clearly it is not.
I have always accepted the explanation that that matter was not dealt with in 1911 because nobody conceived that it would be of any importance. It was a facility which governments practically did not use. People at that time could not conceive of a Bill like the student loans Bill where a government come forward and say, "Give us the power and we will give you the rules". Certainly that could not have been envisaged. However, as we know, the very fact of the increasing volume of legislation means that naturally, governments turn more and more to delegating powers under a Bill. Although Ministers have the final responsibility, more and more of the 619 subsidiary legislation is carried out, as we all know, by the Executive and not by Parliament. More and more that is the case and, therefore, more and more it is necessary for us to have powers in relation to delegated legislation.
There was great rejoicing on Monday when your Lordships were reminded that the Government have been good enough to allow a change from the negative to the affirmative resolution on the first introduction of the rules to which I refer. That is a complete snare and delusion. The Government have given absolutely nothing to your Lordships' House. As we all know, what happens is that the dangers of exercising our rights with regard to affirmative resolutions are so great—namely, the power of veto —that we do not use them. If we did, every single statutory instrument brought before us approved by the other place and of which we did not approve would die. There is an absolute power of veto. I resisted all sorts of pressures to take a different view when I had certain responsibilities in these matters. We wisely—I repeat wisely—continued not to exercise our right under that veto to vote down a statutory instrument approved by another place.
We now have the situation that an instrument cannot be amended, it cannot be denied, and it has the appearance of giving your Lordships' House some say in the matter. It gives the other House some say in the matter, but it gives us nothing. Therefore I suggest that the root cause of this problem is not merely that the convention is a little unclear; it is that it is far too strong. It is like an atomic weapon, which you may well have but God forbid you should ever use it.
I invite the Leader of the House seriously to consider taking steps to see that that power is reduced and changed to a power of delay under an Act of Parliament of the kind to which I have referred, the 1911 Act. On the assumption that there would then be a six-month power of delay, that would be perfectly adequate for both the purposes to which I referred—making the other place think again and making our views felt with regard to the ever-increasing volume of statutory instruments which will inevitably come before us. Those are two important matters which could immediately be taken in hand.
Regarding the general constitution of your Lordships' House, which I now understand to mean the composition, I am bound to say that the real power and continuity of this place rely on its legitimacy, its acceptability to the populace and electorate as a whole. With regard to its legitimacy, the greatest deterrent to its acceptability is the hereditary principle.
I have referred to that principle many times. The Conservative committee chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Home, said that there was no justification for it. A senior ex-Cabinet Minister pushed a document through my letter box inviting me to support him and sound Tory principles. Noble Lords can see that the document is blue-edged. It says: 620Britain enjoys less constitutional protection against extremist minority governments than any other democratic country. Like Lord Hailsham, I favour an elected House of Lords".So in part does virtually every committee that has considered the matter—either elected or part elected.
My view and that of the joint body of Liberals and Social Democrats which considered this matter and published a very full report under the chairmanship of a distinguished judge is that the sensible way is to have a House that is part elected and part nominated but non-hereditary, though the hereditary Peers could continue for the time being.
My time is up. That illustrates how important it is to debate this matter again when these issues can be discussed more fully.
§ 5.34 p.m.
§ Baroness White
My Lords, I am sure that we all wish to thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, for yet again enabling us to consider our position as a second Chamber within the British Constitution. These exercises in introspection have recurred with a certain regularity for nearly 100 years, since the defeat of Gladstone's second Home Rule Bill upset the apple cart and started people thinking. In practical terms the only major changes made to our powers were the drastic changes which occurred in 1911, with regard to powers, and again in 1958 when our composition was considerably changed by the advent of life Peers and of women Members. That was a change which I regard as being very much for the better.
It is generally agreed that this short debate—grateful as we are for the occasion—is not suitable for discussing these very wide-ranging topics. Nevertheless, it may result in better arrangements being made in the future. However, we have no certainty that any major changes will ensue in the future even if we have a most successful debate, whatever government may be in power within the next few years. I say that because past experience is not in the least encouraging, when one thinks of the 1907 arrangement, the Bryce Commission, or the near consensus in 1968 which the combination of Enoch Powell and Michael Foot destroyed. We are an extraordinarily difficult House to deal with by way of major reform.
My own thinking is that perhaps we might do better to look more closely not to a very distant future, but to ourselves as we are. I suggest that the majority of Members of this House agree that we operate more by quality and influence than by direct power, which rests elsewhere. My concern is that that influence may be in danger of decline. I will explain why in a moment.
I am concerned about the tenor of some proposals for our future put forward by my own political colleagues in another place. I believe that they need further consideration, although I do not believe that they are anything like as definite as the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, would have us suppose.
§ Lord Beloff
My Lords, perhaps I may intervene. I brought with me, in case someone said that, the 621 actual text from a document which refers to the "Final report of Labour's Policy Review". I should have thought a final report was final.
§ Baroness White
Not in politics my Lords! I leave my noble friend Lord Mishcon on the Front Bench to deal with this matter except for one point which I will touch on before I conclude. I have spent nearly 45 years working in the Palace of Westminster, first, in the Press Gallery and the Lobby; then on Back and Front Benches in both Houses—20 years in each. So I have a fair claim to a reasonable perspective.
When I came to your Lordships' House in 1970—I might say that I came here voluntarily because I could have held my House of Commons seat —like most Members of another place I had only a sketchy idea of how this House worked. However, experience has convinced me of its value. While we all recognise the very difficult problem of a built-in Conservative majority, I do not intend to pursue that issue on this occasion. What worries me is how effective we are in influencing government business and government policy, not on the occasions of manipulative crisis votes, but on a day-to-day basis.
If our value is based on influence, how successful are we? What is the point of having unparalleled talent on the Benches of this House with so many noble Lords having invaluable experience, usually at the highest level of public or private endeavour, if the Government pay little attention to their opinions? By what method if we have no power —because our decisions can so easily be overturned when one party has an overwhelming majority in the other place—do we exploit the value of the experience and talents of this House?
That brings me to the Government Front Bench. I am sure that the Leader of the House will not take me amiss if I sound to him perhaps unkindly critical. Nowadays we have only two Cabinet Ministers in this House. That matter has already been touched upon in the debate. At the junior end are the Under-Secretaries of which we have six, plus the Whips. They are such nice young men! We have an affectionate appreciation for all of them. They are all hereditary Peers, but they cannot help that. There are two admirable women, both life Peers who had to work their passage before coming here.
All of the team work very hard. However, one doubts whether they are in a position significantly to influence departmental policy. They stick to their briefs and they do their best. As I said, we appreciate that. However, how much can they really convey of the value which is to be found in the expertise in many quarters of this House?
In between the Cabinet and the juniors come the five Ministers of State and the Paymaster. I do not know what one calls those who come between the monkey and the organ grinder. Here there is considerable varied and valuable experience but, again, how effective that is departmentally one can only guess.
Apart from the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, I think it is fair to say that on the Government Front Bench there is now no 622 heavyweight champion, past or present. The former heavyweights are all elsewhere. Furthermore, only one Member of the present Government Front Bench has had direct experience as a Member of another place, which is astonishing but I believe that is correct. I refer to the Lord Advocate. No one else really knows how the other place works, yet that is the Chamber which possesses the power.
I am sure that the Lord Advocate does a first-rate job for Scotland but I cannot suppose that he would claim to have very much political clout. By comparison, therefore, with some previous Administrations, the recent 10 years of Conservative rule has not strengthened this House, but weakened it. We may perhaps surmise that we are not the Prime Minister's favourite child.
It is of concern to those of us who have been accustomed in another place to debating with those who have the power of decision to come here and find that we are in a situation where with the best endeavours in the world we do not have the opportunity to influence what will happen. As the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, rightly said. We are too frightened to use such powers as we do have.
That brings me to another touchstone of our value as a second Chamber. This is an area with which I have been particularly concerned since I had the privilege of coming to this House. I refer to the work of our investigative committees. I mention these because they have an almost worldwide reputation for the quality of their investigations. I am not including the domestic or procedural committees of the House, excellent as they are, but referring to the European Community Scrutiny Committee and the Select Committee on Science and Technology. Some 10 years ago I had the honour of being chairman of the European committee—a position since held by my noble friends Lady Llewellyn-Davies and Lady Serota. Its standards had been set by the much lamented Lady Tweedsmuir. I am well aware that the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, played a part for a short period at the beginning but I am sure he will agree that it was really Lady Tweedsmuir who set the scene.
In my time 96 Members of your Lordships' House worked on the main European committee and its seven sub-committees. There are now six sub-committees but only 74 of your Lordships labour thereon. However, the volume and complexity of the material emanating from Brussels increases almost daily and will continue to do so. It is a tremendous effort to keep pace with the changes in the European scene. One can ask whether this is work which should be left to the other place, which has itself vastly increased the number of its committees during the past decade or so. I hope not. I hope we shall continue to regard this work as one of our major contributions to the body politic of this country.
There is a profound difference between the regimes of the two Houses. Our approach is not based primarily on party interests or party numbers. In the investigative committees we aim for a broad balance on the main committee but membership of the working sub-committees is based on experience, expertise and excellence wherever those qualities may be found. We are genuine seekers after truth.
623 Our work is generally on a consensual basis. It is partly for those reasons that the reputation of these committees stands as high as it does.
However, with the grudgingly slow pace at which new creations are being made, in some areas we are running short of expertise. Older Members become less active and younger Members are snapped up for other public duties. There are some very important areas of the natural and physical sciences and in the developing areas of technology, and so on, where it is difficult for us to recruit working Peers. This particularly applies to the European committee, where it is difficult for my noble friend to find Members to chair and to work on some of the sub-committees.
We need the experience and judgment of men and women, many of whom would never stand for election to this House under any form of proportional representation, regionalism or whatever. They are far too much engaged in their own work, but they will give time, because they feel that it is worthwhile, to these important committees of this House.
This is an area to which we can contribute in a way that the other place cannot. This is a matter to which our political colleagues in the other place should pay more attention, and I hope that my noble friend Lord Mishcon, will tell them so.
§ 5.48 p.m.
My Lords, for as long as I can remember—and I have no doubt for much longer than that—the possibility of reform of your Lordships' House has been a matter for discussion. One of the main arguments that it should be reformed is that your Lordships are not accountable to the public. I respectfully submit that in many respects that is more of an advantage than a disadvantage. For a start, I am not aware of any abuse that has arisen in my time as a result of non-accountability of your Lordships' House.
However, I turn to the advantages which I suggest exist. Many of your Lordships have spent years as elected representatives in another and much more prestigious place than that in which I served three terms of office. I would not have had the opportunity to serve those three terms of office had it not been for the fact that proportional representation was the form of franchise in Northern Ireland at that time.
Unless my experience is very different from theirs, I would go along with the noble Lord, Lord Somers, in saying that it is very difficult to avoid the shadow of the constituents. You tend to think twice before saying anything that might be unpopular. Worse still, you think many times if the realisation comes to you that it is several months since you said anything at all. Therefore, there is the pressure on the elected representative to say something just to get it into the local press so that the constituents can see that the elected representative is still functioning. Therefore, there is a temptation to speak even if you have nothing to say. That is one of the main advantages of your Lordships' House. There is no incentive to speak in this place unless you have something to say.
There is another element. If you are going to show your constituents that you are still functioning, you 624 have to do constituency work. In my experience that is almost a full time job. It would mean that we would be deprived of the expertise of many of the noble Lords and Ladies whom we are privileged to have in this House at the moment. It also means that, being a full time job, a salary would have to be payable. That would be extremely regrettable. It would entirely change the tenor and character of your Lordships' House if this were to be a place where Members had to be paid.
If there were to be an elected body in this Chamber it would be on a regional basis, and I presume that there would be no constituencies as such. We all know that unless you have a constituency of a manageable size, it is virtually impossible to make yourself felt. With such a constituency you can move about, do constituency work, get yourself known and establish a reputation on a regional basis for being a hard worker. That will be very difficult to do. On a regional basis only those who had nationally known names would stand much chance of being elected.
That is the second reason for being opposed to having an elected Chamber. My primary reason is one which has been raised already by several noble Lords. In my view one of the greatest strengths of this place is the size of the Cross-Bench coupled with the fact that to the best of my knowledge, though I have never actually tried it, defiance of the Whip, if you take it, does not incur a penalty. I understand that in another place whereas one or two transgressions may be permissible, if repeatedly you defy the Whip, that Whip is withdrawn and you are then on the short list for deselection unless your constituency party and association are firmly behind you.
That means that in this place noble Lords can vote according to their conscience and accumulated knowledge and expertise. In my view, that makes us a truly revising and possibly at times a reforming Chamber. That is a role which the other place would find it very much more difficult to assume under present circumstances.
Having spoken of the importance of the Cross-Bench, it is a fact that if you stand for election as an Independent, there is very little chance of being elected unless again you have a nationally-known name. You have no party machine to work for you and no well-known policy which you can sell to the nation unless you are a crusader of some kind. Therefore, the question boils down to being well known. You cannot very well be a previous and prominent politician because that is incompatible with being an Independent. Therefore, you either have to be a television personality, perhaps a nationally known and successful sportsman, or a pop star. I certainly do not come into any of those categories though perhaps some Members do. I believe that qualification would very much narrow down the field.
Therefore, in my view the fact that we are not accountable is an advantage rather than a disadvantage. It may be asked: What is the need for reform? That has been mentioned already. I am both aware of and in sympathy with the concern that when there is likely to be a critical vote on the afternoon of the debate, people turn up many of 625 whom one cannot remember having seen before. They come to vote and then go away again. Sometimes, but not always, the result is that the final decision of this House is contrary to the wishes of the majority of Members who have researched the Motion in advance, followed it through all its stages in the other place, followed any stages through which it has been in this place, and therefore have gone to vote in an informed manner. Yet that body of expertise is overthrown by people who have come in because they have been whipped from distant places. That is the main reason that criticism can be addressed at your Lordships' House.
Therefore, the question is this: if any reform is needed, how can it be approached? I say not on the voting record. It is entirely commendable to refrain from voting on Motions about which you know nothing. That is my policy. I would say not on the speaking record. I would defend the right of Members to come to this place whenever there is a subject on which they can make a contribution, but not to feel it necessary to speak on matters about which they know nothing.
My father sat in this place for 24 years and to the best of my knowledge he never spoke. He was a shy man by personality. More important, I believe he felt that there was nothing that he could tell noble Lords of the day that they did not know already. It is most unlikely, but if there had been a debate on large-leafed Himalayan rhododendrons, he might have made his maiden speech because he was an expert on that subject. In the event there was no such debate so he never spoke. That is absolutely right and I am sure that many noble Lords wish that I had followed his example.
Another criterion should not be expertise. After all, who can fairly say who is competent to speak on a matter and who is not? Another aspect has been touched on already. A good case has been made for the elimination of hereditary Peers. I wish to refer to one experience that I had. I was interviewed on one occasion by Simon Winchester, a prominent and well-respected journalist. He was researching material for a book either on your Lordships' House or on the parliamentary system in Britain —I cannot remember which. I said to him that while I totally supported the system of having an Upper House I could not see the justification for having hereditary Peers. He replied that although he used to agree with that view, he had changed his mind. He said that to eliminate hereditary Peers and have only life Peers would immediately raise the average age of Members of the House to 70-plus. I see the noble Lord, Lord Blease, looking at me. I was not speaking about him.
Secondly, the hereditary system, although random, is probably as good a form of selection as one can have. I do not favour eliminating hereditary Peers, who are in fact, as the noble Lord, Lord Somers, mentioned, declining in numbers. Some 45 have no successors, and so the number is actually dwindling. One idea is to have representative Peers. But it would be difficult to be fair, and it would be difficult to keep the system divorced from party political influence. Such influence would be regrettable. Therefore I agree with the noble Lord, Lord 626 Addington, who suggested that a minimum attendance might be the best solution.
I can think of no fairer way. Noble Lords who had not attended more than a minimum number of times over a certain period would be disqualified unless they had a valid excuse, such as serving overseas and so on. It is the fairest method that I can think of. But I would argue most vehemently—I feel very strongly about this —against having an elected Upper House.
§ 6.2 p.m.
§ Lord Jenkins of Putney
My Lords, all noble Lords, or at any rate most noble Lords, will be grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, for introducing this discussion. Although I am grateful to him for introducing the discussion I found myself disagreeing with much of what he said. It is the subject for which I am grateful rather than the content of what he had to say. However, he said it extraordinarily well. The fact that I found myself disagreeing with him would not matter much except that one or two other noble Lords were also in disagreement.
While I was waiting to speak I was thinking of one or two sayings. I may venture to disagree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon, but I find myself in strong agreement with Disraeli. He said that without party there can be no democracy in modern society. Only in a place like this, which is responsible for important secondary decisions but is not the primary place where decisions are taken, can the luxury of Cross-Benches be afforded. In a place from which democracy emanated, only the party system can maintain and spread democracy. Only the party system can give people the sense that what they say when they vote counts, that they are in fact, though indirectly, governing themselves.
Some speakers have suggested that democracy is inconvenient. So it is. It is that very inconvenience which makes it good. In this Chamber we are free to say what we damn well please. That is a great luxury for us but do we pause and ask ourselves whether we are speaking for anyone other than for ourselves? What right have we to speak only for ourselves? By what virtue do we sit here when most other people do not-sit here and do not enjoy the privileges which we enjoy? Therefore the notion that there is something highly creditable about this Chamber brings me to another saying which passed through my mind while I was waiting to speak—self-praise is no recommendation.
I shall quote another distinguished Conservative, Winston Churchill. He said—I cannot remember what he said. I shall come back to it. I should have taken the precaution of writing it down.
§ Lord Jenkins of Putney
No, my Lords, that is not the one. There is another one. I shall come back to it.
In the meantime I shall quote a sentence from the document referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, 627 the Final report of Labour's Policy Review for the 1990s. The first sentence of the subsection which deals with this Chamber says:A second chamber of Parliament based on inheritance and patronage is unacceptable in a modem democracy".This Chamber is the only place in the country or in the world where that statement would be challenged. We must recognise ourselves for what we are. We are an anachronism. We are a useful anachronism. We are a place in which good work is done. But we should not pretend that we have any constitutional justification which would carry a moment's conviction anywhere else outside this Chamber. That brings me to my recollection of Winston Churchill's words. He said that we are, more than we know, the creatures of our institutions. Only we creatures of this institution could begin to think that we have the kind of merit which has been described to us by so many speakers. We have not. But we do a useful and good job.
For that reason when I was in the other place I spoke against my colleagues at the time who said that we could do with a single Chamber. I even questioned Harold Laski's addiction to unicameralism, which was a great thing to do at the time. To this day I am still convinced that he was wrong and I was right. We must have two Chambers. The two Front Benches tried to bring about reform in 1968. They came together and said that they would abolish hereditary peerages and arrange a system of patronage whereby the Prime Minister of the day would in future have the right to choose Members of the Upper House. Unfortunately, as my noble friend Lord Longford said before he had to depart, the proposals were upended by the fact that the Back Benchers would not follow the Front Benchers into the Lobby. There was a substantial rebellion on both sides.
This illustrates the fact that one can always go through a Lobby with people with whom one fundamentally disagrees. I went through the Lobby with Enoch Powell—he, because he did not want to see any change in your Lordships' House; and I, because I felt that the proposed change was entirely inadequate and that something more substantial should have taken place. The notion that one cannot for opposite reasons go into a Lobby and upset the Government is not valid. However, that is by the way.
I seem to be full of quotations today —and they have been mostly quotations from Conservatives. At a Conservative Party Conference in the early 1980s a motion was put forward to reform the House of Lords in the then current Parliament. However, it was opposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, who was the Conservative Leader of the House at that time, on the ground that such a measure would need all-party agreement and no such agreement was in sight. I think that what the Labour Party document says is true.
It is all very well for us to carry resolutions abolishing this House and not specifying what should replace it, if anything. It is all very well for Conservatives to propose alternatives at their 628 conferences. However, how you deal with it from that point on is a different proposition. What do you do? How do you move from one position to another? That is the difficulty which has never been faced.
Here we are in our present situation and over there is the desirable position that we wish to reach. Just how can it be reached? When I hear a reasonable proposition in that respect I shall be more convinced of the possibility—I am convinced of the desirability —of making a fundamental alteration to this House. I think perhaps it could be done; but the notion that you can do it without all-party agreement is an illusion. Such an agreement is not only made between the two Front Benches; it must also extend throughout the House. Changing the constitution is the most difficult task you can undertake in a traditional society like ours. However, I think that it should be done.
I believe that this Chamber is wrong in its present form. As I said, I think that the Labour Party proposal to which I referred contains some very good ideas which I think could, and should, be carried out. However, I wonder how far it will get. Will it get from here to an election manifesto? I am inclined to doubt it. Further, if it were to be included in an election manifesto, how far would it get in the Chamber? Would it be tabled before all the other important matters? Of course it would not. Even if it were to be tabled, as all the Committee stages would be taken in the Chamber itself, no other business would be transacted for about six months. Would any government give it that degree of importance? I think not. Constitutional change is vitally important; it ought to be carried out, but I wish someone would tell me how.
§ 6.12 p.m.
§ Lord Mishcon
My Lords, all of us who regard it as a privilege to be a Member of this very civilised House—and I am proud to call myself one—will be indebted to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, for giving us the opportunity even in a short debate to discuss our future. I must say that if anyone is to introduce it in this Chamber I do not think that any of us would prefer a name other than that of the noble and learned Lord. It is not just a question of his political career which was eminent, or of his judicial career which was even more eminent. He has been a great fighter in this House for the rights of the Members of the House of Lords. The noble Lord the Leader of the House had to put up with some very fine and direct oratory quite recently in the Courts and Legal Services Bill as to the infringement of the rights of this House by those who dominate the Front Bench opposite.
I am told—although I have never understood it —that the astrology page of a newspaper is one which is very popular among readers. I suppose, therefore, that it is with some joy that we are able to indulge in a little astrology tonight by looking into our future. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, will not mind very much if I look into his stars at this moment. In two or three years' time I see the noble Lord moving his seat. I see him with neighbours opposite of great intelligence and wisdom wishing to care for the traditions of this great 629 country, but wishing to do it justice, reflecting upon words which they may have uttered when not having the responsibility of government and finding that those words may have to be altered in the interests of all concerned. I also see him rising to his feet and cheering what they have done. That, I suppose, is the answer I would give to the noble Lord in response to the various questions which he asked me.
The duties and powers of this House have been discussed today but no one has referred, as yet, to the Bryce conference. It was held in 1917; that is only six years after the Parliament Act and obviously when this country was at war. At that conference, which consisted of Members of both Houses, Lord Bryce set out the conference's views on the powers and duties of this Chamber. As those views are very succinct I hope your Lordships will forgive me if I quote the four functions. They were quoted by the Leader of the Opposition in one of the debates which have taken place on the powers and duties of your Lordships' House.
The four functions were:First, the examination and revision of Bills brought from the other place. Secondly, the initiation of Bills dealing with subjects of a comparatively non-controversial character. Thirdly, the interposition of so much delay—and no more—in the passing of a Bill into law as may enable the opinion of the nation to be adequately expressed upon it. Fourthly, to act as a forum for the discussion of general questions of policy—such as foreign affairs".—[Official Report, 3/4/84; col. 691.]Those words set out very succinctly the duties of this House which we have tried to fulfil. It is not quite a powerless House. I can remember many occasions on which your Lordships have acted with due wisdom in defeating the Government and where, indeed, amendments have gone to another place and have not been reversed by virtue of the fact that there was respect for the opinion which your Lordships had expressed by the votes cast.
I was glad that the noble Baroness, Lady White, referred to the other matters which have been added to the duties of this House. She talked about the European Committee and its sub-committees. She was so right in what she said. She mentioned the Standing Committee on Science and Technology which is so much admired not only throughout the nation but also, as she rightly said, universally among those interested in such matters.
However, there was just one other matter which was not mentioned. I refer to the power of this House—and in my view it is a very valuable one—to put a negative in the way of the other place endeavouring to extend its life beyond five years. What a valuable right that is in the defence of freedom and democracy which we so value in this realm of ours. These are powers and duties of a very substantial nature which one realises must be carried out by some Chamber, if not this one.
Therefore, if one asks oneself the next question —"Do you have to have a second Chamber to carry out these duties and powers?" —the answer must be yes. There must be a programme for the future, in spite of the fact that such a programme might have to be altered in the light of wisdom as it may evolve. That programme says that there must be a second Chamber.
630 We then move on to a very robust description of your Lordships' House. I remember very well that it was given by my noble friend Lord Houghton of Sowerby, whose eloquence seems to increase with the years that grace him. I wonder how he came from these Benches because in introducing the debate on the powers and duties of the Lords he used the words:Your Lordships' House is the only restraint in Parliament to the arrogance of an elective dictatorship"—[Official Report, 19/12/84; col. 657.]That came from our Benches. I was amazed at the words; they have remained with me over the passage of time.
We then come to the question of whether the composition of our House is right, given that we have these essential powers and duties. I believe that they are important. I would not use the words of my noble friend Lord Houghton but they are important to safeguard the freedom of our people. On that composition I listened to the noble Lord, Lord Diamond. I took the trouble to read the speech that he made not long ago when he dealt with a Motion that concerned the powers and duties of the House in regard to Public Bills and so on. He did not quote—as he was entitled to—the words that occur in the report of the committee, I believe I am right in saying, that was set up by the Conservative Party and the noble Lord, Lord Home. I wish to refer to them because he cited them in his speech. We must take into account that this is not limited to one side of your Lordships' House. It concerns the essential reform of the composition of the House.
The noble Lord, Lord Diamond, will remember that on 3rd November 1983, according to the Official Report, he referred to the Bow Group on the reform of the House of Lords. That group said:Reform of the House of Lords is urgent if the second Chamber of Parliament is to be preserved". [Official Report, 3/11/83; col. 643.]What did the Conservative committee on the reform of the House of Lords, chaired by the eminent noble Lord, Lord Home of the Hirsel, say? It did not believe that leaving things just as they were should be considered a viable option. With regard to the composition of the House the report considered that it was virtually impossible to defend.
I should have thought that it was common ground that we must ensure that there is a second Chamber. We must ensure that the powers and duties of the second Chamber are roughly consonant with those that we have. Some of us wish that they were a little more effective with regard to statutory instruments and other such matters, as the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, said. For the future we must look at the composition of the House. That is where the hereditary principle comes up against logic and democracy. I say this with the utmost deference to the many noble friends I have in the House who sit here as a result of their inheritance.
As with many things that happen in our wonderful country, we start with a complete illogicality in our Constitution which, as we all know, is not written, and in the composition of many of our institutions. It seems to work. However, in regard to making 631 decisions on behalf of the nation one must do a little more than just say, "It is illogical but it works".
In closing what I have to say to noble Lords who have been patiently listening to me trying to wind up the debate on this side of the House, perhaps I personally may cast doubts on the question of elections to the House. This was carefully considered in the White Paper on House of Lords reform issued in 1969 by a Labour Government. We must consider what that Government said in regard to any matters that the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, raised quite properly in his speech.
I shall not bore your Lordships by reading the remarks but at pages 10 and 11 the White Paper came down hard and fast against the idea of regional and national elections. It did so on the basis that we cannot have a Chamber which competes with the House of Commons. The White Paper advanced other arguments and I have no doubt that those arguments will come up again when final decisions are made. Who should make them? I should have thought —but here again I venture humbly to give a private view—that there will have to be a broadly based Royal Commission reviewing all the reform debates that have taken place in your Lordships' House. It will ignore the speech I have just made since it will be deemed to be worthless, but it will examine all the speeches of my other colleagues in the House. The Royal Commission will look at White Papers and other documents that have been published over the years. Somehow or other I believe that the future of the country will demand a second Chamber. May it be as worthy of history as your Lordships' House has been up till now.
§ 6.27 p.m.
§ The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Belstead)
My Lords, I wish to thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, for the debate this afternoon which gives us the opportunity to air our perceptions of the composition and powers of a second Chamber within our Constitution.
I wish to approach what could in a way be a hypothetical question from a basis of hard fact by examining where we are at present. In short, I feel it may be useful if I seek first to outline the functions of this House so as to focus on the purpose of a second Chamber and the very reasons for its existence.
I am sure that all your Lordships will join the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, in endorsing the summary of the duties of the House set out so many years ago by the Bryce Conference. That summary had as its fourth function general debate. One of the valuable functions of the House is the comparatively frequent opportunities for general debates. Those opportunities have, if anything, increased since the institution of Motions for short debates which are balloted for every month. They are sometimes the chosen form of a Wednesday debate, as we saw last week when debates moved from Benches on this side of the House on tenant farming and forestry occupied the afternoon.
632 It is in our general debates that the advantages of the composition of your Lordships' House are apparent. As the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, said, there are many noble Lords who bring to your Lordships' House particular experience and knowledge from outside the political arena. There is no doubt that that is one of the reasons why the House can claim to make a substantial contribution to public debate.
Since several of your Lordships' speeches have referred to the composition of the House, perhaps I may say how glad I was to hear the noble and learned Lord say that we need not be afraid of a hereditary element in the House. Indeed, I was glad to hear the noble Earl, Lord Longford, express the same view even more robustly. The noble Earl has the distinction of having been created a Peer in his own right at the same time as having inherited peerages. In his absence, I should like to suggest that the noble Earl, Lord Longford, demonstrates in many ways the advantages of the composition of this House in his own person. What I am saying is that many hereditary Peers can make a unique contribution, largely because so many come to the House by routes other than through professional politics. For very much the same reason life Peers also make a unique contribution.
Once again, it was the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, who referred to "fancy franchisers". Two of the examples that the noble and learned Lord mentioned—namely, former Secretaries General of the Trades Union Congress and vice-chancellors—have been and are represented in this House not through election but through the conferment of life peerages. To me that argues the strength of our present system.
However, the legislative function of your Lordships' House, as opposed to its debating functions, is to revise and to go through Bills line by line and clause by clause. With that function goes the power to amend or even to delay legislation. Those powers are limited partly by convention and partly by statute.
As all noble Lords well know, there is the convention of the Salisbury-Addison doctrine. That means that the House does not oppose, in principle, legislation for which a Government with a majority in another place has a mandate; in other words, the House does not oppose the principle of a manifesto Bill.
In that context, I was interested in the views of the noble Lord, Lord Addington. However, I thought that his proposal that it was another place that needed reforming stretches the Motion before us this afternoon, if it does not go beyond it. Nevertheless, the remarks of the noble Lord regarding how much freer he would feel to vote against measures coming from another place if he had been elected rather than being an hereditary Peer were important because they illustrate the dangers of conflict which would be inherent in a comprehensive reform. Therefore there are limitations, by convention, on what we do here, and there are the powers and limitations enshrined in the Parliament Acts of 1911 and 1949. So the House has a delaying power, in effect of one 633 year, under the 1949 Act. The 1911 Act gives a power—the noble Lords, Lord Diamond and Lord Mishcon, reminded us of that power—of an absolute right of veto in respect of any Bill which would seek to extend the maximum duration of a Parliament for more than five years.
The most topical constraint on the powers of your Lordships' House—this was a matter debated as recently as last Monday—is the financial privilege of the House of Commons. Aids and supply were confirmed as being in the sole gift of the other place by the Parliamentary resolutions of the House of Commons in 1671 and 1678, and were later amplified by the resolutions of 1860 and 1910. In addition of course further limitations in respect of money Bills were imposed by the Parliament Act of 1911.
I would contend therefore that the two main functions of the House are debating matters of public interest or concern and revising Public Bills. Those are two of the four functions that were chosen by the Bryce Commission. But in addition many of your Lordships contribute hours of time to work on Private Bill or Hybrid Bill committees. Many noble Lords also contribute to the valuable work of the Select Committees of the House. That work has an effect on legislation as it is going through Parliament. I am thinking of the Science and Technology Committee and of course the European Communities Committee. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady White, that the House can take pride in its foresight in that when the United Kingdom entered the European Community 17 years ago, not only was a Select Committee on European legislation established, but its structure consists to this day of sub-committees covering the main subject areas of European directives. The reports of those sub-committees are, I know, read with great interest, not only in Britain but in the other countries of the European Community.
What conclusions should be drawn from this catalogue of the work of your Lordships' House? First, as I have already mentioned, I believe we benefit greatly from the wide range of experience and knowledge to be found here which is drawn from each of the political parties and from the very large number of noble Lords who sit on the Cross-Benches.
Although I must confess that I did not agree with the criticism of party politics made by the noble Lord, Lord Somers—I thought that was well answered by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney —I do, nonetheless, agree with the noble Lord that it is a strength of the House that we have a large number of Cross-Bench Peers.
Secondly, I believe it is a major advantage for a revising Chamber that we are not a mirror image of the House of Commons. Your Lordships' House is unelected, and your Lordships speak here in a personal and not in a representative capacity. A further difference is that no political party in this House has an overall majority. That is due not least to the very substantial number of Cross-Bench Peers who sit in your Lordships' House independent of party allegiance and who interestingly enough, do not have a single elected equivalent in another place.
634 When one considers that there are about 240 Peers who sit on the Cross-Benches, that is a remarkable difference between the two Houses.
Thirdly,—this is perhaps the most important of all the conclusions that I would draw about our work—the Committee and Report stages of Bills provide us with a valuable opportunity for revision and a further screening process for proposals which are of public concern. This is of particular importance—I shall say this before any other noble Lord says it—when Bills have been subject to the guillotine in another place.
The noble Baroness, Lady White, nonetheless, asked what real influence this Chamber has. Some measure of our revising work was shown in the previous Session of Parliament where statistics show that the House made 2,401 amendments to Bills, of which all but a handful were accepted by another place. Of course a large proportion of those amendments were of a technical or tidying-up nature. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, rightly reminded us, many would have been substantive and many were important. Their sheer volume shows the extent of the revising work which has to be done before legislation can reach the statute book and proves the part that is played in that process by the second Chamber.
Nonetheless, from time to time proposals are made to reform both the composition and the powers of your Lordships' House. It is interesting to reflect that the last attempt in 1968 foundered not here, but in another place. It might well be assumed that if a Bill to reform the composition of the House of Lords was to be sabotaged, it would have happened in your Lordships' House where, with no Speaker and few rules of order, we rely on self-restraint, essentially regulating our proceedings by a kind of self-denying ordinance. That must be an arrangement which is unique among the legislative assemblies of the world.
I have therefore waited in some anticipation to hear this afternoon the plans which noble Lords opposite have devised for the future of your Lordships' House. As my noble friend Lord Beloff pointed out, there is a policy document which contains such proposals. Previously, I had understood that the Labour Party favours an elected House—however, I think it is fair to say that the method of election has not been revealed —which would act as the guardian of fundamental rights. Those rights are termed colloquially in some speeches a charter of rights. That would consist of Bills which could not be altered within the lifetime of a Parliament without the express consent of a reformed House.
I find that easy enough to understand. Less easy to comprehend is the relationship of an elected second Chamber to the powers it would have; for apparently, according to the Labour Party's policy review of last year, its reformed House of Lords would be a Chamber in which no legislation would be introduced and no Ministers would sit. That is not exactly an assembly to which people would compete enthusiastically to be elected, and not exactly a Chamber which would do anything to meet 635 the criticisms of the Government voiced by the noble Baroness, Lady White, in her speech.
Like my noble friend Lord Beloff, I find the Labour proposals raise a number of questions which, if noble Lords opposite will forgive me, have not been answered this afternoon. I pick out one. On the one hand, the Labour Party expects the second Chamber to stand up to the House of Commons in protecting the Bills which would fall within the scope of its charter of rights; on the other hand, it is clear that there would be one opportunity only for revision of a measure by the House of Lords before final consideration by the House of Commons and that the second Chamber would not be designed to frustrate the will of the Commons. It is not easy to understand how that could be guaranteed in an elected Chamber unless the House's power were to be whittled away almost to nothing.
§ Lord Mishcon
My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord would be kind enough to give way. Of course it is very easy to criticise proposals for reform. Before the noble Lord finishes his speech, are we to hear whether he, on behalf of the Government, has any reform proposals at all to which we could listen, or is he going to say that he wants the situation that we are in to continue for ever?
§ Lord Belstead
My Lords, the noble Lord made an interesting speech. As he is always very courteous, I am sure he will not think that I am being brusque in any way when I say that, unlike noble Lords opposite, I shall indeed indicate before I finish how I see the House of the future proceeding.
I have been genuinely disappointed —which is why I said a few words about the plans of the party opposite—not to hear some explanation of what noble Lords opposite really envisage for the reform of this House if they had the chance, although they have put out a document.
Before coming to that point, perhaps I may say that the Motion of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon, invited us to consider the appropriate powers and constitution of a second Chamber within the British constitution. I have considered our present powers and constitution, and have commented on the plans of the party opposite. From these Benches I can say that we certainly do not contemplate a comprehensive reform of that kind; but that is not to say that I believe that everything must remain exactly the same.
When my noble friend Lord Whitelaw was Leader of your Lordships' House, he was instrumental in setting up the group on the working of the House of which I was a member. That group provided us with an opportunity of reviewing many of our procedures. The changes which flowed from the work of that group were not earth-shattering, but I believe they were valuable. Part of their merit was that they have been integrated into our procedures with very little disruptive effect.
I believe that must be right. The British constitution is not a machine; it is an organism. It grows and changes, and its institutions grow and 636 change with it. Sometimes the very weight of the legislation with which we deal has stretched the procedures of your Lordships' House, but I believe that it is precisely such pressures which can bring about valuable changes in our procedures.
Thus on occasions I see as positive pressures which some of your Lordships may see as negative. But I hope that we can all agree on one thing. The fact that we are prepared to debate these matters in the midst of a heavy legislative Session demonstrates that the present House retains the capacity to debate its own place in the constitution and to consider change if need be.
Before I finish, perhaps I may answer three questions. My noble friend Lord Beloff made an assertion that there are some—I believe my noble friend thought, in politics—who perhaps do not really value the revising function of the House. I should like to make it quite clear that I believe that this function of your Lordships' House is taken seriously on all sides in politics. That is certainly the case within the Government. I wish that all Bills were perfect on introduction, but they are not. I need only reiterate the very large number of changes made in this House to show how vital the revising function is for the Government's own legislation, as well as for many other reasons.
I listened very carefully to the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, when the noble Lord referred to the delaying power and the power of veto. I must state that I do not believe your Lordships refrain from using your undoubted powers for the delaying of primary legislation, or in rejecting secondary legislation, simply because the House is afraid to do so, as I think the noble Lord suggested. It is a long-standing principle that it is Parliament's duty to secure the Crown's business, so I believe that if your Lordships' powers were infinitely greater than they are today your Lordships would wisely —and I take that word from those which the noble Lord used—accept at least the vast majority of statutory instruments. That being so, I do not believe that to introduce a six months delaying power would be to increase the real efficiency of your Lordships' scrutiny of subordinate legislation which, after all, is exercised in detail by a the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments.
Finally, perhaps I may say to the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney, that I was glad that he qualified his description of this House as an anachronism by conceding that this is a place where useful work is done. I cannot follow the noble Lord in quoting eminent Conservatives, but I can quote to him a wise proverb in return: "If it works, don't fix it".
In that context I hope it does not sound complacent if I conclude by saying that the present arrangements for the House not only work but, broadly speaking, have stood the test of time. This is very important, and here for once I most certainly agree with the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins. On all the evidence, not only is the principle of a bicameral legislature obviously crucial to the parliamentary process but clearly there is a considerable workload which falls on the House as the revising Chamber.
637 Your Lordships' House performs an essential function as a Chamber of revision and deliberation, and as a guarantee of constitutional continuity. Long may it continue to do so.
§ 6.48 p.m.
§ Lord Simon of Glaisdale
My Lords, I should like to thank all of your Lordships who have contributed to the debate for the most important ideas that have been ventilated. The very fertility of those ideas points irresistibly to the need for a more ample debate, although I venture to say that today's debate has been fully justified.
In opening the debate, I invoked the shades of Beaconsfield, of Salisbury and of Rosebery. During the debate I rather felt hovering around us also the shade of the Abbé Sieyes, because we have had plenty of constitutional ideas ventilated.
It would be inappropriate for me to mention any particular speech, although I propose to make two exceptions. First, I know all your Lordships would wish, through me, to express our appreciation that the noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal has replied to the debate as a member of the Cabinet. I venture to think that when his speech is read—although he always expresses himself with caution—it will be seen to contain a lot that will give hope to those who have spoken today.
The other speech that I wish to mention is that of the noble Baroness, Lady White. I do that, not because we have been colleagues in one place or another for many years, but because she started her curriculum of political life with her experience in the Parliamentary Press Gallery. However, she was, so to speak, born in a Dispatch Box. Having said that, I merely repeat my thanks to noble Lords and beg leave to withdraw my Motion for Papers.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.