HL Deb 22 June 1999 vol 602 cc823-53

(" .—(1) There shall be an Appointments Commission ("the Commission") which shall make proposals to the Prime Minister for recommendations to Her Majesty for the conferment of life peerages in accordance with the Life Peerages Act 1958.

(2) The Commission shall be an advisory non-departmental public body and shall—

  1. (a) be appointed in accordance with the rules of the Commissioner for Public Appointments and may seek his advice about best practice in attracting and assessing potential nominees;
  2. (b) operate an open and transparent nominations system for peers not belonging to, or recommended by, any political party ("the Cross Bench peers");
  3. (c) actively invite nominations by the general public and encourage nominations from professional associations, charities and other public bodies that it judges appropriate;
  4. (d) publish criteria under which it will determine a candidate's suitability for nomination;
  5. (e) reinforce the present function of the Political Honours Scrutiny Committee in vetting the suitability of all nominations to life peerages by the political parties; and
  6. (f) scrutinise all candidates for life peerages on the grounds of propriety in relation to political donations, as proposed in the 5th Report of the Committee on Standards in Public Life.

(3) The Commission shall appoint its own Chairman.

(4) It shall, at least every 6 months, and at most every year, make proposals to the Prime Minister for nomination as Cross Bench peers, sufficient at least to fill any vacancies among Cross Bench peers that may occur through death, disqualification or a decision to join a political party represented in the House of Lords.

(5) The Prime Minister may not refuse to submit to Her Majesty the names of those recommended as Cross Bench peers by the Commission, and shall not seek to influence such nominations, save in exceptional circumstances, such as those endangering the security of the realm.

(6) The Commission, in considering nominations as Cross Bench peers, shall not give any additional weight to recommendations from the Prime Minister or the Leaders of other political parties.

(7) Following the passing of this Act the Commission shall make a report annually to Parliament on the recommendations made to Her Majesty by the Prime Minister for the conferment of life peerages, in which it will declare if the following criteria are being observed, namely that—

  1. (a) no one political party commands a majority in the House of Lords;
  2. (b) the Government has broad parity of numbers with the main opposition party; and
  3. (c) the proportion of the Cross Bench peers to the total number of life peers in the House remains as it was on the day before the passing of this Act.

(8) The Commission shall consist of eight members of the Privy Council, of whom four shall be appointed by a special Commission of the Prime Minister, the Speaker of the House of Commons and the Lord Chairman of Committees of the House of Lords.

(9) One Commissioner shall be appointed from each of the three largest parties in the House of Commons on the nomination of the Leader of each such party, and one shall be appointed from the Cross Bench peers on the nomination of the Convenor of the Cross Bench Peers.")

The noble Lord said: My Lords, your Lordships engaged in considerable discussion about an appointments commission during the earlier stages of the Bill. In particular, the House will recall a number of powerful speeches made in support of both the composition and the terms of reference of the commission being on the face of the Bill. With the exception of the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, there has been widespread agreement that some kind of appointments commission is essential.

Since the Committee stage, I understand that the noble Baroness the Leader of the House met a group of Back-Benchers and reinforced her intention, already declared in Committee, to introduce the commission; but not a statutory commission. That remains a real point of difference between the Government and the Opposition.

I read carefully the extremely full remarks of the noble Baroness in Committee on 13th May 1999 (at col. 1368 of Hansard). There the noble Baroness set out in detail the Government's intentions with respect to both the composition and the functions of the commission. She referred repeatedly to the Government White Paper entitled Reforming the House of Lords.

The proposals in our amendment are closely based on the noble Baroness's words in Committee and on the White Paper proposals. They also follow discussions between the Opposition Front Bench and those Peers on the Conservative side who put forward their own amendments in Committee. I hope, therefore, that the amendment will carry my noble friends' support, at least in some degree.

The amendment provides for a new statutory body, outside any existing department, to advise the Prime Minister on appointments of Cross-Bench Peers. The Prime Minister would not be able to refuse to submit to Her Majesty names recommended by the commission, although, in exceptional circumstances, such as security, he might be able to add warnings.

The commission would be composed of eight Privy Counsellors. Four would be appointed by a troika of the Speaker of the House of Commons, the Lord Chairman of Committees and the Prime Minister, ensuring the independence of those appointees but not unreasonably excluding the right honourable gentleman the Prime Minister. Three further members of the commission would be appointed by the main party leaders and one by the Convenor of the Cross-Bench Peers. The commission would appoint its own chairman.

The commission would operate under certain criteria drawn directly from the Government's White Paper and the noble Baroness's speech. These include openly published criteria for appointment, transparency, active invitation, nomination from the public and professional bodies, and operation under the Nolan criteria.

The commission would also take on the role of the Political Honours Scrutiny Committee in vetting nominations by political parties. It would consider specifically the issue of political donations. I take, as a purely random example, last weekend's list of those new Peers who are donors to political parties. I make no complaint about it because the same has been true in the past. Caesar, whatever the colour of his toga, would always want to be above suspicion.

The amendment does not seek to determine numbers as to proportionality, something to which the noble Baroness objected in earlier stages. Instead, it repeats the three criteria proclaimed by the Prime Minister: broad parity between the two political parties, no party to have a majority in your Lordships' House, and a safeguard for the proportion of Cross-Benchers in your Lordships' House.

My noble friend Lord Coleraine proposed an amendment to the amendment which would affix the proportion of Liberal Peers to the main opposition party. I can see the logic behind his thinking; but helpful though it might be to the Conservative Party, it would be wise not to resile from what I might describe in this case as the robust common sense of the Government's proposal.

My noble friends Lord Stanley of Alderley and Lord Caithness have tabled a characteristically thoughtful amendment which contains many provisions similar to the one tabled by the Opposition. I have to confess that I prefer ours; but I know my noble friend Lord Strathclyde will be listening carefully to what my noble friends say, particularly with regard to subsection (3)(d) of the amendment. If the Opposition are fortunate enough to win the support of your Lordships' House this afternoon for our amendment, I am sure we will consider any proposal that my noble friends might wish to bring forward at a later stage.

What can the case against the amendment possibly be? That it is statutory and that it is not necessary for it to be statutory? But in the new House the power of patronage will become far greater than in the existing House: first, because life Peers will come to constitute the overwhelming majority of your Lordships' House; secondly, because in a smaller House, each act of patronage will be proportionately more significant. The case for safeguards—statutory safeguards—on the use of patronage is stronger than ever, arid certainly not weaker than it was before last weekend. So that cannot be the case for resisting this amendment.

Can a case be made out on the content of the proposals themselves? Surely not; for they are the Government's own proposals, have been the Government's own proposals for a long time, and were set out in detail by the noble Baroness during her speech in Committee.

Or can it be that noble Lords opposite want to limit discussion in another place? Much discussion would inevitably follow, I suggest, from an amendment in your Lordships' House. Surely, above all, another place should have the opportunity to discuss such an important matter which a non-statutory system would deny it. In short, I can see no reasonable case for rejecting the amendment.

Would it not be wise, as the noble Lord, Lord Shore, said in Committee, to leave the Government's motives in this matter completely beyond doubt? It would be a sad thing if the impression were allowed to grow that the Government did not want to have an appointments commission yet because they wanted to complete a programme of appointments first. I beg to move.

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

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

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

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

If there is no control over the number of Liberal Democrat Peers or life Peers for the period of the interim House, in my opinion that House will be delivered into the hands of the Labour Government. At the moment we have some guidance in the White Paper about the appointment of Liberal Democrat life Peers. Paragraph 7 of Chapter 6 states: We set out in our manifesto the broad principle which we believe should govern the appointment of life peers but our present intention is to move towards broad parity between Labour and the Conservatives. The principle of broad parity and proportionate creations from the Liberal Democrat and other parties would be maintained throughout the transitional period".

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

I then put down a Question for written reply asking how many Liberal Democrats would be offered nominations for life peerages, in accordance with the White Paper arrangements for proportional creations, on the assumption that the Bill was passed with the Weatherill amendment. The noble and learned Lord's answer was as follows: The Government's commitment to proportionate creations for the Liberal Democrats and other political parties in the House of Lords reform White Paper was a commitment for the lifetime of the transitional House. It should be read in the context of the manifesto commitment to move, over time, towards more accurately reflecting the proportion of votes cast in the previous general election. Numbers cannot presently be specified".—[Official Report, 9/6/99; col. WA 158.]

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

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

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

Lord Acton

My Lords, subsection (4) of Amendment No. 25 states that the commission, shall, at least every 6 months, and at most every year, make proposals to the Prime Minister for nomination as Cross Bench peers, sufficient at least to fill any vacancies among Cross Bench peers that may occur through death, disqualification or a decision to join a political party represented in the House of Lords". I am puzzled by that second "at least", which appears to give the commission power to propose an unlimited number of Cross-Bench Peers which the Prime Minister must submit to Her Majesty under subsection (5) of the new clause. I cannot reconcile that power of the commission with Amendment No. 52, which stands in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, and three other noble Lords.

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

6 p.m.

Lord Stanley of Alderley

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

Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank

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

The purpose of the amendment is to embody in the Bill through the agency of an appointments commission the declared intention of the Government in their White Paper with regard to party balance within the House. I listened carefully to what the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, said but I do not think he claimed that the amendment he moved on behalf of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, and others did that in detail, and not to the extent that Amendment No. 40A does.

Perhaps I may draw the attention of the House to some of the paragraphs of the White Paper, although I think that some of them are now becoming boringly familiar to all of us. Paragraph 19 of Chapter 3 of the White Paper refers to the distribution of votes between the three main parties in the general elections of 1992 and 1997. Chapter 6 of the White Paper deals with the transitional House. Two paragraphs of Chapter 6 are wholly germane to what we are now discussing. Paragraph 5 states: Our objective will he to ensure that over time party appointees as life peers more accurately reflect the proportion of votes cast at the previous general election". We are all familiar with that idea. Paragraph 7 states that, our present intention is to move towards broad parity between Labour and the Conservatives. The principle of broad parity and proportionate creations from the Liberal Democrat and other parties would be maintained throughout the transitional period". That is the declared policy of the Government. I do not wish today to quarrel with it in so far as it is set out in the White Paper. What I seek to do is to write that on the face of the Bill.

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

The proposal to choose Cross-Bench Peers has been agreed; the proposal to receive nominations from party leaders has been agreed; but ensuring political balance is the issue which we did not fully debate during the earlier stages of the Bill. On these Benches we believe that it is crucial. It neatly completes the role of the commission. It would be the job of an independent commission to translate the votes cast in previous elections, in so far as that was possible—I am not arguing that it would be possible to translate the votes for 1997 into a transitional House immediately without making it extremely cumbersome—over a period of time, into seats in this House.

On 13th May my noble friend Lord Harris of Greenwich made a powerful speech in your Lordships' House. Unlike what was suggested in good faith by the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, he did not deny in any way the case for a commission. What he did, and absolutely rightly, was to draw attention to the creation of life Peers under Margaret Thatcher and John Major and to the abuses of prime ministerial power involved. He then referred to, an absolute torrent of humbug from the Conservative Benches, which seemed to imply that their governments had not behaved in that rather outrageous way.

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

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

That is the proposal. It is a totally reasonable one, as I believe all Members of the House will, on reflection, believe it to be. The only argument against it is that in some way it should not be on the face of the Bill but should be an understanding. However, if it is an understanding, I would wager that the Prime Minister of the day—I see the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, in his place: I do not think that we can enter into another wager—whoever he or she may be, would not act in the spirit of our debate.

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

Lord Stanley of Alderley

My Lords, Amendment No. 27 stands in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Caithness and is grouped with Amendment No. 25. Both amendments go to the heart of the problem of this particular Bill. Like my noble friend Lord Coleraine, I feel very strongly about these matters.

I summarise the problem by asking: what, who and when? First, what do the Government want the interim Chamber to do? Secondly, who will do this work? Thirdly, when will those two matters be decided? I fear that in Committee the Leader of the House did not answer these questions, except for the last one. On 13th May at col. 1308 of Hansard, the noble Baroness said that that was not the time to decide these matters, which reinforced my remarks at Second Reading that, obviously, she had not heard the words of the song, We don't know where we're going 'till we're there", or, worse still, the saying: never do today what you can put off until tomorrow.

In Committee the noble Baroness did not explain the position of the specialist part-time Peer in the interim Chamber or whether he or she would be allowed in at all. She criticised the amendment for looking after only landowners' interests. Together with her noble friend Lord Desai, she said that the amendment was concerned entirely with the economics of agriculture. This was not so. As I tried to explain, the countryside has social and cultural as well as economic problems. But, in order to meet the concerns of the noble Baroness, we have drafted this amendment very much more widely. On a personal note, perhaps I may remind the noble Baroness that if she had been a Member of this House for a little longer she would have heard my frequent criticisms of landowners, not least over tenancy matters, starting at the time of the 1976 Act which was her party's brainchild.

The question now is whether noble Lords support our Amendment No. 27 or my noble friend's Amendment No. 25. If my noble friend does not put his amendment to the vote, we shall certainly seek to do so with ours, unless the Government concede the point. Having said that, it would be irresponsible and pig-headed for me to suggest to your Lordships that you should support Amendment No. 27 instead of my noble friend's Amendment No. 25, which certainly answers my third and most important question: when? There is a difference between the two amendments. Ours is in favour of the commission appointing specialist part-time Peers responsible for monitoring and revising government legislation throughout the House, not just on the Cross Benches, whereas the Government, the Liberal Democrats—I say that in view of what the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, has just said—and, until recently, my own Front Bench want all Benches to be filled with full-time party-political hacks who bow to the Whip.

I believe that my cynicism with regard to the Front Bench was unjustified. The remarks of my noble friend Lord Kingsland took the wind out of my sails. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, that when there is political balance, the Whips get the bit between their teeth and exert more pressure on Back-Benchers. I had very little pressure put on me when we were in power. Before anyone says, "He would say that, wouldn't he?", in the unlikely event of my party suggesting that my name should be put forward for what may be called the "Weatherill 90", I shall not agree with that for a number of reasons. I hope, however, that noble Lords will understand the need for specialist non-political Peers in the interim Chamber. If my noble friend's amendment is accepted, my noble friend Lord Caithness and I reserve the right to seek to amend that amendment at Third Reading. But at this stage, I support my noble friend's Amendment No. 25 and sincerely hope that your Lordships will do likewise.

6.15 p.m.

Lord Peston

My Lords, I address your Lordships as a full-time party-political hack. I do not have the independence which is shown day in, day out by the hereditary Peers. I wish I did. I regard these amendments as absurd, and I hope that my noble friend the Lord Privy Seal will reject them in terms.

I remind your Lordships of the remarkable statements that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister made about the future of this House. First, he said—no Prime Minister in my lifetime has said it—that despite his party's massive electoral victory he did not seek to achieve a majority, or anything like it, in this House. He said it in terms and committed his party to it. All that happens in return is that either cynical remarks are made to the effect that my right honourable friend is not to be believed or, if he is to be believed, any of his successors cannot be believed. That will not do. One should not underestimate the statement made by my right honourable friend.

Secondly, my right honourable friend committed himself to an appointments commission. Certainly, in my lifetime that is the first time that any Prime Minister has announced his willingness to do such a thing. We have not heard a word of appreciation from the Official Opposition as to that. Again, an attempt is made to insinuate that there is something underhand about these remarkably forthright statements by my right honourable friend. We are committed to two matters of enormous importance in future: first, not to seek a majority; and, secondly, the establishment of an appointments commission. I anticipate that my noble friend the Lord Privy Seal will repeat that on behalf of my right honourable friend in a few minutes.

Since we are committed to an appointments commission, the debate has brought out just how difficult this is. We should not jump the gun. The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, has made it clear on every possible occasion that he does not want to debate this Bill; he wants to debate the next one. He has said forthrightly and honestly that he does not want stage one. In the language of the trade unions, he wants stage one only with stage two. I can see the banners as the hereditary Peers come marching down Whitehall.

The position of the Government, as I understand it—I hope that I shall not be undermined by my noble friend—is that they shall carry out stage one and are totally committed to stage two after stage one. They say that all of the present stuff is to do with stage two and what is to be done next. There is no point in pretending that it is not about stage two.

My main problem is that as I go through the details, all I find are difficulties. This is the Report stage of a Bill. I do not want to waste your Lordships' time by going through every single difficulty, but it is already apparent that the question of numbers is one that we must debate in much greater detail than we can on this occasion. Why should those members of the appointments commission be Privy Counsellors? I speak as someone who is not a Privy Counsellor. I have never regarded Privy Counsellors as the repository of honesty and objectivity. Why cannot the rest of us be considered for these matters?

There is some concern in the Official Opposition's amendment about someone from the Cross-Bench group joining a political party, therefore ceasing to be a Cross-Bencher. What about political people who join the Cross Benches? It is an interesting technical point which is not addressed. Why should there be broad parity between the numbers of government Peers and Cross-Bench Peers? I can see no basis for that.

I could go on—and noble Lords know me well enough to believe that I am quite capable of doing so, but I shall not. The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, implied that no matter what is said he will divide the House. I hope that he does not do something so foolish as that. We should accept the fact that we shall have an appointments commission; and that we shall have the other principles laid down by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister. We should then pass the Bill, albeit in the slightly imperfect form in which it now exists, and get down to the detail subsequently.

I am quite relaxed about whether or not the appointments commission is statutory. But I am clear that that should not be in the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, asked: why not? The answer is in part what I have said; namely, that we are not ready for it yet because we have not thought the position through. The other logical point is that it is inappropriate to have this material on the face of the Bill. I hope that noble Lords opposite can therefore be persuaded to withdraw the amendment and let us get this over with so that we can get down to what is dear to many of our hearts; namely, building the new House of Lords.

Lord Waddington

My Lords, Hitler was elected to power and the German Parliament, by passing the Enabling Act, gave him absolute power. That is a reminder that no democracy is entirely invulnerable; and men and women can sometimes be persuaded to surrender their liberty in the fond belief that the proposition which is being put before them is more important than that.

I conclude from that that one should try to make one's constitution robust enough to withstand quite appalling strains with checks and balances, including checks on the carrying out of fundamental change, by perhaps a very temporary majority in the House of Commons. I should have thought that all noble Lords would agree with me on this: those who meddle with existing constitutional arrangements have a duty to ensure that the new arrangements they are advancing are at least as effective a barrier against tyranny as the old. I have to say to the noble Lord, Lord Peston, that there is nothing absurd in that. When one is making constitutions, if one has any sense of responsibility, one makes that constitution well.

I shall not spend much time on the Government's argument, adopted by the noble Lord, Lord Peston, that this is only a temporary Bill. We have gone over that many times. Whether it will be temporary is not entirely in the Government's hands. There happens to be a thing called Parliament, and there happens to be a thing called the House of Commons, which is sometimes forgotten by Members on the Front Bench, and was certainly forgotten by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor when he replied to a similar debate not long ago, saying that he could give an absolute guarantee that there would be a stage two. Of course he cannot give any such guarantee.

As I mentioned earlier, there are some wise people like Mr Robert Sheldon who think that in any event it is likely that when the time comes the Government will have other fish to fry and will be loath to embark on a further constitutional Bill. It seems to me obvious—I cannot see for the life of me why it is not obvious to the noble Lord, Lord Peston—that it is our duty in the absence of any sunset clause, or the like, to treat this like any other legislation, as being permanent in effect. We have to build for the future. This is riot about stage two. It is about making a good job of the work which is before us now. We have to ensure that the largely nominated House the Government are bent on creating is at least as independent as the one they are replacing; and at least as strong a barrier against tyranny.

It is a difficult task because the new House—it was mentioned by my noble friend Lord Kingsland—will be a much smaller House. If the power of appointment of life Peers is to be left in the hands of the Prime Minister, it will be much easier for him, or any future Prime Minister, to make sufficient appointments to procure an absolute majority in this place. Look, for instance, at how the balance among life Peers has been changed in two short years. That in itself is sufficient proof of what I am saying.

The other reason why we have a difficult task on our hands is that, contrary to what has been said time and again by noble Lords on the other side of the House, the hereditary peerage has constituted a uniquely independent element in this place. I have to say to noble Lords opposite that independence of mind and invulnerability to pressure are not qualities which inevitably disappear when a person joins a political party. They are qualities which are most likely to exist in those, whether or not party members, who are beholden to no one for their appointments, have economic independence, and are not career politicians. In that connection, I commend to the House some other words spoken by Mr Robert Sheldon in the debate in another place to which I referred earlier.

Not so long ago—I am sure noble Lords will remember this—Mr Tony Benn commented that the House of Commons was atrophying and democracy was being squeezed out of the system. Mr Sheldon was equally unhappy about the way the House of Commons was working. It was not providing a sufficient check on the executive, principally, said Mr Sheldon, because Members have lost their independence. They have lost it, said Mr Sheldon, because, [they] have become more full time and are looking to a career structure. It is that career structure that has tended to corrupt the system. That is the problem". He continued: Now, we have large numbers of Members of Parliament who have little in the way of outside interests and outside concerns. As a result they look to the ordinary routes of promotion and envisage themselves forming part of the government".—[Official Report, Commons, 9/6/99; col. 669.] If the House of Commons is not working as an effective check on the executive, it is all-important that changes to this place do not make this Chamber a less effective check on the executive. If the House of Commons is not working properly because there are too many career politicians, we must learn the lesson for this House, and make sure that this Chamber is not overweighted with people either beholden to the Government for their place or looking to the Government for a place.

It cannot be denied that at the moment there is nothing in the Bill to prevent a government packing the place with people who they think can be relied upon to support the government through thick and thin whether the government are right or wrong. To that noble Lords opposite are wont to say that if there is a danger of abuse under this Bill, it is a danger which has existed for a long time. The Conservatives did not propose change when they were in power, so there is no reason to change now.

That is about the worst argument I have ever heard, for this reason: we are creating a new House; we are creating a different House; we are, according to Labour, engaged in a great modernisation of our constitution. Surely now the Labour Government have embarked on that exercise, they should try to make a good job of it and include the sort of provisions one would certainly include if one were starting from scratch and constructing a new nominated Chamber for a new Parliament. It is inconceivable that anyone starting from scratch would not include in a Bill measures which we have generally called "safeguards" to ensure that the power of nomination could not be abused by the government of the day.

Noble Lords may recall that my noble friend Lord Elton and I moved in Committee an amendment somewhat similar to Amendment No. 25. We were minded to ask the House to take another look at what we proposed after we had taken on board criticisms made by the Lord Privy Seal, which were really criticisms about the method of appointment and the composition of the commission which we contended should be given the sole right to nominate people for peerages. We have not tabled an amendment on Report, because we think that Amendment No. 25 goes some way towards reflecting our views. In a subtle way it seeks, as does Amendment No. 27, to commit the Government in legislation to the sort of the House they propose in their own White Paper. If the House created by the Bill really does last for only a short time, no harm will have been done if one or other of these amendments is incorporated into the Bill. If stage two does not come about, the provisions of either amendment will go a long way towards preventing any possible abuse of power by a future government. I certainly support the intention behind each of these amendments.

6.30 p.m.

Lord Barnett

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, and I have disagreed with one another for rather a long time, going back to 1966, when we had a little spat in the general election. I am happy to say that I then won and he had to go looking elsewhere.

I agree so much with my noble friend Lord Peston that I am brought to my feet. I hope my agreeing with him will not mean that my noble friend the Leader of the House proceeds to accept the amendment, because I could not disagree more with the noble Lord, Lord Waddington. However, I disagree with the reference by my noble friend Lord Peston to the objectivity of Privy Counsellors, although some of us, even some Cross-Benchers, are objective, I am sure.

The noble Lord, Lord Waddington, said that we must have barriers against tyranny. It is a remarkable statement to make when we have had Conservative government for the past 18 years and, many years prior to that, a huge majority in this place and therefore no checks and balances. And yet the noble Lord is telling us that all those independent Peers taking the Conservative Whip were providing the checks and balances! It is asking your Lordships to accept a great deal to accept that argument. I hope that your Lordships will not do so.

The noble Lord said that it was our duty to assume that the position will be permanent. He quoted a very dear friend of mine and close former colleague, the right honourable Robert Sheldon, Member of Parliament. He is a very senior and highly respected Member who has said many things that I said in Committee, and with which I agree.

The House was told earlier about some reasons why I had said that the transitional period would be long. I agree with Robert Sheldon and with the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, on that; I would not dispute it; but the fact is that even if it is a long transitional period, there is no case for all the points that he and others on the opposite Benches are making. As your Lordships will know, my own view is that the Government have conceded far too much already. I regret what they have conceded.

But even if the transitional period is long, we have what has already been said by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister and my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor and others on our Front Bench. There is a word that we cannot use in Parliament, but we can use the expression that people have been "economical with the truth". The Opposition Front Bench and the noble Lord do not like to say specifically that they do not believe the Government. After all, the whole Weatherill deal was between Privy Counsellors, and on Privy Council terms. As we all agree that they are honourable men and women, when the Government have said that they will do all these things, why are the Opposition saying that they do not believe them? Perhaps when we hear a reply from the Opposition Front Bench we will be told. Do the Opposition think that the Government are being economical with the truth? What is the reason for their moving all these amendments?

Lord Waddington

My Lords, what about a future government? It is all very well the noble Lord resting on what is said by this Government, but if he is right—he has just said that he agrees with me that this Bill may not be replaced for some time—what if a future government are not bound by these undertakings?

Lord Barnett

My Lords, even if future governments do not carry out precisely the terms of the present deal, on what basis does the noble Lord say that if we are making major changes in our constitutional set-up we should at least make sure that the new House is as independent as the one it replaces? One would have to go a long way to make the House as independent as it was before this Bill. It is a remarkable argument.

I should like to see some things in the Bill that might be more acceptable to me, although I cannot think of many. It is no use the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, looking at me like that. I am not going to make a long speech again about why I disagree with parts of the Bill, particularly the part that is called the "Weatherill amendment", with which the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, had so much—or even a little bit—to do.

What I am saying is that I agree substantially with what my noble friend Lord Peston said. It is time we on this side of your Lordships' House stopped making yet further concessions and accepted things as they are. We should not accept this amendment. So I hope that my noble friend the Leader of the House, despite the smiles that she is again providing, will not feel tempted to do so. I am delighted to hear that she is not. I look forward to the vote and the possible defeat.

Lord Phillips of Sudbury

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Rodgers has dealt with what we on these Benches regard as the major omission from, or defect of, Amendment No. 25. I should like to refer to another, concerning subsection (2)(d), which talks of the duty of the proposed appointments commission to, publish criteria under which it will determine a candidate's suitability for nomination". Unlike the noble Lord, Lord Peston, and some others, I think there is considerable point and purpose in this House considering the amendment, whether or not we vote for it, as it deals with important and present issues which will not go away and which, if phase two of the reform does not come about, will be huge. Even if phase two does come about, I suspect that whatever we provide for the interim phase may well carry over into the final reform.

One thing we should not do is to leave the appointments commission with the sole discretion as to what the relevant criteria for appointments of Cross-Bench Peers should be. There can scarcely be anything more important than for us as a House to signal the criteria on the face of the Bill and what importance we attach to them.

The noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, said that he was sympathetic to Amendment No. 27, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley, and the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, which specifies one criterion: that more than half the Members of the House, whether party Peers or Cross-Bench Peers, should have, experience of and expertise in areas other than … politics". I believe that the criteria need to go much further than that. Frankly, I am not content with the phrase "experience and expertise", since which man and which woman these days does not claim to be an expert in something? I suggest that "distinction'. might he a better word.

I should like to put to the House the thought that we are all trying to make the best of the reform. Underlying that is the need to make this House more powerful and more authoritative, and enjoying more respect among the public at large. Unless we can increase public identification with the House of Lords as reformed, we shall not achieve that purpose. We shall not enable the public to identify more readily and deeply with us unless we signal to them that we want to see a very different House. I say that with no disrespect to those who are to leave it.

The public may have regard to issues such as the gender, age, region, occupation and ethnicity of the Members of this House. In saying that, I do not seek to suggest that the appointments commission should have politically correct shackles placed around it. However. I am suggesting that those potential criteria would be of interest and importance to a large proportion of the public. If we could satisfy public feeling on how at least Cross-Bench Peers should be selected and appointed, that would go far towards increasing our respect and legitimacy and hence the effectiveness of the reform itself.

I wanted to make that general point. Whatever happens at further stages of the Bill, and whatever the Government may consider in terms of the appointments commission, which, to be fair, the Prime Minister volunteered, the criteria must be on the face of the Bill, must be broadly based and must reinforce public confidence in us.

Lord Crickhowell

My Lords, I agree with a great deal of what the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, has said. He spoke of giving a signal. It is because a signal is being given that I believe this matter is of such importance. That is my answer to the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, who asked why we were tabling all these troublesome amendments.

We are tabling the amendments because the Government have come forward with proposals. They have stated that they are to set up an appointments commission to appoint Cross-Bench Peers. However, they told us that they are going to use the prerogative and not the statute to do so. That is another way of saying that the Prime Minister will be responsible for setting up the appointments commission which will select Cross-Bench Peers. That is an extraordinary signal to send out to the public. It does not indicate that this is a wholly independent body setting the kind of criteria to which the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, referred.

That is why, as a matter of principle, I tabled an amendment in Committee. I was content not to table an amendment today because I thought it important to try to concentrate on a single amendment which set out the principles on which we could vote. I have a great deal of sympathy with the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Stanley of Alderley, but it is not as good as that tabled by my colleagues on the Front Bench. That is not because I was consulted by them about the wording—it incorporates all the important points contained in my amendment in Committee—but because I have two specific difficulties with my noble friend's amendment. First, he has not adequately covered an important point concerning the prerogative and the relationship between the Prime Minister and the sovereign. Secondly, and more importantly, his reference to "expertise" raises more questions than it answers. I believe that the wording used in my noble friend's amendment gives considerable scope to the appointments commission to meet the points to which he rightly attaches importance.

When my amendment and others were debated in Committee, the noble Baroness the Leader of the House gave a lengthy response. I have reread that response today to discover her reason for rejecting the proposal for a statutory committee. In reality, she gave only one reason; that if the Government had put down a statutory provision, the Opposition would have argued that it showed that the arrangement was not temporary and that it would be permanent and long term. She advanced that argument in col. 1369 of Hansard on 13th May. It is not a powerful argument. That is the real answer to the noble Lord, Lord Peston, who said that the whole business was absurd. Whatever the intentions of the Government, we may be passing legislation that will last for a long time. My noble friend Lord Waddington quoted Mr Robert Sheldon in another place.

I took particular note, as I suspect did the Leader of the House, of the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, on 17th May. In response to an amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Peyton, he spoke of the little evil devils lurking in our midst who do not share our overwhelming view for reform. He warned that unless there was good will among all the parties, we would not get a second stage. The noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, spoke with much experience and a memory that took him back to the last major attempt at reform. He knew exactly what was being said by my noble friend Lord Waddington about the ability to interfere and delay such legislation. So my view is that we should not leave a vacuum on this important point.

I do not believe that the Government have any great objection of principle to putting this matter into statute; or why did the noble Baroness the Leader of the House invite a number of us to discuss with her whether we could not find a form of words which would satisfy? She spoke, as Ministers always do on such occasions, about technical difficulties of drafting and problems for the parliamentary draftsmen. She spoke—I respected her point—about the constitutional proprieties and the ability of Prime Ministers to speak with freedom to the Sovereign. My noble friends have qualified the clause introduced by the Government, because they wrote into their White Paper, paragraph 10, Chapter 6, that The Prime Minister will have no right to refuse a nomination the commission has passed". However, my noble friends have accepted that there may be some security or other reasons which would be perfectly proper for the Prime Minister to refer to the Sovereign. It may be that there is further room for discussion about that issue, but the noble Baroness very fairly, having listened to what we said, told her officials not to go away and reject any idea of an amendment, but to go away and consider whether anything could in practice be put together. That does not suggest to me that there is any great obstacle of principle and so we come back to the detail.

I believe that what my noble friends have sought to do rather successfully—what I attempted rather less successfully in Committee—is simply to incorporate everything the Government said they would do in Chapter 6 of their White Paper. Some aspects were criticised by noble Lords opposite; for instance, they asked why on earth issues were being introduced and drafted in such a fashion. Those points should be addressed to the Government Front Bench because all that my noble friends have done is to incorporate into an amendment declarations and undertakings already given by the Government.

As regards the Liberal Democrat amendment, the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, spoke about the way of the world. Bearing in mind the history of the Liberal Party we always listen to it with attention when it speaks about the way of the world. It seems to me to be a mistake to try to incorporate into a Bill an amendment setting up an appointments commission with a pretty complex set of arrangements relating to the numbers cast in the general election and how they translate into votes. There may be a case for doing that, but it should be done by a separate amendment.

It would confuse the particular issue, although clearly important to the Liberal Democrat Party, with the much more straightforward one as to whether we have a statutory appointments commission instead of an appointments commission simply appointed by the Prime Minister to do what the Government say they intend to do. That is the issue. My noble friends have an amendment that translates that into statute. I can see no grounds for rejecting that principle. I hope that they will press their amendment to a Division.

Lord Desai

My Lords, Amendments No. 25 and 27 are rather long and there is a lot of detail. Having listened to the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, the message is very clear. I can describe the spirit in three propositions. The first is that no Labour Prime Minister is to be trusted. Secondly, the liberties of British subjects are only safe in the hands of hereditary Conservative Peers. Thirdly, the world will not be safe until there is another Conservative government.

The noble Lord, Lord Waddington, began with the example of Hitler. That was the most insulting thing that he could have said about the Labour Party. Just to imagine—

Lord Waddington

My Lords—

Lord Desai

My Lords, I am sorry. It is Report stage and the rules are that if I concede I shall be unable to speak again.

Noble Lords


Lord Desai

My Lords, I cannot speak again. Other noble Lords have spoken, but the rules are that I cannot speak again. I believe that I am correct in my reading of the rules.

Lord Carter

My Lords, I believe the noble Lord will be in order if he gives way to answer a question of fact about something that he said.

Lord Waddington

My Lords, I ask the noble Lord to read what I said in Hansard tomorrow. I believe he will find that I was in no way referring to the Labour Party. I was talking about constitutions in general. I was talking about constitution makers and how they should bear in mind history and make sure that when they make constitutions there are the greatest safeguards possible against tyranny. I would have thought that anyone would agree with that. It had nothing whatever to do with the Labour Party. I believe that the noble Lord is far too sensitive.

Lord Desai

My Lords, it was not a question of fact on which the noble Lord interrupted me. The noble Lord was implying that by creating a new House of Lords this Bill will so fundamentally alter the British constitution that if these amendments are not passed there will be a greater probability of an enabling Act being suspended. That is where the analogy between the German parliament and the British Parliament was created. The noble Lord did not have to start with Hitler. It was not relevant.

We are not creating a dictatorship. All we are doing is removing 90 per cent. of the hereditary Peers from this House. That seems to be such an alarming thing that all our ancient liberties appear to be threatened and we need all kinds of guarantees. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister has done more things that he did not have to do than any previous Prime Minister. He has promised an independent commission but, of course, it cannot be trusted. Why is it that when we come to the Weatherill amendment his word can be trusted, because, after all, the hereditary Peers are getting something, but on anything else the Prime Minster's word cannot be trusted?

Noble Lords opposite should pause and think whether they are saying that no life Peer is independent and that all life Peers in this House are corruptible, especially on the Labour side. Only we on this side are corruptible and Peers on the Opposition side are not corruptible. Only our Prime Minister is not to be trusted, but a Tory Prime Minister is. The noble Lord said that these matters were not for this Government but for future governments. Future governments would probably be Conservative or Liberal Democrat. Are noble Lords opposite saying that a Conservative or Liberal Democrat Prime Minister will so abuse their powers—

Noble Lords


Lord Desai

My Lords, noble Lords opposite should know better. After all, the Conservative Party was in power for a long time. To say such things, even though they are not meant, is insulting to us.

The Earl of Onslow

My Lords, I am an Earl by corruption of a Conservative Prime Minister. I do not believe that they can be trusted any more than anyone else. The noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, complained about Mrs Thatcher creating too many life Peers. I am pretty certain that she was copying Lloyd George, which was the last time the Liberals had a chance to create Peers. Lord Wilson of Rievaulx—we know him better as Mr Harold Wilson—was not exactly squeaky clean on the honours front. No Prime Minister has been. Therefore, it is important we do something that this Prime Minister has promised to do.

I accept all the points made by noble Lords opposite that this matter is a derogation of power on behalf of a Prime Minister which is unprecedented. It is not that I do not trust him or that he is not a very honourable man. He undoubtedly is an honourable man. it is not that he is not a patriot, because he undoubtedly is. It is not that he is not a reasonable Prime Minister, because he undoubtedly is. It is that the system itself has reached a position where the executive in our country is far too powerful.

As a result of this Bill this House is going to be more powerful. As I said earlier today, one cannot blame it on Onslow. I give the Government credit for having gone a very long way to change the concept of this Bill since the publication of the original. It is not as far as I would have gone because I want a seriously reformed House. The Bill has gone a jolly long way. The Government agree with the principle of the commission. It is not that I do not trust Tony Blair, I do not trust anyone on this matter.

The Government have listened and I give them great credit for having changed their mind. Today we have had a very good example of that. Surely, they can go a little further and accept the principle of what is suggested in this amendment. I do not trust anybody when too much power is available. We know what Lord Acton said; namely that Power tends to corrupt and absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely".

Lord Lucas

My Lords, I trust, and trusted John Major, but I do not suppose for one moment that the Government would feel themselves bound by promises that he made as to how the constitution of this country should develop. I am not asking for concessions from the Government; I am asking that they should complete what they set out to do; that what they said they will do should be put into writing so that it may last a little longer than it may take for the reforms of stage two to take place.

I hope we all believe that this Government intend to do what they said they will do. But barely a month ago the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor said that he would implement the reforms on divorce of my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern, and now he will not. I make no criticism of that, because circumstances change. We cannot put the constitution of this country at risk of the changing whims of Prime Ministers.

The Government proposed the Bill and it has had my support throughout. The Bill marched under two great banners: first, the end of the hereditary peerage in the House, on which we have reached a conclusion, and, secondly, the end of one-party domination of the House, on which we have not reached a conclusion because the Bill, as it stands, allows for the government of the day, of whatever colour, to assume domination of the House by a small additional appointment of Peers. That would allow a repetition of the evil to which the Government have sought to see an end. I do not believe that we should allow that.

On a purely domestic and personal aspect, if the Bill passes as it stands, I do not believe that the Weatherill amendment, even as amended, would mean anything. If a government can assume control of the House by appointing a few extra Peers, there is no point or purpose in all the debates, concessions and good will that have been extended to us by the Government. We shall have gained nothing and this House will have become nothing.

I have no particular attachment to the amendment proposed by my noble friend Lord Strathclyde. I hope that there are other ways of achieving this. There are surely simpler ways in terms of presenting a measure that would work and achieve what the Government have set out to achieved. I believe that it is entirely satisfactory. I hope that we shall hear from the Government that they are prepared to do something else. If they are not, we must support the amendment of my noble friend.

7 p.m.

Lord Elton

My Lords, noble Lords opposite reject the line that my noble friends are taking because for many years there has been a built-in majority in this House of Members whom they see, understandably and correctly, as being inherently supporters of the Conservative Party only.

The Government must, first, accept that if it is wrong for the Conservative Party to have a built-in majority, because that is a threat to freedom and democracy, exactly the same applies to a built-in majority of any other party. Although there is an instinctive revulsion against forgoing the guilty pleasure of having a built-in majority, that must be put aside because it is illogical. It is also a constitutional threat.

My noble friend Lord Waddington in no way understates the importance of what we are doing. We are not simply addressing a small committee matter about a reduced House of Lords; we are doing things to the constitution upon which this country depends as much as sailors at sea depend upon their vessel. A boat is not designed for one trip in good weather; it is designed to withstand a typhoon if necessary. To say that these amendments address a small detail, a small part of the apparatus, is like reassuring the passengers or the crew of the ship by saying, "It's all right, it is only the pumps that we are messing about with".

This House has many functions, but at bottom its function is to ensure that no government of any party—I regard my party as open to—

Noble Lords


Lord Elton

My Lords, no; much worse than criticism. I regard my party as open to temptation and to giving in to temptation. The danger of the capture by extremists of a political party on the Right is just as real and dangerous as the danger of the capture by extremists of a political party on the Left. That is a real threat, as real as the threat of a typhoon striking a liner crossing the Atlantic. It is not known now; it cannot be foreseen; but it can happen. We are designing the constitution to deal with such matters.

The protection against that is to ensure that the electorate has an opportunity, every five years, to get rid of the government of whatever party. Anything that puts a spoke in the machinery that ensures that, weakens the constitution. I cannot tell noble Lords whether Margaret Thatcher would have been so tempted had the hereditary Peers not been Members of the House. Although they were on her side of the House, they were not political animals appointed by the Conservative Prime Minister. They were a sure bastion against that sort of chicanery—delaying a general election until after a recession.

All we ask is that, once we have gone, there should be a better mechanism put in place. Ours is an old, creaky, disreputable system, which has become almost a laughing stock on the other side of the House, but it has worked thus far. We ask that some nice, shiny, efficient, new, confidence-inspiring machinery is put in our place.

The Prime Minister, bless him, has suggested it. He has suggested it as often as my son has suggested giving up smoking. We ask that he now gives it up to enormous applause from this side of the House as well as the other. My noble friend Lord Strathclyde and his noble friends are asking the House to do that. I hope that we support him.

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, this is an extended group of amendments which rightly covers a number of aspects of the membership of the transitional House and the way in which it should be composed.

I hope that I do not alarm my noble friend Lord Barnett by saying that the Government have no quarrel with the underlying purpose and intent of this group of amendments in so far as they relate to establishing the appointments commission. We are in favour of an appointments commission and one will be set up as quickly as possible. We simply continue to think that the amendments are unnecessary and even potentially damaging to smooth progress, for reasons which I shall explain.

First, I want to deal with those amendments, and those parts of amendments in the group, which refer to specific numbers and proportions of appointments in the transitional House. I understand that the noble Lords, Lord Coleraine and Lord Stanley of Alderley, have to some extent subsumed their proposals in their support for Amendment No. 25 in the name of the Opposition Front Bench, but unless the noble Lords indicate otherwise, I shall reply to some of the points that have been made because both of them were serious in their intent: and covered some serious points.

Amendment No. 26 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Coleraine, is unacceptable to the Government. I agree with the concerns about it raised by the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, who spoke to it from the Opposition Front Bench. From the Government's point of view, it is inconsistent with the pledges that we made both in our election manifesto in 1997 and the White Paper on House of Lords reform. As we said in both those documents, we intend to move to a position where membership of this House more closely reflects the votes cast at the previous election.

A point made by other noble Lords is that that amendment would also ensure, in the conditions of the House at present, that the Conservative Party continued to be significantly over-represented. At the last general election the Liberal Democrats received a proportion of the vote over half of that of the Conservative Party and this amendment would allow them just over a quarter of the number of seats.

Amendment No. 27, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley, also deals with specific numbers and proportions, but, as the noble Lord said in introducing it, the amendment reverts to the question that he raised in Committee about how we can ensure that the transitional House is properly representative, expert in certain ways and certainly distinctive from the other place.

As I said in Committee, the Government have no quarrel with the noble Lord's motivation or underlying purpose. As I am sure noble Lords are probably tired of hearing by now, one of our subsidiary, but none the less important, motives for the reform is to make the House more representative. We believe that the narrow social base and the preponderance of certain backgrounds and professions among the hereditary peerage have combined to make this House as it is at present: very unrepresentative in the sense that it does not reflect our modern society. Of course, I accept the point made by the noble Lord that on almost any individual subject we can probably find a good representative here to speak in any particular debate. However, as the noble Lord will be aware, we have consistently made it clear that we value the contribution of those independent Cross-Bench Peers who will remain in the House. We want to ensure that they retain a significant role both in the transitional House and in the longer term.

If the objective of the noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley, is to create a transitional House which can call on a wide range of experience and expertise from those whose primary loyalty is not necessarily to a political party, we can wholly endorse that. I am happy to repeat that commitment once again on behalf of the Government. However, where we part company with the noble Lord is on the question of how one could effectively enshrine in legislation those broad principles and broad objectives.

It is extremely difficult, frankly, to frame in legislation the types of proposal suggested by the noble Lord, however much one can agree with their underlying objective. Many aspects of your Lordships' House do not fit into the kind of neat categories which the noble Lord has proposed and which would be necessary if they were to be framed in statute. Perhaps I may give a couple of examples to illustrate that without delaying the proceedings for too long. Subsection (3)(c) of the noble Lord's amendment states that there should be broad parity between the numbers of government and Cross-Bench Peers. Are we to include in that calculation the Law Lords who sit on the Cross Benches? The rest of the amendment is framed in terms of life Peers, but we assume that the Law Lords are to be included. That, of course, alters the understanding of the amendment.

Subsection (3)(d) requires that more than half the Members of the House should have experience of or expertise in areas other than or in addition to politics. This again is a worthwhile aim which the Government would, in general terms, accept. Again, however, it is very difficult to frame these matters sensibly in legislation. I shall give another small series of examples. Are the Bishops to be included in this calculation? How would the Law Lords sit within this context? What counts as experience or expertise? For example, would training as a solicitor 30 years ago but not having practised for 20 years enable one to fall into that category? Also, to use the noble Lord's examples on farming and agricultural interests to which he rightly turned again, does taking up farming in retirement, it perhaps one had been an industrialist and became a farmer when one left one's business activity, count as a farming interest? What counts as "politics"? Is it just national paid political activity? Would that much maligned person, a fully paid-up full-time party hack, qualify?

I do not raise these points to suggest anything other than general support for the ambitions of the noble Lord's amendment. I wish simply to say that these are all legitimate questions which would need to be much more precisely clarified if one was going to translate this generally acceptable worthwhile proposal into a statute.

There are similar problems, although in a rather different category of detail and precision, when one comes to Amendment No. 40A. In the Government's view that amendment is not compatible with the arrangement under which the so-called "Weatherill amendment" is given effect. The noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, has said this afternoon and on several other occasions that he and his party will not challenge the broad intent or the detail of new Clause 2. Perhaps I may remind him that as part of the arrangement it was agreed that the Government would be entitled to sufficient life Peers to provide parity with the Conservatives, taking account of the effect of Clause 2. Of course, it is likely that this would result in the numbers for each party being around 220. So the present amendment would probably not allow the Government to achieve parity for some time while the Conservatives, for their part, would not be allowed to replace any of their life Peers until their total number had dropped below 200. For that reason alone, I would suggest to the noble Lord that the amendment cuts across the understanding behind new Clause 2. It is not acceptable to the Government: nor indeed, I would expect, to noble Lords on the Opposition Front Bench.

Another thing we are not quite sure about is how the numbers implied by subsection (1)(b) of the noble Lord's amendment add up. For example, what happens to the share of the vote which goes in an election to parties which cannot qualify under it? Is it fair to limit parties to a share of the vote in the United Kingdom as a whole when, as the noble Lord will be aware, some parties stand in only one part of the United Kingdom? Is it fair to include the votes given to those parties which cannot qualify for a seat in the Lords because they have not won any in the Commons?

Those are questions of detail, but they are ones on which I think the amendment would have to be made far more precise and exact if it were to be translated into statute. I would simply say to the noble Lord, Lord Rogers—this in a way underlies the discussion which has arisen from various quarters of your Lordships' House over these amendments—that I ask him to accept my renewed assurances about the commitment which the Government made in the White Paper about our intentions on the proportionality of appointments in the transitional House and their particular effect on the Liberal Democratic Party. In that context I would urge him not to press Amendment No. 40A.

I turn now to the proposals for an appointments commission and in particular to Amendment No. 25 to which the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, spoke. I am pleased to be able to tell your Lordships this evening that the Government are setting up an appointments commission. The process has begun. It will be established as a non-departmental public body under the relevant rules of the Commission for Public Appointments, the so-called "Nolan rules". In Committee I explained the arrangements, and several noble Lords this afternoon have been kind enough to refer to the detail of my explanations. I do not think it is necessary to repeat them. However, I advise your Lordships that I have the agreement of my right honourable friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury to begin the recruitment process, and, as the Downing Street official spokesman indicated last Friday, we plan that the commission should be in place in time for the New Year's Honours List in 2000. As part of the process, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister will be writing to the Leader of the Opposition and to the Leader of the Liberal Democratic Party, seeking their nominations to the commission.

In these circumstances, I think that the amendments before us today, which seek to make statutory provision for an appointments commission, are completely unnecessary. Indeed, if they are carried, they will inhibit the process of establishing the commission. The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, said in his opening remarks before proceedings began this afternoon that he did not seek in any way to delay the Bill. It is, of course, true that the Bill as a whole would not be delayed by an amendment passed against the Government's advice on this subject, but it would certainly slow down an important part of the process of implementing the Bill.

I am grateful to those noble Lords—several noble Lords have referred to this, including the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, who was with us in those discussions—who after a very constructive debate in Committee joined me in further discussions on this issue. I understood during those discussions that an announcement of progress of the kind I have just made—translating the Government's aspirations into action—would convince them of our definitive intention to proceed. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, for example, will accept that as our good intent. As I have indicated, we are proceeding in the way that we set out in our White Paper. I hope, therefore, that those assurances, which are now more than aspirations and have been translated into action, will be accepted. However, from the somewhat sabre-rattling remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, I fear that that is not so.

I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, that although good attempts have been made to translate some of the proposals into a form that is statutorily acceptable, I do not think that any of the proposals before us this evening have achieved that. I appreciate that, as the noble Lord and others said, they have tried simply to do something which, in the words of the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, is closely based on the White Paper proposals. However, that is not precisely true in important areas, and it ignores the points that I made at an earlier stage about legislation probably being inappropriate for achieving a purpose which we all agree is necessary.

Once again I remind the House that we are talking about a transitional House and transitional arrangements. Although several noble Lords opposite made fairly substantial points about the need to legislate for a long time, the intention of the existence of the appointments commission, in this instance, concerns appointments to the transition House. It is not suitable for an elaborate statutory superstructure. Noble Lords have suggested putting something declaratory on the face of the Bill to ensure that the Government act. I hope that my remarks reassure them about that point.

I am sure your Lordships will have noted the length of even the general propositions put forward. I am advised, and I am convinced, that were we to legislate the provisions would have to be far more complex than those before us. One specific example of the constitutional complexities of Amendment No. 25 where it is substantially different from the Government's proposals is the requirement that all members of the commission should be Privy Counsellors. A field limited to existing Privy Counsellors is hardly compatible with subsection (2)(b) of the proposed new clause which requires "an open and transparent" appointments process. In fact, I suggest that subsection (2)(b) appears to be inconsistent with subsection (8) which suggests that all those who are members of the appointments commission should be Privy Counsellors. In addition, the statutory requirement that holders of certain posts must be made Privy Counsellors would be a constitutional innovation.

There are other proposals, particularly those in subsection (7) of the proposed new clause, where the Government feel that the amendment departs unhelpfully from the White Paper proposals. But overall our concern is not with the detailed content of Amendment No. 25 or the others which refer to the appointments commission. We promised an appointments commission in our White Paper. We made clear what its composition and remit would be. It is not necessary to legislate to achieve that promise. We are going another route.

Noble Lords raised the question of the Prime Minister's patronage and his powers. The noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, raised the issue of last week's list of working Peers. He and other noble Lords will have noticed that Downing Street confirmed that the Prime Minister had only acted as a post box for the names proposed by Mr. Hague. In other words, the Prime Minister passed the Official Opposition's list directly to the scrutiny committee because we have already begun the steps to reduce the Prime Minister's patronage and we intend to continue. If noble Lords are concerned that this is only our word, then I can say that the Government regard these proposals and all our proposals in the White Paper as binding on any future Labour Prime Minister as much as the present one. If noble Lords are concerned that Prime Ministers of a different political complexion might not see things in the same way, it is equally open to the Leader of the Opposition to make a similar commitment on behalf of his party.

I respectfully suggest to noble Lords that they should not confuse their expressed desire for a statutory provision with a desire to take the Prime Minister out of the process. As we have demonstrated, are demonstrating and will continue to demonstrate, we do not need a statutory provision to achieve the removal of the Prime Minister from some of the central aims. We do not need one to achieve the other.

Overall we have set in train the administration to create an appointments commission as soon as possible. As I said earlier, we expect it to be in place in time for the next New Year's Honours List. Any amendment to the Bill now which creates a statutory requirement to do something different will simply delay mattes. I know that there are some in your Lordships' House who seek delay at every turn on this Bill. But I hope all those who genuinely want an appointments commission to be established quickly to achieve an effective transition House will reject the alternative proposals. Given the clear announcements of progress I have been able to give today, I hope noble Lords will withdraw their amendments. If not, I urge the House to reject them.

Lord Weatherill

My Lords, before the noble Baroness the Lord Privy Seal sits down, will she confirm that Cross-Bench Peers will be consulted and have a place on the new independent commission?

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, the Cross-Bench Peers will indeed be consulted and their role in the organisation will be precisely as it was described in the White Paper.

Lord Coleraine

My Lords, on this occasion I shall say the words which I am sure the House is waiting to hear. I beg leave to withdraw Amendment No. 26 as an amendment to Amendment No. 25.

[Amendment No. 26, as an amendment to Amendment No. 25, by leave, withdrawn.]

Lord Kingsland

My Lords, we have debated this very important issue for one hour and nearly 45 minutes. We have heard many excellent speeches and the issue that lies behind those speeches could not be clearer.

The noble Baroness made a very conciliatory speech in relation to every single matter that affects the appointments commission except the one that really matters; that is, that it should be on the face of the Bill itself. The Government say that they are sincere; but by their failure to commit themselves to put the composition and terms of reference of the commission in the statute, they call into question their own sincerity. For that reason I wish to test the opinion of the House.

7.26 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 25) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 231; Not-Contents, 189.

Division No. 2
Addison, V. Arran, E.
Ailsa, M. Ashbourne, L.
Aldenham, L. Astor, V.
Aldington, L. Astor of Hever, L.
Alexander of Tunis, E. Attlee, E.
Anelay of St. Johns, B. Bathurst, E.
Annaly, L. Bearsted. V.
Arlington, B. Beaverbrook. L.
Belhaven and Stenton, L. Harding of Petherton, L.
Bell, L. Harmar-Nicholls, L.
Belstead, L. Harmsworth, L.
Berners, B. Harris of High Cross, L.
Biddulph, L. Harris of Peckham, L.
Biffen, L. Harrowby, E.
Blackwell, L. Hawke, L.
Blaker, L. Hayhoe, L.
Blatch, B. Hemphill, L
Blyth, L. Henley, L. [Teller.]
Boardman, L. Higgins, L.
Brabazon of Tara, L. Hogg, B.
Brentford, V. Holderness, L.
Bridgeman, V. Home, E.
Brougham and Vaux, L. Howell of Guildford, L.
Bruntisfield, L. Hunt of Wirral, L.
Burnham, L. [Teller.] Inchcape, E.
Buscombe, B. Jeffreys, L.
Butterworth, L. Jenkin of Roding, L.
Byford, B. Jopling, L.
Caithness, E. Kelvedon, L.
Campbell of Alloway, L. Kenyon, L.
Carlisle of Bucklow, L. Kimball, L.
Carnegy of Lour, B. Kingsland, L.
Carnock, L. Kinnoull, E.
Carr of Hadley, L. Knight of Collingtree, B.
Chadlington, L. Knutsford, V.
Clanwilliam, E. Lang of Monkton, L.
Clark of Kempston, L. Lauderdale, E.
Clifford of Chudleigh, L. Lindsey and Abingdon, E.
Clinton, L. Liverpool, E.
Clitheroe, L. Long, V.
Cochrane of Cults, L. Lucas, L.
Coleraine, L. Lucas of Chilworth, L.
Coleridge, L. Luke, L.
Cope of Berkeley, L. Lytton, E.
Courtown, E. McColl of Dulwich, L.
Craig of Radley, L. McConnell, L.
Crickhowell, L. Mackay of Ardbrecknish, L.
Cross, V. Mackintosh of Halifax, V.
Dacre of Glanton, L. Macleod of Borve, B.
De Freyne, L. Malmesbury, E.
De L'Isle, V. Mancroft, L.
Dean of Harptree, L. Manton, L.
Denham, L. Marlesford, L.
Derwent, L. Massereene and Ferrard, V.
Dixon-Smith, L. May, L.
Donegall, M. Mayhew of Twysden, L.
Downshire, M. Mersey, V.
Drogheda, E. Middleton, L.
Dundee, E. Miller of Hendon, B.
Dundonald, E. Milverton, L.
Eccles, V. Molyneaux of Killead, L.
Eccles of Moulton, B. Monk Bretton, L.
Elibank, L. Monro of Langholm, L.
Ellenborough, L. Monson, L.
Elliott of Morpeth, L. Montagu of Beaulieu, L.
Elton, L. Monteagle of Brandon, L.
Feldman, L. Montgomery of Alamein, V.
Ferrers, E. Montrose, D.
Fisher, L. Morris, L.
Fookes, B. Mountevans, L.
Forbes, L. Mountgarret, V.
Freeman, L. Moyne, L.
Gage, V. Moynihan, L.
Gainford, L. Munster, E.
Gardner of Parkes, B. Murton of Lindisfarne, L.
Garel-Jones, L. Napier and Ettrick, L.
Geddes, L. Newall, L.
Gisborough, L. Newton of Braintree, L.
Glentoran, L. Noel-Buxton, L.
Goschen, V. Norrie, L.
Gray, L. Northbrook, L.
Gretton, L. Northesk, E.
Hambro, L. Norton of Louth, L.
Hanningfield, L. O'Cathain, B.
Onslow of Woking, L. Soulsby of Swaffham Prior, L
Oppenheim-Barnes, B. Stanley of Alderley, L.
Park of Monmouth, B. Stockton, E.
Patten, L. Stodart of Leaston, L.
Pearson of Rannoch, L. Strathcarron, L.
Peel, E. Strathclyde, L.
Perry of Southwark, B. Sudeley, L.
Plummer of St. Marylebone, L. Suffolk and Berkshire, E.
Prior, L. Swansea, L.
Radnor, E. Swinfen, L.
Rathcavan, L. Taylor of Warwick, L.
Rawlings, B. Teviot, L.
Reay, L. Thomas of Gwydir, L.
Renfrew of Kaimsthorn, L. Trefgarne, L.
Renton, L. Trenchard, V.
Renwick, L. Trumpington, B.
Roberts of Conwy, L. Tryon, L.
Romney, E. Tugendhat, L.
Ullswater, V.
Rotherwick, L. Verulam, E.
Rowallan, L. Vinson, L.
Saatchi, L. Waddington, L.
St. Davids, V. Wade of Chorlton, L.
Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly. Waterford, M.
Savile, L. Wedgwood, L.
Seccombe, B. Westbury, L.
Selborne, E. Wilcox, B.
Selsdon, L. Willoughby de Broke, L.
Sempill, L. Wise, L.
Sharples, B. Wolfson, L.
Skelmersdale, L. Wynford, L.
Somerset, D. Young, B.
Ackner, L. Davies of Oldham, L.
Acton, L. Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, B.
Addington, L. Desai, L.
Ahmed, L. Dholakia, L.
Alderdice, L. Diamond, L.
Allenby of Megiddo, V. Dixon, L,
Alli, L. Donoughue, L.
Amos, B. Dormand of Easington, L.
Ampthill, L. Dubs, L.
Archer of Sandwell, L. Evans of Parkside, L.
Ashley of Stoke, L. Evans of Watford, L.
Avebury, L. Ewing of Kirkford, L.
Bach, L. Falconer of Thoroton, L.
Barnard, L. Falkland, V.
Barnett, L. Farrington of Ribbleton, B.
Bassam of Brighton, L. Geraint, L.
Bath, M. Gladwin of Clee, L.
Beaumont of Whitley, L. Gladwyn, L.
Blackstone, B. Glanusk, L.
Blease, L. Glenamara, L.
Bledisloe, V. Goodhart, L.
Borrie, L. Gordon of Strathblane, L.
Bragg, L. Goudie, B.
Bridges, L. Gould of Potternewton, B.
Brightman, L. Graham of Edmonton, L.
Brooke of Alverthorpe, L. Grantchester, L.
Brooks of Tremorfa, L. Grenfell, L.
Bruce of Donington, L. Hacking, L.
Burlison, L. Hampton, L.
Carew, L. Hamwee, B.
Carter, L. [Teller.] Hanworth, V.
Clancarty, E. Hardie, L.
Clarke of Hampstead, L. Hardy of Wath, L.
Clement-Jones, L. Harris of Greenwich, L.
Clinton-Davis, L. Harris of Haringey, L.
Cocks of Hartcliffe, L. Haskel, L.
Colville of Culross, V. Haskins, L
Crawley, B. Hayman, B.
Currie of Marylebone, L. Hilton of Eggardon, B.
David, B. Hogg of Cumbernauld, L.
Davies of Coity, L. Hollis of Heigham, B.
Howie of Troon, L. Puttnam, L.
Hoyle, L. Ramsay of Cartvale, B.
Hughes of Woodside, L. Randall of St. Budeaux, L.
Hunt of Kings Heath, L. [Teller.] Razzall, L.
Islwyn, L. Rea, L.
Jacobs, L. Redesdale, L.
Jay of Paddington, B. [Lord Privy Seal] Rendell of Babergh, B.
Renwick of Clifton, L.
Jeger. B. Richard, L.
Judd, L. Rochester, L.
Kennedy of The Shaws, B. Rodgers of Quarry Bank, L.
Kinloss, Ly. Rogers of Riverside, L.
Kintore, E. Russell, E.
Kirkwood, L. Sainsbury of Turville, L.
Lester of Herne Hill, L. St.John of Bletso, L.
Levy, L. Sandberg, L.
Lockwood, B. Sawyer, L.
Lofthouse of Pontefract, L. Scotland of Asthal, B.
Lovell-Davis, L. Serota, B.
Ludford, B. Sewel, L.
Macdonald of Tradeston, L. Sharp of Guildford, B.
Mackenzie of Framwellgate, L. Shepherd, L.
Mackie of Benshie, L. Simon, V.
McNair, L. Simon of Highbury, L.
McNally, L. Smith of Gilmorehill, B.
Maddock, B. Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Mallalieu, B. Stone of Blackheath, L.
Mar and Kellie, E. Strabolgi, L.
Marsh, L. Strange, B.
Mason of Barnsley, L. Symons of Vernham Dean, B.
Merlyn-Rees, L. Taylor of Blackburn, L.
Miller of Chilthorne Domer, B. Tenby, V.
Milner of Leeds, L. Thomas of Gresford, L.
Mishcon, L. Thomas of Walliswood, B.
Molloy, L. Thomson of Monifieth, L.
Monks well, L. Thornton, B.
Montague of Oxford, L. Thurlow, L.
Morris of Castle Morris, L. Thurso, V.
Morris of Manchester, L. Tomlinson, L.
Murray of Epping Forest, L. Tope, L.
Newby. L. Tordoff, L.
Nicholson of Winterbourne, B. Turner of Camden, B.
Nicol, B. Uddin, B.
Northbourne, L. Varley, L.
Nunburnholme, L. Walker of Doncaster, L.
Ogmore, L. Warner, L.
O'Neill of Bengarve, B. Weatherill, L.
Orme, L. Wedderburn of Charlton, L.
Paul, L. Whitty, L.
Perth, E. Wigoder, L.
Peston, L. Wilberforce, L.
Phillips of Sudbury, L. Williams of Elvel, L.
Pitkeathley, B. Williams of Mostyn, L.
Prys-Davies, L. Young of Darlington, L.

Resolved in the affirmative, and amendment agreed to accordingly.

7.38 p.m.

[Amendment No. 27 not moved.]

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, I beg to move that further consideration on Report be now adjourned. In moving this Motion, perhaps I may suggest that the Report stage begin again not before 8.45 p.m.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.