§ 3.37 p.m.
§ The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Jay of Paddington)
My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.
§ Moved, That the House do now again resolve itself into Committee. —(Baroness Jay of Paddington.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House in Committee accordingly.
§ [The CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES in the Chair.]
§ Lord Stanley of Alderley moved Amendment No.71:
§ After Clause 2, insert the following new clause—
REPRESENTATION OF AGRICULTURAL AND RURAL INTERESTS
(". —(1) There shall be an Appointments Commission.
§ The noble Lord said: My main interest in the Bill is to try to extract from the Government what is to be the future, if any, of the House. I doubt whether it will come as any surprise to the Committee that I am most concerned that there should be agricultural and rural representation in any interim or future House. I hope that the Government are aware of the strong feeling that rural and, in particular, agricultural interests have been, and are, being ignored by the Government. As evidence of that I draw attention to the demonstrations which have taken place during the past two years. All the demonstrations have been peaceful but that should not disguise the strength of feeling. I move the amendment in order to obtain a constructive reply from the Government that the agricultural and rural voice will be heard loud and clear in any future Chamber.
§ The amendment goes wider than agriculture. It deals with a problem which cannot be answered unless we know the Government's intentions as to the job of the House in the future. Obviously, they would prefer a unicameral system.
§ My interest is in the small print of legislation. Is it the Government's wish that the reformed House, interim or final, should have as its primary job revising and improving legislation? If so, some of its Members should surely be drawn from certain sectors of our national life or economy. The amendment suggests that agriculture should be one of them.
§ The point was made firmly and well by my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern in chapter 27 of his report. I therefore find it difficult to accept that the House should be 100 per cent elected. However, I believe, for credibility's sake, part should be democratically elected, apart from the fact that it would 1299 be in line with the Labour Party's manifesto that the Government keep shoving down my throat, or the bits of it that they wish me to eat.
§ The amendment seeks to point out that minority interests have always been represented in your Lordships' House. Sadly, I have to accept that agriculture is now a minority interest. There is little knowledge of it in the Commons. The Welsh Office, in its explanatory notes on the Welsh Assembly, made no mention of agriculture, although there was the usual platitudinous waffle about the environment. The situation in your Lordships' House has been totally different. Many noble Lords have farming interests. That fact was mentioned and, I think, disliked by the Leader of the House. It was well illustrated by the noble Lord. Lord Bruce of Donington, last time we were in Committee. He stated that the greatest number of hereditary Peers—seven—served on Sub-committee D which was chaired at one time by the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn. Most agriculture Peers here have done their stint on that committee.
§ The amendment asks who will do the vital job of revising legislation. It is not vote-catching. A study of the Commons Committee proceedings proves that. It seemed to me that 90 per cent of the time was devoted to points of order.
§ As we all know, the devil is always in the detail. That is the case with agriculture. Look at the ghastly mess the European Union has made of the common agricultural policy or the hilarious muddle the Government have got into dare I say it?—over beef on the bone. There have also been the rules about animal cleanliness, demanding the impossible task of shearing cattle's stomachs before slaughter, which no sensible, reasonable or practical farmer would attempt to do. My experience is that your Lordships have dealt with such technical matters conscientiously and well. The amendment is designed to ensure that the future House does the job as well, if not better.
§ Committee stage in your Lordships' House has not been marked or muddied by party politics. I fear that that will not be so in the future. Each party will nominate full-time party hacks who will have to promise to turn up, regardless of their lack of knowledge of a particular subject. I accept that I am flogging my own horse and there will be no room for amateurs or amateur backwoodsmen such as myself. The House will consist of those who possibly have little experience of outside life. They will be political animals who believe that the sun shines out of their backsides. Sadly, as we all learn, the sun shines out of none of our backsides.
§ I am therefore anxious to know the Government's view on how they intend to address such problems. I beg to move.
§ 3.45 p.m.
The Earl of Caithness
I support my noble friend, but before going further perhaps I may make a plea to the Leader of the House. For the first three days of Committee many of us tried to get the Government to enter into discussions but were met with the stonewall 1300 answer that it was not in the manifesto. That seemed to end discussion. After the reversal of the Government's policy with the acceptance of the Weatherilll amendment, I had hoped that we would enter into discussion on Tuesday evening. Perhaps the emotion of voting against the holy grail of the manifesto proved too much and we were not constructive.
Although it is a great honour and privilege to have one's amendment answered by the noble Baroness, it would make us happier and the proceedings more pleasurable if we received answers to our questions. It is in that spirit and with that intention that I put forward views on the amendments tabled today. I hope that the Government will be more forthcoming than to date.
The amendment can be divided into two parts. One is the function of the appointments committee in making recommendations. It may be helpful if we do not discuss that specifically and take that part of the amendment later when we discuss the appointments committee more generally. It seems to fit better there.
Therefore, the vein of my argument now is to support my noble friend in his request that the minority interests of agriculture and the countryside are represented in any future Chamber. There are one or two notable exceptions on the Benches opposite, but by and large the Labour Party is not—
§ Lord Marsh
I am grateful to the noble Earl for allowing me to intervene. I am puzzled because, under the present system of appointments, which could be enormously improved on, there are a considerable number of life Peers in the House—the Government Chief Whip is one and the noble Lords, Lord Mackie of Benshie and Lord Prior, are others—who have considerable experience of agriculture. It would be difficult in this country to have any appointments system that worked at all if it did not reproduce what we already have.
The Earl of Caithness
I was intending to deal with the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Marsh. There are one or two notable exceptions, but if the noble Lord had listened to what my noble friend Lord Stanley said about the composition of the committees, he would know that the great majority of Members of your Lordships' House who take part in agriculture debates are hereditary Peers. The majority of those who take part sit on these Benches. If we are to have an influx—as undoubtedly we shall—of new Peers in the interim House—the Leader of the House said on Tuesday that about 40 new Peers would be introduced—it is important that the interests of the countryside are taken account of.
Further, as we move into a more full-time House and there is less time and opportunity for people like my noble friend Lord Stanley to attend, it will be essential to hear from those who live and work in the countryside. Too often the view of the countryside is that portrayed by the townie—that the countryside should be preserved in aspic and that it is not a living and working environment. As the Committee knows, that is exactly what it is. It changes and adapts. Therefore, the people who work in, and who have produced, the beautiful 1301 countryside, where many of us live and have the opportunity to work, should be represented here so that it remains a living and viable entity for the future.
§ Baroness Carnegy of Lour
This seems to be an important discussion. The noble Lord, Lord Marsh, made the point—and I can see why he made it—that there are a number of life Peers under the present system who know about agriculture. But it is a larger subject for this House than the noble Lord probably appreciates. That is mainly because of the European Union where agriculture is, and will continue to be, an enormous issue. The interests of the various member states of the European Union diverge. The interests of this country diverge because our agriculture is different. I know the noble Lord appreciates that.
It takes more than three or four Peers to cover the whole discussion that must go on. The agriculture sub-committee of the European Communities Select Committee is a sizeable one. The subject crops up in other areas too. It is extremely important that there should be a good spread of people who understand the issues.
The problem in regard to agriculture as opposed to other subjects is that it is both technical and cultural. If one lives in the countryside and are engaged in it, one cannot help knowing quite a lot about it, and one can easily find out a great deal more. If one does not live in the countryside, it is rather theoretical and not so easy to deal with. The character of this House would change very quickly if everyone who dealt with agriculture had to "mug up " on the subject, as working Peers must do on various subjects It is important to retain a proper spread of people in this area. If there is to be an appointments commission, there should be some form of requirement on it to consider this matter above all others when the spread of expertise is considered. The noble Baroness laughs. I do not think she either understands what I am saying or wants to understand it.
§ Baroness Jay of Paddington
I respectfully say to the noble Baroness that I was exchanging a comment with my noble friend which had nothing immediately to do with what she was saying.
§ Baroness Carnegy of Lour
With the greatest respect, that was my fear.
My noble friend's amendment is extremely important. I hope that the Minister's reply will be sympathetic and that the Government will find some way, if the committee itself cannot find one, of placing some requirement on the appointments commission to consider this matter carefully.
§ Lord Goodhart
This is the first of a considerable series of amendments dealing with the appointments commission. The Government's White Paper proposed a non-statutory appointments commission which will make non-political nominations, leaving the political appointments to be nominated by party leaders. That aim is limited but welcome; it removes the possibility that the making of non-political appointments through 1302 the Honours List can be abused to reward what are in fact political services to an incumbent government—for example, donations to a party.
A large number of these amendments propose to bring the appointments commission onto the face of the Bill and make it a statutory body. All of them, however, do rather more. Some extend the powers of the appointments commission to cover political as well as non-political appointments. This amendment does not do so and I do not propose to say much about it at this stage. Other amendments are concerned with the basis on which non-political appointments will be made, and this amendment falls into that category. It is concerned with ensuring the representation of agricultural and rural affairs in the transitional House.
Implicit in this approach is an important constitutional change in the nature of the creation of peerages. At present, we have two categories of new Peers: first, the political Peers, who are either galley slaves like myself. appointed as political working Peers on the basis of an undertaking to turn up and work; or distinguished alumni of the other place who are appointed through the dissolution or resignation Honours List. The second category of new appointees are the non-political Peers, usually appointed through the Honours List as a result of outstanding service to the country. It is hoped that they will turn up and take part in the work of the House, particularly on matters in which they have expertise, but there is no obligation or requirement on them, moral or otherwise, to do so. Most, but not all, of the Peers appointed through the Honours List take seats on the Cross-Benches.
What seems to be proposed in this amendment, and in some others to like effect, is that Peers who are now appointed through the Honours List will be nominated by the appointments commission in a representative capacity and therefore necessarily on an implicit basis of commitment to take part in the business of the House on issues on which they have specific experience. That creates the new concept of the appointment of a working Cross-Bench Peer. There is a good deal to be said for that concept.
§ Lord Marsh
Perhaps I may intervene to make a semantic point. The idea of a working Cross-Bench Peer would not be an innovation!
§ Lord Goodhart
There are of course many Cross-Bench Peers who do a great deal of work. But they have not been appointed on the basis of any kind of undertaking to do so.
If the second Chamber is ultimately to be partly appointed, the concept of expert, working Cross-Bench Peers in the sense in which I have used it—namely, people appointed specifically in order to work—will be plainly desirable; indeed it may be essential. But that is a matter for the Royal Commission and what follows after the commission has reported. It seems to me to be jumping the gun to alter the nature of the appointment of non-political Peers to this House in the transitional stage. I suggest it is more appropriate that non-political 1303 appointments should continue to be made on the basis of outstanding service, which has conferred benefits on the nation, and on that basis only.
Turning to the specific amendment under discussion, I do not think that special representation for agricultural and rural affairs is justified. Many Members of this place have such experience. Indeed, those interests are represented well beyond that which would be justified simply on the basis of agriculture as a share of the economy or employment in this country. That representation may indeed be reduced as a result of the Bill, but there is no reason to suppose that it will be reduced to a level where agricultural and rural affairs will not be adequately represented in the debates and the working of the committees.
In addition, under the Weatherill amendment which has been passed by the Committee, 42 Conservative and 28 Cross-Bench Peers will be elected and will no doubt include a number of people who can speak from great personal experience of agricultural and rural interests. What is more, the grant of special rights for one interest would be bound to lead to a request for special rights for others, which would not be appropriate, certainly not in a transitional House. We on these Benches are therefore unable to support the amendment.
§ Baroness Strange
I support my noble kinsman Lord Stanley of Alderley. Although my words may seem irrelevant, they are not. I wish to talk about the practicality of farming. Some time ago I attended a reception at the Russian Embassy. One of the Russians said in conversation: "Of course, you are a Peer, and I am a peasant ". I said,"That is very interesting. Have you picked blackcurrants and redcurrants, raspberries and strawberries? ". He replied that he had not. I said: "Have you picked potatoes, or planted potatoes, carrying a sack round your waist and putting them down one by one as you go along the drill? ". His answer was no. I said: "Have you milked a cow by hand? ". Again, his answer was no. I said: "Have you ploughed, using a horse? ". He said that he had not. I said: "I have done all those things, so I reckon I am just as good a person as you are ".
§ Lord Milverton
I support my noble friend Lord Stanley of Alderley. I appreciate the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, but my noble friend made some good points which need to be taken into account. Although I have been a minister all my life, I started out in Kenya studying agriculture and practising there for a time. Therefore, I have an interest in agriculture. I have also spent most of my ministry not in a large town or city but in more rural areas. There may be many representatives in this House on agricultural or rural matters. Even so, there could be a danger that those matters are not properly defended, as it were, or looked after.
§ 4 p.m.
§ Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish
My noble friend Lord Stanley of Alderley has given the Committee an opportunity to have a brief discussion on what the 1304 House may look like after reform and the important aspect of the rural community, agriculture, fishing and so on. There is absolutely no doubt that your Lordships' House has a range of people very expert on rural matters, obvious examples being farming and forestry. My noble friend the Duke of Buccleuch springs to mind as someone with an unparalleled knowledge of forestry. Although he may not attend often, when he speaks on forestry matters your Lordships listen, quite correctly, attentively.
My noble friend's amendment simply asks for an indication from the Government that when Peers are appointed in future the rural interest may be taken into account and that the balance of new creations is such that the important role that rural communities play in our lives is represented in your Lordships' House. The simple fact of the matter is that the other place is a lot less knowledgeable and representative of countryside matters than it was, for example, when I joined it in 1979.
One takes the example of beef on the bone. The other place voted overwhelmingly to ban it and this House voted overwhelmingly to retain it. From press reports, the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly are about to vote fairly overwhelmingly to lift the ban. That is an issue which my noble friend Lord Stanley teased out a week or two ago when it was discovered that the Government had made an about-turn from the position explained by the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, during Committee stage on the Welsh Bill.
The countryside rally held some time ago showed that there were real fears in the countryside that people's interests were being overwhelmed not just by urban interests but by urban interests pretending to be countryside interests. If one looks at the 56 Labour life Peers appointed since the general election and checks their addresses in Dod's and Who's Who, even if one throws in the geographical designations of their peerage one finds only about three with strongly stated rural connections. That may not be a very scientific way of doing it; I may have missed a holiday cottage or two, but it is significant and not very reassuring.
One is also aware—the noble Baroness the Leader of the House was also involved in this in part—that the three main accusations made against hereditary Members in your Lordships' House are: first, that too many of them are Conservatives. In my view, that just shows good sense. Secondly, it is said that too many of them went to Oxford or Cambridge. I find that a bit odd. I have just checked and discovered that the three people who lead for the Government in your Lordships' House went to Oxford or Cambridge. I did not. I thought that it had something to do with British vintage motorcars, but there you are. The Prime Minister also went to one of those universities. Therefore, to have attended Oxford or Cambridge cannot be too great a crime, although I understand that for too many of my noble friends who are hereditary Peers it is considered in that light. One can almost say that too many of the senior members of the Government went to Oxford or Cambridge, but a good number attended Scottish universities.
1305 The third accusation is that too many hereditary Peers are farmers and landowners. I do not believe that someone is any the worse for being a farmer or landowner. In its evidence to the Royal Commission the Labour Party said that the House of Lords should be fully representative of the different interests of the country. One wonders whether three new life Peers out of 56 can be considered to be fully representative of rural communities. I hope that the Committee will receive a constructive reply from the Government on this issue so that those who come from rural areas, and those of us who would rather live their than in cities, will feel that in the House of Lords to come rural interests will be properly represented.
§ Lord Desai
Before the noble Lord sits down, does he agree that three out of 56 is about 6 per cent, which is more than the proportion of the labour force engaged in agriculture?
§ Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish
But it is a good deal less than the total land area of the United Kingdom.
§ Baroness Jay of Paddington
I believe that the point is related to land ownership.
Before I respond to the important points which the noble Lord, Lord Stanley, raises in his amendment I should like briefly to reply to the matters touched on by the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, about the way that the Government have attempted to respond to earlier amendments and intend to speak to them. I draw the Committee's attention to the fact that, in my estimation and that of most people who judge the appearance and substance of these proceedings, five government Ministers have tried to respond in detail and with great concern and care to a number of issues which, in some cases, are somewhat repetitive. I suggest to the noble Earl that simply because he does not necessarily like what is said in reply to the amendments does not mean that those points have received an inappropriate response.
I turn to the amendment moved by the noble Lord. Lord Stanley of Alderley. As the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, said, this is the first of a number of amendments that deals with the future size and type of membership of the House and the possibility of an appointments commission. I recognise that individual noble Lords wish to speak to their particular amendments, and they should do so. Those amendments deal with specific points to which we shall respond thoroughly as they we raised.
But it may assist the Committee if at this stage I respond fully to the Government's overall attitude to the amendments that deal with a public appointments commission. I recognise that these amendments are intended to be helpful to the workings of the transitional House and to clarify certain mechanisms that may be involved in that. However, the Government are not sympathetic to the principle which lies behind the amendments. We believe that the individual proposals are either somewhat technically flawed or raise more questions than they answer.
1306 Addressing first the underlying principle, I am sure that the Committee does not need to be reminded—as on Tuesday night, I shall not now invoke the manifesto—that the Government intend the Bill to be a self-contained statute to end the automatic right of hereditary Peers to sit and vote in this House. This Bill is not about life Peers or life peerages; nor does it intend to prescribe the regulation of the transitional House. This is precisely because the Government are resolute in their determination that the transitional House should be just that; that is, a temporary institution. If, for example, the Royal Commission made proposals—the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, referred to this—to include nominated Members of the second Chamber that would be the time to consider legislation to achieve the appropriate systems for nominating those Members. I respectfully suggest to the noble Lord, Lord Stanley, that that would be the time to discuss the functions and future role of the second Chamber.
Perhaps I can most clearly express the position of the Government on the appointments commission and its possible place in this particular Bill by turning the question round. I ask the Committee to consider the reaction if the Government had themselves proposed a statutory prescription for selecting Members of the interim Chamber in this Bill. I can well imagine the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, asserting vigorously that that was a clear signal that the Government intended the transitional arrangements to be permanent. The question raised by any noble Lord would be: why go to the trouble of establishing an appointments commission or quotas of different types of Peers in primary legislation for a short-term arrangement? It must mean that the whole arrangement is designed to last for years.
I understand that many of the amendments related to the appointments commission are concerned with the underlying issue. We are engaged in building confidence about the intentions of the Government in this area. I say again that our intentions are as soon as we can to take the action set out in the White Paper on the interim House and to move to the second stage of long-term reform as soon as we can. Everyone who has spoken from the Front Bench on this side of the House in the many debates on this subject, notably my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor in Tuesday's debate on Amendment No.31, has underlined those long-term intentions. Of course, I am happy to do so again.
In the short term, in relation to the transitional House, I hope that I can persuade your Lordships that our plans meet, or in some instances exceed, many of the proposals and suggestions incorporated in some of the amendments which are to be discussed this afternoon.
I turn to Amendment No.71, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley. We have had a brief discussion this afternoon, but we have had several debates on this general point before. This amendment reflects the genuine concern felt by some noble Lords about the representation of agricultural and rural interests in your Lordships' House, particularly once the hereditary Peers have left.
1307 Certainly, the agricultural sector contains a formidable lobby among the hereditary peerage. I shall not hesitate to underline what the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, said when talking about the unrepresentative nature of the total peerage. We have recognised that that background must extend beyond the ancient titles which, in your Lordships' House, were always based in land, to the representation of more recent interests.
I have no difficulty in reasserting that the Government think that that is one many unrepresentative aspects of the present House and that the balance of the House will be changed—in our view for the better—in terms of being more balanced once the hereditary Peers leave.
Specific interests need to be properly reflected and articulated. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, said, that is something that I am sure we can leave, with confidence, to the life Peers.
To say that we do not think that there should be a specific or particular representation of agricultural and rural interests is not the same as saying that we think that those interests should not be represented at all. Of course, we believe that they should be represented, but that representation must be commensurate with the importance of those interests in the national economy. My noble friend Lord Desai made that point succinctly in his intervention.
There are a number of important industries whose value and importance to the economy and the general nature of our community must be protected in some way, but none should be uniquely protected. There are many ways of life which are of importance to us all and to everyone who benefits from those different ways of life. The countryside is important to us all, but a vast range of interests is involved in that, and agricultural interests and rural interests are not necessarily the same. I sometimes wonder whether the great attention given to this subject by noble Lords opposite, and other members of the hereditary peerage who purport to represent agricultural interests in general, is concerned more with agricultural land ownership than anything broader.
The key point is that the membership of the House should be "balanced ". The Government's intention is that it should be more balanced once the hereditary Peers leave. We shall make every effort to bring that about and in the future we intend to maintain that broad representation of interests, but not to the particular protection of any one group.
If the noble Lord intends to press his amendment, I hope that the Committee will not support it.
§ 4.15 p.m.
Perhaps I can seek clarification from the noble Baroness. She has spoken generally of the Government's attitude to the appointments commission. A sizeable group of amendments, starting with Amendment No.75, deals with the general desirability of the appointments commission. Am I right in understanding that those of us who are interested in the appointments commission should speak at that stage 1308 about our views on that commission, despite the fact that the noble Baroness has expressed the Government's position at this stage?
§ Baroness Jay of Paddington
I was responding to the particular point made by the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, that insufficient attention was paid to the amendments which had been addressed before. Therefore, I was giving a brief "preview " of the Government's position, which I shall hope to develop substantively when we come to the group of amendments to which the noble Viscount refers.
§ Lord Stanley of Alderley
I thank the noble Baroness for that reply. As she went on, the noble Baroness became considerably more helpful than when she started to speak. I thought that she was far from helpful when she said, among other things, that this is a self-contained Bill and that we should not think any further than that.
I was interested in an exchange that occurred when we were last in Committee on this Bill between my noble friend Lord Ferrers and the noble Lord, Lord Richard. My noble friend Lord Ferrers said, words to the effect, that one cannot say that getting rid of the present Chamber would not have an effect. The noble Lord, Lord Richard, replied in the same column:Of course I know that it "—that means "they "—has an effect ". —[0fficial Report, 29/4/99; col.461]I would like the noble Baroness to accept, like the noble Lord, Lord Richard. that in getting rid of the present Chamber and changing the whole pattern, in future agricultural and rural affairs will be represented. I do not disagree with her that we have too high a proportion of agriculturists in the Chamber, as I believe that we do compared with the House of Commons. I simply ask that in future agricultural and rural affairs are represented. That point was made clearly, as usual, by my noble friend Lord Mackay. It is important because, as I said in my opening speech, we feel, rightly or wrongly, that we have been neglected and that is one of the many reasons for so many demonstrations.
I am sorry that the noble Baroness found it more interesting to talk and laugh with her neighbour than to listen to my noble friend Lady Carnegy. In mitigation, I must admit that I too often do that when I get bored with what is happening in the Chamber. However, it emphasises the technical and cultural differences between those from the countryside and our politicians. We are very short of agricultural politicians who have a knowledge of what is happening in the countryside.
I agree with the fact—raised by the noble Baroness—that many who think that they represent us, however, do not live in the countryside, and do not really understand what is happening. That has a lot to do with the problems that we face at the moment.
My noble friend Lord Caithness also pointed out that there is, sadly, a big difference. The difference is growing wider and wider, as I get older and older. I realise how old I am getting and that is one of the reasons why I must leave the House soon. I am sure that 1309 the noble Baroness will be pleased about that. That will keep her smiling for a little longer. There is a big difference between the way in which we in the countryside think and the way in which Parliament thinks, and I regret that.
Of course, at this stage, I shall withdraw the amendment. I listened to the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, but I am not sure that I agree with him. I am not sure why he is so confident that agricultural and rural interests will be represented in a future House. I can see no reason why they should be. Meanwhile I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ The Earl of Caithness moved Amendment No.72:
§ After Clause 2, insert the following new clause—
§ RELIGIOUS REPRESENTATION
(".—(I) There shall be an Appointments Commission.
§ The noble Earl said: With this amendment, I hope that I am pushing at a slightly more open door. On page 28 of its submission to the Royal Commission, the Labour Party states that it believes that it is desirable to extend representation in this House to the other religions and faiths, than the Church of England, that take their place in British society. This amendment seeks to do that. It does not mention numbers—that is for the appointments commission—but it is merely concerned with the principle.
§ The 26 Lords Spiritual have played an important role in this Chamber but, with respect to them, as they are all from the Church of England, they do not, indeed they cannot, represent the spiritual needs of Britain. In 1995 the Anglican community was estimated at some 26 million. Only about 3 per cent of them were regular attendees in Church—that being some 854,000. The Catholic community was smaller at 5.7 million, but about 23 per cent of those attended regularly, giving an attendance of over 1.3 million, considerably more than the Church of England. However, they have no bishops here to represent them.
§ Thankfully, the Catholic Church has well defined principles on many controversial issues that face us and we, in this Chamber, are the poorer for not having the benefit of their views on issues such as abortion. But within the Trinitarian Churches many others, such as the Scots, Methodists and Baptists have substantial numbers of regular attenders. They, too, should be eligible to be appointed here. We must not overlook the non-Trinitarian Churches whose religious communities totalled over 4 million in 1995. There must be opportunities for them.
§ As we approach tile millennium, there is a clear and increasing need for a more comprehensive spiritual input into our lives. For many of us it is vitally 1310 important already, and we could all do worse than to step back from the hurly-burly of modern day living and listen to and act upon the advice of our religious leaders.
§ I appreciate that the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Stanley and myself would mean that fewer than the 24 bishops of the Church of England would be able to attend, but no offence is meant to them. Indeed, I am sure that they would be among the first to agree the need to widen the representation and ability to put forward different views from the Spiritual Benches to enable us to enhance our discussions and probably improve our legislation. I beg to move.
§ Lord Stanley of Alderley
Noble Lords may well ask why I am breaking my own rule by participating in matters that are not agricultural, of which I have personal experience. My answer is that it is extremely difficult to be closely involved in farming without realising that something other than money makes it tick—even though most people think that that is the only issue that farmers think about.
Moreover, as we discuss the tiresomeness of our hereditary genes, I cannot but be reminded that my family fully appreciated the importance and practices of differing religions. Over the past two or three generations, members of my family have included an Anglican bishop, a Roman Catholic bishop, an outspoken Dean of Westminster, a Jewess. the first Peer to become a Moslem, and an agnostic or two or three—I look at my noble kinsmen on the Liberal Democrat Benches, most of whom I believe are agnostic.
I declare my interest. I try to be a practising Anglican although I admit to resigning as a churchwarden through a slight disagreement with a former Bishop of Oxford. The unfortunate noble Lord, Lord Runcie, who was my rural dean at the time, had to act as mediator. I fear that he did not succeed particularly well, but that was not his fault. I fear that I would have similar difficulties and problems with the present right reverend prelate the Bishop of Oxford; but that is neither here nor there. I am fortunate in having an extremely good rector in the church in Wales.
I have been brought up to realise the importance of a religious belief. That importance should not relate just to church services, far from it. I do not find most of the church services in the Anglican Church thought provoking, devout or indeed inspiring, which I much regret. Religious belief should be part and parcel of our day-to-day life, and in this case our political life, hence the amendment.
As my noble friend pointed out, the amendment ensures that that need is met and that religious leaders will have a right to a place in any reformed House. I accept that that would inevitably mean less Church of England representation, but with devolvement in Wales and Scotland I should have thought it right, in order to prevent further break-up of the United Kingdom, that the Churches of Wales and of Scotland should have representation.
Britain's cultural society is based on Christian principles. Therefore, those religious Members should be predominantly Christian, although, as I pointed out, 1311 I am not banning the Moslem faith. I believe that other faiths should be represented, in particular the Jewish faith on which our own Christian faith was based.
The amendment is widely drafted to give the Government an opportunity to express any view they may have, including the view held by some of my noble kinsmen on the Liberal Benches, which is agnostic.
§ Lord Walton of Detchant
I have considerable sympathy with the amendment. However, the Bill is concerned with the interim House. This issue relates more to the work of the Royal Commission.
I speak as a member of the Methodist Church. We regret the passing of Lord Soper, but are delighted that the noble Baroness, Lady Richardson, is now among our membership. I understand that so far as concerns the Roman Catholic Church, my friend—I speak as a supporter, as is he, of Newcastle United—Cardinal Hume would have been a Member of this House had it been possible for him to be admitted as a Bishop of Rome and not as an individual. I understand that the Roman Catholic Church would not allow the nomination of any of its bishops or cardinals to a political chamber but would have accepted their nomination as a Bishop of Rome.
I trust that the Royal Commission will bear that matter very much in mind. I urge strongly that this issue is considered by the Royal Commission, rather than debated in this Bill.
§ Lord Dormand of Easington
Subsection (3) of the new clause includes the phrase,persons representing religions other than the Church of England ".There is obvious justice in that proposal. However, do the two noble Lords who tabled the amendment agree that the subsection should also include persons of no religious conviction? From a number of surveys over recent years, it appears that most people in this country have no religious belief. If judged by church attendance, the answer to that question would be clear. I was interested in the figures given by the noble Earl, Lord Caithness. They seem in part at least to support the case which I now make.
Some noble Lords may not be aware that there is a parliamentary humanist group. It has no fewer than 53 members of all parties and from both Houses. That gives some indication of the state of religious belief in the country as a whole.
I am opposed to the new clause. But if such a change were to be made, Parliament should recognise the reality of the situation in the country, and not limit the provision to that proposed in the new clause.
The noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, quoted the Labour Party manifesto. The most important point he cited was that all sections of society should be included. That is the point I am making.
§ Lord Goodhart
I have a good deal of sympathy with the principles underlying the amendment. The argument for this amendment is markedly stronger than for the previous one. Unlike agricultural and rural affairs, it 1312 cannot be said that faiths other than Christianity, or Churches other than the Church of England, are over-represented in your Lordships' House. A number of individuals are members of Churches other than the Church of England and others are members of other faiths, but few of them have the standing to speak on behalf of their Churches or faiths that the bishops have. Nevertheless, for the reasons I expressed in response to the previous amendment, and for the reasons put extremely clearly on this amendment by the noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant, it seems inappropriate that any group of persons should be selected in a representative capacity for membership of a transitional House by the appointments commission. Therefore, with regret, we are unable to support the amendment.
§ Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish
My noble friend Lord Caithness has introduced an interesting amendment, and one which chimes—as it is a debate about religion that seems the correct word—with paragraphs 21 and 22 of what I think is the White Paper. It is a little confusing as to whether such documents are White Papers because although the pages are white, the covers are no longer white. I refer to the document, Modernising Parliament, Reforming the House of Lords which was published by the Government. Paragraphs 21 and 22 address this issue. Paragraph 22 states:The Government also recognises the importance of the House of Lords reflecting more accurately the multicultural nature of modern British society in which there are citizens of many faiths, and of none. We shall be looking for ways of increasing the representation in the Lords of other religious traditions. In particular, there is a case for examining the position of the Church of Scotland which is an established church but has never had representation as of right in the second chamber ".I also understand that when the Church of Scotland was offered the possibility of seats in your Lordships' House, the problem rapidly arose that the "head "—he is not, of course—the chief minister, the Moderator, holds office for only one year. Therefore, there was some difficulty in identifying who might represent the Church of Scotland in your Lordships' House. I understand that the same problem arose when a bishop or archbishop in the Roman Catholic Church was offered a peerage. On advice from the Vatican, he was unable to accept it, which is a great pity.
I say to my noble friend Lord Caithness that the Government in their White Paper have gone some way towards sympathising with the amendment. I am sure that that is what we shall hear from the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, when she replies. I recall, when we voted on whether the Church of England should allow lady priests, turning to the right reverend Primate the Archbishop of York and asking him whether when the Division was called he would like a Presbyterian vote. He indicated that he would. As the Church of Scotland has successfully had women ministers for many years, it seemed only right that I should give him that vote. Indeed, the free churches are rightly represented here by a noble Baroness who is a minister.
It is right that the Government have acknowledged that and I look forward to hearing their comments. The Minister may be interested to hear what the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, which is currently 1313 meeting, has had to say about your Lordships' House. It is being presided over by the Queen's representative, the noble Lord, Lord Hogg of Cumbernauld. Indeed, the Church of Scotland is well represented in this House, although not by the clergy but by many elders of the Church. A noble Lord who has recently taken his place on the Government Front Bench is married to an elder of the Church. So we are represented, if not by the clergy. However, I do not believe that your Lordships are too keen to hear a moral lecture from me—perhaps from some of the other elders, but not from me.
The Church of Scotland, in its supplementary report on church and nations, published this week, said this about your Lordships' House:Indeed, given the role the House of Lords has usefully played so far in revising, or 'mopping up', the actions and mistakes of the House of Commons, it could be said that it would be better to delay decisions on reform of the House of Lords until one can see more clearly the various corrective roles a reformed chamber may be able to play with regard to various parts of government ".Before the noble Baroness the Leader of the House tells me that I am slightly out of order, perhaps I may say that, surely, people with such judgments thoroughly deserve a seat in your Lordships' House.
The report goes on to say that the committee wishes to argue for a strong second Chamber doing a worthwhile job. I believe that in that the position of the Bishops has been important. The Bishops have not always agreed with me; the right reverend Prelates the Bishops of Oxford and Ripon in particular proved troublesome for me when I was a Minister in the Department of Social Security. I recall one day going into the Division Lobby on some other issue and seeing a Bishop—neither of those—I looked at him and said, "I have an awful feeling that one of us must be in the wrong Lobby ". He assured me that we were both in the correct Lobby on that issue.
I believe that the Bishops have played a very important role. The noble Lord, Lord Jakobovits, who sits on the Cross Benches, has made some very interesting speeches on moral issues. Even if one did not agree with them, one had to agree that they were made powerfully and on a well-argued case that should be heard. My noble friend the Duke of Norfolk performs a service as a kind of unpaid Whip for the Roman Catholic Members of your Lordships' House. The noble Lord, Lord Alli, who was recently in his place, gave us an indication of the attitude of the Moslem faith to issues such as the age of consent.
All of us can agree: that such contributions strengthen your Lordships' House. Therefore, it is important that my noble friend's amendment will allow the Government, in the person of the Leader of the House, to underline their commitments made in the White Paper to ensure not only that other parts of the Christian Churches in the UK are represented here, but other faiths which play a significant part in life in many areas of our country and—I say to the noble Lord, Lord Dormand—those of no faith at all. It is important that your Lordships' House in future represents a broad cross-section of the British people. That includes the religious persuasions of that broad cross-section.
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ Lord Annan
Perhaps the noble Baroness could help me and some of my noble friends on these Benches who follow the line taken by the noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant. This whole issue about appointments committees will be discussed by the Royal Commission and we are going over the ground that we shall go over after the commission has reported. This is a fine way of wasting time and I ask the noble Baroness to express her own feelings on the issue, although I do not wish her to take a lead.
§ Baroness Jay of Paddington
I shall reply first to the noble Lord, Lord Annan. As I cannot always get the line of sight over my right shoulder, I am not sure whether he was in the Chamber when we discussed the previous amendment. I then made it clear that the Government believe that much of the substance of the points being made is legitimately in the domain of the Royal Commission, and I emphasised that in response to the previous amendment.
However, noble Lords have raised particular issues and, as I said in reply to the noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley, and the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, the Government believe it is appropriate to make full replies to those points. I agree with the noble Lord. Lord Annan, that underlying some of the points is a discussion that it would be more relevant to have in the future. I am happy to agree on that and I shall make the point again in my remarks.
I hope that the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, will be encouraged to hear me say that the Government entirely sympathise with the principles lying behind the amendment. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, for reading out the appropriate extract from the Government's White Paper. I am only sorry that he did not appreciate or recognise the reproduction of the "racing colours " of the House of Lords on the front cover because that was designed to be attractive to your Lordships. Obviously. it has failed in that.
Turning to the role of the right reverend Prelates, their representation ex officio clearly has its roots deep in the country's history. Those roots have as much to do with economics and politics in the past as religion. But, clearly, religion and the religious aspects of their representation have become much more prominent in recent years. However, the Government sympathise with the concerns of noble Lords who have spoken to introduce the amendment that the Bishops' Bench probably no longer adequately reflects religious feeling in this country. It is perhaps surprising that no right reverend Prelate has intervened to challenge that, but there has been agreement around the Committee that we have become a multi-faith, multi-cultural society and it is important that that is represented in your Lordships' House. As several noble Lords have said, that need not be through official representation. As has been pointed out, since the legal disabilities were removed. the Roman Catholic Church has been strongly represented by lay members, although its clergy continue to be barred by their own laws from taking an active part in this type of political activity. Similarly, as has been 1315 mentioned, there are a number of distinguished Jewish Members of the House. There are as yet fewer Moslem or Hindu Members, but perhaps that will change in the future.
However, it is difficult to think how one might achieve the understandable desire to have more official representation, at least in the present circumstances. Many denominations rotate their senior officers, sometimes even annually. Others have no central organisation to speak for them, so it might be difficult to identify who was truly representative. Some, by their very tradition and history, find it very hard to accept the kind of formal leadership of that nature that would necessarily be involved in selecting someone to represent them in this House.
As the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, was kind enough to remind us, the Government's White Paper asked the Royal Commission to look at this matter and try to find an appropriate way forward, particularly on this difficult issue of appointing sensible and appropriate representatives. Perhaps I may take it one step further, in the light of the Royal Commission's present deliberations, and refer to the Labour Party's submission to it, not the Government's. The Labour Party's submission, which was published early this week, states:The Labour Party believes that the Royal Commission should explore the options and opportunities for extending representation of the other religions and faiths which take their place in British society. The Labour Party believes that this is desirable as Britain becomes an increasingly multi-cultural and multifaithed society ".I hope that that reassures the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, and the noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley, of the intentions of both the political party and the Government, as represented in the White Paper.
In the meantime, however, I agree with the noble Lords, Lord Annan, Lord Walton of Detchant, and Lord Goodhart, that these matters are appropriately left to the Royal Commission. I do not think that it would be sensible at this stage of the proceedings on the Bill or at this stage of the proceedings of the Royal Commission to—
Has the Leader of the House taken account of the fact that in the White Paper the appointments commission comes in the chapter on the transitional House? Why, then, is it wrong for my noble friends, and later me, to talk about these very important matters on this Bill?
§ Baroness Jay of Paddington
There is absolutely no question but that the transitional House is the subject—and it is the subject of further amendments, which we shall address in a substantive group—of the appointments commission. All that I am saying, as I said in reply to the noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley, in regard to his Amendment No.71—the same arises on this amendment—is that the amendment refers to long-term membership of the House of Lords, as it should be reformed, and therefore that is not necessarily an appropriate matter for this Bill.
1316 I was about to say that we do not feel it sensible to prescribe to the appointments commission, or the Prime Minister under this amendment, what is desirable or workable in terms of the transitional House. But it is important that the noble Earl and the noble Lord have raised these matters of general principle, which I think have been generally accepted in that vein around the Committee.
§ The Earl of Onslow
I must first apologise for being slightly late for this amendment, in which I have some interest when we come to the tangential Amendments Nos.89 and 90. Surely the Government could give this undertaking: "We will make sure in our appointments procedure that these various groups and interests are represented by suitable life Peers ". If that happens, we make the transitional House a better House. Those of us who have doubts whether the House of Lords mark 3 will arrive by Lady Day of next year will be happier if we see that the Prime Minister's power of patronage is—not destroyed or reduced—but much more transparent. That is what those of us who want a representation of interests and groups wish to see: that the Prime Minister's power of patronage shall be transparent.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Baroness Jay of Paddington
That is precisely the matter that the Committee intends to discuss under those amendments which describe various forms of appointments commission, amendments which I hope we shall come to shortly.
The noble Earl was right to mention that he was not here for our earlier discussion on why the Government felt it inappropriate to prescribe these matters in the way that they are prescribed in the amendment. I am sure that we shall return to those general points when we come to the later group.
The Earl of Caithness
I am grateful to all Members of the Committee who have taken part in the debate. I am particularly grateful to the noble Baroness the Leader of the House for dealing with the matter so fully. If nothing else, we have moved a step forward, because what she said was more positive than what appeared in the White Paper or the submission to the Royal Commission. The noble Baroness did not go quite as far as my noble friend Lord Onslow wanted, but I hope that with a little more pushing we might get her to be a little more positive on this at a later stage.
The noble Lords, Lord Annan and Lord Walton, said that they did not like the amendment because it was for phase two. No, this amendment is for phase one. This is a stand-alone Bill. We are thinking about the next House, the successor House; we are not looking two away. Many of us believe that the successor House will last a great deal longer than a short, interim period. As the noble Lords, Lord Annan and Lord Walton, will be aware, in 1968 the House of Lords agreed that the hereditary Peers should go, but nothing has happened since. We might approve this Bill, but it is really up to another place, which has always been the stumbling block to further reform.
1317 Therefore, I am concentrating on the transitional Chamber, in which I should have liked to see a wider representation on the Spiritual Benches. I understand some of the problems about appointments; for example, the transitory nature of some of the senior positions, such as the Moderator of the Church of Scotland. If nothing else, I hope that the amendment has taken the matter a step forward, and I am grateful for so much consensus within the Committee. beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Lord Stanley of Alderley moved Amendment No.73:
After Clause 2, insert the following new clause—
(". The Senior Salaries Review Board shall keep under review the salaries, expenses and allowances paid to members of the House of Lords, having regard in particular to their functions and duties as members of that House.")
§ The noble Lord said: I should like to refer to one point made by the noble Lord, Lord Annan, and raised continually by the noble Baroness the Leader of the House, which is basically that we should not be discussing the future role or the constitution of the House of Lords, but should leave these matters to the Royal Commission, the Government or A. N. Other. With respect, or perhaps, as lawyers would say, with "the greatest respect ", I cannot agree. I believe that before I, or indeed we, depart, it is our job to do everything that we possibly can to ensure that the future House of Lords is as good as or better than the present one and to establish what it is likely to look like. However, in replying to the previous amendment, the noble Baroness was considerably more helpful than earlier, when replying to my Amendment No.71.
§ My reason for tabling this amendment is the statement made in the Government's Explanatory Notes, printed on 17th March, which state in paragraph 27 that the financial effects of the Bill "will be negligible ". The Committee is surely entitled to know what the Government have in mind with regard to the future expenses of the interim Chamber, or whatever it is called, and what Members will be paid. My amendment suggests that if the powers of the House are to be the same as, or similar to, those of the present House, and if, as the Explanatory Notes state, the financial effects of the Bill "will be negligible ", future Members of the interim House should not be paid a salary of any kind whatsoever, but should be reimbursed for their expenses in the same way as noble Lords are today.
§ I must admit that because I live 260 miles from your Lordships' House my expenses are nearly always greater than the amount I may claim. Coffee and tea on the train are neither cheap nor particularly good. I am not complaining about that. Indeed, I am strongly of the opinion, which is very old-fashioned, that once you are paid for doing something, you are always in hock to 1318 whoever pays you. You lose your soul and your independence. We do not want that to happen to members of the interim Chamber.
§ Lord Avebury
Does my noble kinsman not think it a good idea to take a Thermos with him on the train?
§ Lord Stanley of Alderley
I am giving her dinner this evening. My noble kinsman was not here while I was having a go at him about his lack of religion; he is obviously having a go at me now.
Before I am accused of having been put into a position by my forebears of being sufficiently rich to take such a view of not being paid, I assure the Committee—and I am sure my noble kinsman will agree with me—that my forebears squandered my family's wealth on themselves, thus leaving very little indeed for me to similarly indulge myself. I beg to move.
The Earl of Caithness
I wish to seek the Government's views on the existing system of allowances and expenses. Do they consider what prevails now to be fair and equitable? Secondly, do they believe that the current arrangements are sufficient to ensure that individuals are not discouraged from membership for lack of adequate resources?
That is a particularly important question in view of the imminent expected influx of at least 40 new Labour Peers. I remind those who are waiting in the wings that this is an incredibly cheap House to run. The average per capita cost per Member is £37,000 whereas for an MP it is £366,000 and for a Member of the European Parliament, £948,000. So any prospective Peer will not get rich quickly coming here.
I also remind those waiting in the wings that on many occasions our daily attendance equates on an hourly basis to less than the minimum wage. That is even more so if one takes into account the amount of time one spends preparing for debates if one is an active Member.
Paragraphs 53 and 54 of the excellent report of my noble and learned friend Mackay suggests that as most Members of the phase 3 House will sit full time, salaries and allowances should be paid commensurate to those paid to MPs. Do the Government agree with that statement by my noble and learned friend? If they do, do they consider that that transition should happen suddenly, when phase 3 comes in, or should it happen on a gradual basis so that during the time of the interim House allowances and expenses ratchet up to be more in line with those of another place?
§ Lord Elton
For the record, and for the guidance of the Table, will my noble friends confirm that they are speaking also to Amendment No.105 which is grouped with this amendment? I take it that they are and I shall give way if I am wrong.
1319 I wish to put this point which is relevant to what the noble Lord, Lord Annan, and others said earlier. I know it is considered bad manners by Members of the Committee opposite to refer to it but we must countenance the possibility that, in spite of their great commitment and very best intentions, the Government may not be able to replace the House we are creating by this Bill with another. The question of whether or not it is to be a salaried body is, therefore, extremely germane because if it is a salaried body it will be quite different from the House as it is at present and will behave differently. Its Members will increasingly see their attendance and work here as almost their exclusive occupation, as people at the other end of the Corridor consider it to be theirs.
One of the important balancing factors which your Lordships provide in the constitution as it is at present is a large of body of people who attend and pay critical attention to legislation, major issues of policy and detailed matters of drafting based on considerable experience outside this building. They bring in that experience; that is their value. If the principle of my noble friend's amendment is not accepted, that is liable to be lost for ever. It will be a very substantial loss indeed. Therefore, the noble Lord the Chief Whip, who is to reply, should know of our concern that if, in spite of his best intentions, the transitional Chamber is in place for a long time, it should not be unintentionally changed into something quite different.
My noble friend Lord Elton wondered whether his noble friends were speaking to Amendment No.105. Unfortunately, due to the alacrity of my noble friend Lord Caithness in getting his feet, I was unable to suggest that I might speak to my Amendment No.105. Although grouped with Amendment No.73, my amendment is fairly different.
My noble friend Lord Caithness is anxious to see that those who participate here should have their expenses paid properly. We all agree with that. But my amendment states:The salaries and allowances payable to the members of the second chamber of Parliament shall be the same as those payable to members of the House of Lords on the day before this Act comes into force ".The transitional House, the Government have told us, is to be of short duration. My great fear is that once there is an appointed House, its Members will say,"We have been sent to do a job. All the hereditary Peers have gone. We must do the job properly. In order to do the job properly, we must have secretaries and research assistants. The accommodation is impossible and we must have better accommodation ", and the whole thing will escalate out of all proportion. That is wrong.
The whole idea of the amendment is to ask the Government to give an assurance that that will not happen, with those remaining, once the hereditary Peers have gone, in receipt of very considerable expenses and all the extraneous facilities that go with them. We have seen the building on the other side of Bridge Street for Members of the other place. The cost was £250 million. It does not need a great stretch of the imagination to 1320 predict that it will not be long before someone says, "We'll have one of those too, please." I ask the Government to give an assurance that that will not happen.
§ Lord Lyell
It may be worth bearing in mind that I am following in the footsteps of the great Prime Minister Lord Attlee who said that periods of silence from one of his colleagues might be welcome. For various reasons, I was not able to be present for the Second Reading debate. However, looking at this amendment, I believe that it merits scrutiny from the Government and the Minister who is to reply.
I reiterate everything said with great humour by my noble friend Lord Ferrers. But what my noble friend Lord Caithness said made me gasp. When I heard the figures he mentioned and what Members of the European Parliament earn, I wondered whether that was in lira, drachmas or roubles but I am told it was pounds sterling.
I hope that the Government will take on board what my noble friend Lord Ferrers said about the salaries and allowances that are paid today. I am sure that there is enormous misunderstanding outside your Lordships' House, not just about the nature of the Bill but about what Peers "get ". We heard from my noble friend Lord Stanley about his expenses. I am—and the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, may confirm this—one of the more remote Peers. My noble friend Lord Rankeillour may be more remote than I am. I live 70 miles from the nearest airport and 25 miles from the nearest railhead. I am a fairly regular attender and, since the maiden speech of my noble friend Lord Caithness in 1971, I have been attending about as regularly as he has. The calculation of my expenses to attend the House and to get home each week will therefore be of some interest to your Lordships.
One of the benefits of the system we have grown up with is that every single Member of your Lordships' House is placed on an equal footing once he or she comes past Redcoat or the Doorkeeper at the Peers' entrance. These expenses which we are entitled to claim are set out, as the accountant said to me about 30 years ago, so that "Your Lordship does not lose in coming to your Lordships' House." I take with a pinch of whatever refreshment might be necessary what was said by my noble friend Lord Stanley of Alderney. I have to advise him, as those noble Lords who regularly fly on the Anglo-Scottish routes will testify, that we are pretty well fed in the lounges, let alone on the plane.
There is a rather dangerous point here. I believe we should never equate these allowances with earnings. The allowances that Back-Bench Peers are allowed to claim are fairly reasonable; certainly, they are something which could be agreed through the usual channels and fairly quietly. Perhaps the noble Lord the Captain of the Gentlemen-at-Arms can arrange through the usual channels that the Senior Salaries Review Body keeps these expenses permanently in mind on the current basis.
What was said by my noble friend Lord Ferrers is of great relevance. If a newly reformed and modernised second Chamber comes about, some questions may be 1321 asked by the Inland Revenue as to exactly the nature of our duties. That might very well end up being to the detriment of Members of your Lordships' House as it may be constituted in six months' time, in a year's time, or in five or 10 years' time. It could very well provoke some rather difficult questions. I beg the Government to take this amendment on board. Above all, I ask them to consider the main text of what has been argued by my noble friend Lord Ferrers.
§ 5 p.m.
§ Lord Nickson
For six years I was chairman of what is now the Senior Salaries Review Body. We used to call it the Top Salaries Review Body but the word "Top" had a rather unattractive connotation and we persuaded the then administration to change it. I say that I had the honour to hold that post. My predecessor, when handing the job over to me, said that it was the ultimate poisoned chalice. We had some rough times with the previous administration trying to persuade them of the importance of paying our top 2,000 public servants, including the judges, the senior civil servants and the military, a reasonable and acceptable figure.
However, I am not responsible, and I take no credit or any blame, for the expenses paid to your Lordships because during those six years they were not referred to the review body. There were certain great pleasures; for example, seeing the noble Baroness, Lady Symons of Vernham Dean, who is not in her place, who, when she was leading the First Division Association of civil servants, used to come and sit opposite me once or twice a year. That was very congenial.
The two amendments are very different, as was pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Elton. I see no problem—I may be wrong—in the Government referring to the Senior Salaries Review Body, as they have done in the past, the matter of expenses and remuneration of whatever House is in being for comment at any time. A great problem is highlighted by Amendment No.105 standing in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, because it deals with a different matter—the question of permanent salaries.
During my time we had to advise the Government on what we thought should be the appropriate remuneration and expenses of another place. We gave a perfectly excellent report as to how the other place should be remunerated; we took enormous trouble over it. We made comparisons with the Chambers of other Parliaments in Europe and throughout the world. We were rather proud of what we said and the previous administration did lot appear to disagree enormously with it. But what happened? The other place voted themselves an enormous salary increase, greatly in excess of what we had recommended. The increase covered researchers and everything else.
There are two points of principle here. The first is that, whether we are talking about a phrase-two House or a phase-three House after the Royal Commission, I can see no problem in the Government referring the matter to the Senior Salaries Review Body at any stage. That is always open to them. If I may say so with due diffidence, I cannot see a case for including Amendment No.73 on the face of the Bill.
1322 As to Amendment No.105, an important point of principle was made by the noble Lord, Lord Elton. That applies both to the successor body to this House and to what the Royal Commission says, which is a matter of principle. It is a matter of principle which this House needs to debate and on which the Government need to give a view; that is, whether future Members of this House and future Members of the House after the Royal Commission has reported—stage three—should be paid a salary or should merely be recompensed for their expenses in coming here. I do not believe that that matter can be left in the air. The Government, if I may respectfully say so, have to come to a conclusion on the interim House, as is suggested, and the Royal Commission will no doubt give its views in due course as to what any successor body should do.
§ Lord Crickhowell
I was brought promptly yet very briefly to my feet by the remarks of my noble friend Lord Elton who referred with approval to the report of my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern. My noble friend quoted the paragraphs concerning pay and allowances. The first paragraph starts with the following reference:Granted that most members of the reformed chamber are to sit full-time, they should be salaried accordingly ".Neither in the reformed Chamber nor in the interim Chamber must we make the assumption that Members will be full-time. One of the great strengths of this House is the experience that is brought in from outside. It would be a deplorable step if we went down the road of assuming that everyone who came to this House should be full-time. It would be a step backwards.
Incidentally, if there are those in this Chamber who are concerned about remuneration in the future. perhaps they should hang their coat-tails on to the Welsh Assembly where they should not be full-time but are to collect substantial remuneration packages, removal packages and other packages of one kind or another. There will be 60 people sitting in that Chamber doing the job three Ministers used to do when I was Secretary of State. I calculated the other day that I have a back pay claim due for my eight years or so as Secretary of State, together with my two colleagues who served with me, of something over £30 million, perhaps with interest accumulated for the time since.
There is no doubt that my noble friend Lord Ferrers is right; there is a grave danger that the costs will escalate in future. I suggest that reasonable remuneration and expenses should be paid. I believe that they will need to be paid if we are to attract the sort of Members (from all sides of the House) that we need. I would press for a reasonable remuneration. We need to have a balance. We do not necessarily want to assume that it will be a full-time House, either in the interim or the long term. We want to try to contain some of the vast escalation of costs that seems to be taking place in other deliberative assemblies.
§ The Earl of Onslow
I was interested to note that when my noble friend Lord Crickhowell made that 1323 rather good joke about his back pay, the noble Lord, Lord Carter, was laughing. The rest of the Front Bench opposite were not. That amused me somewhat.
My point is apposite to the Liberals more than anything else. People paid vast sums of money to become Liberal Peers. Unfortunately for them, they then became Tories. That is one of the reasons why the Liberals are so bored by having so few representative Peers. Having said that, there may be a serious point here. People are desperate to become Members of your Lordships' House. As my noble friend Lord Cranborne said, when he was Lord Privy Seal there were people queuing up outside his office, banging on the door, longing for ermine and coronets. As people are so keen to become Members, I thought Mr. Adam Smith said that we do not have to pay them very much; they are paying anyway in some form or another. I apologise. I shall take that back completely. I did not mean it. However, it has happened in the past. The Government do not need to pay people any more. Above all, to be serious, we do not want a professional House. We want a House of interests, with Members who can come and go when necessary. The moment we start paying it to become a clone of another place, it will be disastrous.
I hope that with the combination of amateur in its best sense and the yearning to adorn these leather Benches, the Government's cash limits are quite happily contained without having to pay people large chunks of money to come and sit here.
§ Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede
I endorse many of the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, about having a proper sense of balance in Peers' expenses. I cannot help noticing that the Chamber is much more full for this debate than it was for the previous debate about religious representation in this House.
When I was a local councillor in Wandsworth, the mantra repeated among my colleagues was that the expenses for local councillors should not act as a disincentive to being a local councillor. In those days, the early 1990s, as a local borough councillor I received a few hundred pounds per year. I understand now that my successor receives around £7, 500 as a back-bench local councillor. There has been a huge change in the effective level of pay of local councillors.
I am one of those noble Lords who juggles part-time jobs with trying to support a small family. I am under constant domestic pressure to go out and get a proper job. However, I try to hang on here as much as I can because I believe it is an important place to be and I try to make a contribution. Peers such as myself should not be barred from taking an active part in this House because of the cost of not having proper jobs. I believe that should be reflected in the expenses system of this House.
§ Lord Swinfen
I rise to support Amendment No.105 tabled by my noble friend Lord Ferrers. However, I believe that it should be amended to allow the position to be reviewed from time to time; otherwise, expenses will stay exactly the same and no one will turn up. 1324 Expenses were first given to Members of this House when it was found that some of the life Peers, when first created, physically could not afford to attend, particularly from far parts of the country.
A large proportion of Members of the other place comprise professional politicians; men with very little experience outside politics. It is extremely valuable that those who are Members of this House now and in the future should earn their living outside the House so that the House can continue to benefit in the future from the vast amount of experience present among its membership today. It is essential that that outside experience is brought to bear on legislation and the business of the country.
§ Lord Jopling
I should like to add a word of what I hope is realism to the discussion on this issue. I do not necessarily disagree with the comments of my noble friends Lord Ferrers and Lord Crickhowell. However, the implication of everything that has been said is that we turn our backs totally on any future component of this House being elected. I believe that it is totally unrealistic to expect people to stand for election to this House in the future on the basis of the expenses which we now receive.
§ 5.15 p.m.
I thank the noble Lord for giving way. Of course, he will understand that this amendment refers only to the interim Chamber, as does the Bill, and not to the successor Chamber, whatever that is.
§ Lord Jopling
I understand that. However, I believe that like it or not whatever we set up with regard to the interim House will have an influence on the future. My noble friends have been implying that they do not, under any circumstances, want salaries to be paid to Members of this House. My point is that once we have elected Members, we are bound to have salaries. It will be impossible in the longer run to have a two-tier system in this House whereby elected Members are paid salaries but appointed Members are not. I am merely trying to make the point that once we have elected Members, we shall have to pay salaries to all Members.
§ The Earl of Northesk
I rise to echo the words of my noble friend Lord Swinfen. I hope that in consideration of this matter the Government will not ignore two words which I believe to be hugely important; that is,"duty " and "amateur ". I hope also that all noble Lords agree that whatever their feelings about the hereditary peerage, these are particular virtues of the whole House which we should strive to maintain, even in the interim House. The question, therefore, is how that can be achieved in the short term. The amendment tabled by the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, may have imperfections so far as the wider issues are concerned, but it does, at least, provide a mechanism to achieve that objective.
There is one other small point I should like to tease out. My noble friend Lord Caithness drew the attention of the Committee to paragraph 27 of the Explanatory Memorandum. That contends that the financial effects 1325 of the Bill will be negligible. The Bill was originally drafted to remove approximately half those noble Lords who regularly attend the House. It seems to me, therefore, that there will be a substantial saving as a result of the enactment of the Bill.
§ Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish
I suppose that this could be described as "the trade unions' half-hour ". It is only appropriate the chief shop steward, the Government Chief Whip, should reply to it. My noble friend Lord Jopling made an important point. This is not just a simple issue; it ties in to a much bigger issue. The salaries or expenses of Members of your Lordships' House in the future will be entirely dependent on the nature of the House. If we come, in stage three, to have an elected House, it will be an elected House in which salaries are paid, which I hope will be commensurate with those paid to Members of the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly, and not the House of Commons. I gather that the computer companies have had a heyday in both of those new organisations in the supply of PCs, desktops and goodness knows what else.
It is obvious that elected Members would, quite naturally, expect to be paid, but they could be paid only if they were full time. We are talking here of the interim Chamber, or perhaps of the Chamber that might be stage three. If one reads the Government's evidence to the Royal Commission, it certainly looks as if matters are pointing in that direction.
If we have that kind of Chamber, which is not dissimilar to the one we have at present but without the hereditary component, it seems to me to be essential that we keep away from salaries. I say that because those noble Lords who come here and who have other jobs outside obviously do not attend anything like all the time. For example, the noble Lord, Lord Haskins, appeared yesterday to make his maiden speech. Despite the best endeavours of a chief shop steward, I have no doubt that he will not be coming here all that often—otherwise, I might consider selling my shares in his companies; that is, if I had any.
Clearly, one of the strengths of your Lordships' House is the fact that there are Members who do not attend all the time. Therefore, one could not possibly give them full-time salaries. My noble friend Lord Nickson, although now retired, was in your Lordships' House when he held the important position of chairman of the Clydesdale Bank. That inevitably meant that his membership of this Chamber would not occupy all the days that the House sits. That is only right. I name my noble friend because he actually took part in this debate. In fact, I could look round the Chamber and pinpoint certain noble Lords, although some of them are not here, who have very demanding jobs outside but who, nevertheless, play a valuable role in the House. That is one of the strengths chat I hope we can actually maintain in the future. I give way to the noble Lord.
§ Lord Marsh
I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. I totally agree with what he is saying; certainly, I do not want a full-time House, nor indeed a totally elected House. We do not know what is going to happen. However, does the noble Lord agree that there 1326 is a serious problem in terms of people who live way outside the metropolitan area? If those people have a job, they cannot leave it to come down here. I suspect that one of the problems of this debate is that we cannot really reach any sort of conclusion until we know what the new House will look like.
§ Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish
The noble Lord is right. Let us take, for example, the Scottish academic institutions. I was going to say that they are not nearly as well represented but, in fact, they are not represented at all in comparison to the triangle of London, Oxford and Cambridge where people can carry on their academic studies and work. I have in mind people like the noble Lord, Lord Desai, who is sitting in the Chamber today, and many others. They play an important part in your Lordships' House. Therefore, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, in that respect. It is important for us to stick to the kind of system that we have at present.
I have a great deal of sympathy with the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Stanley of Alderley, but I do not know whether I feel the same about that tabled in the name of my noble friend Lord Ferrers. I just wonder whether the latter is a case of, "Well, I don't want to see the expenses going up after I've gone; indeed, I don't see why you lot should be paid more than we are ". It is important for us to suggest gently to the Government that they, in turn, suggest gently' to the senior salaries review board that it could perhaps come forward with a report. If I recall correctly, the board took evidence in 1996–97 on the question of your Lordships' position. It was not just a matter of the expenses; indeed, it was also the salaries and pensions of Ministers.
I gave evidence at that time, while working as a government Minister. I did not give much evidence about Ministers' salaries, but I thought it was right to give some evidence about ministerial pension provision, as you would expect a pensions Minister to do. In fact, some of the anomalies have been highlighted by the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Richard, a retiring—if I may use that gentle word—or a retired, Leader of your Lordships' House, received absolutely no pension at all for the time he spent in that position. Perhaps the noble Lord did not really need it because he might have got a pension as a result of having been a European Commissioner. I am sure that such a pension would look after someone pretty well. None the less, he might not have had such a pension. Therefore, having given a few years' service to your Lordships' House and to the Government, it would seem quite unfair that he could be left without a pension just because of the way that the pension rules rest with the ministerial pension fund.
I also gave considerable evidence regarding the role of the Opposition. Those Members concerned worked a great deal in your Lordships' House. My example was my then opposite number, the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis of Heigham. Bluntly, I gave evidence on her behalf and she also gave evidence on mine. It is possible that both of us thought that we might he changing places in the very near future. However, we never admitted that at the time. I trust that I can use the 1327 noble Baroness as an example, despite the fact that I have not given her notice. I do not believe that she will mind.
When we had social security Bills, which were to be dealt with on Tuesdays and Thursdays, the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, had to come down to London on Monday and appear in the House, despite the fact that she had no other business, if she was to collect her attendance allowances, and so on, for that day. She could probably have spent the time much better and much more to my detriment if she had managed to stay at home and work there, fashioning the bullets to fire at me, rather than having to take the train to London and come here. I emphasised to the senior salaries review board that I thought at least some Members of this House could have a dispensation from having to clock in every day because of the important role that they played either on the Liberal Democrat Front Benches, the Opposition Front Benches (the Labour Front Bench as it then was) and, indeed, in certain parts of the Cross Benches.
I do not want to go on at any great length, but there are some serious points that we should address with a view to keeping the remuneration of your Lordships' House clearly focused on the attendance allowance and on expenses. That is the right way to proceed. If we do end up with a House where membership is by appointment, which certainly seems to be the direction that the Government's evidence is taking, it would be sensible not to go down the salaries route for future Members. I believe the amendment of my noble friend Lord Stanley is certainly to be recommended, but I cannot say the same for that of my noble friend Lord Ferrers.
§ Lord Carter
My noble friend Lord Ponsonby made the point that I intended to make; namely, that the Chamber has filled up remarkably since we started to debate this amendment. The noble Lord, Lord Mackay, referred to me as the shop steward on the Government Front Bench. Indeed, having heard the debate, I can see why my noble friend the Leader of the House asked me to deal with the amendment.
The effect of Amendment No.73 would be to require the senior salaries review board to keep under review the salaries, expenses and allowances which are paid to Members of the House of Lords. It would substitute a legal statutory requirement for the present situation where the issues in question are within the board's terms of reference as matters on which it, from time to time, should advise the Prime Minister, but for which there is no statutory requirement.
The amendment deals with the question of remuneration of Members of your Lordships' House. It suggests that such matters should be kept under review, having regard to the functions and duties of the House. That, of course, is unexceptionable. It is, indeed, the present position. Peers' allowances already fall within the remit of the Senior Salaries Review Body, to give it its correct title. Therefore, there is no need to put it on the face of the Bill.
1328 However, we do not think that there should be any change in the status of the review body's remit during the period of the transitional House. The review body is a non-statutory body. It advises the Prime Minister about Peers' allowances on the same basis that it advises on pay, pensions and allowances of Members of the other place and of Ministers. Why should the basis on which it deals with Peers' allowances be changed for what is an explicitly temporary arrangement?
I turn now to a few of the points raised during the debate. A point was made by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, and others, about what will happen if there is no stage three. We have said over and again that we intend there to be a finally reformed House. We have said so endlessly. So there is no need for me to speculate on something not happening which we fully intend to happen. It really is as simple as that. The Royal Commission will make recommendations. These will then be considered by a Joint Committee of Members of both Houses—an important point—and then the Government will take the appropriate action. As I said, there is no need for me to speculate on something not happening which we fully intend to happen. I give way to the noble Lord.
§ Lord Elton
Will the Minister accept a simile? When the Pilgrim Fathers sailed for America they expected to make the journey in about five weeks but, fortunately, they carried stores for about 14 weeks. You cannot count on arriving somewhere where you intend to arrive; indeed, you can only do your best.
§ Lord Carter
That is a statement of process; I am dealing with a statement of policy. The policy of this Government is that there will be a finally reformed Chamber. We are not quite sure what the policy of the Opposition is on this matter. We have made our intentions entirely clear. I do not intend to speculate on something not happening which we know will happen. The noble Lord, Lord Lyell, made a shrewd point when he referred to the difference between allowances and earnings. The Committee will be aware that at the moment allowances are tax free.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Lord Carter
Exactly! The noble Lord, Lord Marsh, made the point indirectly that if we start to put all this on the face of the Bill and start to discuss salaries, that would be inappropriate as regards the transitional Chamber. What we have to consider is the principle of allowances or salaries, which is a matter for the Royal Commission, and the level of allowances, which is a matter for the review body on senior salaries. All Members of the Committee can give evidence to the review body. I shall return to that point.
I believe that the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, laughed when the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, referred to his back pay of £30 million. I laughed because I knew he was joking, but my colleagues on the Front Bench thought he was being serious.
1329 I quote from page 31 of the Labour Party's evidence to the Royal Commission. That will make a change for the Committee from hearing quotes from the Labour Party manifesto. The evidence states:The Labour Party believes that a modern chamber should have modern working conditions and arrangements…The Labour Party believes that the Royal Commission should consider the physical and other conditions necessary for the new body to carry out its work in an efficient manner, having regard to needs such as office accommodation and meeting rooms ".Under the heading "Allowances ", the evidence continues:The Labour Party would welcome an examination of this issue by the Royal Commission, to determine whether current arrangements fairly meet the needs of members. The Royal Commission should consider whether the current arrangements are sufficient to ensure that individuals are not discouraged from membership for lack adequate resources ".The view of the Labour Party on this matter is entirely clear.
The noble Lord, Lord Mackay, commented on the nature of the Chamber and on elected Members. Those are matters to be decided in stage three. They are matters to be decided by the Royal Commission, and not in this Bill. As we have said endlessly, this Bill is not about stage three. The noble Lord was quite correct to say that the evidence was previously taken in 1996–97. I think I am correct in saying that the question of allowances was deferred until either 2000 or 2001. That might be thought appropriate in terms of the transitional Chamber. It looks as if the review body will consider allowances in that timescale. It has considered the salaries of Lords' Ministers a little earlier than that, as we have just discussed.
I shall discuss a point which is slightly tangential to this amendment, but which I think is relevant. It has been implied that once all but 92 of the hereditary Peers have gone, we shall need additional resources to attract people to do the work of the Chamber. We do not believe that that will be the case. We believe that the 500 life Peers who will remain are competent to keep the work of the Chamber going. We have now added to that figure 92 hereditary Peers. Thus we shall have a total Chamber of well over 600 Peers. Life Peers have always been prepared to come forward on this basis in the past and we see no reason why they should not continue to do so in the few years that the transitional Chamber will last.
I now mention what I call a Chief Whip's point. Due to the size of the various groups in this Chamber and the relative strengths of each of the groups, Labour Peers do not comprise more than 30 per cent of the membership of any of the committees of your Lordships' House. I have a list of life Peers who are willing to serve on committees but I cannot accommodate them. Therefore, it is clear that there will be a sufficient: number of life Peers to carry out the work of the committees and the other work of the Chamber.
When the time comes, depending on the outcome of the long-term review, it will obviously be relevant to consider the question of remuneration. That will depend on the composition, role and functions of the reformed second Chamber. There will be decisions to be taken about whether Members of the second Chamber in the 1330 future should continue to receive allowances or should be paid a salary. However, that is a matter for the reformed Chamber. There will be decisions to he taken about the degree of administrative support to which they should have access. We have already made it clear to the Royal Commission that the cost of its recommendations is one of the issues to which it should have regard. However, these are matters to be dealt with once we know what the long-term picture is; they are not matters for the present Bill. The review body already has a role; it should retain that role, but not strengthen it.
I turn to Amendment No.105 in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers. The effect of this amendment would be to fix the salaries and allowances of Members of the House of Lords as they were on the day before the Act came into force. The noble Earl has many good friends in this Chamber and I count my self as one of them. However, if he is really suggesting that all our allowances should be frozen for the foreseeable future, I believe that the number of those friends will considerably diminish! Just as we rejected the idea that there should be a statutory requirement on the review body on senior salaries to review noble Lords' allowances, so obviously we reject the idea that there should be a statutory bar on changing those allowances in the lifetime of the transitional Chamber.
We are not, of course, proposing to make significant changes in the way in which we remunerate life Peers in the transitional Chamber, as I have said already. However, that is not the same as fixing the present allowances in stone. Although under the economic policies of my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, inflation is at historically low levels, it is still with us. The noble Earl's amendment would not even allow for the uprating of allowances in line with inflation. Even at 2.5 per cent a year over four years, that would amount to about a 10 per cent cut in real terms. However, I note that it is more than that because it is a geometric and not an arithmetical progression.
I do not believe—nor do I think the Committee will believe—that it is equitable to fix allowances in this way at this point. As we know, these are, after all, mostly expenses allowances. Leaving room to consider changes in the costs which they are meant to cover seems to us to be only reasonable. I cannot promise of course that any particular level of remuneration will be offered when the allowances come to be reviewed. That is a matter for the review body. I simply make the point that the removal of the hereditary Peers is not a reason for changing the system that we presently have, and is certainly not a reason for removing from it all flexibility.
As I said on the previous amendment. the advisory remit of the Senior Salaries Review Body extends to all Members of both Houses of Parliament. In our view, there is no justification for singling out Peers alone for statutory treatment.
We have had a useful debate. The Committee has expressed its views on this matter extremely clearly. Most of the views that have been expressed did not surprise me. However, when the Committee has 1331 considered the arguments I have produced and the background to these amendments, I hope that the noble Lord will withdraw the amendment.
The Earl of Caithness
The Chief Whip was firm about the Government's commitment to stage three. Can he give us some idea of the time-scale the Government have in mind to back up that commitment? Will the noble Lord answer the questions I asked originally? Does he think that the current allowances and expenses are fair? Further, does he consider them to be a deterrent to any future potential Peers becoming Members of the interim Chamber?
§ Lord Carter
As regards whether they are fair, we can all submit evidence to the review body which will report next year. I believe that most Members of the Committee believe that they are a little on the low side. That point is often made to me. I am sure that all noble Lords will have the opportunity to make their case on expenses and allowances and the way in which they are paid when the review body begins to take evidence next year. As regards whether the allowances are a deterrent to those who may seek to become life Peers, if the contents of my postbag are anything to go by, they are certainly not a deterrent.
As regards the time-scale, I do not have the slightest intention of setting out a timetable from this Dispatch Box. We have set out what we intend to do. We have asked the Royal Commission to report by the end of this year. It is a tight timetable, but the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, has said that he thinks he can meet it, or within a month or two of that date, as he said on the radio yesterday. The Joint Committee will then report and the Government will have an opportunity to respond. We intend to deal with the matter quickly, but I am not saying exactly how long that will take.
§ Lord Stanley of Alderley
I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate. I have certainly enjoyed it. More importantly, some very relevant points arose. Perhaps my noble friend Lord Mackay will understand when I say that I cast out to catch a minnow and somehow caught a shark; some very important points were made.
The noble Lord, Lord Carter, made a point which I could not understand in so far as it seemed to me that the Labour Party comments that were made in that pamphlet differed from the Explanatory Notes. The Explanatory Notes said that the costs would be negligible. I agree with my noble friend Lord Jopling that the costs are bound to go up. I cannot see any way that they will not.
§ Lord Carter
The quotation that I gave was from the Labour Party's evidence to the Royal Commission for stage three. The Explanatory Notes refer to the costs of the Bill, which deals only with the transitional House.
§ Lord Stanley of Alderley
I thank the Minister for clearing up that matter. But, one way or the other, 1332 I agree with my noble friend Lord Jopling that, whether or not they relate to the interim House or the final House, both will cost more.
My noble friend Lord Nickson has not been in the Chamber recently. He must realise that as he has rural interests—and indeed having served not only with me but with my noble friend Lord Ferrers and my noble friend Lord Middleton in the Coldstream Guards—he falls into the category of people that the Leader of the House considers to be over-represented in the Chamber. Perhaps I might quote back to him: he is in great danger of receiving the poisoned chalice that he spoke of.
My noble friend Lord Crickhowell raised an interesting point. However, I disagree with him. It will be impossible to be a backwoods Member of your Lordships' House in the future. I find it difficult enough already to be a backwoodsman; it will be far more difficult in the future. I realise that the noble Lord, Lord Carter, was supporting my noble friend Lord Crickhowell when he said that there would be specialist Peers, but I think he will find it very difficult to appoint them.
My noble kinsman Lord Ponsonby can afford an unpaid job because my great-uncle so stupidly gave property away to his grandfather. He was able to squander that on himself rather than I being allowed to squander it on myself. I would have enjoyed that far more, I am sure, but perhaps it might not have been frightfully good for me.
A serious point was made by my noble friends Lord Elton and Lord Ferrers and the noble Lord, Lord Marsh. I raised the point in Amendment No.71 but I do not think the noble Baroness quite answered it. We badly need an answer as to what the interim House is going to do. The sort of person one wants in the House and, dare I say it, how much the House will cost, depends upon what the House is going to do.
I will leave the amendment now. Perhaps my noble friend Lord Ferrers will come back to the issue in his amendment. I hate to disappoint my noble friend Lord Mackay, but I support my noble friend Lord Ferrers in his amendment and I, too, would keep all the costs the same for ever and ever. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ Lord Stanley of Alderley move Amendment No.74:
§ After Clause 2, insert the following new clause—
§ STYLE OF MEMBERS OF THE HOUSE OF LORDS
(". From the end of the Session of Parliament in which this Act is passed, temporal members of the House of Lords shall he referred to and known as Peers.")
§ The noble Lord said: I hope I am pushing at an open door with the amendment in as much as the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, and the noble Lord, Lord Judd, have both said that in future Members of the House should not be called "Lords ". I do not know whether they said what Members of the House should be called, but they said they should not be called "Lords ". The noble Baroness and the noble Lord spelt out a number 1333 of reasons for that, from modernising the appearance of your Lordships' House, which I agree with, to the avoidance of any one confusing those who stay on as Members of the second Chamber with those such as myself who will retire to the real world outside. They said it would make the job easier for those responsible for the electoral register and we would not be pushed off the list of voters in a general election. I presume that those who stay here will not be able to so vote. It would also prevent citizens asking hereditary Peers about political problems. assuming that they still had some influence—not that we had very much before. Perhaps it should be the other way round and we hereditary Peers should relinquish our titles. I 'certainly would not be unhappy to agree. It would avoid an awful lot of begging which one has to submit to. If the Government wish to do so. I shall not object. Unfortunately, that is not in the Bill. The Government are not showing any signs of accepting any amendments to the Bill, apart from the Weatherill amendment—I shall not be caught out—that do not suit them. I beg to move.
Perhaps I may be permitted to say one or two words. My Amendments Nos.101 and 102 are grouped with this amendment.
My noble friend Lord Stanley said that he was pushing at an open door. No doubt I shall discover that I, too, am pushing at an open door. I have suggested in Amendment No.102 that from the day on which the Act comes into force the Members of the second Chamber of Parliament should be known as "Members of the Appointed Chamber ". The Chamber will be an appointed one and therefore it is appropriate that it should be called the "Appointed Chamber " and not the House of Lords. After all, there will no longer be a mixed and unpredictable membership of your Lordships' House and it will therefore no longer be a House of Lords.
In the olden days people became Peers; and when they were Peers they joined the House; and what did they join? They joined the House of Lords. Now, of course, that is being totally reversed. The hereditary Peers will be removed from the House of Lords and those who are here will be here because they have been appointed. Sometimes when they are appointed, as I understand it—I have not had direct experience of it—people are asked whether they are prepared to attend and whether they are prepared to vote in certain ways; they are told they will have to do this, that and the other; and make little subscriptions here and there. Having gone through all those formalities they are then appointed to the second Chamber. Whereupon they say "Ah! I am a Peer ". That is completely the wrong way round; they are not Peers as such. I know that they are described as Peers now, but the House of Lords will not be a House of Lords; it will be an appointed Chamber. It would therefore be right to refer to it as an appointed Chamber.
I have had the temerity to table a later amendment that the Bill should be changed from being the House of Lords Bill to being the Appointed Chamber Bill. That is a satisfactory amendment which, in this thoroughly democratic era in which we live, I am quite sure that 1334 those on the Government Front Bench, the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, and the Leader of the House, will be willing to accept.
Perhaps I may speak now to Amendment No.102, which also stands in my name. I apologise for cluttering up the Marshalled List, but my amendments are quite modest and quite short. Amendment No.102 states:From the day on which this Act comes into force the members of the Appointed Chamber of Parliament shall be styled as 'Lords of Parliament', with the initials 'LP' appended to their name but without reference to their rank in the peerage ".As they will be Members of the Appointed Chamber—they will not be Earl so and so, Viscount so and so or Duke so and so—and as they will not be Members of the House of Lords, it is rather pointless that they should refer to themselves as "Lords ".
I know that the amendment will have the sympathy of the Government Front Bench, particularly the noble Baroness, Lady Jay. She has great influence in these matters. From her speeches during the course of the Bill it has been obvious that she has a great influence over what goes into it. She pontificated on the subject way back in August of last year. There is an article about her in the Daily Telegraph. I know that normally one cannot believe anything the newspapers say, but one can sometimes, particularly when what is said is in quotations. It was said that Baroness Jay, the new Leader of the House of Lords, wants life Peers—life Peers, not hereditary Peers; the noble Lords behind the Front Bench are in for it too—to be stripped of their aristocratic titles. Presumably that is because they are not aristocrats, I do not know. She wants them to be called "MLs ", Members of the Lords. There is not a lot of difference between Members of the Lords and a Lord of Parliament, as I have suggested. In an interview with the Daily Telegraph, the noble Baroness said that she was keen to remove the elitism of the names used in the upper Chamber. She said:I'm not sure that I wouldn't like to move to a situation where you had ML after your name, Member of the Lords, rather than [being called] Baroness Jay of Paddington ".A great sign of humility on which I congratulate her. She said:The proposal would mean that the only people able to call themselves Lord or Lady would be hereditary peers—so we are being looked after by the noble Baroness—who under the Government's plans for reform would no longer be entitled to vote in the Upper Chamber ".She goes around as if in Boadicea's chariot, knocking people off left and right. Those who stay are all right, but they must not be called "Peers." Those who are thrown out can be called "Peers ".
The noble Baroness added that she would be happy to be known as Margaret Jay ML:I wouldn't mind not having the title—although some of my colleagues might think it terribly sad to get rid of them ".I reckon she could say that again. The article continued:She said it was important to create a way of differentiating between peers who were born with their titles and those who won a seat in the Lords on merit ".Now we are differentiating. I thought we had been told earlier that we must consider the House as one where all people are Peers, whether hereditary or life Peers. 1335 But no, the noble Baroness wants to differentiate. I think that is a remarkable comment to make. I can quite understand her saying she would be quite happy to be called "the right honourable Margaret Jay LP." I can quite see the noble Baroness, Lady Crawley, being happy to be called "Miss Crawley LP."
§ Baroness Crawley
I am grateful to the noble Earl for giving way. Under his amendment the initials might be "LP" after the name, "Lord of Parliament ". Would the noble Earl mind being mistaken for a member of the Labour Party?
In that case "LP" would not stand for "Labour Party." I have been mistaken for many things but never for being a member of the Labour Party. But one never knows what will come next.
Perhaps my noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish is having a cup of tea. I am sure that he would not mind being called "the right honourable John Mackay LP." What about the noble Lord, Lord Steel? He was quite happy to come here as "Lord Steel "; he has climbed up the Christmas tree and now finds himself Speaker of the Scottish Parliament. He says that he wants to be called "Sir David Steel ", another act of humility. Perhaps he prefers not to be identified too much with such a retrograde place as the House of Lords. It was said the other day that when he returns here doubtless as a Speaker he will have to sit on the Cross Benches. That is interesting. What would he be called? Would he be called "Lord Steel? " It is a bit of a rum do if he is "Lord Steel " when he is here and "Sir David Steel " when he is up in Scotland. I am sure he would not mind being called "Sir David Steel LP ".
We come to the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn. Empathising with this proposal will cause him no difficulty because quite a left-wing heart beats under that glorious right-wing exterior. I am sure he would be happy to be called "the Right Honourable Gareth Williams LP ".
My noble friend Lord Stanley said that he was pushing at an open door. So am I. Perhaps the Committee wishes to consider this fascinating subject which the noble Baroness happened to start, inadvertently, in a newspaper article.
§ Lord Goodhart
Before the noble Earl sits down, if Amendment No.101 is accepted we would become MACs, and we would surely quickly be known as "Big MACs ".
§ The Earl of Onslow
I wish to speak strongly against the amendment. I do so because it would spoil my life if the noble Baroness ceased to be "Lady Jay." She has grandeur and aristocracy; she looks every bit in the mode of an 18th century duchess. She inherited it from a long line of distinguished Labour Peers, so she is, if nothing else, a hereditary Peeress manquée who, bless her cotton socks, will stay through stages one, two and probably three as well. We cannot possibly not call her "Lady Jay ".
§ Lady Saltoun of Abernethy
I wish to go further than the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers. I should like the 1336 reformed House to be called "the Senate " and its Members to be "John Smith MS." I do not like the idea of Members of the House being called "Lords of Parliament " and I shall tell the Committee why. The noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, will not yet have had time to read what I sent him. He says he has. It concerned the old Scots peerage and why the lowest rank in the Scots peerage is not baron but lord of parliament. That will lead to great confusion because there are those of us who sit in this House and who are about to be kicked out who are of the lowest rank of the Scots peerage, like myself and noble Lords who are not in their place such as the noble Lords, Lord Forbes, Lord Gray and many others. I am looking round for one or two of them but I am sorry I cannot see them.
This will lead to considerable confusion because we are lords of parliament; we are lords of the old Scots Parliament. If future Members of this reformed House are to be called "Lords of Parliament ", goodness me, the mind boggles, it will be very confusing.
I go further. If I read the paper correctly, I thought that the noble Baroness the Leader of the House said some months ago that she would like the reformed House to be the senate. She shakes her head; perhaps I am mistaken. I cannot go along with the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, for those reasons.
§ Lord Annan
To cut through the badinage on this amendment, the noble Earl will be surprised to know that I am in sympathy with it, except that it seems muddled. The first amendment he proposes is that this be an appointed House. Then we are to be called "Lords of Parliament." I agree entirely that we cannot change the name of this place into "Senate." It would lead to infinite confusion and the pretension that we are in some way comparable to the United States Senate. We are and have been for centuries the House of Lords. But there is a difference, once the hereditary Peers go, between ourselves and the hereditary peerage. I honour the hereditary peerage, I have no wish to see the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, called "Citoven Cecil ". I want him to keep his title, and I want the noble Earl to remain an Earl and someone whom I respect and honour.
However, I do not want to have pretensions to those titles. I have never earned them and never had, in any sense, pretensions to the noble lineage which I see opposite. The whole business of calling people "Lords " when they come here reinforces the snobbery endemic in our society. That is why the noble Earl so cleverly put what we ought to be called, "LP", "Lord of Parliament".
There is one reason why that is not a good title. When I said to my daughter that it was the kind of name I wished to be called, she said: "You do know what `LP' stands for: long-playing record ". By George, we have had some good examples of that today.
I do not know that I shall be able to go into the Lobby with the noble Earl, but he is right that in a reformed House we should not try to ape a splendid body of people who, as we know, have given great service to the nation but are no longer to be Members of this place. We should content ourselves with being called "Lords of Parliament" and de-erminise this House.
§ 6 p.m.
§ Viscount Cranborne
I have found myself in agreement for some time with the remarks of the noble Lord. Lord Annan. However, I should tell the noble Lord that I was recently approached by someone—who shall remain nameless— who said to me: "I see, Cranborne, that you have inherited all the regrettable radicalism of members of your family ". So "Citoyen Cecil " may not be too far away from what I shall become.
There is something to be said for attempting to differentiate between the House as it is now, and the House as it will be following the passage of this Bill. It is right to say, as I have understood by implication from some speakers, that to be called "Lord Snooks " does not necessarily mean that you are a Member of this House. The appellation "Lord " does not automatically entitle anyone to a peerage. I believe I am right in saying that only at the beginning of the 15th century did it become customary for heredity to be the only qualification for membership of this place. I believe that, before then, people were summoned here, not always because of who their father or mother was. We also know that, since 1958, it has not been necessary to be a hereditary Peer to be a Member of this House. Equally. Irish Peers, and Scottish Peers before 1963, were entitled to call themselves Lord Mac-Something because of who they were, not because they were Members of this place. There are plenty of other examples.
Nevertheless, the present House is dominated by the ethos of the hereditary principle. The Labour Party does not like that fact and is trying to change it. But in spite of the increasing proportion of life Peers, particularly among those who attend this House, I submit that the courtesies and habits of the hereditary peerage dominate our proceedings—and the proceedings are none the worse for that.
After the Bill's passage, that will change. If we believe that language means anything, it is at least sensible to differentiate, as the noble Lord, Lord Annan, suggested. between someone calling himself "Lord Snooks ", which by the evolution of history has come essentially to imply a hereditary peerage, although it did not start that way, and someone with membership of this House, which from now on will, I suspect, be largely by nomination if the Prime Minister gets his way.
It will be interesting to decide what the new Members of this House will be called. It would be a mistake for them to pretend by implication that this place is still a House of "Lords ". As the word "Lords " has come by custom to mean effectively a hereditary order, it therefore seems extremely sensible to change that—
§ Viscount Cranborne
I hear murmurs of, "Not so". I have acknowledged that since 1958 that has emphatically not been the case. Nevertheless, the appellation "Lord", in spite of the number of life Peers in this place, has all the trappings of the hereditary peerage. Indeed, is it not curious that life Peers are introduced in the full panoply of ermine, when, after 1338 all, hereditary Peers are not? That implies at least some connection with the hereditary peerage even though it is more apparent than real, for the reasons that my noble friends behind me suggest from a sedentary position. It would be extremely sensible to drop the appellation "Lord" in the new House.
I am all for differentiating Members of the new House from members of the public, and indeed Members of another place. I am doubtful about calling them "senators ", for the reasons given by the noble Lord, Lord Annan. There is merit in some form of continuity in terms of popular language. I suspect that in the "Dog and Duck " it will be difficult for people to talk of a senate; inevitably, the upper House will be forever associated with the idea of "Lords ", no matter who is a Member of it. The suggestion made by my noble friend Lord Ferrers is probably about as good as we shall get.
§ Lord Davies of Oldham
I did not think that at any stage in this debate I should be substantially in agreement with the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, and the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, but let me assure the Committee that the amendments that they propose commend themselves to some of us on these Benches.
Let us be absolutely clear about the situation. Many of us believe that we are involved in the Bill's passage as a small step towards improving what is, inevitably, an imperfect democracy in this country. All democracies are imperfect and can be changed by intelligent reform. Our democracy is less perfect than some. It certainly remains imperfect while such a substantial role is played in our deliberations by the hereditary peerage. That is why the Bill is before the Committee and why we support it.
But many of us who are Members of this House and who play our part in advancing democracy have no pretensions at all to joining the aristocracy or to glorying in the title that we now enjoy. I use the word "enjoy " in this sense: I have my title because it is the only way in which I can participate in the work of the upper Chamber. I had to become a Peer. I did not take the title because I had any wish to be associated with the attributes of the aristocracy through the ages—quite the opposite: the whole of my political life has been dedicated to challenging so many of those values. I am well aware of the element of affection that gave rise to the expression,"Everybody loves a Lord ". I have not noticed it a great deal in my own particular circumstance, but that may be because I do not have the hereditary quality which is a crucial dimension. However, I assure the Committee—
Perhaps I may intervene briefly. The noble Lord's remarks are fascinating. If he had such a huge dislike of coming to the House of Lords, why did he do so? Why did he not go to the House of Commons?
§ Lord Davies of Oldham
I did not say that I arrived in the House of Lords in preference to the House of Commons. I have had a series of opportunities to serve in the lower House. I should certainly have welcomed 1339 the opportunity, had the Boundary Commissioners not done such damage to my seat, to remain a Member of the House of Commons. But in the circumstances in which I was not privileged to be able to sustain my position in the Commons, I assure your Lordships that I welcomed the opportunity to serve in this place. It is the second Chamber of our legislature. It has a role to play in advancing the interests of our people and enhancing our democracy. That is the precise purpose upon which we are bent at the present time. The noble Earl sometimes employed a rather tongue-in-cheek approach to the amendment, but we subscribe to the view that a reformed Chamber should assuredly take a different name—of course it should. As it will be radically transformed, that is a necessary change.
The only reason why the amendment is possibly misjudged is that the real change that is to be effected must surely follow the Royal Commission's report and the establishment, not of an interim House but of the new second Chamber. That will be the time to consider this. I hope that the Royal Commission will receive endless representations regarding this matter.
Whatever happens, the Second Chamber needs its name changed from "House of Lords ". I am by no means convinced that that should apply to the interim Chamber. I fear that if we give a semblance of radical change to the interim Chamber precisely the anxieties expressed so often on the Benches opposite, that the interim Chamber will appear to be a sound enough reform for no further progress to be necessary, may come to pass. For that reason I am not sure that the amendment should be applied to the interim House. But I assure the noble Earl that if he is not part of our counsels in the future—I wish him well with regard to the interim Chamber—very many of us on this side of the House will argue the very case that he has made today.
The Earl of Erroll
It is important not to pretend that the transitional Chamber will be a continuation of what is here now; it will not. It will be a complete break from the present situation. To rename it at this stage will be to highlight the great constitutional change that is taking place. I find some inconsistency in the approach of those life Peers who wish, as if by association, almost to take on the cloak of the hereditary peerage that is about to disappear.
I agree and disagree with my noble kinswoman Lady Saltoun. I agree that there is a problem in the use of the term "Lord of Parliament ". It would cause great confusion in Scotland if one had lairds and Lords of Parliament. That expression means something very different. However, to add "MS " after one's name may have sclerotic connotations. I tend to think of it as denoting an unfortunate disease from which certain friends suffer. I would hate that to be associated with the interim or transitional Chamber, or any future Chamber for that matter.
I was also interested to hear that Sir David Steel wished to be known as such. Once again there is confusion, in that "Sir" may denote a title of merit—in 1340 other words, the conferring of a knighthood—but it may be associated with a baronetcy, which is a hereditary honour.
§ Lord Marlesford
The Government have done a most wonderful job. At last, beneath that aristocratic exterior I find in my noble friend Lord Ferrers a Maoist spark burning deep down. I remind your Lordships that for the first 20 years or so after the liberation of China all ranks were abolished and officers wore exactly the same clothes as everybody else. For a while badges of rank did not change but the cut of the uniform began to change. As the cut became better one realised that the rank was higher. Now they have gone back to the gold braid and everything else that everyone so much enjoys.
I was grateful that the noble Lord, Lord Annan, at whose feet in matters of political philosophy I used to sit many years ago as an undergraduate, referred us to the more relevant example of the period of the French Revolution. It is terribly important that we give proper due to those of our hereditary brethren who have served so well and who may be leaving us. I believe that we should reflect what they have done. The French had a very good system. I suggest that those who are departing should use the French prefix—or perhaps suffix—"ci-devant ". The term "Lord of Parliament " is correct and those who are departing should have it but should be known as "ci-devant LP ".
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ The Earl of Strafford
I do not want to be a party pooper, but I disagree with almost everything that has been said in this debate, particularly by hereditary Peers. I believe that much of what has been said is sour grapes. We are dumbing down the status of the upper House. I believe that the titles, including those of life Peers, are very important. One is selective about how one uses one's title, whether one has a hereditary or life peerage. For instance, when the noble Lord, Lord Rees-Mogg, writes in The Times he does not write as Lord Rees-Mogg but as William Rees-Mogg because it is appropriate to that situation. But, given the background to this House, to change the name would be crazy. People understand the House of Lords and like it.
I believe that life Peers are worthy followers of all hereditary Peers. After all, all hereditary Peers way back—it does not matter when the title was bestowed—did something which was considered worthwhile at the time. I had an ancestor who was rather good at fighting the French and that was how he got his title. The great thing about life Peers is that they are a slice of the meritocracy. When one comes here one takes part in ceremony and is clothed in ermine. One takes on the mantle of all others who have served here. It would be a great mistake to ditch all of that and adopt a Maoist approach or the method adopted by the French during 1341 the revolution. We should be very careful before we change it. I am highly dubious about this amendment. I believe that this is a matter of sour grapes.
The Earl of Dudley
Without disrespect to the Committee, I believe that this debate serves to remind us that this House is and has been for many centuries very much like Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland. It is a wonderland fiat has served this nation well over many generations. Some of the suggestions made this afternoon will do nothing but take away the magic of this wonderland. That magic should remain as part of the whole tradition of this institution and should not be lost even when we hereditaries go. Any hereditary Peer who believes that outside this House in this computer age he has control over how he is described needs his head examined. As a computer cannot cater for more than eight bits I am variously described as "Mr. Earl ","Lord Dud " and, fortunately, both as far as the Inland Revenue is concerned. I hope that we disabuse ourselves of the thought that we can go around insisting on being called "Earl of Dudley " or whatever it is. The odds are very much against it, particularly as the computer age develops.
The Earl of Caithness
On this amendment I was a little slower in getting to my feet than on the previous one, and I have been able to follow my noble friend Lord Ferrers. I have one difficulty with my noble friend's Amendment No.101 which refers to "Members of the Appointed Chamber ". As a result of the Government's U-turn it will not be just an appointed Chamber, it will have 90 hereditaries. Whoever they are, I am not sure that they will wish to be cast as "appointed " because they will not be so.
I prefer Amendment No.74 in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Stanley. It is important to differentiate the second Chamber from the first. Doubtless there will be a differentiation when it comes to the third Chamber. If one is to excommunicate the vast majority of hereditary Peers, the successor Chamber to this one must change its name to reflect its different role and the different personnel sitting in it.
I was interested that the noble Lord, Lord Annan, was quick to criticise but did not have any solution to the change in name—at least not that I heard. I would be very interested if he would come forward with a proposal. He was very keen to get rid of ermine. I believe that he will have a lot to say about stage three, but as to stage two he does not appear to have any ideas.
The Earl of Caithness
I am grateful to the noble Lord. I did not listen to him as carefully as I should have done. I hope that he will change his mind and just become a Peer.
§ Lord Rotherwick
Everybody appears to have a terrible hang-up about these handles. One remembers being told most carefully that as an officer one is saluted not because of one's position but because of the 1342 commission that one holds. One is beholden to live up to that commission. It is a great way of informing people about oneself. If you are a managing director, or whatever, that title informs people of your position and what you are expected do in life. Equally, someone who has a tag to his name is beholden to live up to that. Therefore, it is helpful that people who are Members of this House have such a title so that people are informed that they are a Peer or a Lord.
It would be very confusing if people called themselves "Sir Something" in one part of the country and "Mr. Something" in another part. We should try to inform people what we are about. As we have a historical name here, it is appropriate that people hold that name of Peer or Lord.
It is important that we recognise that we are making a substantial change to this House, as the Government would no doubt claim and agree. Symbols are important and we should recognise this change and the way in which people look on the House when considering a change of name.
As to the amendments before us today, I favour that in the name of my noble friend Lord Caithness. After all, we all refer to the Door downstairs as the "Peers' En-trance "!
§ Lord Henley
As my noble kinsman Lord Stanley moved this amendment some time ago, it is appropriate for yet another of his noble kinsmen to respond from these Benches.
Clearly, a change in this House that will remove about 90 per cent of those of us who sit by succession, but have the informal style of "Lord " is likely to create some confusion in terms of those who remain and those who do not. It is clear that the separation of the privilege of peerage from the right to sit in Parliament, which is the explicit aim of the Government expressed from time to time, is a deliberate policy and must have the logical effect at some point of detaching the style of "Lord " from the right to sit in this place.
As is made clear by Clause 2, Members of your Lordships' House will be able to sit in another place in the full flower of their title should they so wish. I wonder, in passing, whether my right honourable friend, the current chairman of the Conservative Party, may wish to reapply his proper name. If some of us seek election to another place, I wonder whether we would want to call ourselves by the names that we have held in this House.
My great-grandfather sat in another place as an Irish Peer, but always called himself Lord Henley. I once speculated in the local press that I may stand for election to my local constituency, Carlisle, should we be abolished, to which the response from the PPS of the Lord Privy Seal was that Carlisle was not ready for a "toff". Since then, Carlisle has returned to the Conservative fold after 23 years. If I were to stand for 1343 election in such a place, I would be keen to stand as Lord Henley, preserving the name that I have had for a number of years.
I see that the noble Lord takes great pride in his name. He really should not do so because the only reason that his predecessor was made Lord Henley was to ensure that my predecessor was executed.
§ Lord Henley
My noble friend is correct in saying that it was a direct forebear of mine who was ennobled as Lord Henley so that he could preside over a trial of a forebear of my noble friend Lord Ferrers. The forebear of my noble friend in that trial made the rather odd mistake of defending himself—by not employing counsel—on the grounds of insanity, which meant that if he did a good job he was not insane and he would go down, but if he did a bad job he would go down anyway. I can assure the House that my noble friend's forebear did go down and was hanged, in due course, with that privilege of peerage, by means of a silken cord.
I am descended from another Lord Henley, of different creation, a son-in-law of that first Lord Henley. I do not sit as Lord Henley in this House, as the title of "Lord Henley " relates to an Irish peerage. I sit as Lord Northington, a name that I have to remember once every five years when I take the Oath.
Returning to the amendment, it may be disappointing to some noble Lords. It is not disappointing to many noble Lords on the Benches opposite, as was made clear by the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham. It seems inevitable that the title given to Members of this House must change at some point after reform. Whether that is after an interim stage or another stage is a matter for debate.
Three suggestions have been put forward, one from my noble kinsman Lord Stanley and my noble friend Lord Caithness, and another two from my noble friend Lord Ferrers. I would not wish to be the one to adjudicate between those suggestions. No doubt the Government will have a number of responses to those and they will give us, no doubt, their views as to the appropriate one. I presume that the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn will respond, or should I say the right honourable Gareth Williams LP or LS or MS, or whatever he will be called in due course. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Williams, will be able to assist us in terms of what would be the appropriate name.
At this stage, I do not want to judge between the different suggestions made by my noble friends. Having heard what the Minister has to say, I am sure that my noble friends may wish to return to this at a later stage of the Bill.
§ The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn)
I have waited, with mounting indignation and impatience, throughout these five days, to get to the only point of this Bill that really matters. We have spent hours on trivia such as the Weatherill amendment and the question of the appointments commission instead of getting on with what really matters!
1344 I almost said, "This has been a unique occasion", but I have so often thought that, that I know in a few weeks' time there will be another such unique occasion.
The noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, the soul progenitor of the "West Cranborne" question, told us that the behaviour of this House had always been modelled on the habits of the hereditary peerage. I wonder which particular defined habits he had readily in mind. I thought of illegal immigration in 1066, followed by theft, pillage and usurpation over the succeeding centuries.
§ Viscount Cranborne
I rather anticipated that such a crack might be forthcoming from the noble Lord, so I was careful to differentiate between the medieval period, which was not hereditary, and the later medieval period and the subsequent period, which were. I am the first to admit that in subsequent centuries the habits of the hereditary peerage outside your Lordships' House were rather less elegant than they were inside.
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
I continue. The alternatives put forward are fascinating. This is a serious question of importance to the public, the outcome of which the world is awaiting. Our post-nominals are extremely important.
I remember prosecuting a case in Swansea Crown Court when I first became a Queen's Counsel. Afterwards, with trembling hand, I looked at the success which I would undoubtedly be accorded and which would be recorded in the Swansea Evening Post, known locally as the "Two Minutes' Silence " because that is all it took to read it. I was horrified—my mother even more so—to find the immortal phrase on the front page:Prosecuting for the Crown was Mr. Gareth Williams, w. c.I thought of complaining to the editor, but all my friends told me that there would be little point.
We have had interesting offers from the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers. We have heard references to the French Revolution. I remember Phillipe Egalite, the renegade, and I suppose that if the madly determined dash of the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, for the lowest common denominator continues, we shall have to call him "Robin Egalite " because beneath his Right-wing exterior there beats a radical heart.
It has been quite wrongly suggested to me that the hereditary Peers may be known as PCs, Pedigree Chums or something of that sort. The possibilities are endless. The fact is that we see no reason for change. I hope that that robust approach of no change in any circumstance commends itself in particular to the hereditary element of this House.
There is an internal contradiction to be detected by the unkind eye in the two amendments in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers. Amendments Nos.101 and 102 are mutually exclusive. Amendment No.74, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley, and the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, wants everyone to be known as "Peers ". We think that there is no point in that, except as the subject for an amusing debate of this 1345 type. The noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, wants us to be called either MAC or LP. We should not lightly throw away the inheritance of the centuries.
§ 6.30 p.m.
I am still puzzled by the noble Lord. Throughout all the debates the Government have said that we must change; we must modernise. The only times when the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, refuses change is when, first, he says that we cannot have "an " and must have "a " hereditary Peer for the good reason that the parliamentary draftsman has said that that has been so for years; and, secondly, as regards an obviously correct provision such as the amendment today. Again, he says,"No, we must not change." I wish that he had used that expression a little more and earlier in the Bill.
§ Lord Stanley of Alderley
I thank all noble Lords for their contribution. If I did not hook a shark on this occasion, perhaps I may say that it was a noble salmon. I agree with my noble friend Lord Dudley. I, too, have heard that the Bill is commonly called a sequel to Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Having listened to my noble friend Lord Ferrers on many occasions, I wonder whether he is a reincarnated Lewis Carroll because he plays the part extremely well.
Perhaps I may refer to my noble friend Lord Onslow as my noble kinsman. His comments were wrong.
§ Lord Stanley of Alderley
It depends how many are legitimate. The question of illegitimacy arises, in particular with one quite close to me at the moment!
I am not sure what side my noble kinsman Lord Henley is on. It was probably the wrong side if he was a kinsman, needless to say. His family were fortunate enough to inherit lands and wealth due to the extreme awkwardness—I could use a worse name—of a female member of my family who died not all that long ago.
I think that he should be grateful and perhaps might buy me a drink on occasion.
I commiserate with the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne. I understand that former members of his family were not called to this House in the 15th century. I am sorry about that, but I suppose we all have to start somewhere.
I conclude with the serious point of the amendment. The House which remains will be different from the present Chamber. It should be made quite clear that it will be different. My noble friend Lord Lucas raised the point, as did the noble Lord, Lord Davies. It is a serious point which the Government should address. I do not mind what the Members are called. I picked out Peers because it was the first name, I am sorry to say, that came into my head. But there must be a better way.
It is a valid point. We are changing. Let us not hide it. The noble Lord; ought to hide behind his bushel. Let us make clear that we are changing in fact. in ceremony 1346 and so on. Let us make up our minds what we shall be called in future. I may return to the point. In the meantime I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Lord Waddington moved Amendment No.75:
§ After Clause 2, insert the following new clause—
§ LIFE PEERAGES COMMISSION
(". —(1) There shall be a Life Peerages Commission ("the Commission ") which alone shall make recommendations to Her Majesty for the conferment of life peerages in accordance with the Life Peerages Act 1958.
§ The noble Lord said: I can assure the Committee that we now deal with a matter of considerable substance. There is nothing Alice in Wonderland about this amendment. Many of the words in the amendment will be familiar to Members of the Committee. They are all taken from the Government's White Paper.
§ The Government state that they do not want one party to dominate what they call the transitional House. That is what the Government have stated at page 4 of the White Paper.
§ The Government say that they will ensure that no one political party commands a majority in this House. That is what the Government have stated as their intention at page 9 of the White Paper.
§ The Government say that they will maintain a significant independent Cross Bench element. That is the Government's stated intention at page 31 of the White Paper.
§ If that is what the Government say they want for the transitional House, let us put that in the Bill. Let a statutory body receive nominations from the political parties, the Prime Minister and others, and then carry out the duty of recommending peerages in numbers and 1347 from the various parties in accordance with what the Government say are their own intentions. What possible objection can there be to that?
§ Even if it were guaranteed to last for only a limited time, no harm would be done by writing the Government's intentions into the very Bill creating the transitional House. But in truth there can be no guarantee as to how long the transitional House will last. The fact that it might last quite a long time provides another reason—some might say an even stronger one—for writing appropriate provisions into the Bill creating the transitional House.
§ I must emphasise that to doubt whether the transitional House will last for only a short time is not to question the Government's good faith. I state the obvious. It is that no government can guarantee that another Bill providing for long-term reform will reach the statute book. On Tuesday the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor said he could guarantee that stage two would come about. He said that speculation that stage two would not take place was fanciful and without foundation. If the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor had been about the place in 1968 he would have learned that some matters are not always in the government's control.
§ I have to give exactly the same reply to the noble Baroness the Lord Privy Seal. She stated today that the Government are resolute in their determination to have stage two. Sometimes members of the Government seem to forget that it is Parliament and not the Government which ultimately decides whether a Bill will reach the statute book. Whether a Bill reaches the statute book depends ultimately on Parliament. I recommend to the noble Baroness the Lord Privy Seal what her noble friends Lord Barnett and Lord Shepherd said on Tuesday last. I commend in particular to the Committee what the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, said at col.1111 of the Official Report of 11th May. He said that there were a number of reasons why the transitional House might be with us for a long time. One is that with 600 noble Lords in the transitional House and 600 in the other place, there would be 1, 200 different views as to what kind of second Chamber there should be.
§ Lord Phillips of Sudbury
Perhaps I may ask the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, whether or not it is more likely that there will be an indeterminate interim period if a clause such as this is introduced into the Bill and will it not greatly reduce the pressure to introduce stage two?
§ Lord Waddington
I do not agree with that for one moment, but if the noble Lord were right it does not alter the fact that if the Government say their intentions are clearly stated in their own White Paper it is difficult to mount a powerful argument as to why they should not be put in the Bill.
I submit that what I say is plain common sense. In view of the Government's declared policy, it would not disadvantage them to write their intentions into their Bill. The argument advanced by the noble Baroness the Lord Privy Seal earlier today—that the time to discuss 1348 methods of appointment of life Peers will be when we come to stage two—is no argument when, first, there can be no guarantee of a stage two in the foreseeable future and, secondly, the Government have announced a detailed policy for appointment to the transitional House.
One thing must be made clear. The new House without most of the hereditary Peers will be a much smaller House. If the power of appointment of life Peers were left in the hands of the Prime Minister of the day, it would be much easier for him to make sufficient appointments to gain an absolute majority in this place. In no way is it an aspersion on present life Peers to say that in future a government less scrupulous than the previous one or their predecessors could appoint people who were concerned more to do the government's bidding than to protect the constitution.
It has been argued somewhat faintly by the noble Lord, Lord Carter, on more than one occasion that if the Prime Minister's power to make appointments poses a danger, it is a danger that has been with us for a long time; that nothing has gone wrong as yet, so there is no need to do anything. That is not much of an argument. The Government are making a big change to our constitutional arrangements. The Prime Minister acknowledged in his own White Paper that the present system of creating life Peers is far from ideal and needs some change. Very well, let us deal with these shortcomings in our present arrangements and, as we are legislating, let us deal with them in this legislation.
We have no right to throw away the opportunity to put things right by legislation when the opportunity is right here staring us in the face. We have no right to ignore the present rather unsatisfactory constitutional and legal position that is open to the Prime Minister and, if this Bill is not amended, to any future Prime Minister to secure for himself an absolute majority in this place and render the House completely ineffective as a check on the executive.
The wording of the amendment is clear enough. Admittedly, there might have to be a large number of new Peers to create the new balance envisaged both by the Government and by this amendment. Later, it should be possible to stick to a statutory maximum, and to have a statutory maximum is desirable as a safeguard against abuse. The amendment envisages the statutory maximum being imposed after the first two years; a statutory maximum of 50, as set out in subsection (3).
The House will also note that subsection (2) seeks to ensure that:the proportion of 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 ".That is an attempt to put in clearer and more felicitous language the Government's assurance at page 9 of the White Paper that they will maintain a Cross-Bench representation at around the present proportion of life Peers. Strangely, and for reasons best known to themselves, the Government used less precise language and gave a less generous undertaking at page 31 of the White Paper. The words there are:We shall maintain a significant independent Cross Bench element ".1349 Again, we have picked up the Government's own words in order to drive home the point that we are aiming to do no more than put in statutory form the Government's own policy. If on reflection the Government regret having used two different formulations in the White Paper, I am sure that the amendment can be redrafted to the satisfaction of all.
I leave it to others to discuss the methods of the appointments commission. Surely, all we have to do today is agree in principle to there being a statutory appointments commission and then work out the best formula to ensure its complete independence. I beg to move.
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ Lord Bach
Subsection (1) of the amendment provides that:There shall be a Life Peerages Commission … which alone shall make recommendations to Her Majesty ".I followed the noble Lord's political career with some interest and I recall that he was the Chief Whip, or patronage secretary, between 1987 and 1989. I am sure that in that capacity he played some small part with the Prime Minister in deciding who should come to this place and who should not. When did he change his mind about that and why did he change his mind? Was it in spite of or because of his experiences as Chief Whip?
§ Lord Waddington
I do not believe that the question of why I changed my mind, if I did change my mind, has anything to do with the amendment. In the amendment, I am saying that if the Government are telling this House that it is their intention to have a House in which there is no party with an overall majority, let the Government put their money where their mouth is and put in the Bill which they are asking us to pass a clear statement of their own intentions.
That is what is important, not my own views on this. If the noble Lord wants my own views, he will note that I stated them in an earlier speech. The fact is that we are creating a much smaller House and one which it would be much easier to manipulate. We are creating a House over which it would be much easier for the Prime Minister of the day to gain control simply because he would not have to make many new appointments in order to achieve an absolute majority. That is how the position has changed, but what matters is the Government's own intentions.
§ Lord Waddington
I do not follow the purpose of the noble Lord's question. Perhaps he will tell us later in the debate why he expects us to have such faith in the Government's claim that they are bound to get through Parliament a second stage Bill and that it is quite unnecessary for us to write into this Bill what the Government say are their own intentions. Perhaps later the noble Lord will be able to tell us what would be the disadvantage to the Government if they wrote into this 1350 Bill their own intentions. What are the Government afraid of? Perhaps we shall hear that from the noble Baroness the Lord Privy Seal.
§ Lord Crickhowell
My Amendment No.86 is grouped with this amendment. Although all the amendments in the group propose a statutory appointments commission, they cover a wide field and have different objectives. As my noble friend Lord Waddington has made clear, his amendment translates the Government's intentions into a statutory form. However, the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Lamont, who is not in his place, proposes to impose a cap on the number of creations. I have some sympathy with that proposal. These amendments, and the amendment of my noble friend Lord Lucas, propose the setting up of an appointments commission to deal with the appointment of all life Peers.
My Amendment No.86 has a more restricted and specific intention. The commission that I propose is concerned only with the appointment of Cross-Bench Peers. It is intended to carry into effect in statutory form the Government's declared policy set out in Chapter 6,"The Appointments Commission ", of the White Paper, which we now understand from the noble Baroness the Leader of the House is in official racing colours. Paragraph 9 recognises,the tremendous contribution made … by the independent cross-bench peers ".It adds:There is no reason why the Prime Minister of the day should control the nominations to the cross benches.The Government therefore propose that there should be an "advisory non-departmental public body ", whichwill operate an open and transparent nominations system for cross-bench peers ".So far, so good. But, incredibly, this independent appointments commission is to be established by the Government, by the Prime Minister, and not by statute. That is an extraordinary, and to me completely unacceptable, proposal. The nature of the commission, the way in which its chairman and members are appointed, the objectives it is given, and the rules under which it operates, should be, must be, a matter for Parliament, not the Prime Minister and the Government.
If there is any responsibility that should be removed from the hands of the Prime Minister and the Government, it is surely that which embraces the appointment of Cross-Bench Peers. I go further than the White Paper's statement:There is no reason why the Prime Minister of the clay should control the nominations to the Cross-Benches ".There are a multitude of compelling reasons why he should not do so, but there are equally compelling reasons why he should be distanced from—I go further; why there should be a wide and unbridgeable gulf between him and—the body tasked with the responsibility of nominating Cross-Bench Peers.
Having been the chairman of a non-departmental public body established by statute, I inquired under what provisions the commission would be appointed by the Prime Minister. The Library tells me that because it is 1351 advisory and not executive, and because its expenditure will be small, it can be set up by the Prime Minister, just as the Nolan Committee was set up. I accept that advice. But it is not a technical reason that moves me to propose the amendment. It is surely a matter of the utmost constitutional importance that Parliament should, in this Bill, provide the statutory authority for the commission.
No doubt I shall be told that the present Prime Minister is a person of absolute integrity and that all kinds of rules of propriety will be observed. But the fact is that the present Prime Minister and his successors are political animals. It is no criticism of their integrity to say that their judgments are inevitably influenced by their political views and aims.
I have been a Minister responsible for appointing the members of quangos. I have also been the chairman of a very large quango. Appointments to quangos involve the exercise of judgments about individuals. However honourable the intentions, appointments may involve bias; and even if they do not, the world outside may believe that they do. Public perception is as important as the reality.
Furthermore, I have learnt from experience that Ministers and their civil servants have a thousand subtle, and sometimes far from subtle, ways of seeking to influence the actions of quangos that they have set up, even though the quangos are supposed to be independent. Whitehall hates independence. The more independent-minded the quango, the more determined is Whitehall to quell that independence and regain control.
It may or may not be right for a Prime Minister to appoint the chairman of a Royal Commission to consider the future of the House of Lords, a European Commissioner of another party, or the leader of the devolved Assembly in Wales. It is certainly wrong that he should have any say in, or influence over, the appointment to a commission that will recommend who should be Cross-Bench Peers.
My new clause makes it clear that the commission should have regard to all the desirable objectives about breadth of membership that the Government set out in the White Paper and the Labour Party recommended in its evidence to the Royal Commission. I find it hard to believe that the Minister can object to the principles behind my amendment.
There is, however, one aspect on which I am particularly anxious to hear the views of the whole Committee. I refer to the question of membership. In subsection (2) I propose a membership designed to guarantee independence, but with the Cross-Bench Peers themselves given a major say in the appointment process. There is plenty of room for variety.
My noble friend Lord Waddington proposes for his commission a membership consisting solely of Privy Counsellors appointed by the Prime Minister. I toyed with the idea of Privy Counsellors, but not with the idea that they should be chosen by the Prime Minister. My noble friend Lord Lucas makes an alternative suggestion.
1352 I have not fixed irrevocably on my particular solution. This debate provides an opportunity to test the Committee's views on the subject. That is the principal reason why I do not intend to seek to press my amendment to a vote tonight. But before the Bill leaves the House of Lords, such an amendment must be incorporated into it. I have proposed something which I think fulfils the intentions that the Government have set out. It seems to me absolutely essential that on this crucial matter of the appointment of Cross-Bench Peers the commission must be controlled by Parliament, must be seen to be wholly independent and must be separated entirely from the actions of the government of the day. Therefore, I give proper warning now that, having considered the views of the Committee on the detail, particularly on the nature of the appointments to the commission, I shall certainly want to return at a later stage and press to a vote an amendment with similar objectives.
§ Lord Richard
With great respect to the two noble Lords who have just spoken, there was an air of almost total political unreality about their speeches. They were both members of the Cabinet of the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher. A vision came to my mind of the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, as Chief Whip, and the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, as Secretary of State for Wales, and perhaps other noble Lords, saying to the then Prime Minister,"We are very worried about maintaining the independence of the Cross Benches in the upper Chamber. Therefore, Prime Minister, we think that you should now accept a statutory curb upon your right to appoint Cross-Benchers ". I would merely say to the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, that he would not have been appointed Governor of Bermuda, but of St. Kilda—and I suspect that the tenure of the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, in the Principality would have been somewhat curtailed.
There has never been this sort of curb upon the power of the Prime Minister. The noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, says that he is merely setting out what is in the Labour manifesto. I refer him to subsection (5) of the new clause that he proposes in Amendment No.86. The manifesto sensibly proposed that there should be an advisory committee. I hope that the Committee will accept that. But what is the noble Lord's proposal? It is thatThe Prime Minister shall not have the right to refuse a recommendation of the Commission ".That is a strange advisory commission. For the first time that I can recall—I am pretty sure I am right about this—a Prime Minister would be voluntarily offering some public curbs—not statutory; and they should not be statutory—on his right to appoint people to the House of Lords.
For the first time, he has said that, in relation to the Cross-Benchers, in order to preserve independence and to secure a reasonable cross-section of people sitting on the Cross-Benches, that should go first to an independent appointments commission. With great respect to the noble Lord, you cannot expect a government to go further than that.
1353 Therefore, I come back to where I started. There is an air of political unreality about the way in which the two noble Lords are attempting to entrench in statutory form that which the Prime Minister has offered voluntarily. That is wrong and if there is a Division, I trust that Members of the Committee on this side at least will oppose the amendment.
§ 7 p.m.
I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. He made a great deal of the freedom of the Prime Minister to make the appointments and the need for that body to be advisory. I have based my amendment entirely on what the Government said in the White Paper. That states specifically that the Prime Minister will have no right to refuse a nomination that the commission had passed. It is for that reason that I included that phrase in my amendment. If the noble Lord feels as his words suggest, he should be arguing against his own Government's White Paper and not against my amendment.
§ Lord Richard
It is not for me at this stage to argue with the Government about their White Paper. It may be within the knowledge of the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, that that is precisely what I have been doing ever since the White Paper was published.
§ Lord Waddington
Again, before the noble Lord sits down, surely he recognises that although St. Kilda might not have been quite so congenial as Bermuda, the situation has changed since those days because the Government have announced that they are prepared to put a voluntary restraint on the Prime Minister's power to make appointments to this place.
The Prime Minister has said that he is prepared to promise that he will not make appointments which will give him an absolute majority in the House. The only question is, as he said that in his own White Paper, what harm will be done by putting it in the Bill?
§ Lord Richard
The noble Lord has asked me a question which provokes me to respond to him. This is another example of what we have experienced throughout the whole Committee stage of the Bill from Members of the Committee opposite. They have said that all is perfectly safe and people could be relied on to behave well so long as there is a Conservative administration in No.10 and so long as there are 350 hereditary Peers on their side of the Chamber. If that is the situation then they say that there is no need for those checks and no statutory provision needs to be made. They say that they do not need a Prime Minister voluntarily to agree that there should be some non-statutory curbs upon his power. They say that all will be well in those circumstances.
I am sorry, but I do not accept that. I do not believe that anybody else on this side of the Committee accepts that. If one starts on that basis, then the unreality of what is being proposed en the other side of the Committee becomes totally clear.
§ Lord Elton
Is there not a little unreality in what the noble Lord has just said? He has demonstrated to his 1354 own satisfaction and that of many of his noble friends that what pertained under the Conservative administration and the current constitution is unacceptable. Why should the change of parties suddenly make acceptable that matter of principle? Surely all politicians are equally to be treated with great reserve. I do not defend the record of my own side. I merely tell the Committee that in the end the record of the other side is likely, over the years, to be very similar.
I am concerned with the principle as to whether there should be a statutory commission for the appointment of independent Peers. I am not concerned about how the political appointments are made. Therefore, I am somewhat closer to the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, and the substance of his amendment although I am in no way concerned with the detail of any particular amendment. If, at the end of the day, the Government will tell us that they are happy to have a statutory body, then they should devise precisely how it is to be formed.
I am also not concerned with the party points made by the noble Lord, Lord Richard, for which I have a certain amount of sympathy. I should be making these points whichever party were bringing forward this Bill and whichever party was likely to be making the appointments.
The Government expressed the desire to maintain in the interim House—and I emphasise in the interim House—a substantial independent element. They have also expressed a willingness to have those who are appointed to fulfil that role recommended by persons other than the Prime Minister.
This Bill will reduce substantially the number of independent Members of the House and will reduce substantially the number of noble Lords opposite. Therefore, my submission is that it is a necessary element of this Bill to consider how that substantial independent element is to be maintained. With respect, I do not understand the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, that this matter does not arise under this Bill but is a matter only for stage two. This is a matter that concerns how the interim House is to be filled.
The common theme behind the amendments is that the commission which is to fulfil that role should be embodied in statute and should not be dependent on the particular wish of whoever may be the Prime Minister for the time being, because, if it is a voluntary body, a future Prime Minister can disband it and revert to absolute appointment.
Therefore, I suggest to the Committee that the concept of that commission is extremely necessary for the interim Chamber. It seems highly likely also that some such body will have a necessary role in the stage two House. If, as appears to be the wish of virtually everybody, that second stage House is to have a strong independent element, pace the report of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, that independent element must stem from some system of appointment and not from a wholly-elected Chamber.
1355 Therefore, if, in the stage two House, there is to be an ongoing need for the appointment of an independent element, surely it is desirable now to start with a strong statutory body making those recommendations. Then, by the time stage two is for consideration, there will be practical experience of the working of that body which can enlighten the deliberations of stage two.
If the Government believe in that independent advisory body, I do not see why they should be reluctant in any way to put it on the statute book. That has the great advantage that a less high-minded government hereafter would not be able to abolish the idea at the whim of the Prime Minister. I very much hope that the Government will indicate not that they accept any particular amendment but that they accept the idea of a statutory body and will bring forward proposals at a later stage.
The Earl of Erroll
As a Cross-Bencher, I sometimes despair of the political point scoring which takes place. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Richard, about the past performance of some Tory policies. But—and I totally disagree with him—I am glad that they have finally seen the light because it provides a way forward.
The noble Lord, Lord Bach, summed up the concerns of many Members of the Committee and put them in a nutshell. The real problem with the Bill is that it cannot be assumed that future governments will be such pillars of moral rectitude as the present government. That temporary and interim House may have to last a very long time. Therefore, we must remove from future governments and Prime Ministers the power to manipulate the interim or transitional Chamber. If it is not on the face of the Bill, it is all too easy for a Prime Minister to change things in the name of efficiency when he really means expediency. For that reason, this should be a statutory provision.
§ Viscount Cranborne
Not for the first time, I listen to the noble Lord, Lord Richard, with a certain amount of sympathy. After all he, like me and, I suspect, a surprisingly large number of your Lordships, has been a business manager. As the noble Lord well knows, one of the main weapons at the disposal of any government—I suppose in your Lordships' House it might be the whisky bottle—is the power of patronage. Until fairly recently, if that power of patronage was exercised discreetly and was not abused beyond a certain amount—after all, the words "abuse " and "government " go together; otherwise the power of Parliament would not be as important as it is—then it has been thought perfectly acceptable, as the noble Lord implied, for the Government to exercise the power of patronage as a means of ensuring that their objectives are achieved. Of course, it is only when there are evident abuses of that power that problems arise. One does not want to get too far up to date for fear of being a little invidious, but the history of the last administration of Lloyd-George would perhaps do as an example. I have a certain amount of sympathy, as part of the former business managers' club, with the sentiments that the noble Lord expressed.
1356 The difficulty for a number of Members of the Committee on this side when considering this pragmatic and rather eighteenth century view of politics, some of which has persisted until the present day—there is every sign, particularly in view of what the noble Lord said. that it persists with the present Government—is that before it came to power the Labour Party took a rather different view. I would not mind betting that one of the reasons why people viewed the imminent arrival of a Labour Government with something like equanimity was that the Labour Party had persuaded a large part of the electorate that the Tory government of which I was a member were enmired in sleaze and that the whole system needed cleaning up. I see the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, nodding. I assume that she not only agrees about the need to clean up but also that that was one of the reasons why the Labour Party won the election.
I well remember how the noble Lord, in some of his more eloquent speeches from the Dispatch Box, when I was quaking in my boots about how I was going to reply to his barbs, made very great play of this disgraceful exercise of power of patronage and of sleaze generally.
It is for that reason, I suspect, that we on this side of the Committee would like to see the Government put their money where their mouth was when they wrote the manifesto, when undertakings were given by the right honourable gentleman the Prime Minister, and when the noble Lord, Lord Richard, was Leader of the Opposition. It seems to me perfectly consistent, as my noble friend Lord Waddington said, for us to ask as an opposition that the Government do that, not because we think we are guiltless, but because it seems to us perfectly sensible for any opposition to hold the government to their word.
I quite understand what the noble Lord, Lord Richard, says. As the House knows by experience, he is a very frank individual. He has been very frank about his disagreements with his own party on the matter of reform of your Lordships' House. It is perfectly plain by implication that the Government are beginning to enjoy the exercise of power. That is what governments do, and part of the exercise of power is a power of patronage. It is very easy therefore for them to suggest that what has been done is enough. A concession has been made; a nod in the direction of their former rhetoric has been made; and that is enough, because the practicalities of government mean that the power of patronage must continue to be exercised at least in some measure.
I do not believe that that is consistent with what has gone before. It is therefore perfectly legitimate for us to ask, as my noble friend Lord Crickhowell asked: under what authority will this commission be established? It sounds as though it will be established under royal prerogative. It also sounds as though the Government, like all governments, are growing to love the idea of preserving what is left of the royal prerogative for the reason I have given.
If that is what the commission is going to be established under, and if we fail to persuade the Committee of the justice of the arguments in general 1357 terms of my noble friends who have put amendments so far, then it is incumbent on the Government to ensure that the terms and riding instructions of the commission provide for regular reports informing the public of the basis on which it operates and that those reports should be extraordinarily transparent in so far as that is consistent with the obvious restrictions as to how it goes about its business. For the reasons that my noble friends gave, I do think that there is a great deal to be said, in view of the previous rhetoric of the Labour Party, particularly before the last election, for my once again posing the question put by my noble friend Lord Waddington: why not put it on the face of the Bill? It would be entirely consistent with the rhetoric with which the Labour Party has bombarded us for years. I look forward to hearing from the Government Front Bench the reasons why that should not be so.
I hope also that the Government will deal with the question to which by implication both my noble friends addressed themselves in their different ways. Why is the commission only to concern itself with the Cross Benches? I am sure the answer will be that Peers taking the party whip should rightly be appointed at the suggestion of party leaders. We also know that some of the rhetoric of the Labour Party over past years has questioned whether the strength of scrutiny of names put forward by party leaders has been quite sufficient. Surely it is sensible for any names submitted by party leaders to be scrutinsed by an authoritative commission of this kind. I should be very interested to know from the noble Lord, if: ndeed it is he who will be replying, why he feels that at least some role should not be played by the commission in the appointment of all new Peers if consistency is to be maintained with the rhetoric we have heard.
I hope we shall be told when the Government expect to appoint the commission and how its members will be appointed because inevitably, as my noble friends explained, the question guts custodiet rnust arise in any consideration of the proposal. I hope too that the Government will talk not only about transparency but also about how the recommendations themselves will be made. Will the commission draw up lists? Will it be possible for people to submit names? I hope too that it might be considered helpful if the public were encouraged to make submissions in the same way as they have been encouraged by both parties to make submissions on the Honours List in another context.
It would be very helpful if the noble Lord, when he comes to reply, could answer not only those questions but above all the question: why not put it on the face of the Bill? The Government have been adamant in their refusal so far. Perhaps they can be induced to think again.
§ 7.15 p.m.
§ Lord Harris of Greenwich
Having sat here silently for the whole afternoon I think it is reasonable that we on these Benches should be allowed to express an opinion. It is quite understandable and in my view perfectly reasonable for people to put down amendments 1358 dealing with the appointments commission. The matter was identified during the Cook-Maclennan talks before the last general election when it was agreed between ourselves and the Labour Party that no party should attempt to get a majority in the House and that there should be a solid block of Cross Bench Peers who would hold the balance. That seemed to me entirely sensible. Many of the speeches today have covered that ground. I was mildly surprised at the language of the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, when he expressed his concern about the misuse of patronage. He referred to abuses of power and went back to Lloyd George. I think that there are one or two rather more recent examples, if he will forgive my saying so. I refer, in particular, to the time when he was a member of the previous administration.
I have a list of the life Peers who were created under the premiership of Mr. Major. To be fair, he did not go to the extremes of his predecessor, the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher. However, when he created life Peers under the Life Peerages Act, he added 83 to the Conservative numbers in this House; a House which already had an overwhelming Conservative majority. That was two more than the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats put together. The noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, was a senior member of that government. I wonder whether he expressed his grave concern about what might be interpreted as an abuse of power by the behaviour of his right honourable friend the then Prime Minister.
When we go back to the record of the noble Baroness. Lady Thatcher, the examples under her premiership are even more interesting. During her period as Prime Minister, she appointed twice as many Conservative life Peers as Labour life Peers, and 11 times more Conservative life Peers than Liberal Democrat life Peers. That gives some indication of what abuse of power is really about.
During the many days of discussion on the Bill, we have heard an absolute torrent of humbug from the Opposition Benches on this issue. Of course it is necessary to try to create arrangements to avoid future misuses of power by a government of any political persuasion. However, perhaps I may say, with great respect to the noble Viscount, that there has to be just a touch of humility when he addresses the House on this issue.
I turn, briefly, to the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, which proposes that the Government should have broad parity with the major opposition party. However, as he would recognise, by the terms of the Government's White Paper and, indeed, the interesting amendment tabled by his noble friend Lord Lamont, who unhappily is not in his place, the Conservative Party is still substantially over-represented in this House. It will continue to be, given the ration of 42 new Conservative hereditary Peers who will he allowed to remain here. When the noble Lord makes such a proposition, one inevitably has to look at it rather critically.
§ Lord Waddington
Does not the noble Lord recognise that those words are taken straight from the White Paper? Surely I have made it plain enough that the point of the amendments is to ask the Government whether they are prepared to write into the Bill what they state are their own intentions.
§ Lord Harris of Greenwich
I am sure that the noble Lord is aware that I have pointed out that the document was produced by the Labour Party and ourselves even before the last general election. Therefore, it was available to be discussed at that time. It was agreed that the proportions of party political Peers should be not on the basis of equality between the Conservative and Labour Parties, but on the basis of the proportion of people supporting those political parties in a general election. That is the difficulty.
§ Lord Waddington
If that is the case, the noble Lord's argument is with the Government and not with me. He is now saying that the Government have changed their ground.
§ Lord Harris of Greenwich
If the noble Lord will reread the White Paper, he will see that what I have said is incorporated in it. However, the point before us is a simple one; that is, whether the amendments should be agreed as part of the Bill. If the Conservative Party behaves as it has on previous occasions, in a few moments the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, will withdraw the amendment. I do not know whether he proposes to divide the Committee. As I have indicated, I consider that the discussion on this matter is entirely reasonable. However, what are not reasonable are the constant assertions that there was purity in the past and there may be malevolence in the future as far as the present Government are concerned.
The Earl of Errol
As a Cross-Bencher, perhaps I may ask the noble Lord a question. Does he agree with the premise I put forward earlier that the Tory Party needs equally to be controlled in the future by an amendment such as this? I believe that is what he was saying.
§ Lord Harris of Greenwich
It is perfectly reasonable for us to discuss the particular circumstances in which an appointments commission should be created. The reply of the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, will be listened to with great care for that precise reason. Of course, it is reasonable to discuss that matter and to seek reassurance that the behaviour of such an appointments commission will be fair.
§ Lord Elton
Before the noble Lord sits down, could he kindly substantiate two comments he made? Who, exactly, has been making assertions of purity in the past, 1360 because I have not heard them, and where in the White Paper is the proportionality recommended as he described it?
§ Lord Harris of Greenwich
In answer to the first point, there has been a series of suggestions, both today and on previous occasions—
§ Lord Harris of Greenwich
The noble Lord has asked a question. If he is good enough to allow me to reply, I shall endeavour to do so. We had the suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, for instance, that under the Bill as presently drafted it will be easier to manipulate the House. As I have tried to point out, manipulation took place under Conservative Ministers. Noble Lords such as the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, and indeed the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, when he was patronage secretary, did absolutely nothing to deal with the situation.
As regards the second matter, I have stated my belief. I shall gladly look again at the White Paper after this discussion.
§ Lord Shore of Stepney
I hope that my noble friends will not be dismissive of the proposals put forward. I would be the last to suggest to them that they should simply adopt the amendments. That clearly is not on. However, I hope that they will think further about the matter and perhaps, at a later stage, tell us of their conclusions.
Perhaps I may explain why I say that. I listened to the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, on Second Reading. What he has done in these amendments was foreshadowed in that speech. Frankly, I thought that his speech then fell into two parts. In one part, with which I strongly disagreed, he was highly critical of all that we were up to and our motives. However, I thought that the second part was really rather good. He picked out those features of what we have volunteered and have put to the country which I believe, on merit, are extremely attractive.
In the past our criticism of the House of Lords, apart from its hereditary composition, which is well understood, has been its total imbalance of party strengths. We volunteered and, with tremendous courage, committed ourselves, first, to parity, not supremacy, and, secondly, not to fall for the temptation of giving one party a majority over the whole second Chamber or upper Chamber, whatever it will be called. These are enormously important features of our proposals. The proposal that we shall seek to ensure that a substantial number of independent Peers, the Cross-Benchers, will be retained, gives that promise of a real element of independence in the future Chamber. On merit, I find the latter arguments to be very powerful.
Perhaps I may put to my noble friends the following point. Whether bogusly or genuinely, many people are writing editorials criticising what we are doing and saying that the principal objection is that it will leave 1361 unlimited patronage, as it were, to a future Prime Minister to determine, as he thinks, the composition of the interim Chamber. Not a bit of it! We have deliberately put ourselves in baulk; in other words, we have put chains Hound the absolute patronage of a Prime Minister for almost the first time in our history. It is remarkable.
I put it to my noble friends that, if we can find a way of incorporating these principles into the Bill itself, although not in detail, we will have a very persuasive additional ability to sell it to the country as a whole. We really are saying to the country, "Look, we stand for the genuinely independent second Chamber, one where the parties are equally balanced ". It is a guarantee of many of our liberties and, indeed, of the fairness with which our constitutional arrangements will be carried out in the future.
Obviously, there can be quite a considerable argument about the proposed commission and I would not wish to come to a conclusion in that respect. In some ways, I believe it to be of secondary importance to the three principles. If we are to have a substantial number of Cross-Bench representatives in the second House and if we are really to stick to the business of one party not having an overall majority and the two main parties being equal, the room for mischief in the use of patronage as regards the appointment of independent Peers is not all that great.
Therefore, in thinking about this, I hope that my noble friends will take a. serious look at the matter to see whether we can fit this into the framework without it leading to unnecessary difficulties. I understand that any such amendment will inevitably raise questions of further debate in the other place. Nevertheless, I do not believe that there will be any resistance in the other Chamber if we can find a way to incorporate these most desirable features which we, ourselves, have proposed and volunteered.
§ 7.30 p.m.
It may appear that I have some amendments in this group, but that is not so. Indeed, I have taken them out and ungrouped them from each other. When we come to deal with them, I hope that it will be unnecessary for me to move them. I hope that we shall find that we are in dialogue with the Government in dealing with the underlying issues which cause us and, evidently, others on all sides of the House, so much disquiet. However, if we find that we are faced with an intransigent Government and that, like the rest of the House, we are having to discuss how we should tackle the matter, I trust that my amendments may give us a reasonable opportunity to consider the various aspects of the proposed appointments commission and other ways of dealing with this problem in some detail. In that case, we may perhaps be able to bring back an amendment on Report, which is likely to command wide-spread support in the House.
As the Bill is set at the moment, the Government are inviting us, as I said on Tuesday, to set to sea in a sieve on the basis that they will rush out to our rescue before the water is up round our necks. I accept everything 1362 that the Government have said about their intentions and about the determination and the will with which they approach the idea of stage two, but they are not in perfect control of events; indeed, they can never be so. It would be extremely remiss of us to leave the consitution of this country and of this House in such a poor state that it could be sunk in a few years' time if we were to have a Prime Minister who, looking back over the history of Prime Ministers, merely equalled the performance of some of our past Prime Ministers in the way in terms of treatment of this House.
In an earlier interjection, the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, suggested that we should not change this Bill in any way which would reduce the Government's incentive to move on to stage two. However, if we leave this Bill in a state where the Government, merely by appointing 30 or 40 extra Peers and exercising some judicious selection of the Cross-Bench Peers, were able to have effective control of this House, there will be no incentive for the Government to go through the pain—and it will be painful—of introducing stage two. Indeed, it will be a difficult and time-consuming thing to do, but if the Government are left in a position where they have effective control of the House, there will be no incentive whatever for them to make any changes.
The Government need look no further than our own record in office to see that we were perfectly content with a manifestly inequitable and indefensible system because we were in control of it. When we were in power, there was never any hope of persuading the Government in another place to make any changes. We cannot let that happen again. I very much hope that the Government are as determined as I am to ensure that: we leave this Bill in a state where that cannot happen again.
Beyond anything else, it is proposed that we should be bought with the arrangements arrived at under the heading of the "Weatherill amendment ". But if the Bill remains as it is and the Government can obtain control of the House over two or three years merely by appointing Peers in a way for which there is adequate precedent, the Weatherill amendment will be worth nothing to us. We will have achieved nothing by it. We will merely have let this House be acquired as pan of an arm of the executive without offering any resistance. I do not believe that that should be part of the deal we are being offered. I believe that the Government are being honest in offering us the Weatherill amendment. When we come to discuss ways of making that water-tight and the Bill acceptable so that we are being offered a real proposition in the Weatherill amendment, I hope that the Government will go along with us in trying to ensure that what we are being offered is a real compromise.
I do not have any particular attachment to the ways in which it has been suggested that we should tackle these problems. Indeed, I have no particular attachment to what I propose in my own amendments. There may well be other ways to approach the matter; for example, we might do it by something declaratory in the Bill, which would make it extremely difficult for a future Prime Minister to behave in a way which is not envisaged by this Government. I look forward to listening to the Minister when he responds to the debate. 1363 I very much hope that he will attempt to meet us half-way or that he will propose some other way of removing our concerns about the Bill. If he does not, I believe that this is something on which we will need to fight to the death.
§ Lord Northbourne
I have not wanted to intervene in the terrifying crossfire between the two major parties and the very distinguished speakers who contributed to it. However, I want to draw the attention of Members of the Committee to Amendment No.134, which is included in this group of amendments. In scale, this amendment is more modest and does not refer to the proposed appointments commission. Indeed, it refers specifically to the independent Peers. Noble Lords may say,"Well, you would talk about independent Peers because you are speaking from the Cross Benches ", but it is the other way round. It is because I believe passionately in the importance of independence that I sit on these Benches. The debates—I was tempted to say "the interminable debates "—that we have already had on this Bill have been splattered with references to the importance of the independent Peers. Of course, the Government have acknowledged that they want a strong independent element, and have said that they want a significant Cross-Bench element.
Amendment No.134 is a probing amendment, the purpose of which is to see whether the Government will explain a little more clearly what they mean by the word "significant ". I find it fairly easy to understand what they mean by "broad parity " between the two major parties, but what do they actually mean by "significant "? In the context of cot deaths, or road accidents, 1 per cent could be significant. In another context 50 per cent could be insignificant. Will the Government tell us something more about what they mean by "significant"? I do not have the undivided attention of the Front Bench but on Tuesday the noble Baroness said,the Prime Minister has already said…that the number of Peers who sit on the Cross-Benches, independent Peers, should be determined by an Appointments Commission and not by personal patronage ". —(Official Report.11/5/99; col.1191.]I may have missed something but I was not aware that the number was going to be determined by the commission. I always understood that the appointments were to be determined by the commission, but it appears that the number will also be determined by it. What criteria will be used to decide the number of Cross-Bench Peers who will be appointed? If the noble Baroness can help me on this matter, I shall not need to bring it back on Report. I hope that she will be able to do so.
§ The Earl of Sandwich
I speak in support of the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Shore, was the only person who spoke about the future and what the public will think about this Chamber. The other day I took some sixth-formers from Dorset into Parliament. I showed them the single Independent Bench of the Member of Parliament for Tatton. That may only be a temporary Independent Bench. Then I brought the sixth-formers to this Chamber. They were amazed at the 1364 proportion of Members in this Chamber—it has now risen above 25 per cent—who are independent. I believe this is the most valuable asset of this Chamber, of which the electorate are completely unaware. I go further. I believe that we should strengthen and increase the proportion of the independent Peers in this Chamber. I should like to see a progressive reduction of the party political element in favour of the independent element.
The White Paper at Chapter 6, page 33, refers to the appointments commission. I understand that the new commission will have a status somewhere above the present Political Honours Scrutiny Committee and it will do more than safeguard independent Peers. This is a significant move by the Government which will ensure that the country understands the role of our independent element in this Chamber and that it is not looking for another elected Chamber.
I supported Amendment No.31 on Tuesday in the cause of reform, not in the cause of democracy. I trust the Government will continue to resist the idea of a sham democracy through an elected Chamber here. It is becoming an old red herring waved about by both parties and sections of the media. It will not satisfy anyone who believes in the balance between our present Chamber and another place. To ensure that this happens the Government will have to make more of the idea of the valuable quota of independent Peers. As has been well argued by the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell. that measure should be on the face of the Bill. It already enables us to argue that we are not a pale shadow of another place. I would like to see more public recognition of independent Peers as Peers who are seen to represent their professions in a voluntary or part-time capacity. However, that is a discussion for another day.
Much more detail will be needed when the proposal comes back from the Royal Commission. I have written to the Royal Commission in these terms. In the meantime I hope that the Government will stand up to the pro-election lobby and secure the principle of the element of Cross-Bench Peers. I believe that that is what the modest amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, sets out to do.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Lord Mayhew of Twysden
I know the Committee is anxious to hear the Minister reply. However, I venture to take a minute or two to support what the noble Lord, Lord Shore of Stepney, has urged upon the Government Front Bench. I know that they took careful notice of what the noble Lord said, as it is always sensible to do. I wish to add one facet to the point that he made, which was that the country will find it difficult to understand why the Government should resist the intention—these are not necessarily the exact words—behind the amendments put forward by my two noble friends.
I wish to add a little force to that, if I may without presumption, by going back a few days to the tremendous battle that we had on Clause 1. We had put forward a formulation which we believed would without any doubt secure the declared intention of the Government. The Committee will remember that the matter concerned the words, "by virtue of a hereditary 1365 peerage". I shall not repeat the arguments that were made. However, the Government said time and again that they were going to proceed in this way because that was stated in the manifesto. The manifesto commitment was recited time and time again. After a while I came to recognise the force at least of what was in the Government's mind. They were concerned not to allow any perception—we know the force of perception—that they were somehow going back on what they had put before the country in their manifesto.
The executive summary of the White Paper states,The Government set out its approach to reform of the House of Lords in its manifesto ".There then follows a summary. The document continues,This White Paper sets out how we intend to deliver on those promises, through a step-by-step process of reform ".All that my noble friends seek to do is to assist the Government in their declared intention to deliver on those promises by writing into the Bill the very words that the Government employed in the White Paper.
I rise only to prevent myself from having to interrupt the Minister in the course of the reply. If it were so essential to have on the face of the Bill that which appeared in the manifesto relating to Clause 1, why is it somehow wrong to put on the face of the Bill that which appears in the White Paper which is declared only to set out,how we intend to deliver on those promises "?I cannot see why that decision should at the moment be so firmly held by the Government. I wish, therefore, to hear from the Minister how the Government propose to deal with the fear behind the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Shore; namely, that they will be seen somehow or other to be casting an aura of unreality over what they stated in the White Paper.
§ Lord Marlesford
I ought to make one brief point. Quite apart from the desirability of underwriting in statute important undertakings given by government on important matters, We matter that worries me is that there has been much talk about the past and the virtue, or lack of it, of previous administrations. The whole point of this Bill is that it will totally change the House of Lords. It will give us a situation in which not just the temptations but the opportunities for changing the composition of the Chamber will be infinitely greater. Quite frankly, in the past, with the inbuilt Conservative majority among the hereditaries, what could be done was pretty marginal, even if it was occasionally offensive to certain noble Lords. The real point is that we are now in a new situation—or will be—and it seems reasonable that the safeguards which will be so much more necessary should in some way or other be underwritten in statute.
§ Lord Kingsland
So effectively have your Lordships conveyed the fundamental messages that underlie the various amendments that, I am glad to report, I have very little to say.
§ Lord Kingsland
However, I shall say it. I listened to the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Harris of 1366 Greenwich, with some bewilderment. I think the best I can do—perhaps I can say this on behalf of the Government Front Bench—is to refer him to paragraph 19 of their own White Paper which states, inter alia, that,For the transitional House, the Government will ensure that no one political party commands a majority in the Lords. The Government presently plans to seek only broad parity with the Conservatives ".No clearer statement of what the Government intend to do could possibly have been made than that.
I think that the fundamental question the Government have to answer is the one put by my noble friend Lord Waddington. He quoted from the White Paper. I dare to quote from it once more.
At paragraph 3 of chapter 6 the White Paper states,For the transitional House…We will establish an independent Appointments Commission to make nominations to the cross benches and to oversee the propriety of all recommendations of political peers, so that all peers are vetted to the highest standard ".The White Paper is absolutely clear, therefore, that the appointments commission is an integral part of the interim House. The arrangements for the appointments commission must be set in place before the new House comes into being. If that is not done in the Bill, how is it to be done? Perhaps the Government are proposing a second Bill about which we as yet know nothing.
In the press release on the Labour evidence to the Royal Commission, the Labour Party—which, dare I say it, has some loose connection with the Government—said:Tony Blair is the first prime minister to relinquish powers of patronage in the appointment of life peers, through the establishment of an Independent Appointment Commission for the transitional chamber "—again underlining what the Government have said in their White Paper.
I do not understand the kind of argument put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Richard. If the Government are sincere about the undertakings in the White Paper, why cannot they put them in the statute? Those undertakings are ideally suited to statute. The Government have spent the past two years putting enormous constitutional changes, of the most wide-ranging implications, into statutes. For instance, the incorporation of the European Convention on Human Rights, which handed over large areas of power from Parliament to the judges; and the devolution Bills for Scotland and Wales which devolved powers from the centre to the periphery. All of those were dealt with by statute in the most minute detail.
If that is so, why are the Government so afraid of doing the same thing in relation to the appointment of Peers, who are, after all, independent of both or, I should say, of all three political parties? What is so special about that which requires the Government to handle it by prerogative, especially since the Government have said that the transitory House will be very transitory indeed?
§ Baroness Jay of Paddington
I am afraid that I cannot follow the example of the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, and be brief and precise. The Committee would rightly criticise the Government Front 1367 Bench if in our response to these very complicated issues we did not give some extended reply, particularly on the basis of our own plans to deal with many of the issues which have been raised in this interesting debate and which we may feel are not appropriately dealt with in the way suggested by the amendments before the Committee tonight. But I am grateful to the Committee for discussing this group of amendments together. As has been shown by this very good debate, there are a number of issues which overlap between the different amendments, even if they are not precisely contiguous.
Perhaps I may make some general points in response. I think that we are now considering Amendments Nos.75, 86 and 134. I hope that we can consider them in the spirit of the dialogue which the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, enjoined on us. I hope that he will find that satisfactory. I am grateful to him for what he said about the reason for not including his particular proposals in this group.
Let me begin by saying that the Government recognise that this is a complicated area. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Shore of Stepney for making that very clear. I can assure him that we have thought about this and have considered carefully the role of the appointments commission and the way that Members of the Cross Benches particularly—that is what we consider the appointments commission will deal with in the interim House—should be appointed.
We find that the individual amendments—they have been very forcefully moved—are flawed or, frankly, raise more questions than they answer. I support my noble friend Lord Richard in feeling that some of them suggest a world of political unreality.
The number of specific amendments on this subject which we have considered tonight, and those which are on the Marshalled List but have not been spoken to so far, illustrate that there is no agreement about precisely what the appointments commission should do; how it should be constituted; and, frankly, how complex the statutory provision would need to be which attempted to answer all the questions which have been raised by Members of the Committee and in the several amendments, either those which have been spoken to or those which remain on the Marshalled List.
I shall deal with the specific difficulties that the Government see in the various amendments that have been spoken to, but I should like to explain to the Committee—I am afraid this may be in some detail—the Government's plans and why we do not at the moment think that statutory provision as has been suggested is appropriate for this stage. Perhaps I may repeat what I said much earlier today in response to the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Stanley. I refer to Amendment No.71. I have no doubt at all that if we had introduced statutory provisions, the accusation would immediately have been made that we intended the transition arrangements for your Lordships' House to be permanent. That was a point made in an intervention by the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, and which we discussed earlier in relation to Amendments Nos.71 and 72.
1368 I said to the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, who was at that time replying for the Official Opposition, that I could almost put in his mouth the arguments that he would have made had we proposed statutory provision. His reaction, which was not verbal but expressive, suggested to me that I was not far off the mark. The noble Lord is no longer in the Chamber, but I do not think that he would quarrel with my remark. We did not want to send the signal that we were proposing provisions which would be seen as determining a long-term life for the transitional House. We want to do precisely what we intend, which is to move swiftly to an appropriate short-term transitional House and then to move further on to long-term reform.
When last February we debated the White Paper, which has been much referred to in the course of the debate, I explained the commitments which the Government were making and which we intend to follow through. Perhaps I may briefly review them. We have consistently made it clear that we do not intend the transitional House to be under the control of the Government; quite frankly, as we have said on several occasions, that would be completely absurd, given that the 500 life Peers who will be Members of that transitional House have been nominated by eight Prime Ministers over the past 40 years since the Life Peerages Act. The majority of them are Conservative life Peers. We do not at this stage need to go into the relative virtues or otherwise of individual Prime Ministers during that period.
We said that no one party should seek a majority in the House of Lords; we said that the system of appointment of life Peers would be reviewed; we committed ourselves, as has been pointed out by the further amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, to maintaining the independent Cross-Bench presence of life Peers; and we said, as the noble Lord, Lord Harris, indicated, that, over time, party appointees should more accurately reflect the votes cast at the preceding general election.
There are three elements to those proposals: first, the principle which will inform the overall numbers in the transitional House; secondly, the introduction of the independent appointments commission to nominate Cross-Bench Peers; and thirdly, the undertaking to forward to the Queen, without interference, the recommendations of other party leaders and the commission.
I should like to emphasise two aspects of that. First, the very act of setting up the appointments commission is an indication of the Government's continuing commitment to the idea of independent Members in the House of Lords. It is also an indication of our commitment to the idea that they should be working Members of the House since the change in the nominations process will distance them effectively from the honours system. The second aspect is, of course, the reduction in patronage which will follow.
As I have said before—this is something which has been of concern to noble Lords who have taken part in the Committee proceedings this evening and is the burden of the two main amendments we are 1369 considering&—the commission does not need to be set up by legislation. In response to the noble and learned Lord Mayhew, the point of difference between Clause 1 of the Bill and our proposals with regard to the appointments commission is that we can remove the hereditary Peers only by statute; we do not need legislation to set up an appointments commission as an advisory non-departmental public body. As the White Paper makes clear, the commission will include members of the three major parties and have a majority of independent members. The appointment of the independent members will be in accordance with the relevant rules of the Commissioner for Public Appointments, the so-called Nolan rules to which the noble Lord. Lord Crickhowell referred. Those include a number of principles. I hope not to detain the Committee unnecessarily but I shall go through them because they suggest the degree of transparency and probity which this kind of body has. The initial proposal emerged under the previous administration, not in this context but in general. The arrangements include a number of principles: appointment on merit, no appointment taking place without being subject to independent scrutiny, and a selection system which demonstrates openness and transparency. Within those principles, the commissioner for public appointments rules lay down strict requirements for appointments to bodies of this type. Perhaps I may list them again. They are that application forms roust be completed by all candidates; selection will be on merit, as judged against an agreed job or person criterion; an independent assessor must be used in the selection process; appointments should be publicised; and appointments should be monitored for statistical purposes.
The whole process should be overseen by a panel, not by an individual, and this must include at least one independent assessor. All candidates&—and that includes those put forward by Ministers&—must be scrutinised by the panel. If a Minister wishes to act independently in making an appointment and not follow the code or guidance, the commissioner for public appointments has to be informed. He may require that a public statement to that effect be made. Ministers are, of course, accountable to Parliament.
How the parties choose their members for the appointments commission is a matter for them, although they too are encouraged to follow this open process. The appointments commission itself, once established, will be encouraged to seek nominations from a wide field. As has been said, the commission will take over the role of the Political Honours Scrutiny Committee in vetting all peerage nominations for propriety. This is a substantial commitment, one which goes far beyond the slightly broad headlines in which it was described by Members of the Committee in speaking to their amendments. It is worth considering the provisions which exist under the Nolan rules.
The third element of our proposals is that the Prime Minister will relinquish control over individual names from anyone except his own party. As noted by several contributors, the Prime Minister has for the first time publicly committed himself not to interfere in the details of other parties' nominations. This goes much further 1370
than any Prime Minister and any administration has gone before. I realise that Members of the Committee are concerned that although this may demonstrate good intent on behalf of this Government and this Prime Minister, they cannot be confident about the future. Perhaps I may reassure the Committee that we are already taking forward the preparatory work on setting up the commission as a non-departmental public body without the legislation which, as I said, is unnecessary but within the rules originally agreed by the previous administration which have been developed by bringing them under the public appointments commission administration.
The Committee may be interested to know that I have opened discussions with my right honourable friend the Chief Secretary of the Treasury to ensure that there is at least a process for recruiting members of the commission to start work in the near future. Thus the commission would be ready to start functioning at the beginning of the next Session of Parliament, as we have always suggested it should. I am sure Members of the Committee who have had experience of dealing with the Treasury in their government experience realise that I would not tangle with my right honourable friend on the matter if I considered that it was either a theoretical proposition or one that had little weight behind it.
I hope that the Committee will accept that these are earnests of our good intentions and that we can move rapidly ahead with the non-departmental public body appointments commission. Many of the regulations which are in place to govern such a body are tougher than those contained in some of the amendments.
I turn to Amendment No.75 in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Waddington and Lord Elton. It is the first of the amendments which raise in detail those facts about the appointments commission which could have a life of their own. As both noble Lords explained, the amendment takes care to address a number of principles and&—as the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, said in introducing the amendment&—in proximate language, those points which the Government have laid down as criteria for recommendations as life Peers in the future. They include the idea that no one political party should command a majority in the House of Lords, that there should be rough parity of numbers between the two main political parties and that there should continue to be a significant presence of independent Cross Bench Peers.
The Committee will not be surprised to know that on the Government Benches we are delighted by the noble Lord's confirmation that these are the right principles to pursue. However, we feel that the amendment has some serious flaws. I imagine that some of the concerns will be shared by Members of the Committee on the Opposition Front Bench. The noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, has already identified some of them from his perspective.
First, under Amendment No.75, the appointments commission would recommend all life peerages, not just those to the Cross Benches. This would be the 1371 reduction in patronage which the noble Viscount rightly addressed in his remarks. All those who were to represent the political parties would be included. Under the amendment, the political parties would be represented on the commission, but although represented there is no formal language to suggest that they would be consulted on individual appointments.
There is a second point on which the proposals diverge from those we feel are appropriate. It also causes the Official Opposition some concern, I imagine, that the amendment gives the Prime Minister apparently unfettered power to choose the individual members of the commission. I understand from the amendment that the only undertaking is that members of the commission should be Privy Counsellors. There are no other criteria. The criteria under our proposals, as I have explained at some length, would be governed by the provisions of the Nolan rules on openness and transparency. The Government have pledged themselves to an open appointments process. Although the provisions of Amendment No.75 would be statutory, they do not go so far as we would go in distancing the Prime Minister from the appointments process.
I also query a point which is not very great, the limit on the number of new peerages in any one year under the amendment. Although the figure of 50 looks quite generous, if one considers the year 1997, when we were taking account of both dissolution and resignation honours, there were 31 appointments under the provision. In an average year 50 might not be as generous as initially appears.
I submit to the Committee that the net effect of the amendment produces a rather inflexible statutory process and it does not deliver the independence that Members of the Committee seek because it provides no extra safeguards. In some instances it provides slightly fewer than those which will arise under our non-departmental public body appointments commission.
Amendment No.86 proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, provides yet another variation. It limits itself to the Cross Bench Peers explicitly and to that extent it is consistent with the Government's clear proposals. But we are concerned about the details of the numbers in subsection (2) and how they are supposed to work. The subsection suggests that the commission could apparently be limited to only five members, yet it provides that eight shall be appointed. I am not sure whether this is a way of ensuring that the commission could continue to function when it had vacancies or that it could be limited to five members, four elected by the Cross Benches plus one; for example, one of the two nominated by the Prime Minister. What happens when there is vacancy among those elected by the Cross Benches?
The fundamental question arises: are those to be chosen by the Cross-Benchers also to be Cross-Benchers? What provision is made for holding elections to the Cross Benches, whether or not the candidates are limited to existing Cross-Benchers? We 1372 would have difficulty with providing that so large a proportion of the commission be existing Peers. I am sure that the final membership of the appointments commission under our proposals will reflect the fact that people should have expertise and understanding of the House. We fear that there must be a danger, despite the provisions of subsection (7) of the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, that such a commission might simply co-opt members in its own image.
We also have difficulties&—this is the general point in relation to all these amendments but I raise it particularly in relation to Amendment No.86, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell&—regarding what exactly would be the constitutional position of the commission. Subsection (3) of the amendment states that its role will be to make recommendations to Her Majesty. On the other hand, subsection (5) states that,The Prime Minister shall not have the right to refuse a recommendation ".That seems to imply that he would continue to have a role.
So are the recommendations under this proposal being made to the Prime Minister, as we propose, or will they simply be passed on to the Queen? What, for example, would be the grounds for the Prime Minister refusing a recommendation? We have made it clear that under our proposals the Prime Minister would not have the right to reject any recommendations from the appointments commission, unless of course issues of national security were involved. So once again we feel that, despite the statutory basis, under this proposal the appointments commission would be less free of Prime Ministerial interference than under the non-statutory basis that we propose.
On the question of the Cross-Benchers, the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, seeks statutory guarantees that there will continue to be a certain minimum non-party representation in the transitional House. As I have said on several occasions, we have no difficulty with the idea of guaranteeing a continued non-party presence. We have repeatedly made it clear that we are committed to maintaining the independent presence of a substantial number of life Peers. We have been pressed as to the actual numbers. They will depend on the overall make-up of the House. It would be very difficult, other than on a strictly proportionate basis, to make provision for absolute numbers at this stage. The noble Lord will have to accept that the words "substantial " and "significant " mean what they say in commonsense language. We have to see what are the final numbers, the numbers of hereditary Peers who remain on the Cross-Benches and the numbers that are proposed by the appointments commission, before we can be absolute in regard to those numbers. I hope the noble Lord will accept that. But we are uneasy, for reasons that go beyond that, about trying to set out the proportion in statute.
One of the questions that arise is the definition of "owe allegiance to " in the terms of the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne. For 1373 example, there are only three political parties that are presently organised in this House, but there are many more outside. Some already have former Members of another place sitting on the independent Benches in this House. For example, would the Bishops need to be included on either side or both sides of the calculation? Do the numbers include those who are on leave of absence? Also, what happens, as has happened several times over the past few months, if Peers change sides after entering this House? They either become Cross-Benchers or decide to adopt a party allegiance once they have achieved membership. For those reasons, and for the general reason—I know that the Committee may feel that it is inappropriate but I must repeat it because it is the Government's position—that we feel that this Bill is not about establishing rules far life peerages in the future, I urge noble Lords not to press their amendments. I hope that I have persuaded the Committee that, overall, our plans for the transitional House are at least as precise and, I hope, as exact in their provisions in terms of appointments, as those that are proposed in the amendments that are before the Committee.
§ Lord Waddington
I am grateful to the noble Baroness for the courteous way in which she has replied to the amendment. I am grateful also for her comments and criticisms of our scheme for a statutory commission, which I am sure will come in handy when it comes to drafting an appropriate amendment on Report.
The noble Baroness did not get very far in addressing the principles behind these amendments. She did not begin to explain why there should not be a statutory commission responsible for all appointments, carrying out the very policy that has been propounded by the Government.
At the beginning of her remarks, the noble Baroness said that the Government recognise that this is a very complicated area. I respectfully agree. It is complicated enough for the noble Baroness to go away and think again. It is complicated enough in view of the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Shore, for her to think again about the whole matter. I am confident that she will, and that she will pay regard to the views of her noble friend Lord Shore. I shall certainly return to this matter on Report. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Lord Carter
I beg to move that the House do now resume. In moving this Motion, I suggest that the Committee stage does not begin again before 9.15 p.m.
§ Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House resumed.