HL Deb 26 July 2000 vol 616 cc414-6

2.44 p.m.

Earl Ferrers asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether the proposal to advertise for applicants for membership of the House of Lords meets with their approval.

The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Jay of Paddington)

My Lords, the Government welcome the establishment of the Independent Appointments Commission chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson of Coddenham. The particular working methods adopted by the noble Lord and his commissioners are for them to decide. However, we recognise that advertising is consistent with the aim we set out in our White Paper on reforming the House of Lords that the commission should operate an open and transparent nominations system. If advertising widens the trawl for potential Members of this House so that the commission's nominations improve the gender, ethnic and age balance here, the Government will certainly approve.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I am grateful to the Leader of the House for that reply. I am even more grateful to her for replying to my Question herself and not asking the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General to answer. Does the noble Baroness agree that we really have plumbed the very depths of insult and vulgarity when we have to advertise in a newspaper and ask people to send in a mission statement for them to be considered for membership of the House of Lords? Does the noble Baroness realise that the commission intends to advertise on the Internet and have its own website? I suppose that would be called wannabeapeer.com. Do the Government intend to follow their new-found tradition and invite people to apply for the position of, for instance, Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Lords? Does the noble Baroness think that that is a good idea, or a bad idea, or does she have no view?

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, as I am sure the noble Earl is aware, the appointments commission's remit is to appoint people to the Cross Benches. If he is suggesting that it would be preferable for those offices to be held by members of the Cross Benches, perhaps his own Front Bench might have different ideas. The noble Earl has a consistent and long-standing record of opposing any change to the membership of this House. I remind him of what he said when the issue of women Peers becoming Members of this House was first suggested. I quote from the relevant Hansard: I think it would be an unmitigated disaster". He went on: Frankly, I find women in politics highly distasteful"— [Official Report, 3/12/57; cols. 708–10.] I suggest, respectfully, to the noble Earl that he would perhaps be more comfortable if he abandoned pretending to be the Earl Canute and recognised that "dot corn" and the 21st century have arrived.

Lord Dormand of Easington

My Lords, if the proposal is adopted, how is it likely to affect the right of the remaining 92 hereditary Peers to sit in your Lordships' House? Can my noble friend confirm that it is still the Government's policy that hereditary Peers will not have the right to sit in your Lordships' House? Can she scotch the rumours that their removal might not take place at all or even that we shall have to wait until after the next election?

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, I remind my noble friend that we are talking about the appointments commission, which will recommend appointments to the Cross Benches. It will not recommend appointments on the basis of party nominations or indeed on any other basis. The Government have always made clear their determination to proceed with the next stage of House of Lords reform. That will be a matter for legislation and not for the activities of the appointments commission.

Lord Chalfont

My Lords, in the light of a remark made by the noble Baroness towards the end of her first Answer to the noble Earl, can she confirm that no requirement will be placed on the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, to apply any quotas to the selection made from this trawl, whether they be quotas as regards gender, race, religion or any other category?

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, I do not think that anything I said suggested that I would be in favour of quotas or that the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, would be required to take that kind of approach when considering the appointments. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, is aware that in his report of the Royal Commission, the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, suggested, for example, that not less than 30 per cent of the Members of the fully reformed House should be women.

Lord Hooson

My Lords, can the Minister confirm whether it is correct that the members of the commission chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, were themselves appointed after the Government had utilised the services of a firm of headhunters? If that is the case, do the Government intend to extend that system of selection? Might they not even extend it to the appointment of the Prime Minister?

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, frankly, that reflects a misunderstanding of the assistance given to the Cabinet Office. As I have explained to the House on several occasions, the PricewaterhouseCoopers Executive Search and Selection exercise produced a long list of people who might be interested in serving in positions on the appointments commission. Those people were then selected by an independent panel chaired by the Secretary to the Cabinet Office. It had nothing to do with the Government.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil

My Lords, I wonder whether it has occurred to the noble Baroness, who is the Leader of the House, that it might make a welcome change if, from time to time, she were to demonstrate that she had given careful consideration to ideas put forward and expressed by those with whom she does not always agree? If she cared to look back at those who in the past have occupied her position, I think she will find that they enjoyed a reputation for uniform courtesy and civility. It would be nice if she were to emulate them.

Noble Lords


Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, I would ask the noble Lord to withdraw his remark that I am discourteous.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the simplest and most straightforward way of settling the question of who should or should not be Members of this House is to put in place a fully elected Chamber as soon as we possibly can?

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, my noble friend will know that that is not the position taken by the Government. The Government have accepted the recommendation made by the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, in the report of the Royal Commission that a minority of Members of the second Chamber should be directly elected.

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, can the noble Baroness take us a little further and tell the House when the Government will give an unequivocal reply to the question: what is that composition to be? When will the Government make up their mind and come forward with a plan?

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, is aware that, on the part of the Government, there is no intention to delay this matter. As I explained in my reply to my noble friend Lord Dormand, that is a question for any legislation which is proposed.