HL Deb 04 May 2000 vol 612 cc1131-4

3.37 p.m.

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question of which I have given private notice; namely, to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will announce the membership of the House of Lords Appointments Commission promised in the Government's paper, Modernising Government: Reforming the House of Lords.

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, this morning my right honourable friend the Prime Minister announced in a parliamentary Written Answer the decisions on the membership of the commission. My right honourable friend stated: Following an open recruitment exercise conducted in accordance with the principles of the Commissioner for Public Appointments, I have decided to appoint the following people, on the recommendation of the selection panel, as the independent chairman and members of the interim House of Lords Appointments Commission. The chairman will be Lord Stevenson of Coddenham, the chairman of the Pearson Group and Halifax plc and a Cross-Bench Peer in the House of Lords. The leaders of the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties have been informed and are content for Lord Stevenson to be appointed as chairman. The independent members, chosen from a strong field of candidates, will be Mrs. Angela Sarkis CBE, the chief executive of the Church Urban Fund; Dame Deirdre Hine, previously Chief Medical Officer at the Welsh Office and chairman of the Commission for Health Improvement; and Ms Felicity Huston, chairman of the Northern Ireland Consumer Committee for Electricity and deputy chairman of the General Consumer Council of Northern Ireland. In addition, the commission will contain a member nominated by each of the three main political parties. The Labour Party member is the right honourable Baroness Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde. The Conservative Party member is the right honourable Lord Hurd of Westwell, CH, CBE. The Liberal Democrat member is Lord Dholakia, OBE, DL. The seven members of the commission will combine knowledge of the existing House of Lords with a diverse range of personal backgrounds. They will be well qualified to take forward the process of appointing non-political Peers to the House of Lords on a more open and transparent basis and to take on the responsibility for vetting all nominations for peerages". Biographical details of the members of the commission will be placed in the Library.

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for having agreed to answer this Question. I still believe that it should have been volunteered as an oral Statement to both Houses of Parliament. However, will she accept that we on this side believe that such a commission should be statutory, set up by Parliament and open to scrutiny by this House? To whom will the commission be accountable and by what criteria will its success or otherwise be judged? Will she state clearly whether it is still government policy, as recommended by the Wakeham commission, to set up a statutory commission and, if so, when? In future, will this be the only route to nomination of Cross Benchers? Finally, will she say who will fix the number and proportion of Cross-Bench Peers? Will it be the commission or will it be the Prime Minister?

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, as the noble Lord will be aware from the extensive debates we have had on the subject of a statutory versus a non-statutory appointments commission, the Government have appointed this interim commission for the interim House of Lords. They have agreed in principle to accept the proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, for a statutory commission for the permanently reformed, long-term arrangements for the House of Lords. This is a very important step in the process of delivering the Prime Minister's promise to give up his sole power of patronage. I would remind your Lordships that no previous Prime Minister has ever taken that step.

I also point out to your Lordships that the diversity of the membership ensures that all new independent Peers will be widely representative of our country. Except in cases of national security, which will be subject to the same vetting procedures as applied to the previous Peerage Scrutiny Committee, the nominations will be passed by the Prime Minister to Her Majesty the Queen for appointment. The numbers to be appointed will, as is customary, be agreed by the Prime Minister.

Lord Renton

My Lords, should not Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland each be represented on the commission? I did not hear the names of anyone who could be identified in that way.

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, I apologise if I was somewhat unclear in my references to the individual members of the commission. As I said at the end of the Statement, biographical details of the members will be placed in the Library. However, all three places to which the noble Lord refers are represented. The noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, is a Scot, Ms Huston is a representative from Northern Ireland and Dame Deirdre Hine is from Wales.

Lord Craig of Radley

My Lords, is the Minister aware that I welcome the announcement by the Prime Minister of this Appointments Commission and, in particular, of the chairman, the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson of Coddenham. I welcome that on three counts: first, because he is a Member of your Lordships' House; secondly, because he is a CrossBencher; and, thirdly, because of his very wide experience in public and commercial life.

I wrote to the Prime Minister on 9th March—the noble Baroness is aware of my letter because I sent her a copy—suggesting that there should be a role for the Convenor in arrangements made with the Appointments Commission, about which we have just heard. I made that suggestion on two counts: first, because the Convenor is well placed to help the Appointments Commission in identifying career and other experience which would be of value to your Lordships' House; and, secondly, because independents are now becoming a more important element of your Lordships' House. Does she not believe that the Convenor, as the representative of the independents, should be recognised by the Appointments Commission in this way?

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and gallant Lord for welcoming the Appointments Commission and the people who will serve. As I am sure he will realise, it is open to any Member of your Lordships' House and, indeed, to a much wider group of people beyond the Houses of Parliament to make recommendations. That is one of the significant changes we are hoping to see taken forward by the new commission. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, who, as the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, pointed out, is himself a Cross-Bench Peer, will value enormously the advice, both formal and informal, which the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, will undoubtedly give him.

Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank

My Lords, from these Benches I welcome the announcement made by the noble Baroness of a commission of real quality and experience. The noble Baroness is right to say that there is a significant concession by the Prime Minister on the question of patronage. As she has made clear, there is a distinction between this commission and that proposed in chapter 13 of the report of the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham. However, can she undertake to consider carefully that, irrespective of how long it may take to make a major further change in the composition of this House, there is a great deal to be said for extending the remission of patronage by implementing at a very early date, ahead of other changes, chapter 13 of the report of the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, and to make all the appointments to your Lordships' House the responsibility of an independent commission?

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, for underlining what I said in my original Answer, which is to lay great stress on the quality of the individuals appointed to this commission. I agree with him that they form a very strong panel. They were chosen from a strong field of candidates, which, in itself, was very encouraging.

On the noble Lord's second point, as I said in my original reply to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, the Government accepted in principle that the proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, on the statutory commission for membership of your Lordships' House should very much form part of the final reform of your Lordships' House, or the next part of the reform. However, the noble Lord will also be aware that I have said on many occasions that the Government do not believe it appropriate to give a commitment to cherry-pick individual recommendations of the Royal Commission.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy

My Lords, does the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, live in Scotland?

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, I am afraid that the noble Lady may have private and personal information on the noble Lord's residence which I do not have. However, I believe that he would be distressed not to be described as a Scot.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, perhaps I may ask the noble Baroness two short questions. First, with regard to future membership of the House of Lords, I believe that she said that new Peers would be drawn from a whole variety of different people. How can she say that when the Appointments Commission, which is responsible for appointing people, is supposed to be totally independent? Secondly, if I heard her correctly, she said that the chairman would be the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson of Coddenham, and that the other three people were all ladies. Is that not an example of gross sexism? Is the noble Baroness saying that out of the tremendous field of people who applied, no man was suitable to be chosen?

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, I suspect that it is a tribute to the quality of those people who applied. I have no doubt that the appointments were made on the absolute and clear understanding of equal opportunities policy, which is always pursued by the Commissioner for Public Appointments. With regard to the noble Earl's first point, in making the comments about drawing from a wider group than might customarily be the case in terms of membership of your Lordships' House, I was simply quoting from the terms of reference for the commission.

The Earl of Onslow

My Lords, will the noble Baroness give an undertaking that if the Appointments Commission puts someone forward, the Prime Minister will not veto it?

Baroness Jay of Paddington

Yes, my Lords. I said that in my previous reply.

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