HL Deb 18 December 2001 vol 630 cc129-31
Lord Geddes

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether, in the context of their proposals for House of Lords reform, they consider that the elected element will constitute a more legitimate body of membership within the House than the unelected element.

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Williams of Mostyn)

My Lords, I do not consider that one type of Member in the reformed Chamber will be more legitimate than any other type. All Members of this House will be equally legitimate.

Lord Geddes

My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord for that reply. He always gives such replies so graciously. Can he advise the House where that reply leaves the doctrine of his immediate predecessor Lord Privy Seal?

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, absolutely intact. The reformed House will be the subject of a constitutional settlement approved by Parliament, as the present House is the subject and the consequence of a constitutional settlement approved by Parliament.

Baroness Williams of Crosby

My Lords, I congratulate the Leader of the House on the brilliance of his reply. I want to press him further on the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Geddes. Does he accept that there is a danger of there being two classes of Peer, one elected and the other appointed? Does he also accept that, to sustain the legitimacy and the appropriate democratic role of this House, there is a strong case that those who accept a party Whip should be elected and that those who decide to retain their independence, on the grounds of their expertise and experience, may be appointed? That would meet the charge that some noble Lords are "cronies", an unacceptable charge and one that should be fully repudiated.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, there will not be two classes of Member. All Members will be equal, as George Orwell intended to point out. Speaking as one who was put here on the recommendation of Mr Major, I never thought that I had an obligation to be one of his cronies. I say quite seriously that I do not detect any subservience or desire to be ruled by others among any noble Lords, whether Bishops, lifers, hereditary Peers or others.

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, we shall return to the matter of legitimacy many times over the course of the next few months, particularly if the Government publish a Bill. It is important to understand the Government's thinking behind this subject. If, as the noble and learned Lord has said, directly elected Members of this House will have no greater legitimacy than appointed Peers, what is the point of having them?

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, to add a certain degree of variety that may be needed, and to give the representation that is specified in the Royal Commission's report to different sections of national life that may be under-represented at the moment. I stress that if the reform comes about it will be a constitutional settlement agreed and approved by both Houses.

Lord Davies of Coity

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that some difficulties could arise as a result of elected Members representing constituencies, whereas the rest will not have constituencies?

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, I do not believe that to be the case. The Bishops of the Church of England as established by law are Members of the House partly to represent a particular constituency of religious opinion. Of course, they also reflect much wider aspects of national life. There is no difficulty, except for those who want to find one.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, will the noble and learned Lord ask the Government to open their eyes a little wider so that they realise that elected Members in this House will alter the authority of the House of Lords and another place? The other place will hate the idea of an elected second Chamber and there will be endless trouble.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

No, my Lords. It is worth looking at the preamble to the Royal Commission's report and the basis upon which that commission pursued its inquiries and conclusions. That makes it perfectly plain that the House of Commons is to be supreme. It is to be supreme as the legislative organ and if it insists it must have its own way; and it is entirely supreme in relation to taxation. No changes to either of those bases will be proposed.

Lord Boardman

My Lords, does the noble and learned Lord recognise that votes last week showed quite clearly that the views of this non-elected House represent the views of the public, as was widely shown afterwards, rather than the views of the elected House?

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, I am not sure about that. It depends on which poll one reads. I take the point made by the noble Lord. This House, although non-elected, discharged what it took to be its duty.

Lord Elton

My Lords, does the Leader of the House accept that if in future Members of this House—however it is to be composed—are to be paid a living salary, the country will be governed by two Chambers out of touch with real life?

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, not really. I believe that outside this House most people's aspiration is to have a living salary.