§ 4.30 p.m.
§ Debate resumed on the Motion moved yesterday by the Lord Archer of Sandwell—namely, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty as follows:
§ "Most Gracious Sovereign—We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Lords Spiritual and Temporal in Parliament assembled, beg leave to thank Your Majesty for the most gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament."
§ The Lord Chancellor (Lord Irvine of Lairg)
My Lords, we now begin five days of debate on the gracious Speech. I welcome both that constitutional affairs has been chosen for the first day and that we now have a Select Committee on the constitution, appointed on 8th February under the distinguished chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth.
Today's debate and the establishment of that committee reflect the major significance of our programme of constitutional reform. It has prompted debate in Parliament and the country about the nature and effectiveness of our institutions, their mutual relationships and our sense of national identity. The Government have both contributed to and learned from that debate.
But we remain convinced that we were right to have removed the hereditary peerage from this House, subject to a temporary right for one-tenth to remain; right to have created the Scottish Parliament and the National Assembly for Wales; right to press ahead with democratic self-government for Northern Ireland as part of the peace process; right to create the regional development agencies; right to restore an all-London tier of government; right to have put the Freedom of Information Act on the statute book; and right to have introduced the Human Rights Act. That Act will stand as a major legislative and constitutional monument to this Government's first term of office.
46 Our programme of constitutional reform was designed to increase public engagement in democracy and to regenerate our national identity by strengthening what is best about Britain. "British" signifies the unity and the intermingling of the nations that make up our country. It means a strong civic society and vibrant communities with an influential local voice. It means being internationalist in spirit, learning from our neighbours and providing an example to them in turn.
Most of all, it should mean fairness and equality for all our people before the law: tolerance for the many cultures of our multi-racial society—not a flattening process of assimilation—and a culture of liberty and effective protection of human rights under the rule of law. Britain does have a special identity: strong local communities; democratic values; freedom under the law; creativity; an enterprising spirit; diversity; tolerance; strong protection for human rights; and the ability to draw the best from a wide range of cultures.
What, emphatically, being British does not mean is having 750 hereditary legislators sitting in the House of Lords; being anti-European and inward looking; having Westminster hold an "England first" straitjacket over the diversity of the regions and nations in the Union; having no principled protection for human rights; and having our great national institutions, which represent our community spirit, such as the NHS, privatised.
Our constitutional reforms draw on the best of what is British so as to rejuvenate our democracy, build a society that includes and celebrates differences, and revives people's sense that public bodies are relevant to their beliefs, their lives and their ambitions for themselves and their families.
Devolution does not signal antagonistic confrontation but beneficial diversity; and diversity is not to be feared but embraced as a source of strength and innovation. A drug enforcement agency for Scotland may show the rest of Britain how to tackle the scourge of drug addiction and trafficking. The National Assembly for Wales's new services for the elderly may point the way forward in that area of care. The RDAs in the English regions are making pioneering advances in regional development and are attracting inward investment from which other parts of the UK can learn. Diversity is about the distinct parts of a whole learning from each other.
Devolution will free the nations and regions of the United Kingdom to find innovative local solutions for local problems and to learn from each other. To see the devolved institutions, elected by the people they serve, taking forward policies that will best improve life in their own areas, co-operating with this Parliament but not totally dictated to by it, and influenced by the other devolved institutions but not slavishly copying them—that is our aim.
Devolution will strengthen the Union because it gives expression to existing identities. To try to stifle those identities would be to fuel the arguments of those who want to tear the Union apart. Instead, under our devolution settlement, a new Britain is emerging with 47 a revised conception of citizenship that recognises the mix of cultures and traditions that form our Union. It is intrinsic to the nature of our Union over hundreds of years that we have multiple political allegiances. We can be Scottish and British, or Pakistani and British, or Cornish and British and European.
We have begun to remedy the neglect of the English regions. RDAs continue to improve competitiveness and co-ordinate economic development and regeneration more effectively. Regional chambers of local councillors and other partners have given each region a focused voice. The party opposite would undo all that, removing a form of local expression that is already showing benefits in favour of—I am not quite sure what.
The Human Rights Act is already proving itself. It will stand the test of time. The prophets of doom predicted that we would see chaos as the result of incorporation: courts clogged up with absurd cases; fundamental laws overturned; common sense thrown out the window; and a criminals' charter under which the police would be rendered powerless. That is all nonsense and has now been so proved. We prepared extremely carefully for implementation. That has paid off—decisions have been sensible, the bulk of our laws have been found to be compatible and the courts have taken the Act in their stride.
The Government introduced the Act because we wanted a culture of respect for human rights and responsibilities to become embedded in our society. The Act reflects a new partnership—a co-operative endeavour between the Executive, Parliament and the judiciary to deliver a new, rights-based culture. So, as a Government we do not see the rare successful human rights challenges as "defeats" for the Government. The working out of the Act by the courts is not an obstacle to good administration but, on the contrary, an essential element on the path to achieving it.
Our reformed constitution and institutions of government now need to be turned to strengthening communities, enabling them to exercise their rights and fulfil their responsibilities. Our overhaul of Whitehall will support that process. A streamlined Home Office will be able to focus on fighting crime and making our communities safer. The many interests of those who live in our rural communities will be better served by being the responsibility of a single department. The education department will now be able to concentrate on the vital work of improving standards, especially in secondary schools, building on the work done in primary schools in the last Parliament and transforming access to higher education, driving forward the opportunities for everyone to benefit from lifelong learning.
Transport will benefit from the new departmental arrangements. We have promised £180 billion of investment in transport, with 25 local rail and tram schemes. Regional development agencies will benefit from being the responsibility of the department responsible for regional economic development generally. The new Department for Work and Pensions will continue the reform of the welfare state, 48 enabling a more co-ordinated approach to providing opportunities for work for those who can work and help for those who cannot. My own department has taken over from the Home Office a number of its wider constitutional responsibilities, including human rights, freedom of information and data protection.
We have already made major innovations in the electoral systems that are used in the UK for the devolved administrations, the European Parliament and the London Assembly. The commission headed by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, made proposals for electoral reform at Westminster. Our manifesto confirmed that we will review the experience of the electoral system for the devolved institutions and the report of the commission of the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, to assess whether changes might be made to the electoral system for the other place.
We are committed to enhancing the scrutiny functions of regional chambers. In some parts of the country, however, there may be a desire for a stronger regional political voice. We said in the previous Parliament that provision should be made for directly elected regional government in regions in which people decided in a referendum to support that and where predominantly unitary local government is established. That remains our commitment.
However, we believe that if people choose to have elected assemblies, those assemblies should involve democracy, not bureaucracy. They should be primarily strategic and take on powers from a range of unelected regional bodies in areas such as economic development, transport, the environment and planning. They should not duplicate the legislative powers of Westminster or take on responsibility for running local services such as schools, hospitals or refuse collection. They should be representative and incorporate a wide range of expertise. We believe that strong English regions will strengthen local government and the United Kingdom, not weaken them.
As was said in the gracious Speech, we will. following consultation, introduce legislation to implement the final stage of reform of the House of Lords. That will include the removal of the remaining hereditary Peers and put the House of Lords Appointments Commission on a statutory footing. We have given our support to the report and conclusions of the Wakeham commission and we will seek through consultation to find a means of implementing those conclusions in the most effective way possible.
The gracious Speech also promises a draft Bill to reform the criminal justice system and to modernise the criminal courts. Lord Justice Auld was asked to carry out an independent review of the criminal courts. We expect to receive that review shortly. His recommendations will be essential in helping us to make our legislative decisions to promote far-reaching improvements in the criminal justice system.
So, my Lords, we are proud of what we have achieved so far on constitutional reform. However, we have a little way to go to complete the process of re-engaging the people with their institutions and their sense of belonging to a country that is fair and inclusive.
§ 4.43 p.m.
§ Lord Strathclyde
My Lords, it is with some humility that I follow the speech of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor. Through legislation that the noble and learned Lord has promoted, he has changed the face of Britain perhaps more than any other Minister in the Government.
Personally, I regret many of those changes and believe that some of their effects are still unknown and may lead to a substantial growth in expensive bureaucracy. None the less, those changes make the noble and learned Lord a considerable figure in the Government. The annexation by his department of large provinces of a humiliated Home Office shows that his ambitions have not yet run their course. We shall watch him with close interest—and, I must warn him, with some scepticism—to see where he now wishes to lead us.
Many important issues are covered by the rubric of "constitutional affairs". Some of those issues were touched on in the gracious Speech, but some were not. I will leave it to my noble friend Lord Kingsland, who will wind up on behalf of the Opposition, to explore some of those matters.
As there is no opportunity during the next few days to debate the dangerous situation in Northern Ireland, I would like briefly to touch on it. Once again, our sympathies go to the brave members of the RUC and their families, who have had to bear so much in the front line for so long. We will support the Government in anything that they do to back the security forces in maintaining the peace in Northern Ireland.
We in this House have in recent years been made to swallow many distasteful concessions to terrorist organisations. There is increasing impatience with the terrorists' failure to make any meaningful gesture in response to disarmament. We cannot debate that in detail today. However, when the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House replies to this debate, will he give the House an undertaking that if the present situation deteriorates further, or if talks reach an impasse and the First Minister, Mr Trimble, leaves office on or after 1st July, he will enable an urgent full-day's debate on Northern Ireland before the Recess? He might also make it clear which Minister in this House will be answering in relation to Northern Ireland now that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, has moved on.
I shall today concentrate on the future of this House but I shall not follow the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor in his eulogy on the constitutional reforms of the past. In the gracious Speech, we heard that the Government were planning to consult before introducing further legislation on your Lordships' House. That is welcome. It is in line with what we have long been asking for, with what the Liberal Democrats have been asking for and with what Cross-Bench Peers and many outside observers have been asking for. It was also envisaged by the noble and learned Lord in 1997 when he wrote in the manifesto—rightly, I believe—that there should be a Joint Committee of 50 both Houses to consider all the options for the future, including those relating to composition, and that it should make recommendations.
My party accepted that without reservation. We still think that that is the right way forward. I suspect that Peers in other parties may feel the same way. We for our part will play an active and positive role in any genuine consultation that occurs. That consultation should be as open as possible in every way. Parliamentary discussions must include all the main parties and, given the current composition of the House of Lords, any Joint Committee must be large enough to include voices from the Cross Benches and the Bishops' Bench, too.
The Government have wisely decided to concentrate on public services in this Parliament. Although consultations must not be unduly protracted, we surely now have ample time to reach appropriate conclusions, which will strengthen this House and Parliament. It would be helpful to the consultation process if the Government were to publish, perhaps without prejudice, a draft Bill to let us know more about their thinking. The Labour Party's latest manifesto was as clear as mud on the way forward. However, a proposal has been included in the gracious Speech. The inference is that a Bill must be in a well-advanced state. It would be statesmanlike of the Government if they were to break a four-year silence and set out their thinking on the details of stage two. We have become quite familiar with broad-brush phrases, which were again used by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor today, even if the word "democratic", which featured so prominently in 1997, has been buried. It is time for all of us to look at the small print.
I have been in the House for a number of years. As I said yesterday, I recall the old House with affection and respect, as many other noble Lords will do. However, we have now moved on and we must look forward. I understand the political imperatives that lay behind the 1999 change. There was an imbalance in numbers and the problem—albeit sometimes exaggerated—of backwoodsmen. There was a feeling that, however good the arguments that the opposition advanced, a Conservative government could always defeat them. Let it also be said that there was some ancient resentment of hereditary Peers and a sense that the Labour Party had old scores to settle.
There was business to be done but it has now been done. It is surely now time for the Government, too, to move on. When there is a widespread perception of a Parliament in crisis, rattling the sabre at a pimp of hereditary Peers is not the real issue that faces us. After all, the Prime Minister and the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson of Coddenham, have chosen 39 Peers between them in just the past eight weeks. More than half of the Labour Peers—114 of them—are Blair creations. That figure puts the remaining 51 Conservative hereditary Peers in a certain context. And there are no backwoodsmen any more. Gone are the days when Peers grumble that they had seen people in the Lobbies whom they could not even recognise. 51 There are 92 hereditary Peers of all parties remaining in this House. Yet 245 life Peers have been appointed by the Prime Minister in the past four years.
If a flood of hereditary Peers was a democratic monstrosity, as Mr Blair said, what are we now to make of that cascade of patronage? Are we to see it as a triumphant, modern and representative democracy? Let there be no doubt that when we legislate on stage two, the legitimacy of every type of Peer will be put under the microscope, and quite justifiably so.
The age of settling party scores on the composition of this House should be over. That is last century's business. We must now turn to the future. Securing that future in this House and building its authority will not be easy if the executive in this Parliament show themselves as intolerant of being asked to think again as they were in the last one. But I think it must be done.
I cannot be alone in noticing a spirit of concern in the land about the power of the executive in modern Britain; about the need for both Houses of Parliament to stir themselves. Of course, we cannot act for another place but we can defend the freedoms and the powers of this House and we can deflect botched change which would not enhance its authority. The task of building a better House is not that of one party nor is it even the Government's business. It is Parliament's business. It is, in a very real sense, the people's business for it is in Parliament that the liberties of the people should be guarded.
While on that point, perhaps I may put one matter quite bluntly. You do not justify the restriction of trial by jury or force a House of Parliament to change its views simply by writing it into a manifesto. Parliament never has and never should accept such restraint, however respectful it must be, as we always are, of securing the fair passage of the Queen's business.
I detect that the Government betray some uncertainty about what they want for stage two. That is quite understandable for the questions are complex and profoundly far-reaching. Having said that, the Government cannot now expect to hold a gun to our heads and the heads of the Liberal Democrats and expect us to work only to their prospectus. That is not an attack on the Government, nor is it a threat to them. It is a statement of how difficult the issues are. There are huge issues which need to be debated and resolved as we move to create a stronger House: for example, issues relating to the size of the House; what limits to set on that size; how long Peers should stay; how we all get here and so on. We need to find the right basis for an appointments commission, statutory or otherwise, and we have not yet done so. We need to tackle the issue of rampant Prime Ministerial patronage, which is every bit as anachronistic as the now banished imbalances of hereditary Peers. If we have elected Peers, we need to determine on what basis they are elected; how many there are; how long they will sit; and who they represent. We need to find ways to defend the independent element in the House, whose numbers were so reduced by the 1999 changes; and I believe that we must resolve to maintain the presence of the judiciary and the Bishops in this House.
52 We also need to address issues of the other faith groups. We need to decide whether to change the name of the House and whether to separate the peerage from membership of the House. We need to consider the impact of those changes on the powers, the role and the functions of this House. That in itself is one of the most important considerations. That is an enormous agenda and it is an opportunity which, if lost, may never recur.
It is also a challenging enterprise in which I very much looking forward to playing a part, as does the rest of my party. It could be the beginning to unlocking the door which has been steadily pushed shut on parliamentary authority and liberties. Or it could go horribly astray and lead to further damage to this House and Parliament. For in some ways, the issues at odds between Parliament and the executive are as acute as they were in the 17th century.
Against that background, I was struck by an extraordinary sentence in the press briefing issued by the Cabinet Office yesterday. It stated:There is no intention to begin from first principles".Can that really be true? After all, where else would one begin? Do the Government expect other parties to consider consultation legitimate if we are bound to discussion only on the principles that they choose to lay down? If they think that, they may find themselves rudely disabused.
I wonder whether Ministers really consider the report of my noble friend Lord Wakeham to be the only basis for discussion. My noble friend Lord Wakeham took the first major look at the House of Lords for over a generation. I very much look forward to hearing his contribution later this afternoon. He produced an outstanding report. He cleared much ground. He clarified a number of important points. But his work was done, necessarily, in a hurry because the Government then said that they wanted to move on before the last election, and he reached no firm conclusion on composition. In fact, he produced three conclusions.
Since then, things have changed so quickly that some of the report's admirable analysis is already out of date. Of course, if the Government do not publish a draft Bill—and I think they should—then the conclusions of my noble friend should be uppermost in our minds. But are the Government saying, for example, that the inventive ideas in the report of my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern have nothing to teach us or that the powerful arguments of the noble Lord, Lord Richard, are irrelevant? Perhaps I may say how sorry I am not the noble Lord is not playing a part in this debate. That may be the Government's view but it is not our view. We think it is untenable. Parliament, in considering its future, cannot be constrained within the parameters of one report, however excellent. That is no basis for proper consultation. I believe that the Government need to understand that.
The world has moved on. The questions that were relevant in 1997 are not the questions of 2002. The frontiers of what was necessary and acceptable have 53 been moved. Therefore, I hope that the consultation will be genuine and held with open minds, an open agenda and if not an open end, then no artificial early cut-off.
I shall take my lead from the noble and learned Lord and I shall resist the temptation to discuss those and other issues in detail. But we can make clear that we shall not accept, and should not accept, an imposed solution. We should not let one party put through a token solution and call it stage two. That simply will not work. We have one opportunity to strengthen this House and we must take it.
In conclusion, I welcome meaningful cross-party discussion. That is the right basis to go forward. In 1999, the Government dealt with the clear grievance of the imbalance in numbers and the hereditary peerage. Now is the time to bury old slogans and divisions and to work together to build a new House. It is time for a mature look at Parliament and its place in the nation. So we shall join positively and constructively with the Government, with the Liberal Democrats and other groups and parties. Our objectives should be clear: to create a House even more effective and with even more authority to probe and test whichever executive are in power. That must be the aim we set ourselves and no other solution should satisfy us or satisfy the country.
§ 4.58 p.m.
§ Lord Goodhart
My Lords, I begin by saying that we are delighted but by no means surprised to see the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor back in the place which he held before the general election. I also extend a warm welcome to the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, on her appearance as a Minister in the Lord Chancellor's Department. If government departments were football teams, I think that the Lord Chancellor's Department would have to pay the Foreign and Commonwealth Office a very large transfer fee for her. As a distinguished barrister, she must feel very much that she is coming home to be in the Lord Chancellor's Department.
I start by taking stock. The last Parliament saw more constitutional change than any Parliament since the Parliament elected in December 1910 and perhaps since the Parliament of 1832. Those reforms were strongly supported by us on these Benches and, indeed, most of them had been advocated by us long before the conversion of the Labour Party to the same ideas.
Those reforms restored Parliament to Scotland and created an assembly for Wales. Devolution to Scotland was essential for the preservation of the United Kingdom. Indeed, had it not been for the folly of your Lordships' House in rejecting Home Rule for Ireland in the 19th century, I believe that that country might still have been part of the United Kingdom. Welsh devolution has presented problems. There have been complaints about the absence of the power of primary legislation, but my noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresham will speak on the question of devolution for Wales.
54 We now need to move forward with devolution to the English regions. Regional identity is undoubtedly stronger in some regions of England than others. However, in some places there is a clear demand for it. As and when support for regional government is demonstrated by a referendum within that region, I believe that we should set up regional assemblies with real powers, including tax-raising powers devolved from Whitehall. The absence from the gracious Speech of any promise of enabling legislation or, indeed, any other sign of support for meaningful regional devolution is something which we greatly regret.
I turn to human rights. As the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor stated, the Human Rights Act was a great step forward for the protection of rights in the United Kingdom. I pay a genuine tribute to the noble and learned Lord for his leadership in getting that Act on to the statute book.
As he said, the Human Rights Act got off to a good start, thanks to the sensible attitude of the courts. As yet, there have been no signs of the outburst of litigation that followed, for example, the introduction of the Canadian Charter of Rights. We welcome the setting up of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, which has done good work in its short existence. However, it may not be reconstituted until October, which we believe would be a matter for serious concern. We still need a human rights commission to inform the public about its rights and to help to enforce them.
We also note with interest the transfer of responsibility for human rights, freedom of information and data protection from the Home Office to the Lord Chancellor's Department. The Freedom of Information Act is certainly not as strong as it should have been. Even so, it will be a big step forward in developing a culture of openness in government. We want to see it implemented as soon as possible and in due course strengthened. The transfer of responsibilities to the Lord Chancellor's Department suggests that that department is becoming an embryo ministry of justice. That is something for which we have pressed and which we would welcome. We need to see further progress in that direction. We need to end the anomalous position of the Lord Chancellor as both head of an important government department and head of the judiciary. I believe that the Lord Chancellor can no longer in practice sit as a judge because there are so few cases in which he could sit without running into problems with the right to fair trial under Article 6 of the European Convention.
We acknowledge the considerable improvements in monitoring the process of selection of judges that has been implemented in the past year. However, we believe that the role of the Lord Chancellor in the selection of judges should be transferred to an independent appointments commission, and that the Law Lords should become part of a separate supreme 55 court distinct from the House of Lords. I agreed with much of what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. However, that is one issue on which we clearly disagree.
There has been considerable progress on elections and electoral reform. Following the implementation of the Neill report, we now have an Electoral Commission; the publication of names of major donors; a ban on foreign donations and limits on spending in campaigns. However, anyone who saw the posters put up by either the Conservative Party or the Labour Party during the election campaign will realise that they were a total waste of money.
We need to reduce further the limits on campaign spending and introduce limits on the size of donations. There is a real danger to democracy if parties become dependent upon a small number of large donors. I believe that the fact that the Conservatives were offered and accepted £10 million in total from two individuals, Mr Stuart Wheeler and Sir Paul Getty, is an assault on democracy.
We will support proposals to allow positive steps to be taken to increase the representation of women in Parliament, which is a regrettable necessity. In principle, no one group in society should be given priority over another. However, the imbalance of women in the House of Commons—I have to say, with some shame, in my own party as well as in others—makes it plain that action is now needed. The best way to improve the representation of women without positive discrimination is by an electoral system based on proportional representation. In the elections to the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and the European Parliament, the proportion of women elected was far higher than that under the first-past-the-post system which we still have in Westminster.
There has been some progress on electoral reform. In Great Britain we now have forms of proportional representation in the Scottish Parliament elections, the Welsh Assembly, the Greater London Assembly and the European Parliament. Those are moves in the right direction, although the closed-list system for the European elections needs to be replaced by either an open-list system or STV. However, the Government's shunting aside of the report by the Jenkins committee and their refusal to commit themselves to anything other than a vague promise of a review after the next Scottish and Welsh elections means that we are stuck with the present system for at least the rest of the present Parliament. That is a system under which 42 per cent of the popular vote has given the Government a majority of 165 in the other place. That means that your Lordships' House as now constituted is more representative of public opinion than is the House of Commons.
That brings me to the issue which will probably be of most interest to your Lordships House; that is, the reform of this House. We have had stage one and the House is the better for it. No insult is intended to former hereditary Members, many of whom made valuable contributions to the work of your Lordships' House. But in terms of party strengths, this House is 56 much more representative of the country than it used to be or, as I have said, than the House of Commons is now. As the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, stated, we are more legitimate. We are more willing to exercise the powers we have, as we showed in the last Parliament by the rejection of the mode of trial Bill and by forcing the Government to arrange free mailshots for the candidates in the London mayoral election.
From the moment that the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, persuaded the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor to accept the interim retention of 92 hereditary Peers, it was clear that there would soon have to be a second House of Lords Act. In the new Bill, the remaining rights of hereditary Peers will have to go; we completely support the Government on that. However, beyond that a fog descends on the Government's intentions. The Wakeham report is an unsatisfactory guide to reform. The leader of the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham's, own party did not suggest anything other.
On the issue of powers, there is one proposal in Wakeham which we strongly oppose; that is, the proposal to abolish the power of veto of your Lordships' House over secondary legislation. Secondary legislation receives an entirely inadequate scrutiny from either House. The only real protection from Government abuse of the power of secondary legislation is the power of your Lordships' House to reject it. When that happens, the Government must come back with an amended instrument, as happened with the London mailshot regulations or, in the last resort, an act of primary legislation.
I am a member of the Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Deregulation. That committee has an important constitutional role. Under the outstanding chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Weedon, it has been widely acknowledged as having carried out its duties with impartiality and success. However, if the power of veto over secondary legislation was removed, I believe that that committee would find it much harder to recommend to your Lordships House to accept a wide degree of delegation of powers to the extent that is now routine.
I turn finally to the composition of the new House of Lords. The objective of the Liberal Democrats is to achieve a wholly elected body. That does not mean that we would oppose a reasonable compromise providing for a minority of appointed Members to go with the majority of elected Members, but the figures of fewer than 100 elected Members, as proposed by two of the three options in the Wakeham report, are far too small. The Wakeham report proposes that the Appointments Commission should appoint more or less the whole of the rest of the Members of your Lordships' House.
I have to say that the commission chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, did not get off to a good start. Its first list met with a howl of derision in the media. To some extent, that was unfair. Talk of "people's Peers" came from the spin doctors of 57 10 Downing Street and not from the commission. As individuals, the people on the list are good choices and we will welcome them to your Lordships' House.
The commission may be a good way of selecting a limited number of independent Members of your Lordships' House to be selected for their expertise which will add value to our debates and to the work of our Select Committees. But, surely, even the Government must now recognise that the commission is an inappropriate body to appoint the majority of Members of your Lordships' House. It would, in effect, be an electorate of seven people with power to elect most Members of one of the two Houses of Parliament. When one talks of "rotten boroughs", that puts Old Sarum deep into the shade.
We welcome the Government's offer of consultation but the vital question is whether it will be real consultation. The Government's earlier stand was that they would offer no more than a joint committee of both Houses to report on the implementation of proposals dictated by the Government. If consultations are to be meaningful, we must look at the substance of the proposals as well as at their implementation. In that respect, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. We must at the end of the day have a House which can carry out its duties of revision and scrutiny with skill and authority.
Yesterday, the committee of the Hansard Society published a powerful report on the shortcomings of parliamentary scrutiny in both Houses. It is ironic that on the same day the Government and the Conservatives in the House of Commons conspired to defer the appointment of Select Committees until October for reasons internal to the Conservative Party. That inhibits scrutiny for the next four months.
If the consultations are to be real, we are prepared to play our full part in them, but in doing so our aim will be the same as that of our Liberal predecessors 90 years ago when they said in the preamble to the Parliament Act 1911 that,it is intended to substitute for the House of Lords as it at present exists a Second Chamber constituted on a popular instead of hereditary basis".That means membership of your Lordships' House not by descent; not by patronage of the Prime Minister; and not even through appointment by a high-minded and independent commission. It means membership by the choice of the people.
§ 5.13 p.m.
§ The Lord Bishop of Portsmouth
My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this part of the debate on the gracious Speech. I am also grateful to noble Lords who have spoken and for the many points which have been raised. I look forward to the contribution to be made later by my friend the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bristol, who for good or ill happens to have been my ethics tutor at college.
I want to address two areas that relate to the theme of today's proceedings. I want first to make a couple of points on the reform of this Chamber and then some 58 observations on participation in our democracy. I was delighted to hear in the gracious Speech the Government's commitment to implement, after consultation, the next stage of the reform of this Chamber along the lines recommended by the Royal Commission chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham. I want strongly to say how good it was to hear the words of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, on consultation.
The key question is whether the proposals will enable Parliament to serve the people better. I believe that broadly to be the case. It is surely right that this House should have a complementary role to that of the House of Commons in such a way as not to change its democratic primacy but rather to hold the executive properly to account. As a relative newcomer to this House, I have learnt to value the experience and the wisdom that is abundant here. I want to support calls for wider "representativeness" but I also want to speak up for what might be called the "non-professionalism" of this Chamber.
As regards "representativeness", I want first to echo the response of the Church of England to the Wakeham proposals, which were to endorse the idea that there should be wider participation on these Benches so as to include other Churches and other faith communities. That echoes what the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor said about diversity. I hope that the way it is explored will involve full consultation which will also take into account the kind of service the House wants. However, it should also deal with the detail of how nominations are to be handled. We on these Benches would want fully to endorse what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, about membership of that Joint Committee.
The Church of England's response to the Wakeham report also dealt with the work of the Lords Spiritual and made it clear that we are here to speak for the nation in things spiritual, including many moral and religious questions. We always come here after regular contact with leaders of other Churches and the other faith communities, to say nothing of our collaboration almost on a daily basis with other local leaders in local government, prisons and education.
Moreover, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford said in a debate here in March last year, we are not here to press for privileges for the Church of England, but to express a far wider voice; a role which we have been trying to take more seriously by better organisation of our attendance. I can also vouch for the fact that when diocesan bishops arc chosen, national considerations are also taken into account in addition to the needs of the local diocese. That includes participation in this Chamber.
I realise of course that "representativeness" is about much more still. I am aware that there are many walks of life not present here from which we could benefit. In that connection, perhaps the House needs to take account of certain imbalances. Since the efflux of late 1999, the area covered by the diocese of 59 Portsmouth—namely, South East Hampshire and the Isle of Wight—has eight MPs, but only two Members in this House.
The non-professional nature of those of us here who have not been party politicians is perhaps open to more misunderstanding than anything else in the public eye. The fact is that were the Chamber to be exclusively professional, we would be justified in demanding far better and more appropriate remuneration. However, I hasten to add that Bishops—if we were still here—would not benefit in any way as any remuneration would be subtracted from our stipends—and perhaps considerably more!
The fact remains that history has produced a second Chamber which is made up largely of people who—shall we say?—gain their daily bread elsewhere. That makes us the cheapest second Chamber in the world. I believe that there is something unique in such a nonprofessional membership of experience and breadth and it reflects the wide degree of skills and experience which is increasingly and deliberately sought-after in other public bodies. It is high on the agenda of head hunters and business consultants. I hope that in the plans for reforming this House, that vision is given greater sharpness. It would, among other things, save us from the unfortunate razzmatazz which arose in relation to the "people's Peers" saga recently in the press.
There is much else that could be said about House of Lords reform. I have long thought that far too much attention has been focused on the composition of this House and not enough on its workings. I particularly welcome the remarks on this matter made yesterday by the Leader of the House. We have a real opportunity to grasp. There are many concerns in this House and beyond about the workings of the House, and I welcome the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, about secondary legislation and the veto.
Secondly, I should like to make a few comments on political participation, or what has come to be known more broadly as the "democratic deficit". Although I welcome any move to increase representation in both Houses, none the less I perceive an underlying issue that is in danger of being ignored, perhaps because it is cultural and therefore difficult to address. We cannot ignore the fact that a government—I believe that the political persuasion is irrelevant—have been elected with the positive support of only one in four of the electorate. It is a poor reflection on us all that so many chose not to exercise their democratic right. I wish I could say that that represents widespread contentment with the state of the country, but I do not believe that that is the case. In my experience as a university governor, there are many, particularly among the young but by no means exclusively so, for whom the political process has become irrelevant. Some of the answer may lie in the reform of representation, but it is only part of the question.
At a more profound level, I perceive a disengagement with civic life to an extent which will not be altered by changing the faces at the front, nor by self-indulgent agonising about dressing up at the State 60 Opening of Parliament. At present so many institutions in western society suffer from what may be called a phase of passive participation, in the course of which there are sudden surprising outbursts of concern when a particular issue, symbol or personality is at stake. The Christian tradition has long used the Greek word koinonia to describe both the spiritual and social aspects of communion. It is a term, like much else in the repertoire of all religions and philosophies, which was originally secular. It was used as a paradigm for active, responsible participation in ancient Athens, which has often been described as the cradle of democracy.
As far as concerns Christianity, the spiritual and social aspects of koinonia are seen as both complementary and interdependent—a dynamic inherent in the household of faith. I believe that we need to find a similar koinonia for today's society in which our moral outlook is held in tension with our social make-up. It is a sign that we have so far not achieved that in the political realm that so many people feel themselves disenfranchised from participation in government, whether it be local, regional or national. If we fail to address this fundamental issue of political koinonia, we tinker at the edges to no avail.
§ 5.24 p.m.
§ Lord Wakeham
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the right reverend Prelate in his remarks. I have known him for a number of years. Certainly, before he came to your Lordships' House I knew that he would make a good contribution to our debates. Every time I hear him speak the correctness of my analysis is confirmed.
I was somewhat diffident about making a contribution to this debate for two reasons. First, the previous occasion on which I spoke in this debate as a Back-Bencher was 22 years ago, and immediately I sat down I was invited to join the administration. In view of the comments in the Labour Party manifesto in my name, perhaps I should not risk a similar fate in addressing your Lordships this afternoon. Secondly, and perhaps more seriously, I and my colleagues on the Royal Commission have had our say and published our report which contains well over 100,000 words. As for the next stage of implementation, or not, it is for others to consider what we have said and to come to their own conclusions.
I am grateful that the Government are broadly minded to endorse our report and legislate after further consultation. I am sure that they are right to hold further consultation because of our experiences in the Royal Commission. When we started we had members of all parties and of none; some knew quite a lot about the House of Lords and some knew very little. All the issues that we discussed were very much those that have been raised in the debate so far. There was virtually nothing that we did not discuss. At the end of a year of very hard work, and a considerable amount of goodwill on all sides, we reached a unanimous conclusion as regards our report.
61 As my noble friend the Leader of the Opposition said, we offered three options for the number of elected Members. As I have said on a number of occasions, I do not much mind which one of those options is eventually accepted. The fundamental thinking in our report was more important than the exact numbers. I hope, therefore, that the consultations are held in the spirit of attempting to find a solution to this problem. If any party believes that it will get 100 per cent of what it wants, the negotiations will fail. It is not possible to reconcile all the points without a considerable degree of give and take by all those engaged in them.
I should like to make one or two points which I hope are not too contentious. First, the time to reform and carry out stage two is very ripe. It is not just about the hereditaries. I suspect that a considerable number of the present hereditaries will return as either elected or appointed Members because they are some of the best parliamentarians in this House. The House would be a great deal poorer if they did not contribute to its deliberations, but I accept that they would not be here after stage two as hereditary Peers.
Secondly, I believe that if we missed the opportunity in the next few years to settle and deliver this reform a long time would elapse before we had another opportunity as favourable as this. It is very important, not just to the hereditaries, that we get it right because of human rights legislation, constitutional changes, devolution and our increasing commitment to and involvement in the European Union. Therefore, I am very anxious that we do it.
I believe that it is right first to be clear about, and to settle, the role and functions of this House and, as the second stage, to determine its powers. When we have those matters clear in our minds the question of composition is considerably easier to deal with. However, I do not believe that it is right to start with composition. As to composition, I hope that your Lordships continue to recognise that it is the differences between your Lordships' House and the other place which add enormously to the value of this place. If we sought to create a repeat of what went on down the corridor we would fail, and then I for one would be happy to be a unicameralist. I see no point in having a Chamber here that is just the same as the one down the way. It is the differences that we contribute which make us valuable.
I conclude with one point on which I know not everyone agrees with me. We considered very carefully the question of whether the procedures of this House, which are essentially self-regulating and open and free, were the right way to continue. We came very firmly to the conclusion that that was the right way forward. I hope that whatever final form the House evolves into we keep what is unique but is still very valuable: the self-regulating nature of the Chamber. We have an opportunity to produce a House with more authority and competence, and which is more broadly representative of a modern United Kingdom, than the House of Commons—full as it is bound to be with professional politicians—ever will be. I hope that we seize the opportunity that has been presented to us.
§ 5.30 p.m.
My Lords, I did not envy my noble friend Lord Wakeham being appointed chairman of the very important commission on the composition of the House of Lords and its powers. However, he did remarkably well to achieve unanimity. It was a very strong and distinguished committee. I am glad that the introduction of the so-called democratic principle to our House was made a little flexible and the t my noble friend did not tie himself down to a solution which might have been to our constitution's disadvantage.
Before I go further, may I say how very pleased I am that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, is now the Leader of the House. The noble and learned Lord was the first Attorney-General for hundreds of years to be appointed from your Lordships' House instead of from another place. That has a bearing on what I shall say about the other place.
I must be very brief with regard to the Lord Chancellor. The noble and learned Lord was remarkably brief, bearing in mind the ground he had to cover. He described only some parts of our purpose as a parliamentary democracy and ignored, unfortunately, the representation of those people who, in various walks and at various levels of society, have to bear responsibility and whose views should therefore always be considered, and, I hope, represented, in Parliament in one House or the other.
Our parliamentary democracy surely requires representation of all the people. Having served in the House of Commons for 10 Parliaments and in your Lordships' House for five Parliaments before the present one—for 56 years altogether—I hope that it will not be totally out of place for me to draw one or two conclusions from that almost historic experience. I regret to have to point out that over the years the House of Commons, especially since it reached its climax of representation in 1951 under the great Winston Churchill as Prime Minister, has become steadily less representative and has never been so unrepresentative as it has become as a result of the recent general election.
I say that, not only because fewer than 50 per cent of the electorate voted at all, nor because only 25 per cent of the electorate elected the Government, but also because the MPs who were elected are not accustomed to much responsibility in their various walks of life—good and nice people though most of them, I believe, are. Certainly the new Member for Huntingdon is. I can say that of him. He received a far bigger majority than I ever did. However, I could not have had the majority of 5,000 which I had 10 times without the support of the wage earners, their families and the few unemployed that there were. The Government Front Bench should not accuse us of being unrepresentative of the people. We are not.
Of course the trouble is that being an MP now has become a whole-time job. I hope that I am not presuming when I say that I must bear some of the responsibility for that because I was the acting chairman of a Select Committee in the late 1970s which recommended that the House of Commons should 63 have committees to cover every government department and its work. That led to an enormous increase in the time that Members of Parliament had to give to their work in the House of Commons. I do not regret that; I believe that it was a necessary step. But, along with the increase in correspondence and the pressures of the media, it has had the effect of turning Members of Parliament of all parties into virtually whole-time politicians. That is why in the present and towards the end of the previous Parliaments there were no Queen's Counsel in the Commons fit to be appointed Attorney-General, although in the past there were always quite a number. I am glad to say that of the 21 Members of your Lordships' House who are to speak today, no fewer than six are Queen's Counsel. That is only a small proportion of us.
With regard to the Solicitor-General, a splendid lady—I had the pleasure of being at school with her father so I know a little about her—she is not a barrister or a solicitor. She has had limited legal experience at the Brent Law Centre and as a legal officer to the National Council for Civil Liberties. That is a pressure group. It is most unfortunate that the responsibility of the Law Officer in another place is not borne by a qualified Law Officer.
Pursuing the theme of representation by people with responsibility, one wonders how many doctors, accountants, academics of distinction, farmers, landowners, financiers and leading industrialists are to be found in the House of Commons? There are very few, but we have them. What about the Armed Forces? Scarcely any of today's Members of Parliament have served in the Armed Forces. But in your Lordships' House, we have one Admiral of the Fleet—admittedly he does not attend very often—four Field Marshals who attend frequently and speak in most defence debates, and, I am sure they are proud to say, the Leader of the Cross-Bench peers is a Marshal of the Royal Air Force. Scores of us in your Lordships' House have seen service at one time or another in various ranks in the Armed Forces. That is a further advantage that we have over another place.
Your Lordships' House contains Peers and Peeresses from many different walks of life—so much so that now we can claim to be "a classless nobility". That is not a contradiction in terms; it describes fully our representation. I believe that that is worthy of us. We also have the advantage of having the 92 hereditary Peers, who were mentioned by my noble friend Lord Strathclyde in his very constructive speech. Their experience covers a wide range of important activities. They include landowners, farmers and, for example, the noble Lord, Lord Colwyn, who is an expert dentist and a famous dance band leader. Those 92 people are a good lot and we would be less representative of the people if we got rid of them.
Why are we getting rid of them? We are getting rid of them because these poor Labour people, with their limited attitudes, have got it into their heads that hereditary Peers should be ignored. I disagree. If we got rid of them, it would make this House less 64 experienced and less representative. One cannot get away from that. The great Sir Winston Churchill rightly said—I heard him say it many years ago—that democracy works badly but that we cannot have any other system. He was right, but if we are not careful, democracy will be further weakened if the Government compel us to reduce the broad, valuable and distinguished membership of this House.
In the full Session that ended in the late autumn of last year—it was admittedly a fairly long Session your Lordships made 4,619 amendments to government Bills coming to us from the House of Commons. That is twice as many amendments in a Session as we have ever had to make before. That was not merely because of the number of government Bills or because the Bills were long and detailed. It was also largely because the Government gave only a limited opportunity for Members of another place to discuss those Bills and they limited that opportunity by frequently using the guillotine, which we do not use in your Lordships' House. That limited the time available to Members of another place to discuss those Bills. Furthermore, only a limited number of MPs had the expertise to consider the effect of the legislation clause by clause. And so your Lordships, with your zeal and greater expertise and experience, know how to improve the drafting.
The worst thing that could happen—I hope that I may have the attention of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, whom I respect in many ways, and of the new Leader of the House—would be to turn us into a microcosm of another place.
§ 5.44 p.m.
§ Lord Thomas of Gresford
My Lords, I join other noble Lords in congratulating the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, on his appointment as Leader of the House. To say that we in north-east Wales bask in his glory would perhaps be putting it a little strongly, but he did merit a paragraph in the Wrexham Evening Leader, and not many people can say that.
Mostyn has a special place in my heart. In saying that, perhaps I may follow the noble Lord, Lord Renton, along some of the byways down which he has just taken us. In 1964, during the general election of that year, it was the very first place in which I knocked on a wage earner's door. I did not achieve a majority of 10,000. I even skipped my national service. I did not come to the House through the service route. I came to the House through the traditional Liberal route of losing eight general elections in a row. I heard the noble Lord say that we should maintain the hereditary principle. I am a great fan of the noble Lord and it is a pleasure to follow him in the debate. But the grain of this new century runs with the appointment to Parliament of people who are accountable. It is inevitable that the second Chamber will become fully elected. There should be no argument about the principle. It is all a question of timing and of the functions and powers of the House. To continue as we are is completely unacceptable. However, I do not wish today to discuss the composition of the House.
65 I welcome the continuing commitment to devolution set out in the gracious Speech and the elegant expression of the rationale of devolution by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor. I shall remember his phrase that there should be no flattening by assimilation of the various strands that make up the society in which we live. The publicity received by the National Assembly for Wales has been tied to personalities and has not always been positive. It has concealed the immense hard work which the Assembly and its committees have performed. It illustrates the success of the Welsh Assembly to have legislation coming before Parliament in the way expressed in the gracious Speech, which states:Legislation will be drafted to reform the provision of health services in Wales".In the previous Parliament there were 17 Bills in which specific provision was made for Wales at the express request of the Assembly. Some of the early Bills were not satisfactory because, as we said at the time—I refer in particular to the Learning and Skills Bill—they were clumsily drafted. What we are seeing is an innovation and a recognition of the need for specific primary legislation that has been discussed by the Assembly itself. In the previous Session we had the Children's Commissioner for Wales Bill. The will of the Assembly was distorted to some extent when the Bill was drafted in Whitehall to exclude any powers for the Children's Commissioner to report on Home Office and other devolved matters. We called for a constitutional convention whereby if the Assembly wished to have primary legislation passed in a particular way the Government should accept it. The Government, in the person of the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House, responded with a very satisfactory compromise and the Bill became an Act at the very end of the Session. It was a milestone in the devolutionary process.
With the Bill that is promised for the provision of health services in Wales we can see how policy formulation is now giving some meaning to the labours of the National Assembly. The problem in Wales, as Comparative Indicators 2000, a publication of the Statistics Directorate of the National Assembly, shows, is that there are more elderly people in Wales than in England or Scotland, more people in Wales have long-term illnesses than in England or Scotland and more people visit their GPs. The specific death rates in Wales are lower than in Scotland but higher than in England.
To address this health problem, the National Assembly set in train a number of reports.Putting Patients First outlined plans to reinvest in the National Health Service and to involve people in health policy development and planning, as well as in the implementation of services. The assembly then produced a report entitled Better Health: Better Wales, setting out a strategy for health improvement. Finally, we had the partnership agreement formed between the Labour administration and the Liberal Democrats in the National Assembly for Wales. Under that agreement, a very substantial increase in 66 health funding has been achieved, taking the health budget from £2,620 million in 2001 to £3,601 million in 2003, an increase of 37.4 per cent.
In the most recent report to be published by the assembly, Improving Health in Wales, the First Minister, Rhodri Morgan, wrote the following:As well as financial stability, the delivery of a renewed Health Service for Wales depends on political stability. This Plan is a product of the Partnership Government at the National Assembly and draws regularly and directly on the Partnership Agreement that was published when the new administration came into being. With the partnership we have the political platform from which the radical ideas contained in this Plan can be driven forward. It is another example of our joint determination to put Wales first in all our thinking and our policy making".He went on to say that the plan was,rooted in the Partnership Agreement that forms part of the programme of the Partnership Government".In Wales we see policy formation that will inspire the Bill that is to be brought before this House in draft form. The Bill will be debated and then taken back to the National Assembly for further discussion. As Rhodri Morgan pointed out yesterday, it is an innovative way of involving the National Assembly in the primary legislative process.
What constitutional lessons can be learnt from what is currently taking place in Wales? The first is that proportional representation can produce a partnership government and that the synergy between the two parties involved—the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats—can lead to constructive policy formation and then to constructive legislation which will be of enormous benefit to the people that that government serve.
The second lesson is that this partnership has not led to the swallowing-up of one party by the other. In the election which took place a few weeks ago, in Cardiff Central the Liberal Democrat vote was not subsumed by Labour, rather it went up by 11.8 per cent. In Ceredigion it was not subsumed by the opposition party, Plaid Cymru. Our vote went up by 10.4 per cent. Furthermore, the Liberal Democrats significantly increased their share of the vote both in Scotland, where the Liberal Democrats are also in partnership with the Labour Party, as well as in Wales. Plaid Cymru, in opposition in Wales, found that its vote was down by 7 per cent in Ynys Mon and Caernarfon, and by 3.5 per cent in Ceredigion—the three parliamentary seats held by Plaid Cymru in the other place. Thus the second lesson to be learnt is that partnership government does not mean that one party is taken over by another. It does mean that we can retain our distinct identities and move forward.
A further lesson to be learnt is that voter turnout in the general election for Westminster was higher in Wales than it was either in England or in Scotland. Many people had thought that, because many matters covering many areas of policy had been devolved to Wales and Scotland, the people would be less interested in voting in the Westminster elections. In fact, the reverse was true.
Of course, passing legislation by involving the National Assembly, as we are now to do through the publication of a draft Bill, is not enough in itself. We 67 shall have to see how well the Executives—the joint governments—both in Scotland and Wales manage to implement the legislation that they are given. However, it is fair to say that the Labour rural affairs Minister in Wales, Carwyn Jones and the Liberal Democrat rural development Minister in Scotland, Ross Finnie, are perceived to have handled the foot and mouth crisis with far greater competence and understanding than did the agriculture Minister who derived his powers from the Westminster Parliament. Once again, the devolution settlement for Scotland and Wales was seen to be succeeding.
Perhaps I may make one criticism of constitutional matters covered in the gracious Speech. The Welsh Assembly did ask for parliamentary time to be made available for three further Bills. One was an education (Wales) Bill, to carry out some innovative plans drawn up by the Assembly in the field of education. The second was a census amendment (Wales) Bill, while the third was a St David's Day Bill, which may have been of lesser importance—it is not a matter of massive importance to secure a public holiday on St David's Day. However, it is important that no parliamentary time could be made available for the education legislation and that is a shame. Thus the power of the Assembly to pass primary legislation is still a very necessary power.
I used the phrase "devolution settlement", which is a phrase frequently employed in the context of the Welsh Assembly and the Scottish Parliament. However, as the former Secretary of State for Wales, Mr Ron Davies, once said, devolution is "a process, not an event". Here we are witnessing major constitutional innovation which is taking forward the interests of the people of Wales and Scotland. That is reflected in the gracious Speech that we are considering today.
A further criticism which could be advanced is that one of the primary purposes of devolution was to cure the "democratic deficit"—a phrase used by the right reverend Prelate—conferred by the quango systems in place in Wales and Scotland. What has not been achieved so far in either of those two countries is a reduction in quangos, the very rationale which brought the new administrations into being in the first place.
However, I find myself in a most unusual position; namely, to be speaking on behalf of the government of Wales, as I do today, as well as congratulating the Government on bringing forward further measures which will assist us in our joint task in that country.
§ 5.57 p.m.
§ Lord Rawlinson of Ewell
My Lords, I do not propose to follow the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, in speaking on matters of devolution because I have my own idiosyncratic views that I wish to express about a different constitutional matter. However, I should like to follow him in his welcome to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn. I should like to repeat that welcome. The noble and learned Lord will make 68 a brilliant Leader of the House. He was a star in my profession, one in which I was involved for over 40 years. In a moment I shall have a little more to say about the role he played before he became the Leader of the House, but I shall say it with the greatest respect to someone with whom I am proud to have been a fellow barrister.
I should like to talk about the role of the Law Officers of the Crown because I believe that they play an important part in the constitution. Over the past years I believe that their role has gradually been changed and shifted. When I first became a Law Officer, Harold Macmillan said to me, "Remember, you are the last of the Crown officers who remains a Member of the House of Commons". He then moved on to a stimulating but strange discussion on Samuel Pepys. Later in the conversation he said that I should remember the following as regards the responsibilities of a Law Officer: they belong first to the Crown; secondly, to Parliament; and, only thirdly, to the government of whom the officer is a member. It is the principal public function of the Attorney-General and the Solicitor-General, who are the parens patriae—the guardians of the public interest—rather than the Government's interest. The Attorney-General is the principal agent for enforcing legal rights and is required to intervene when the public interest—not the government interest—is affected.
Sir Hartley Shawcross, one of the great Attorney-Generals, said:Although the Attorney-General is a member of the Government, he has certain duties which he cannot abdicate in connection with the administration of the law, especially the criminal law".Of course, the Attorney-General is responsible for criminal prosecutions—that is a part of his quasi-judicial, independent role—and the Solicitor-General, to whom my noble friend Lord Renton referred, is his deputy.
It is also the practice of both Law Officers to represent the Crown in litigation whenever major interests of the state are involved. The Attorney-General prosecutes in criminal cases. Some 30 years ago, I personally prosecuted on all circuits save the Welsh circuit. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, will understand that I did not dare to do that. The Solicitor-General is responsible for the Revenue Paper, for revenue cases. Reggie Hills—a remarkable Treasury devil for revenue—used to school Solicitors-General in revenue practice. Those are the Crown duties, quasi-judicial in nature, that are quite apart from their government duties.
Their second responsibility is to Parliament. Here we come to the major change that has recently taken place. The Attorney-General is meant to be available to assist the House of Commons and committees. He was invariably a member of the Privileges Committee and would assist the Speaker. I remember having to assist Speaker King on one occasion when there was an incident in public with a gun. It was part of the duties of the Attorney-General to be of assistance to the Speaker. Often Members of Parliament would call for the attendance of the Attorney-General to join in and 69 assist debates, but he was expected to speak as a lawyer and not as a politician. Invariably, the Solicitor-General was bound to assist in the passage of finance Acts.
These independent duties were always disliked by civil servants. They did not like the absence in court of the Law Officers, where they were not available to be consulted by departments or by the Cabinet. The civil servants wanted the Law Officers to be tame, in-house legal advisers. There was a long campaign to remove the Law Officers from the Royal Courts of Justice—where they had had their chambers for years and years—which succeeded in doing so in the late 1980s or early 1990s.
I sense a general attitude now to follow this course; a different attitude from the old attitude towards the role of the Law Officers. I shall refer to various people for whom I have the highest regard as lawyers. The change began in 1997 when the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, was appointed Solicitor-General, not in the House of Commons but here in the House of Lords. In fact, at that time there was an Attorney-General in the House of Commons. Two years later, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams—to whom I have paid my tribute—was appointed Attorney-General in the House of Lords. That was unique.
The noble and learned Lord was also the Deputy Leader. I used to sit here sometimes and think how extraordinary it was to see him sitting there on those red Benches and I wondered how he had the time. I know that he has a great capacity and a great facility for work, but I do not know how was he able to handle all the problems of the Attorney-General that he had on his hands and at the same time be the Deputy Leader of the House, but he did.
The removal of the senior Law Officer from all participation in the House of Commons and its committees was a big change. Maybe it was due—this was referred to by my noble friend Lord Renton—to the change in attitude towards Members of Parliament and the payments and expenses they get now which exclude them from taking part in any other single activity. Therefore there were no, and there are no, leading legal practitioners in the House of Commons. Perhaps there is one, the shadow Attorney-General, Edward Garnier, whom I remember with great respect.
We have seen lately how easy it is to parachute a desired candidate into a safe seat—I remember Mr Woodward of butler fame—but instead of parachuting a distinguished lawyer into the House of Commons, the Government have parachuted him into the House of Lords. We have had the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams; we now have the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, another distinguished lawyer. The Government could not be luckier than to have someone so distinguished in that role. The Government got a good bargain but the House of Commons did not.
When the House of Commons was really alive and active and determined to play a part in controlling the executive— not as it has been over the past two years, 70 where it sits tamely and vast numbers of Members are mainly in their rooms looking at television—I very much doubt that it would have permitted the senior Law Officer not to be a Member of the House of Commons.
There has now been a further change. This year the Government have gone further. They have appointed a Solicitor-General who has no experience of general practice of the law and who was not a QC. She has been made a QC—she was given silk, I am told, at the end of last week—which makes a mockery of the rule that to be a QC you had to have real experience and excellence in legal practice. There is the exception of honorary QCs, but they are honoured for their services to the law. What has this Solicitor-General who has been imposed upon us done? Why has this Law Officer of the Crown, who has all these responsibilities for the public interest, suddenly been imposed upon us by this Government? She is not a barrister; she is not a solicitor with a certificate allowing her to practice advocacy in the High Court. She was a legal officer at the National Council of Civil Liberties and has not practised since she came to the House of Commons in 1982. Her only claim for becoming the Solicitor-General, for becoming a QC, is that she is a former Secretary of State who was dismissed.
In 1964, Harold Wilson wanted to have Eric Fletcher, who was a solicitor, as the Solicitor-General. But he was dissuaded, and Dingle Foot became Solicitor-General and Eric Fletcher became a Minister without portfolio. How will this Solicitor-General play it? How can she handle the problems? How can she handle the public responsibilities if she has no qualifications or knowledge of the problems which, as the Attorney-General knows, crop up every day in criminal law, common law and international law? How can she possibly play a part in that.?
The number of appearances in court of the Law Officers has been in steady decline for some years. In 1997–98, the Attorney-General appeared once and the Solicitor-General five times; in 1998–99, the Attorney-General appeared four times and the Solicitor-General five times; in 1999–2000, the Attorney-General appeared once—"the Marchioness inquiry"—and the Solicitor General five times. So there were 21 appearances by the Law Officers. Some 70 per cent of those appearances—15—were made by the Solicitor-General. How will this new Solicitor-General, who does not even have qualifications, play a part? It will lead to more decline in the role of the guardians of the public interest.
The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor in the year 2000 did not sit at all. I understand why. The noble Lord, Lord Thomas, referred to the European Court problem, with the dual role of a judge and a Minister. Perhaps the judicial role of the Lord Chancellor has ended—I do not know—but it is obviously a problem. I hope that it has not ended and that he will be sitting there. I see the noble and learned Lord nod, and that gives me greater confidence.
Some people have been calling for a Ministry of Justice. Others, with a better view, want to retain the Lord Chancellor, whose whole position in state 71 removes him from jockeying for position in the ministerial stakes. He is important as a link between the executive and the judges.
This latest move, this shoehorning into an important legal office—as though it is of no importance, as though it does not matter—of this former Secretary of State, who has no proper qualification, and allowing her to step from her previous position to her present one, seems to be something which shows the attitude towards the Law Officers. If it means that we are to move ultimately towards a European-style ministry of justice, I hope that we shall do so by means of open debate and not by stealth.
Above all, the present appointment of an unqualified Solicitor-General should be changed. She is incapable of fulfilling the public interest duties. It is not fair on her, it not fair as regards the office and it is not fair on the public, whose interest rests in the special capacity of the Law Officers of the Crown.
§ 6.10 p.m.
§ The Earl of Onslow
My Lords,"Ave Caesar, morituri te salutant""Hail, Caesar. Those who are about to die salute thee". I am not sure whether the Lord Chancellor is Caligula, Antoninus Pius, Septimius Severus or any other of those great Romans to whom that was reputedly addressed by Suetonius.
Most of your Lordships will know that I find it amusing, odd and totally incongruous that just because by forebears sucked up to Pitt, Walpole, North and anyone else who was around to be sucked up to at the time, that I should have any possible excuse for bossing people about. I completely accept that our day as hereditary Peers with a right to legislate has gone. I am delighted that my noble friend Lord Renton should fight such a gallant action on my behalf. He suggested that some of us might stand for election. Suddenly, the temptation of being in your Lordships' House on three counts—one by birth and two by election—is overwhelming. I could say to the noble Baroness, Lady Jay: "Not only am I here; but I have been twice elected, and you have not been elected once".
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, said in reply to our debate yesterday:It is necessary in a society and in a constitutional democracy such as we have that no government, no central executive, should be without effective reasoned challenge. That is part of the duty of this House". —[Official Report, 20/6/01; col. 22.]That is a terrific advance. I hope that we can get that message through, and that when I go I shall leave behind me a House that is stronger against the executive and more representative of the general public in the way that it has been pointed out to be. I love the idea put forward by my noble friend Lord Renton of a "classless nobility". It is a splendid concept. It should be the motto of the new House.
72 Perhaps I may refer to one or two minor points in the Lord Chancellor's opening remarks. Chou En-Lai, when asked what effect he thought the French Revolution had had, said that it was too early to say. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg is convinced that all the constitutional changes produced by this Government in the past two and a half years have been perfect and offer the best of all possible worlds.
I found it marginally amusing during the election campaign that Mr Kennedy went around talking about English health and education when he was standing for a Scottish seat and had absolutely no right to talk about such matters, even in Scotland. Frankly, education and health in Surrey have nothing to with the Member for Ross, Skye and Inverness West. They are delegated matters. These points have not yet been examined. So I do not believe that the constitutional settlement is nearly as happy as the noble and learned Lord says it is. As for his and the Liberals' idea of reinventing the Heptarchy and undoing the work of Alfred the Great, are we sure it is a good idea to invent regional assemblies—Mercia, Northumbria, Egbert of Kent, Offa and his dyke? Let us be just a little careful before we do some of these things.
I make these observations in the same way as I make observations on proportional representation. That is designed so that the Liberals and a small number of other people can boss us about. The glorious thing about our present system is that one moment the Prime Minister is rushing about in a large car with people bowing and scraping, the next he is on the Underground on his way to a cricket match. We can sack our government; and we must always be able to do so. If we go down the road of proportional representation, we shall not be able to sack the government. The Dutch and the Belgians have not sacked a government since the war. The Germans have done so only once. We must be very careful. The ultimate power of the people is to say, "On your bike!". It is essential. Proportional representation will put an end to that. Whether it is us on our bikes or noble Lords opposite on their bikes, one day that is what will happen. That is the right way to do it. Then we scramble back on our bikes, or even the Liberals scramble back on theirs—my noble friends are saying "No"!
I now turn to the important remarks made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, about the reform of this Chamber. It is essential. The noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, was right to say that we now have a major opportunity. I cannot get over how encouraged I was by what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams, said yesterday. But some difficult points need to be examined. There will need to be a ceiling on the number of those elected. Let us assume that there are three elections over 10 years and that there is no ceiling. We win next time: up goes the number of Tories. The Liberals win the time after that: whee, up go the Liberals! Then in come Labour, and they have an enormous amount of scrabbling to do to pick up on the figures. This does not sound to me a 73 very sensible approach. Equally, if we have a list system and proportional representation, it will simply be a case of party hacks on a list, and that is a bad idea.
So how are the elections to be held? How are we to hold elections for independents, for those who have no party affiliation? All these points require thought. I suggest that there must also be a fixed tenure and possibly even an age limit. Then, my noble friend—I mean that in all possible senses—Lord Renton proves the whole thing wrong. He has been here longer than God, is nearly as old as God and contributes almost as much as God. I do not want to argue from the particular to the general, but these are real problems.
I shall support full-heartedly any real prospect of real change to make this a real, balanced Whig Parliament. If the measure to change this House is merely a "faff-about" Bill which does nothing much to change it and just shoots through, out will come my bovver boots again, out will come my razor, and back on will go my hooligan kit. I want this house to be much better when I am not in it.
§ The Earl of Onslow
My Lords, I accept that that will be easy! But I genuinely want it to be much better when I am not in it. I shall do everything that I can to make sure that that is the case. I might even try to get back in in a third incarnation.
§ 6.20 p.m.
§ Lord Morgan
My Lords, I hope that noble Lords will forgive me if I begin my speech less entertainingly than was the case with the speech from the noble Earl that we have just heard. I declare an interest as a member of the Select Committee on the Constitution chaired by my friend and academic colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Norton. The remit, in part, of that committee is to comment on the constitutional implications of measures that come before this House. Therefore, perhaps I may comment briefly on the constitutional implications of the general election.
The general election was generally perceived to be marked by apathy and cynicism. Yet, set alongside that, was the equally conventional view that politicians focused not on arid matters like how we are governed but on the issues that really, deeply and truly interested the voters. In effect, that encouraged only 59 per cent of the voters actually to make it to the polling stations—so that piece of conventional wisdom could be reviewed.
The election was noticeable for what was not discussed. One of the big voids was constitutional matters. Indeed, there was very little discussion even about the implications of our relationship with Europe. It is true that Mr William Hague had something to say about Europe, especially in the context of saving the pound. However, he was generally rebuked by journalists and, indeed, by many members of his own party for raising the matter of Europe because it was very well known by 74 everyone—journalists and everyone else—that the voters had no interest in Europe: they were interested in other matters.
I welcome the fact that we are discussing the constitution. As my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor observed, it has been a very striking and radical part—and, in general, a very successful one—of this Government's programme. Much reform is still needed, including, as we heard from the Liberal Democrat Benches, the reform of this House. In the past few years we have seen a radical transformation of Parliament as regards its relationship with the process of devolution in Scotland and Wales; its relationship with Europe; and especially as regards the relationship of Parliament with the courts under the human rights legislation. These are momentous changes. They have made the United Kingdom look and feel very different as a structure. They are centrally relevant for the public agenda. They most certainly should be discussed at a general election, and also by the Labour Party. In passing, I observe that I am the only speaker participating from these Benches, and that may, or may not, be indicative of something.
One of the conclusions one could draw from the general election is that the danger of fragmentation of the United Kingdom following the process of devolution seems—at least for the moment—to be much exaggerated. The effect on the United Kingdom of the general election was, broadly, to make it more united. The nationalist parties, the Scottish Nationalists and Plaid Cymru, actually fell back. They polled only nine seats between them. Admittedly, that is eight more than the Conservatives, but it is still not a very large total. I believe that that suggests that devolution has actually reinforced the union, as happened, for example, in Spain as regards Catalonia. As my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor observed, it deals with celebrating the diversity within these polycultural islands but leaves the United Kingdom intact. We heard earlier about fool and mouth disease. No one said that the handling of the crisis had been impaired by devolution. On the contrary, there was very considerable integration between England, Scotland and Wales in the process.
The implications of devolution have still to be explored. The noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, made a most interesting speech. He rightly praised the way in which devolution had begun. We still have to go further—do we not? —in this famous process, especially, as the noble Lord observed, over primary legislation and the standing of the Welsh National Assembly in taking the initiative as regards pushing forward such legislation. Frankly, I believe that Welsh devolution will remain an incomplete process until the Welsh Assembly has significantly greater powers.
I believe that devolution for Scotland has not really be taken fully on board. I was in Edinburgh during some of the general election campaign. I t was very striking to people there that politicians from London were saying how health, education and the social services were central issues. In fact, they were irrelevant to the campaign in Edinburgh because such matters are all devolved to the Scottish 75 Parliament. We are still in a learning process: we still have Secretaries of State for Scotland and for Wales. However important and significant the changes of devolution may have been, there is still a feeling that, in some sense, it is still business as usual.
Another important and central aspect is the effect of the general election on England. The latter had a different kind of election: the English nation remained constitutionally a void. In another place, Dr Tony Wright referred to England and its regions as,the silent and uninvited guests at the devolutionary feast".It is important for us to look at England and see how the process of apathy and disenchantment, which the voters feel—the feeling that Parliament is remote and does not extend to their local and particular concerns—extends to the great nation of England. To coin a phrase from a famous poem, the people of England have not "spoken yet".
The Labour Party's manifesto contained a very strong statement about ascertaining the popular will about regional government. The noble Earl made some very interesting historical observations, though not wholly accurate, on the heptarchy and very early medieval times. We also had a most powerful and inspiring statement from my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor. However, as things stand, we have regional experiments by way of the RDAs, and so on, which are appointive and undemocratic. They are part of the quango regime about which other noble Lords have spoken. We still await, perhaps hopefully, the fruition of the speeches made prior to the election. I have in mind particularly the speech of Mr Gordon Brown, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, given in Manchester on 29th January which, if the words meant anything at all, suggested that there would be a much stronger regional presence in England and that it would be democratic. Mr Prescott observed during the campaign that those regional assemblies,should be about democracy and not about bureaucracy".We very much hope that this will be carried forward. There have been many tests of local opinion, especially in the North East. There was a very striking vote in the famous constituency of Sedgefield which showed that 70 per cent of the voters there wanted some form of regional assembly in the area planning its development.
I believe that the Government have been somewhat torn between devolution and dirigisme: it is both centralist and anti-centralist at one and the same time. It is difficult to strike the balance, but it is very noticeable. We have seen examples—have we not?—in Wales, where those two pressures are in conflict. I feel that this change is necessary on both sides of the House, as it were. It is not perhaps for me to preach to the Conservative Party, but I cannot understand why it has maintained a hard-line, centralist unionist stance when it is manifestly to its disadvantage in so many ways. It has been unhelpful to the party's cause in Scotland and in Wales. The Scottish Conservatives are clearly very unhappy with the situation. The Conservative approach from the Primrose League to 76 Stanley Baldwin and then to John Major has been to celebrate the politics of place, region and identity. In a sense, I hope that the Conservatives will not make the same error in relation to English localism that they have made in relation to national feeling in Wales, and especially in Scotland.
Finally, I hope that the Labour Party will also feel that it can happily embrace asymmetrical regionalism, as it has embraced asymmetrical devolution. I do not intend to talk about the reform of the House of Lords, but it would seem to me to be a valuable possible component of the reform of the composition of this House if there was some element of regional representation in this House. If that were the case, the composition of this House would have a measure of rationality that I must confess somewhat escapes me at the present time.
Distinguished scholars have put forward two views of the Labour Party and its attitude towards constitutional reform and they are both wrong. They say, first, that constitutional reform is not a Labour policy but a Liberal policy. In fact, all parties, including very much the Conservatives, have played their part in this. If one wants a classic statement of the need for and the implications of constitutional reform, one can look at Aneurin Bevan's famous book, In Place of Fear, which has a famous chapter at the beginning on precisely that.
The other mistake, I believe, is to regard devolution and regionalism as marking the death-knell for nationwide democratic socialism. As a democratic socialist myself—that is perhaps a minority creed in this House, or perhaps even in the Labour Party these days—I feel that it is a great mistake to equate socialism with centralisation. Briefly in the years after the war there was a view that "the gentleman from Whitehall knows best". That has not been the essential thrust of the Labour Party throughout its history generally from the Fabianism of the 1880s to the devolutionism of the 1980s.
British-style socialism has in the main not been about centralisation. As R H Tawney famously said, it has been concerned with the dispersal of power. It is antithetical to the concentration of power and it has been concerned with greater equality. Other constitutional arrangements have not produced greater equality. The per capita wealth and the rate of economic growth in different regions of the country vary enormously. In the three most northerly regions of Britain, as defined under the RDAs, there is an enormous disparity compared with the South East. Therefore, it seems to me that, if one is interested at all in good government, or perhaps particularly democratic socialism, democratic regionalism is a key to it and a key to social inclusion.
Constitutional reform is important. It is important for the development of this country. It is not just a hobby for academics in the hothouse atmosphere of their seminars. It is concerned with mobilising power and with making Britain a more just and democratic society. Constitutional reform figures to a very 77 marginal extent in the Queen's Speech, but I hope that it will feature prominently in the lifetime of this Parliament.
§ 6.33 p.m.
§ Lord Norton of Louth
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor for his opening reference to the Constitution Committee which I chair and of which the noble Lord, Lord Morgan, is a distinguished member. The committee naturally has yet to be appointed for this Parliament and I speak in a personal capacity, as will be abundantly clear from what I say.
The title of today's debate is important. We have to look at reform of your Lordships' House within the context of the constitution as a constitution. It cannot be treated as some self-contained issue, to be discussed independently of one's particular view of the constitution and how the different parts of the constitution relate to one another.
I have no doubt that the Government believe that in the previous Parliament they brought about a new constitutional settlement for the United Kingdom and that the rationale for that settlement is clear. The proposals for this Parliament are doubtless viewed as completing that settlement. That was apparent from the comments of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor. The constitution is far from settled and the rationale for what the Government have done to the constitution far from clear.
In the previous Parliament the Government introduced measures of constitutional change that were disparate in range and viewed by the Government essentially as discrete measures of reform. There was no attempt to look at how the several measures related to one another. There was no attempt to enunciate a coherent intellectual approach to constitutional change. I challenged Ministers to do so and they failed to meet that challenge.
At no point did the Government explain where they were coming from, or where they thought they were going to, in terms of their understanding of the constitution. I think that even at this late stage we are entitled to ask the Government for such an explanation. If we are to make sense of what the Government propose for the second Chamber, then we have a right to ask how those proposals fit with the Government's view of the constitution.
I therefore have a number of questions that I wish to put to the Government. They can be grouped under two headings. The first is that of the Government's view of the constitution and of constitutional change. The second is that of their specific proposals for reform of the upper House. Like other noble Lords, I am delighted to see the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams, in his place as Leader of the House and I shall look forward to his replies to each question.
Taking first the constitution qua constitution, what is the Government's view of what the constitution is for? I do not mean what is their definition of a constitution. There are various definitions to be found in works on the constitution. Rather, what purpose do the 78 Government think is served by a constitution? One view of a constitution is that it provides the structured means for the will of the people to be paramount. This view has been characterised as positive constitutionalism. Another view is that it provides the structured means for embodying values that are beyond the transient will of the people and as such is a form of constraint, This is termed negative constitutionalism.
Both views are relevant to debate about the British constitution. Positive constitutionalism is embraced in the United Kingdom by the socialist approach to the constitution. It is also largely embraced by those who adhere to the traditional, or Westminster, approach to the constitution. Under the traditional approach, the will of the people is tempered through Parliament, but the approach facilitates the will of the people determining policy outcomes. Dicey, let us not forget, ascribed legal sovereignty to Parliament, not popular sovereignty; that rests with the people. Negative constitutionalism is embraced by adherents to the liberal approach to constitutional change. The constitution is seen very much as a document for constraining public authority.
What is the Government's view as to the purpose of a constitution? The answer is necessary in order to understand their approach to Parliament and to the role of the second Chamber. The justification for the role and powers of the second Chamber differs substantially depending on one's view of what the constitution is for. I have made the point in your Lordships' House before that I take one view. Adherents to the liberal approach, sat on the Liberal Democrat Benches, take another. I disagree fundamentally with their approach but it is intellectually coherent and I can engage in debate with them because I know where they are coming from. I have no idea where the Government are coming from. I should like the Minister to tell us.
We also need to know where the Government think they are going. Knowing how they view the purpose of the constitution is a starting point. But we also need to know what form of constitution they are seeking to create. My second question, then, is what do the Government believe the constitution will look like in five or 10 years' time? I am not inviting a description of the different parts of our constitutional arrangements but rather asking the Government to explain, in conceptual terms, how they see the constitution developing. What exactly have they been working towards in terms of the British constitution? They have moved away from the traditional Westminster model, but not wholly discarded it. They have made some changes advocated by the liberal approach, but not embraced wholly the liberal reform agenda. Please, therefore, could the Minister tell us where the Government are coming from and where they think they are going in terms of the constitution and constitutional change?
I turn now to the specific proposals for reform of the upper House. Perhaps not surprisingly, given what I have said, I do not see how they fit into any particular view of the constitution. They are neither fish nor fowl in terms of approaches to constitutional change.
79 I do not intend to dwell on my justification for the House as presently constituted. Your Lordships' House adds value to the political system. It fulfils functions that are qualitatively distinctive. They are functions that the first Chamber cannot or chooses not to fulfil. The work of your Lordships' House has become more important as the other place has been increasingly constrained in its ability to hold government to account. This House fulfils tasks that are complementary to the first Chamber and, as such, it facilitates the accountability that is at the heart of our Westminster system of government. I do not believe that the alternatives on offer could add value in the way that the existing House does.
My starting point is that we must therefore subject to critical scrutiny any proposal that deviates from what presently exists. The Government's proposals—based on the recommendations of the Wakeham Commission—are not particularly radical, but they do deviate from what presently exists. Let me look at the Government's proposals and their justification for those proposals. The Labour Party's election manifesto says:We are committed to completing House of Lords reform, including removal of the remaining hereditary peers, to make it more representative and democratic, while maintaining the House of Commons' traditional primacy".Could the Leader of the House tell us in what way removing the remaining hereditary Peers will of itself make the House democratic? How will it make the House more representative, given that no peer, not even a bishop, sits in a representative capacity? This is not a semantic point. Rather, what it suggests is that the subject has not been thought through thoroughly.
Following the Royal Commission's report, the Government favour a House that is partly elected. Why? Is not a partly elected House a recipe for instability? Some argue, as does the Royal Commission, that it will add legitimacy to the House. But if legitimacy derives from election, then that legitimacy will attach to the elected Members. Are then non-elected Members deemed to be illegitimate? If not—if life peers are legitimate, and we must presume that the fact that they are to remain implies that they are so regarded—then why do we need some elected Members? Could the Leader of House explain how life peers are at the same time both legitimate and yet not legitimate, which seems to be the conclusion to be drawn from the Government's proposals?
And how will the election of some Members make for a more democratic political system? If one defines democracy in terms of enabling the will of the people to be paramount, then the more Members of this House who are elected the greater the potential to challenge the elected first Chamber and thus undermine the accountability of that Chamber. The Government recognise that the primacy of the first Chamber must be preserved in order to maintain that accountability. That is why only a small proportion of Members of the second Chamber are to be elected. The very reason why that primacy is to be maintained also undermines the case for any elections to the second 80 Chamber. Electing some Members to this House does not, on the definition of democracy I have advanced (and which appears to be a definition accepted by Government), make the House democratic. Our present arrangements are, on this definition, the most appropriate for ensuring that the popular will is translated into legislative output. What the Government propose adds nothing to that.
At a more practical level, perhaps I may invite the Leader of the House to speculate on what the turnout in elections for Members of this House is likely to be. I invite him to answer bearing in mind three things: first, that the more elections are held, the less interested people appear to be in turning out to vote; secondly, that in voting in elections to this House, electors will not be choosing the government; and, thirdly, that this House has less power than the European Parliament. I am not clear as to what the incentive will be for citizens to vote for Members of this House. Perhaps the noble and learned Lord will tell us.
The Royal Commission said that the second Chamber should be,broadly representative of society as a whole".The terminology is important. Elections are not always very good ways of producing Members who are representative of society: that is, in terms of being socially typical. Appointment is a far more effective means than popular election of ensuring that Members are drawn from a range of backgrounds. I am not suggesting that this House is socially typical but it is open to having a much more socially representative membership than is the other place. My question to the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House is thus a simple one: how will election, partial or otherwise, deliver a House that is broadly representative of society as a whole?
My final question is this. Will the noble and learned Lord tell us precisely in what way the second Chamber, as intended in the Government's proposals, will add value to the political process over and above that added by the present House? I invite him to answer that question only after he has answered my preceding questions. If he accepts, and I cannot see how logically he can do otherwise, that the proposals will not create a democratic or representative body, then what exactly is the point of what the Government propose?
I believe that I can make a powerful case for the House as it presently exists. However, the onus is not on me to do so. The onus is on the Government to justify their proposals for change and to do so within a clear vision of the constitution and of constitutional change. They have not made a case. I invite the Leader of the House to rectify that omission.
§ 6.46 p.m.
§ The Lord Bishop of Bristol
My Lords, I am sad that the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, is not in his place. When he hoped that he would leave a better—and I think that he meant more effective—House, we all knew exactly what he meant. I echo his sentiments.
81 My noble friend the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth spoke about the Church of England's response to the Wakeham report and the reform of your Lordships' House. I was delighted to hear many voices speaking about the role of this House and how we carry out that role. I hope that in the consultations we have been promised we shall consider the way in which your Lordships' House expects the Bishops to offer effective parliamentary service. First, if we as a body are reduced in number, will our breadth of skills be sufficient to provide your Lordships' House with the service expected from us? Secondly, if our numbers are reduced in the way suggested, there will be a conflict of interest between a Bishop's responsibility for his diocese and his responsibility to play a full and active role in this House. We may have to be more radical than considering the number of Bishops. We may have to consider the way in which leaders of other Christian Churches and world faiths might collectively, with the right back-up, provide that important service to your Lordships' House.
The noble Baroness, Lady Crawley, enthralled us yesterday with the possibility of a limerick—it was completed towards the end of the day. However, the noble Baroness introduced us to the concept of "six little words". The gracious Speech states:My Government maintain their commitment to devolution in Scotland and Wales".Where are those five little words, "and in the English regions"? The noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, and others have pointed that there is a real issue here. In his opening speech, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor described how devolution in the English regions was taking place with RDAs, and so on. It sounded very positive. But on 21st March this year my noble friend the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham initiated a debate in your Lordships' House on the English regions. His opening speech was a prophetic speech in both senses of the word. He referred to the disillusionment of the English people with the present system of government, saying:Large numbers of absentees will indicate a serious state of affairs in our democracy".—[Official Report, 21/3/01; col. 1428.]Noble Lords have already referred to what happened in the recent general election. It was a prophetic speech indeed in terms of foretelling the future.
My noble friend went on to speak in a prophetic way in a different sense. He said that the English regions required regionally rooted government. That sentiment was echoed by John Prescott when he said:We remain committed to moving to directly elected regional government".Mr Prescott reiterated that commitment on 30th May, in the run-up to the election, committing the party to publishing its blueprint for regional government if it won a second term. Labour has won a second term, but there is no reference to the proposals in the gracious Speech. A number of other statements were made on the subject in the run-up to the election. I suspect that we all agree that bringing decision-making closer to people is vital for the revitalisation of democracy.
82 Lastly, we acknowledge that Whitehall does not always know best. I shall put that above my desk on certain occasions. The regional development agencies are doing a marvellous amount of work. That is certainly the case in the South West. Those in the North East and the North West would also affirm that. However, being tied to national programmes leaves them unable to develop appropriate regional strategies. We heard a Statement about foot and mouth disease this afternoon. The issue was rightly linked to tourism and the industries that are found in our rural communities. The regions of England are not the same. What happens in the North East of England is not always appropriate in the South West of England. There is a need for a locally rooted elected assembly that can reflect the aspirations of the people of the region and the strategies that will make it a more effective place.
Some may ask why Bishops are interested in regional democracy. In part, it is because a number of us are involved in it and believe that it is profoundly important for our society. That interest also stems from what we believe about the dignity and worth of human beings. The Church of England claims to be catholic and reformed. Sometimes we forget our reformation basis. I remind your Lordships' House of that great reformer Martin Luther, who worked in partnership with the city fathers of Wittenberg. He suggested that the community needed to create a community chest—a gathering together of money that could be disbursed in three ways.
First, Martin Luther suggested that money should be given to unemployed men so that they might buy tools that would allow them to engage in positive activity. He added the marvellous proposal that if they were unable to repay the loan, they should be forgiven for God's—and nobody else's—sake. The idea was about enabling people to participate and make their contribution.
Secondly, the money should be used to provide schooling for the children of the poor, because education provides men and women with the possibility of earning their livelihood and making a contribution to the community. It gives people dignity and worth. I applaud the comments in the gracious Speech about issues relating to education. However, they might be better addressed at a regional rather than a national level. That is at least a possibility.
Thirdly—although this may not be politically correct—Martin Luther suggested that money should be given as dowries to the daughters of the poor so that they might get married and then be able to bring up their own families and create good households.
We need to enable all our citizens to participate in and contribute to the life of our society. At the moment, many of them feel that they are distanced and alienated from it. If we truly want to create a society that takes each individual seriously, we need to keep three issues in mind. First, it must be a just society. I was delighted to hear in the gracious Speech that the Government want to ensure that we move towards that. Secondly, it should be a sustainable society. We 83 have heard something about issues relating to pollution, the environment and the way in which we use the world in which we live. However, it is the third strand that really matters—participation. The further away government is from the ordinary lives of men and women, the more difficult it is for people to participate. We need a commitment to devolution in the English regions. I shall be delighted when Wessex takes its rightful place again in political terminology.
I add my congratulations to those that many others have offered to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn. I hope that he will tell us whether the omission in the gracious Speech was just an oversight and that we might be given some picture of what is contemplated and how such plans might work out in the future. In response to the debate on 21st March, the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, said that a Green Paper on the subject was not far off and that there would certainly be referendums in each of the regions. Neither of those issues is alluded to in the gracious Speech. Because I believe that the issue is important, I should like to hear the response of the Leader of the House.
§ 6.57 p.m.
§ Lord Roberts of Conwy
My Lords, I join those who have welcomed the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, to his august new position. We are very proud of him in Wales, as he knows.
We are faced once again with the prospect of constitutional change—or "modernisation", as new Labour prefers to call it—and it looks as if it is going to rumble on throughout the better part of this Parliament. I do not object to change, as long as it is for the better and patently improves the working and quality of our democratic process and the government of this country. Any measures to that end must be demonstrably and convincingly beneficial. To achieve that status and public confidence, they must be keenly inspired by sound principles and untainted by mean motives. I hope that proper cross-party consultation will ensure that with regard to the reform of this House.
I shall approach the debate on a rather different tack. It is well known that the Government are impatient of the delays between the announcement of their proposals and their delivery to the public. That impatience was frequently expressed during the recent election campaign by no less a person that the Prime Minister, who reminded me of Hamlet's plaintive soliloquy about,enterprises of great pith and moment",whosecurrents turn awry and lose the name of action".Following the election, it is not surprising that the Government are anxious to sharpen focus on the public services and to speed up improvement in every way possible. They will brook no delay, legislative or otherwise, to the implementation of their policies. The will of the people, as represented by the Government, must be executed forthwith. That is their post-election 84 theme, which permeates the Queen's Speech, as it permeated the Prime Minister's remarks in the other place yesterday.
Some of us challenge the Government's analysis and argue that the dilatory delivery of their objectives arises from Ministers' excessive preoccupation with presentation. It is obviously not enough to say that they are doing something; it must actually be done and Ministers should be the driving force behind that activity. It cannot be left to civil servants to dictate the pace of policy implementation. If it is left to them, one ends up, as any former Minister knows, with a very different scenario from the one originally envisaged—sometimes distinctly better, often disastrously worse, and always infinitely more elaborate.
Presentation is a very demanding business. It devours ministerial time and energy, and it is not surprising that Ministers prefer to broadcast their announcements directly on air and by leaks to the press rather than, or before, making an exhaustive and often exhausting Statement to the House of Commons, where they can be subjected to awkward questions. After all the talking, it is not surprising either that Ministers have little time or inclination for the follow-through. They are interested only in the results on the ground and, again, in making their presentation to the public in the best possible light. However, there are many instances where such trust has been woefully misplaced and things which should have been done have been left undone.
Having served in government for some 15 years, I find myself in empathy, if not in sympathy, with the Government's viewpoint. I understand the desire for speedier implementation of policy. As I have already suggested, and as I believe the Government have appreciated for themselves, many of the dilatory factors of which they have complained lie within government itself, and so do the remedies.
The recent extensive changes in government departments and their responsibilities, and the strengthening of the Cabinet Office, are indicative of the Government's perception of some of the inherent fault lines and weaknesses in the administration. We all hope that the changes and new appointments will improve the delivery of policy objectives and, thus, the government of the country.
In turning to the legislative process, I wish to make a key point gleaned, again, from my personal experience of government and of both Houses of Parliament. It is this. One of the greatest values of your Lordships' House to any government is that it gives them vital time to improve legislation. We talk a great deal about our scrutinising role but, from the Government's viewpoint, that is synonymous with an extension of time.
Time is the great healer of poor legislation and this House has been the hospital for many sickly Bills requiring treatment. Time in your Lordships' House is of the essence of sound legislation. Time is necessary for the Government to digest their second thoughts and to correct the defects seen during a Bill's passage through another place. There must be time for 85 Ministers to accommodate promises and concessions made to pressure groups and organisations. There must be time, too, for Ministers, their civil servants and draftsmen to think through, rework and restate abstruse sections in legislation. In short, there must be time to perfect the imperfect as far as possible. Your Lordships' House provides time.
Of the thousands of amendments and new clauses passed in this place, the vast majority are put forward by the Government. All are made possible only with the benefit of time. They cannot be rushed through with impunity. Without the time afforded to legislation by our procedures in this place, our legislation would be much poorer. The price that the Government pay for that—in dealing with opposition amendments and occasional defeats in the Division Lobby—is negligible by comparison with the intrinsic clarity, acceptability and generally high quality of legislation ultimately achieved.
Can time be saved in the process without loss of benefit? I shall say only that the other place, with its guillotine and concertina voting procedures, has not improved noticeably the quality of Bills coming to your Lordships' House—indeed, quite the opposite. Bills have come before us containing large tracts that have not been discussed at all in the other place. Therefore, I advise the Government to beware the dangers of curtailing procedures in order to gain time and ease the passage of Bills. Some things, quite properly, take time, and good legislation is one of them. Failure to observe that requirement will eventually redound to the Government's discredit with the electorate.
So, too, will failure on the part of government to be clearly accountable to Parliament. Parliament should be the working conscience of the nation between elections—the guardian of its best interests. No focus group or forum can be a proper, transparent and effective substitute free from the taint of possible manipulation. The Government should welcome the need for accountability and cultivate the usefulness of Parliament as a sounding board for their proposals and their progress.
The Government should certainly not be disrespectful of Parliament or regard it as a millstone to be hammered, chiselled and chipped away at as much as possible. That way lies trouble, even though the Government have an overwhelming and, so far, comparatively docile majority in the other place. There could be more testing times ahead.
With regard to the future composition of your Lordships' House, a consensus appears to be developing in favour of the inclusion of an elected element. There are indications that that elected element may replace the remaining hereditary Peers. Such a substitution would immediately bring into question the legitimacy of the life Peers, as my noble friends Lord Strathclyde and Lord Norton of Louth implied. It could, of course, lead to a predominantly, if not entirely, elected second Chamber which may come to rival the other place. Again, those points only emphasise the importance of all-party consultation on the next steps forward.
86 We shall lose much if we lose the hereditary Peers—the independent spirit that they represent, normally with their traditional grace and distinctive charm; their freely given industry in this place; and their youthfulness—a rare commodity, alas, in your Lordships' House and one that worries me increasingly as my white hairs multiply.
What will come in their place? There will be an infusion of new blood, inexperienced in the ways of this place, although they will soon familiarise themselves. They will dilute our mellow maturity. They will have to be salaried. They will be different from the rest of us. But at least let us hope that they will be people of quality—democrats rather than demagogues.
§ 7.8 p.m.
§ The Earl of Listowel
My Lords, as a hereditary Peer, I have a particular interest in the proceedings this afternoon. Shortly before the general election, in the other place a measure was nodded through which will increase the number of young people in young offender institutions by 2,000 per annum. In Committee in the other place the matter received barely five minutes of light-hearted discussion. In your Lordships' House the measure received half-an-hour of thorough debate, despite the late hour—it was past 10.30 p.m.—and the great pressure of business before dissolution. It was debated by, among several other Members of your Lordships' House, two highly experienced lawyers. The House's expertise was brought to bear on this very important matter.
If the Bill had not been accelerated through its final stages the following day, the Government would have faced serious further challenges on the clause in question. Whatever one may think of young criminals and their activities, such a measure demands the careful attention that it would normally currently receive in your Lordships' House.
Three features of the House render it particularly suitable for the detailed scrutiny of legislation; so wrote the noble Lord, Professor Lord Norton of Louth, in his contribution to the textbook Politics UK in 1991. As an unelected House, this House cannot claim the legitimacy to reject the principle of measures that are agreed by the elected House. Thus, basically by default, it focuses on the detail rather than the principle.
Many fear the danger that in our excitement at empowering ourselves further we may overlook our primary task of detailed scrutiny. A more powerful or a more legitimate House that was more often locked in combat with the House of Commons would have less time to deal with the nitty-gritty of legislation. While it may be necessary to introduce an elected element into our composition in order to prevent further damaging and unproductive change, we need to look at the proposal very carefully. We may become more partisan. Would we wish, for instance, for model speeches to be circulated among the Back Benchers, as was the case yesterday—this was highlighted by the Leader of the Opposition—in the other place? Will the 87 noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, explain how he will protect and promote the role of detailed and thorough scrutiny in a more legitimate House?
To conclude, I wish the Leader of the House every success in the mission to communicate the value of your Lordships' House, which he enunciated for himself yesterday. Surely we must all hope that he ensures that the potential and future value of the House, and its current and past value, are fully understood and recognised. Without a general recognition of the contribution that we make and an appreciation of the benefit of our work, we may fail the public and, more particularly, the most vulnerable in society; namely, those who most depend on well-considered, sensitive legislation.
An unvalued House, no matter how valuable, is prey to every ignorant populist with strong prejudices. I warmly welcome the seventh principle of parliamentary reform, which was laid out by the Hansard Society on Tuesday; namely, that Parliament must better communicate its value to the public.
§ 7.14 p.m.
§ Lord Pearson of Rannoch
My Lords, I fear that I must confirm what may be some of your Lordships' worst fears and speak about our relationship with the European Union. I know that EU matters usually feature in our debates on foreign and economic affairs, but I submit to your Lordships that our relationship with the EU is developing in such a way that it now assumes the highest constitutional importance. Many people feel that far too much of our sovereignty has already been ceded to Brussels. However, if the Eurocrats' agenda for the next intergovernmental conference in 2004 succeeds, the United Kingdom will cease to be a self-governing nation; its people will finally lose the right to elect and dismiss those who make its laws.
I submit that there is no greater constitutional prospect than that, and we should start debating it openly and seriously. Up until now, I have to say that the Government have resolutely refused to do so and I can but hope that some change in that attitude will be heralded tonight in the reply of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, whom we all welcome with affection and respect to his post as Leader of the House.
There was an encouraging sign that the Government are preparing for wider debate about our relationship with the EU in the Chancellor of the Exchequer's speech last night at the Mansion House. He said:across Europe a debate on the future of Europe is also taking place and Britain must be at the centre of that debate".He also said:I believe that those who seek to renegotiate the very basis of our membership with Europe … put at risk the stability that is so central to modern business and investment decisions. And I believe that government and business must join together in putting the case unequivocally for Britain being in Europe—a stronger Britain on the basis of a strong and secure relationship with Europe.88As the great debate on Europe's future begins, we should not only put the case for Europe but for a reformed Europe—and for Britain leading reform in Europe".I suppose that we can take that as the Government's latest position.
Your Lordships will agree that there is an assumption running through those remarks that being in the EU is a good thing. That is a widely held assumption, which is shared by all three of our main political parties and all our political media. So the task of challenging it is not easy, even if it appears from consistent opinion polls that a large number of the British people do not share it and indeed want to leave the EU altogether. The latest such poll, which was conducted during the general election campaign, showed that some 52 per cent favoured withdrawal. The figure of more than 40 per cent has been thrown up regularly since 1987. I know that those are only opinion polls but the results are important because we have been told by all of our political leaders and all of our political media for 29 years that membership of the EU is vital to the national interest.
In any case, outside the goldfish bowl of Westminster, it is not only in opinion polls that there is growing dissatisfaction with the European project. Our Federation of Small Businesses, at its annual branch convention on 24th March this year, voted overwhelmingly to leave the EU. The FSB is by far our largest organisation for our vital small businesses, with 165,000 members—yet not a word of that event appeared in our national media.
We have also had the recent Danish rejection of European economic and monetary union and the Irish rejection of the Treaty of Nice. It seems that when real people are consulted about further entanglement with the octopus in Brussels, which happens very rarely, they take the chance to say that they do not much like it.
The Irish Attorney-General, Mr Michael McDowell, put it rather well in Brussels on Tuesday when he said that Irish voters had rejected the Nice Treaty party because of a,widespread perception that developments in Europe were taking a turn, or moving in a direction, that caused deep unease".He said:a narrow class of activist office-holders, elected and unelected",were charging ahead of public opinion with proposals for a European constitution, a justiciable Bill of rights, EU direct taxation, a defence arm, judicial machinery to prosecute and punish citizens, an elected EU president, and an EU government. He continued:Few if any of these proposals carry popular significant support. While many have been put forward separately, they constitute, in the round, the indiciae of a European state in substance".That is some of the agenda to which I referred in my opening remarks. I have no doubt that millions of British people would agree with Mr McDowell.
Yet the belief persists among our political class that our membership of the EU is a good thing. That was demonstrated most recently by the Chancellor last night. That belief seems to be based on two 89 fundamental assumptions, both of which are highly questionable and even dangerous. The most important assumption is that the EU is good for peace, and the second is that it is good for trade and prosperity. I have wearied your Lordships before as to why the EU may not be good for peace. History teaches us that on the whole democracies do not provoke war. History also teaches us that forced or premature conglomerations of different nations nearly always end in disaster of one kind or another. We only have to look at the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, Ireland, the Middle East, the trans-Caucasus and much of Africa to see how regularly the dark forces of human nature are unleashed when nations are welded together by politics instead of growing slowly together through genuine common interest.
So we Euro-realists say that if the democracies of Europe can retain their identity and trade freely together under NATO, they are much less likely to end in conflict with one another than if they are deceived into becoming merely the subservient regions of an undemocratic EU megastate.
On a more specific level, we say that NATO has been the prime guarantor of peace in Europe and elsewhere since the last war and we deplore the EU's obvious attempt to undermine NATO by setting up a competing military structure. I imagine that other noble Lords will be dealing with this very worrying development during our later debates on the gracious Speech, so I shall say no more about it now.
The second assumption which I believe is mistaken and which underpins support for our membership of the European Union is that it is good for trade and that leaving it would cost jobs. The Chancellor fell for this one last night when he said that half our total trade is with the EU, with 3 million jobs affected—note that word, my Lords. But the Chancellor was not nearly as misleading as the Prime Minister has been, who never tired of claiming, during the election campaign, that over half our trade and 3.5 million jobs depend on our membership of the European Union.
When one stands back and looks at this claim, one sees that it simply is not true at all. According to the Government's latest figures, there are about 29 million jobs in the British economy, of which around 10 per cent are linked—note that word—to exports to the European Union. I do not want to trouble your Lordships with too many statistical references, but what it bolls down to is that about 9 per cent of our jobs support the 9 per cent of our declining trade which takes place with the European Union, while about 12 per cent of our jobs support about 12 per cent of our growing trade with the rest of the world. The remaining 79 per cent of our jobs and trade are right here in the domestic economy. So some 91 per cent of our jobs and trade is not affected by or linked to our trade with the single market and only 9 per cent is so affected.
Now, of course, that 9 per cent is very important, but the subterfuge being practised on the British people by the Chancellor and the Prime Minister and, 90 indeed, by most of our political class, is easily revealed by the simple fact that none of that trade and none of those jobs would be lost if we left the European Union.
If your Lordships think that that is a bold assertion, I can tell you that it was confirmed by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research in March 2000 in its paper entitled A continent cut off? The Macroeconomic Impact of British withdrawal from the EU. More recently, it was also confirmed last August by the International Trade Commission in Washington, perhaps the most prestigious economic think tank in the world, when it reported to Congress on the impact of Britain withdrawing from the European Union and joining NAFTA.
The case for saying that none of the 9 per cent of our jobs and trade which are involved with the single market would be lost if we left the European Union is further strengthened when one considers that both the NIESR and the ITC reached their conclusions without considering that the United Kingdom would have no difficulty in signing a free trade agreement with the European Union before we left.
There really is not any doubt that the European Union would sign such an agreement with us, if only because its members trade in substantial surplus with us and, therefore, have many more jobs dependent on their trade with us than we do on our trade with them. They need our free trade far more than we need theirs. We are by far their largest trading partner and they certainly need our trade an awful lot more than they need the trade of Mexico, with which they have just signed a comprehensive free trade agreement. So even Mexico has free trade with the European Union, but hardly any of the colossal hassle and none of the destructive over-regulation which we suffer at the hands of Brussels. So it really is rather silly to suggest that we could not have one too.
Even if I were wrong about that, which I am not, the European Union's average common external tariff came down to only 1.3 per cent in 1998 under the World Trade Organisation and other agreements. So if we left the EU and it did attempt to impose tariffs against us, they really would not be vaguely heavy enough to outweigh the colossal advantages of our escape from the tentacles of the ravenous and expensive octopus in Brussels.
So it is simply untrue to say that our jobs, our trade or our prosperity would be damaged if we left the European Union. I really hope that the Government and others will not go on telling the people that they would be.
I also ask the Government to start to engage on this fundamental aspect of the debate about our relationship with the EU. In the last Parliament, they merely chanted that the advantages of our EU membership were so obvious that they refused to discuss what life might be like outside it. If they go on doing that in this Parliament, I shall have to accuse them of being in bad faith when they pretend that they want full and open debate.
91 Your Lordships may have noticed that I have said nothing about the single currency or European economic and monetary union, as it is more accurately called. There has, of course, been much debate about that. But the Chancellor appeared last night to have put it on the back-burner for a couple of years and anyway, be that as it may, I have always believed that EMU is not really the heart of the matter. It is, of course, designed to be the glue which holds the whole frightening European project together but the project will continue even if EMU fails, which is why I wish to address the project.
I merely repeat that EMU's basic flaws have not changed since it was conceived and launched. Those flaws are that one interest rate must fit 11 different and divergent economies, where mobility of labour is low, where there is no common language and where interstate transfers on the scale required to hold the United States of America together just do not exist and nor is there any prospect that they will. These flaws have not begun to be tested yet by reality and by the international marketplace and so rather more time is required before we can see the results of this incredible experiment.
Of course, I have not time in these few minutes to put the whole case for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union and thus avoid the constitutional calamity of our total subservience to Brussels. But last summer, I was so frustrated by the Government's refusal to discuss the case at all that I put most of it into 60 bullet points in a memorandum entitled Better Off Out. Originally, I had some 3,000 copies printed and sent mostly to Members of the other place, a few Members of your Lordships' House and to various Eurosceptic friends. I only mention it now because the memorandum has proved rather popular to the extent that I have been obliged to send out some 50,000 copies in response to demand. I shall put some copies of it your Lordships' Library in case any of your Lordships were unfortunate enough not to receive one at the time and would like to devour it now with the attention which it deserves.
In conclusion, I fear that I must take issue with something which the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor said in his opening remarks, and I am sorry that he is not here to hear me say this. He said that he saw no place in this country for people who are "anti-European", and I had a sneaking feeling that he may just conceivably have been referring to people like me.
If he was, he would be wrong and he would be making one of the other fundamental errors which the Europhiles often make. The trouble is that the word "Europe" has been appropriated by the Europhiles to mean both the Continent of different nations and the emerging EU megastate. So when a Euro-realist is rude about Europe, referring to some product of the Treaties of Rome and Brussels, he is easily cast as "Europhobic", a "little Englander" or even a "dangerous nationalist". So I hope that the noble and learned Lord can see the error of his ways and understand that most of us Euro-realists love the Europe of different nations and cultures. In that sense, 92 we are good Europeans. We are almost certainly better Europeans than the Europhiles. It is just that we hate the treaties and the diktats from Brussels, which are a very different target. I trust that the noble and learned Lord can think upon that and accept it and that the Government will now embark on a debate which is long overdue.
§ 7.29 p.m.
§ Lord Moynihan
My Lords, I warmly congratulate the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, on his elevation to leadership of the House, which, indeed, is widely welcomed. I am sure, like me, he will also welcome today's debate on the gracious Speech which represents a key stage in the continued evolution of our constitution. It is not just about the future of this House. That is just one piece, albeit a very important piece, in the broader picture which is revealed when all the pieces of our constitutional jigsaw are fitted together. It is about the role of Parliament in our society and the need for checks and balances on the power of the executive. Above all, it is about handing down a Bill of full constitutional health to future generations, one which re-establishes the place of Parliament at the heart of our nation's life and which returns our democratic inheritance to its full strength. That is why in this broader picture it is so critical to get right stage two of the reform of your Lordships' House.
The Wakeham Commission described its task as,a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to produce a coherent blueprint for the second chamber of Parliament".I believe that that is true. I welcome this opportunity for further reform. However, I fear from the Government's vacillations to date that it is in danger of becoming a crude whitewash rather than a coherent blueprint.
Parliament does not belong to political parties or to the government of the day. Lasting constitutional change should not be imposed by one-party diktat. It is essential that it should be agreed by cross-party consensus throughout Parliament. Stage one of reform—no more than a crude amputation without the necessary accompanying reconstructive surgery—proved to be a painful and divisive chapter in the history of this House. But it is a chapter which is now closed.
I feel that I should mention why I made no personal contribution during the passage of the House of Lords Bill in 1999. At that time my position was something of an anomaly, as someone who would never defend the hereditary principle per se and, indeed, believed that it had no place in a modern democracy, yet who spent six years embroiled in a complex and dramatic court case to resolve the succession to the Moynihan peerage. That was not because of any inherent belief in the privileges of the title bestowed on the holder. I did so because I felt I owed it to my family, particularly to my young children, to establish the truth, whatever it might turn out to be, and by so doing to close what had been an unhappy period in my family's history.
93 The Moynihan title honoured my grandfather and his services to surgery. I am proud to bear his name but I have always believed that the achievements of any noble Lord, indeed, any individual, must be his own. Now I have the opportunity and honour to make a full contribution to the debate and intend to do so. The issue before us is how we move forward from where we are today, from a hybrid House of half-reforms and compromises, towards the goal of achieving the best parliamentary structure to serve the needs and rights of future generations.
I do not believe that we will ever succeed in creating a second Chamber to surpass its predecessor, the objective of my noble friend Lord Onslow, when we are hamstrung before we even begin by one fundamental flaw in our thinking. I refer to the assumed need to maintain the position of the House of Commons as the exclusively pre-eminent Chamber of Parliament. It is a pre-condition which stunts the growth of a modern bicameral parliamentary system and which kills the possibility of a democratically legitimate second Chamber before it can even take root.
The Wakeham Commission's terms of reference began with that very requirement. Unsurprisingly, the model of a democratically elected and accountable second Chamber was rejected by the commission on the grounds that it would represent a challenge to that pre-eminence. The present proposals for reform tiptoe timidly around our constitution in fear of the upheaval it might cause if the upper House could challenge the lower more effectively. It is argued in particular that the greater the elected component of a reformed second Chamber, the greater the risk of constitutional conflict because the upper House could at times claim a more up-to-date mandate than the lower.
Ironically, the future of your Lordships' House seems to be the last shibboleth in the Government's dismantling of the constitutional settlement they inherited. While devolution and deeper integration in Europe apparently cause the Government no constitutional qualms, the prospect of a House of Lords significantly strengthened by democratic accountability seems the ultimate unthinkable taboo.
Inevitably there would be tensions between the two Chambers if they both had electoral legitimacy, not to mention the restraint a more powerful second Chamber would impose upon the executive. But that is a constitutional dilemma that we must face squarely and seek a sensible resolution. We are surely capable of devising a system in which the two Chambers can complement each other, a point made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth, rather than compete with each other. It seems utterly bizarre that in a modern democracy we should entertain the idea that is preferable to sacrifice the democratic legitimacy and effectiveness of a second Chamber because we fear the constitutional consequences if we do not. That is why I take the view that, if your Lordships' House is to be reformed to become an institution appropriate to a modern democracy, the sooner we move to the majority of your Lordships' House being elected, the better.
94 At present this House has limited legitimacy when it exercises its critical function of asking the Commons to reconsider legislation. We have been open to taunts from the Government about our lack of mandate whenever we question poorly drafted legislation or scrutinise ill-thought-out measures. But the sensible solution is surely to bestow such legitimacy on the second Chamber through real authority and accountability at the ballot box.
I believe passionately in the importance of parliamentary accountability to the people. In my nine years in another place my belief in the overweening importance of democratic legitimacy was reinforced by the inner-city pavement politics of Lewisham. I came to understand and appreciate the precious thread of democratic legitimacy which connects the voter and citizen to the decision-takers and the decision-makers in government.
I believe that any consultation process should start from the need to strengthen this vital link. A majority unelected second Chamber cannot hope to achieve that parliamentary goal. I am conscious that democratic accountability in isolation does not connect elected representatives with those people who elected them. However, as has been referred to by noble Lords, in a week when the Hansard Society has warned that Parliament has been,left behind by far-reaching changes to the constitution, government and society",and has found,serious gaps and weaknesses in the working on accountability",when it seems clear that the system of inbuilt checks and balances is failing to hold a powerful government to account, it is little wonder that the electorate appears to want to wash its hands of Parliament and politicians.
For those who believe that participation is an essential part of a healthy democracy, the lesson of this general election, which produced the lowest voter turnout since 1918, was a sobering one, writ large. It showed us the gaping disconnect between the people and Parliament. There are many reasons for that disconnect which are by no means restricted to Britain alone, but I have no doubt that there was a connection between voter disenchantment and the malaise afflicting Parliament.
It is our responsibility when debating the future of this House to strive to make a connection between what is done in Parliament and in government and the lives of the people and to re-engage the voters. The task is difficult enough for elected representatives. It is nigh on impossible for appointed Members of your Lordships' House who have no formal connection with the people whose interests ultimately they must serve, no democratic accountability or legitimacy with which to act. Disraeli was right when he said that,all power is a trust; that we are responsible for its exercise; that from the people and for the people all springs and all must exist".I understand the hesitations raised by the Wakeham Commission and the caution with which it approached the question of a directly elected second Chamber, but I have come to the conclusion that a majority system 95 of life Peers and placemen, or anything that could be construed as a rotten system of patronage, has no place in a modern democracy. Under such a system the cries of "no selection without election" are likely only to gather more force.
It will come as no surprise that I find little merit in the three models proposed by the Wakeham Commission for the election of the regional members of the second Chamber. Indeed, I cannot see much to distinguish between this remote and limited form of election and nomination as a life Peer. Not only do I believe that this elected component should be substantially larger than even model C proposes; I also believe that it is a mistake to hide the election of those Members behind either the general election or the European Parliament elections or to use party-driven list systems as the basis for election.
I say to my noble friend Lord Norton that the conclusion that the answer is to minimise the elected component precisely because it has more democratic legitimacy strikes me as a ludicrous one. Indeed, I believe that if appointed Members are in the majority, the cohesion of your Lordships' House is even more at risk. An elected minority is likely to be perceived as possessing more authority than an appointed majority, in much the same way as some life Peers, including the former Leader of the House, the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, sought to emphasise the superiority and authority of life Peers over hereditary Peers. In a complete turnaround, the life Peers would be seen to be the illegitimate manifestation of the power of prime ministerial patronage. As one who would want to stand for election, from a personal point of view I would welcome that day.
However, I share the view of the Wakeham Commission that one of the strengths of your Lordships' House is its independence of thought and its disdain for adversarial and partisan politics, and I would want to see these characteristics reflected in a reformed second Chamber. A second Chamber which was exclusively the creature of the political parties would be a great loss, as would be a second Chamber which was the creature of the government of the day.
I agree with other noble Lords that it may be politically expedient, but it would be morally wrong to decouple the benefits of a primarily elected, or even a minority elected, second Chamber from overall reform of your Lordships' House and reform of Parliament. To remove the 92 in isolation of further reform would not only be unacceptable, it would be an abuse. And as so many of the 92 are government critics, it would carry the unappetising hallmark of an authoritarian putsch.
In conclusion, I believe that we should have a primarily elected upper House, but we should not lose the expertise of many of the finest minds in this country capable of contributing to policy formulation. That is why, of the some 49 per cent of Members whom I believe should be appointed, not one should be honoured with the task of serving in a second Chamber, unless it is because of their contribution to society. They should not be appointed because of 96 political patronage. They should not be appointed because of their personal relationship with the Prime Minister of the day. They should not be appointed because of the donations they give to a political party. They should not be appointed as a reward for giving up their safe seat for an MP cast in the Prime Minister's image. They should not be appointed as a means of resolving personality clashes within the Prime Minister's private office or as a backdoor route into Parliament. I believe that the simplest way to do this would be to define what we mean by a contribution to society through a schedule to the next House of Lords Act. Such a schedule could include, for example, recently retired presidents of royal colleges, former Prime Ministers, TUC leaders and others who can contribute.
I fully endorse the words of my noble friend Lord Strathclyde that lasting reform must come from cross-party consensus, from wide-ranging discussions within a joint committee of both Houses of Parliament whose remit is to consider all future options for reform before any Bill is laid before Parliament. I hope that that is what the Government have in mind when they refer to consultation.
I want to see a strong and independent House of Lords in a strong Parliament. The achievement of that will require the wisdom to look beyond the narrow horizons of short-term political advantage and to resist the siren calls to sacrifice democratic accountability and our constitutional well-being on the altar of narrow self-interest. Therefore, I say that if the Government truly want people's Peers, let the people directly elect them.
§ 7.44 p.m.
§ Lord Cobbold
My Lords, it is a strange experience to be once again addressing your Lordships in a debate on constitutional reform, and more particularly on reform of your Lordships' House. Having been excluded once already by the reform process, I did not expect to have another opportunity of speaking on the subject in your Lordships' House. However, finding myself to my surprise reinstated following the tragic loss of a noble Baroness from these Benches, I have now had the opportunity of witnessing the House operating under the reforms instituted in the previous Parliament.
I must say that it appears to be working well. The balance of representation between the two major parties is much more even. The unsustainable voting dominance of the hereditary peerage has been removed and a modest representation of hereditary Peers has been retained. This group, of which I am honoured to be a member, brings a random and diverse experience to the House. It also preserves the links with the proud history of your Lordships' House and with its traditions and pageantry such as we all witnessed yesterday.
Those of us who belong to the group—including even the noble Earl, Lord Onslow—feel a deep humility in representing that proud history. Therefore, it was with sadness that I found buried in the small 97 print on page 35 of the Labour Party manifesto the commitment to remove the remaining hereditary Peers. I wonder how many of the small percentage of the electorate who voted for our new Government paid their £2.50 and read as far as page 35.
No doubt we shall hear much of the manifesto commitment in the months to come. We can hope only that the more conciliatory wording in yesterday's gracious Speech and the commitment to consultation mean that the Government are prepared to think again. I welcome the emphasis which the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, placed on the importance of genuine consultation.
However, the question of representation by the hereditary peerage is in the end of far less consequence than the other potential changes facing your Lordships' House. This House now belongs to life Peers. Its unique and most spectacular property as a revising Chamber is that it contains among you, its Members, an unparalleled reserve of experience and expertise in all walks of life which is put at the disposal of the state at very low cost to the taxpayers.
A fully elected second Chamber, which is attractive to purist democratic principles, could never hope to match that reservoir of talent. Your Lordships must think very carefully indeed—and the noble Lord, Lord Norton, posed some important questions on the issue—about whether the introduction of an elected element will or will not add value and will or will not pose a long-term threat to the remarkable and unique qualities that the Chamber now possesses.
§ 7.47 p.m.
§ Viscount Astor
My Lords, I begin by congratulating the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, on becoming Leader of the House. I am sorry to see that he suffers from a lack of support on his Benches and can assure him that at this moment he is probably more popular on this side of the House.
I shall deal first with the proposals for the reform of your Lordships' House. Noble Lords will be relieved to hear that I can cut short my speech because my noble friend Lord Moynihan said much of what I wanted to say and said it better. He made an extremely good contribution.
I am afraid that in the previous Session, by accepting the Cranborne deal, we on this side of the House abandoned the opportunity of forcing the Government to come clean on their thinking for stage two reform. It was a bad deal then and, in retrospect, it has not improved. The deal was based on the illusion that there would be a future role for the remaining hereditary Peers in a fully reformed Chamber. There is not such a role and there never was. I do not believe that it was ever the Government's intention that there should be.
§ The Earl of Onslow
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for giving way. I understood it to have nothing to do with that at all. I understood that it was designed 98 solely to irritate the Government to go on and do something better and in that it has succeeded beyond its wildest dreams.
§ Viscount Astor
My Lords, I do not believe that it has succeeded at all. I am afraid my noble friend was under an illusion and seems still to be under it. The Government have said that the remaining hereditary Peers must go and we must accept the principle of that decision. However, this time we must have a proper debate on future composition, function and powers before we finally agree a Bill.
I am afraid that I am a cynic. I do not believe that the Government want anything other than a permanent majority in this House. This Government centralise power and almost want presidential powers. The Cabinet Office becomes more powerful every day. Devolution and regional assemblies give the illusion of regional power, but, when devolution does not provide the majority that the Government want, they seek to change the rules. For example, the Government are considering changing the regional list system in the Scottish Parliament because at the moment it does not provide the majority that they want. Perhaps the Minister can confirm that to do that a Bill would have to pass through the Westminster Parliament. I understand that the Government are also considering a cut in the number of Scottish MPs. Perhaps, when he comes to wind up, the Leader of the House can say something about that. What are the Government's plans for directly elected regional government? We have heard the principles but no details about the proposals have emerged.
Just consider what a second-stage reform of this House might look like. Some Peers—not that many—will be appointed by the independent commission. So far it does not appear to have appointed anyone who would not have got here anyway by one means or another. Certainly, it has not appointed a group of more "representative" Peers—that is a word that is popular with the Government—than we could have had in any other way. One would almost have preferred appointment by the Prime Minister. In the past the Prime Minister's appointments have been rather more interesting and diverse than recent ones.
The hereditary Peers will go and perhaps 80 or so new replacements will be elected on the basis of a party list system or perhaps euro constituencies. That will not be a major change because the Prime Minister will still have power to appoint the bulk of the Members of this House via patronage. As we have seen, the Prime Minister is already happy to bypass his own rules on appointments when it suits him; he has just done it. This House will finally become dominated by cronies and its role as a revising Chamber will diminish. The House will have the figleaf of respectability. It will be partly elected, partly appointed by the independent commission, partly appointed by Prime Minister's patronage and partly based on recommendations by the parties, but fundamentally the Prime Minister will control who sits in this House. The ability to delay and 99 make the Government think again will be diminished and the only power left will be that of the rubber stamp.
The Government have promised consultation, and we shall certainly hold them to that. However, we do not have the details of how consultation will work and will be managed, what body will carry out the consultation and how long the process will last. To make my position clear, I have never been able to argue that one version of patronage is better than another. I do not believe that either is satisfactory. I favour a largely elected second Chamber.
The recent election showed the will of the people and that the Government had a mandate to get through their business. However, it also showed that only 25 per cent of the voting population of this country voted for the Government based on a 59 per cent turnout, which was the lowest. The Labour Party polled 3 million votes fewer than 1997, which is hardly a ringing endorsement. It is true that the Government have a second chance to get it right, but there will be no excuses and no blaming of the previous government. This time if they fail they will be out.
I cannot let the moment pass without a quick swipe at the Liberal Democrats. There appears to be an increasing, but rather bizarre, claim by them that they are the real opposition. One can look at the number of seats or the percentage of the vote. The Conservative Party polled 31.8 per cent, the Labour Party 40.8 per cent and the Liberal Democrats only 18 per cent. If one looks at party membership, each of the two main parties has about 350,000 members and the Liberal Democrats have only 76,000. That is hardly "the real opposition". It is quite clear from the election that the Liberal Democrat vote is still a protest vote. The Liberal Democrats are always in favour of regional assemblies and government partly because their policies tend to vary so much in the regions. One has different policies in different regions depending on which Liberal Democrat candidate one listens to.
I should like to say a word about changes in the government departments, some of which I welcome. For example, I welcome the creation of the department dealing with the environment and rural affairs. I regret that neither "Food" nor "Agriculture" appears in its title. I hope that the Government will take note that the farming industry is still in dire circumstances. That department may find itself at odds with the new Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions. As the new department will become the advocate of urban and rural development with its responsibilities for planning, house builders must be eyeing greenfield sites with a hungry appetite.
The Home Office, which is the former department of the Leader of the House, has lost many of its responsibilities and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport has gained some. That department that has not been particularly successful, and we look forward to it making its mark in government rather better than in the past. It now has racing within its responsibilities. That is a sport about which the new Minister said he knew nothing. At least he comes to the 100 department with an open mind—we hope! Racing is not just a sport but an important industry. I am disappointed that there is nothing in the Queen's Speech about the privatisation of the Tote. That is a debate that I and the Minister have already had before. It may be that the Government will consider privatisation by way of a Private Bill, and perhaps in due course the Leader of the House will write to me on that subject.
The Home Office will have limited responsibilities, which means that it will be able to concentrate upon, and put its resources into, the police. To confront crime is a question of manpower. There are now fewer policemen than four years ago. If one looks at the statistics outlined by the Police Federation recently, the reason why crime in New York is now one third less than in London is that that city has a much higher ratio of policemen to the population. Numbers of policemen work and cut crime. I also regret that the Government have dropped their plans for the reform of pub licensing laws. Even the former Home Office Minister Mr O'Brien has condemned the Government for that U-turn.
In this Parliament we shall continue to hold the Government to account, and we have plenty of targets. The Dome still stands empty as a rotting monument to the vanity of this Government. In 1997 the Prime Minister said that there were 24 hours to save the National Health Service. In four years the National Health Service has not improved; it has become worse. Where have those promises left us? The Chancellor of the Exchequer has introduced 45 stealth taxes, which perhaps equal 10 pence in the pound, and the cry "Education, education, education" rings very hollow round the country. Sleaze has not gone away, Formula One is still protected and there are no plans for a ban on tobacco advertising. The Government promised to be tough on crime. They have been quite tough on crime, unless one is the Home Secretary's driver, in which case one is allowed to drive on the motorway at 103 miles an hour.
The Government have a second chance, but it is also their last chance. My noble friend Lord Strathclyde described the opening speech of the noble and learned Lord, who I am sorry to see is not in his place, as a eulogy. I gain great comfort from the words of my noble friend because eulogies are normally given at memorial services.
§ 7.58 p.m.
§ Baroness Williams of Crosby
My Lords, I begin with a brief comment on the speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Astor. While I wholly agree with what he said about police numbers, I point out two inaccuracies in his remarks. First, I understand that the title of the new department is "Environment, Food and Rural Affairs". Therefore, "Food" is in the description. Secondly, the noble Viscount is wholly inaccurate about the Liberal Democrats. Our claim to be the effective opposition is based on quality, not quantity.
101 I turn first to some of the constitutional matters which have been discussed in this excellent debate. I shall return to the issue of the reform of Parliament. I begin by saying a word or two about an interesting aspect of the debate which shows the great value to this House of the Bench of Bishops; namely, devolution. We had an eloquent description of the work of the Welsh Assembly by my noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford. We also heard some extremely interesting remarks on the same subject by the noble Lord, Lord Morgan. Clearly, of great interest is the way in which the devolution of power to both the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly unlocks a whole area of enterprise, ideas and innovation which brings a new vitality to those great nations. I believe that they see only the very beginning of it. Indeed, it is increasingly clear that Westminster has much to learn already from these devolved Parliaments, not least in the way that they conduct their business, in the way their Members represent the people and how they have regenerated interest in what happens in those assemblies. We have a great deal to learn from them.
I should like to comment very favourably on the speeches of the right reverend Prelates the Bishops of Portsmouth and Bristol who both brought out the weakness of the Queen's Speech in making no further reference to devolution of the English regions. Anyone who knows the North East well—the reference was to the remarkable debate opened by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham—will know how strong the pressure is on the ground for some kind of convention leading on possibly to a regional assembly. Anyone who looks across the Channel to Europe—I hope the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, will forgive me for this brief reference to that other place across the Channel—will see the way in which, in particular, devolution in Spain has brought a whole new kind of democracy to it. It is a grass roots upwards democracy, and one from which the Spaniards are already greatly benefiting.
Perhaps I may also refer to the moves to increase representation of women. My noble friend Lord Goodhart referred to the unquestionably simplest method of proportional representation. However, if that is not available, other measures are obviously wiser than doing nothing at all. It is a great pity that after the recent general election representation of women in another place has fallen at a time when many people thought it was likely to increase. That greatly undermines the concept of the representative nature of Parliament.
The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor made a brief reference to the fact that we are becoming a multi-ethnic society. Many of us greatly welcome that. In that context, it is extremely important that we do our best to increase the representation of ethnic minorities in both Houses of Parliament, and to address the remaining discrimination in some public services. I refer to yesterday's disturbing King's Fund health report about discrimination in National Health Service staff appointments. That matter needs to be addressed if we are to have a modern democracy.
102 Finally, I turn to the matter of Northern Ireland mentioned by another noble Lord. I shall not go into detail. There is not enough time. Given that this House will not meet again until that decision is made, I simply want to put on record that many of us recognise that we owe a great deal to the courage of the First Minister for Northern Ireland, whatever our own particular religious position may be. All of us would like to wish him well in what is likely to be an extremely difficult period of time.
I turn to the second phase of the House of Lords reform. In particular, I should like to press the new Leader of the House, whom I have already congratulated on his elevated position, on the issue of what was meant in the Queen's Speech by the two rather distinctive words "following consultation". The right reverend Prelate referred to five little words that would make a great deal of difference to democracy in the United Kingdom and particularly in England. I should like to know the meaning of the two little words "following consultation".
I thought I knew. Most of us recognise that the Government have been intent on removing those who have a right to sit in the House of Lords simply because of their hereditary nature. At least on these Benches, we support that. We recognise, as the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, said in his speech earlier in the debate, that many of the most outstanding members of that group, and there are some extremely outstanding contributors to the debates in this House, would be likely to return as elected Peers. Some of us would very much dislike to see them go as they make great contributions. But their claim on this House is one of quality and not one of being the son or grandson of someone who by sheer chance, and in some cases by the payment of money, preceded them as a Peer.
§ Baroness Williams of Crosby
No one denies that. I make no particular defence of Lloyd George and no defence of various other persons who at the time happened to be in the Conservative Party. I would like to think that this debate would rise a little above that kind of remark. But I make it quite clear that I do not believe that at the time I would have defended Lloyd George. I have no intention of trying to defend his role in history. I have no intention of trying to defend either, a matter pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, the appointment of people to this House because of the size of the contribution they make to a particular political party, whatever that political party may be. All of us live in glasshouses on this point. We had better address the real issues.
Having said that, I return to the issue of "following consultation". We well understand the Government's stand on the issue of hereditary Peers. No one could argue that further consultation would make any particular sense in that respect. My concern is on the issue raised by the noble Lords, Lord Strathclyde and Lord Moynihan, and others; that is to say, the issue of the composition of the House.
103 The Wakeham Commission, which need not be the last word, useful though it was, put forward three models which involved various numbers by various methods of an elective element in a reformed House of Lords. The issue of which, if any, model is the appropriate way to go should be the subject of "following consultation"; that little word "consultation". I am strengthened in that thought by looking back at recommendation No. 22 of the White Paper, which states that,We have therefore decided the Joint Committee should be preceded by a Royal Commission [the Wakeham Commission] which will do much of the preliminary work of examining the issues and analysing the options. We do not believe this will delay the process of considering more fundamental reforms".We have had the Wakeham Commission. There is a direct reference in the White Paper to the Joint Committee following the Wakeham Commission. I should like to know what the Government see as the function of that Joint Committee if it is not to look, at least to some extent, at the composition of this House. We wholly agree with the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, that it is very difficult to decide on the proper composition of this House if one has no idea of what will be its functions and power.
I turn from that to ask the much wider question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, in a speech which I wish I had made myself. I thought it was a brilliant speech. In a House which still has very strong party loyalties, I find it embarrassing to have to say that my admiration for that speech is virtually unbounded.
§ Baroness Williams of Crosby
I simply said what I must say. I suspect that the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, can put up with the praise I am giving him. Who knows, perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, will get a note from me saying how good his speech was. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, will do the same.
Perhaps I may say why I believe that the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, was so good. I have not said it on every occasion that he has spoken. The reason I think that it was so important and why it bridges party loyalties is that the noble Lord pointed out, as did the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth, that we are today looking at a very serious moment for democracy. I am not simply making the point, which is crucial to make, that at the recent election 60 per cent of the electorate bothered to vote. Let us not say that it was the lowest figure since 1918, which was the last year of a major war. It was the lowest figure since universal franchise was introduced, because young women could not vote in 1918. This is the lowest figure ever in history since universal franchise. That is extremely disturbing.
Even more disturbing for all of us is that the MORI and Gallup polls figures clearly indicate that the proportion of young people who felt unwilling or resolutely decided that they would not vote was three 104 and a half times higher than for those over the age of 45. The graphs are worth careful study. They show that there is a dramatic change in the whole attitude towards voting between those under the age of 45 and those over it, where amazingly the levels of abstention or of not voting are still only in the low tens in this country. That is without any reference to educational or income differences. The striking fact is that the group among the over-45s which voted with most enthusiasm was, amazingly, the D and E income group—the least educated and the least well off among us and not, as one would normally expect, the best educated and the most well off. That by itself says something extremely disturbing.
Why was that the case? I shall give some of the reasons. First, the Houses of Parliament are no longer regarded with particular respect by most of our fellow citizens—least of all by the young ones. The culture of adversarial yah boo politics is now deeply unpopular and is turning more and more people off democratic politics. Secondly, the range of recruitment is more and more narrow. The people coming into the House of Commons from all parties look more and more like one another. They have similar backgrounds, occupations, incomes and education. Although I am a graduate of Oxford University, I am not sure how pleased I am that around 30 per cent of all MPs come from Oxford and Cambridge Universities. Thirdly, we have a media which is now driven by the pursuit of circulation and ratings almost to the exclusion of everything else. More and more newspapers have either completely stopped reporting Parliament or report it only in the minimal possible way. What they are interested in is scandal and revelation. What they are not interested in is the deliberative work of Parliament—scrutinising, legislating and communicating. That goes to the back of the burner.
Finally, we suffer greatly from the levels of individual donations that come to different parties, in the way—I can speak on this matter with some authority—that I have in several years of teaching politics at Harvard seen the gradual slippage of the United States from democracy towards plutocracy, with senators spending up to 80 per cent of their time raising funds to enable them to fight their next campaign. I find it deeply troubling that in this country we are seeing money speaking more and more loudly in politics, which is not good for any of us.
What we need is not just the minimum reform of the House of Lords. We need a major look at the whole of Parliament, Commons and Lords together. We need to look at that openly and to invite people to come in and be part of that whole examination. It is the other place as much as this place that passionately and desperately now needs reform.
One of the sadnesses of this debate—it is an important debate—is that we have heard from only one Back-Bench speaker on the Government side. I know many of those on the other side of the House. I was extremely interested in what the noble Lord, Lord Morgan, had to say. There are some excellent minds on the other side of the House. There are some excellent sources of ideas. It is a real tragedy that we 105 hear so little from any of them. The spirit of independence seems to be sliding away from them. In the end, the value of any House of Parliament depends on its independence of mind and the strength of its conscience. That is another reason why I am troubled and why, under our new Leader and under the new Leader in another place, we now have to look at the reform of Parliament in a much wider and more generous way.
§ 8.14 p.m.
§ Lord Kingsland
My Lords, at the beginning of this excellent debate, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor took us on a rather nostalgic tour of the main legislative features of the previous government. His tone was—dare I say it?—one of engaging triumphalism. He trespassed, however, very little on the Government's future intentions. Perhaps that will be the task of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams. when I sit down. I should add, incidentally, how delighted I am at his appointment.
In the course of his speech, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor made two observations which I can hardly let slip by without some comment. He referred to the devolution reforms—their target being the philosophy of "England first". I was rather surprised to hear that expression. Before the passage of the Scotland Act the scope for every Member of Parliament—whether a Member of your Lordships' House or of another place—ranged over all the affairs of the United Kingdom. That was not true after the passage of the Scotland Act.
The noble and learned Lord rather suggested that it was Scotland that was discriminated against before the passage of the Act. But, in truth, what has happened is that an illusion of a democratic deficit in Scotland before the Act has been replaced by the reality of a democratic deficit in England after the passage of the Act. Whereas Scottish Members of the United Kingdom Parliament still have a say in what happens in England, English Members have no say in most of what happens in Scotland. I hope that the noble and learned Lord will reflect again on his doctrine of "England first", at least in the context of the constitution of the United Kingdom.
The noble and learned Lord then referred to the importance he attaches to human rights, to the rule of law and to our fundamental freedoms under the law. As he was speaking, I asked myself whether he had glanced at the legislative programme intended for our country by the Secretary of State for the Home Department.
What do we see? We see the abolition of the principle of double jeopardy—an abolition which we understand will become retrospective—a principle that has been around in our country for a mere 800 years. We see the Government reaffirming their intention to remove the right of trial by jury for a whole range of offences. We see the Government's stated intention, in some circumstances, to allow previous convictions of the criminal accused to be put in front of the jury before it reaches its verdict. We also 106 understand that in some cases assets will be confiscated from accused persons before their conviction.
Does the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor seriously think that any of those measures conforms with the principles of which he said he was so proud? Of course they cannot. call on the Government to think very hard before introducing or re-introducing measures in the course of the first Session of the new Parliament which will impose these limitations on the liberties of the citizen.
The noble and learned Lord said nothing about another important constitutional issue, the single currency, to which my noble friend Lord Pearson of Rannoch referred. Whatever your Lordships' views about the merits or otherwise of the single currency, there is little doubt that its introduction would have significant constitutional implications. We understand from the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer last night that it is likely to be two years before the Government decide whether or not to go ahead with a referendum. That would take us to the summer of 2003.
If the Government then conclude that it is right to go ahead with a referendum, your Lordships' House and another place will have to consider a paving Bill for the referendum legislation. Is the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House in a position to tell us anything about that paving Bill? What form is it likely to take? For example, what kind of options are likely to be included? Is your Lordships' House to be given an opportunity to consider what question will be put to the country? Can the noble and learned Lord tell us anything about the timetable?
Perhaps I may speculate and say that the earliest the Bill could be introduced would be in November 2003. Since there is no guillotine in your Lordships' House—I trust the Government have no intention of introducing one—we might reasonably assume that the Bill will take some months to pass through. I suppose, therefore, that your Lordships are considering a referendum that would be held, at the earliest, during the summer of 2004. I wonder whether that would give the Government enough time to recover, politically, in the event of a "No" response?
In the light of that analysis—with which the noble and learned Lord may quarrel, but I put it to him as plausible—is it realistic to think that we shall hold a referendum at all during the lifetime of this Government?
I should like to share the enthusiasm expressed by the right reverend Prelate for regional assemblies; but I for one am very relieved that nothing of that kind has been included in the gracious Speech. Adding another layer of government in England would make the situation to which the noble Baroness referred even worse than it is already. It would be far better to strengthen local government, whose representatives are much closer to the people, at its grass roots than to introduce an intermediate layer between the county councils, with their great historical traditions, and our national institutions.
107 As always, I listened with great care to my noble friend Lord Wakeham. His speech, although short, was full of interest and acute reflection. In his report, my noble friend set out three options for the future of your Lordships' House. Over the months or perhaps years that lie ahead, I hope that, before taking a final decision, noble Lords will consider two other options: first, no change at all; and, secondly, a completely elected House—perhaps established along the lines suggested by my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern in his excellent report drafted some years ago. For those noble Lords who have been unfortunate enough not to have had the benefit of reading it, my noble and learned friend suggests a completely elected House whose Members would have one term lasting for 15 years.
I am going to disappoint your Lordships by not opting for one out of those five proposals. Instead, I simply suggest to noble Lords how I think the ultimate choice might be approached. My noble friend Lord Wakeham was quite right to point out, as were other noble Lords who repeated the same view, that composition should follow powers. Thus, depending on the powers that your Lordships' House will exercise, so one of the five choices in the portfolio of options will have to be chosen.
But the question of the powers of your Lordships' House depends in turn on the question of the powers of another place. I submit that it is not possible for noble Lords to reach a conclusion about powers, and therefore a conclusion about composition, until another place has considered what it is going to do to rein back the powers of the executive.
My noble friend Lord Renton pointed out, in his characteristically incisive contribution to the debate, the change of character that has taken place in another place over the past 30 years—in particular in relation to the substitution of full-time for part-time politicians—and the adverse effect that that has had on the ability of that House to stand up to the executive.
The fact is that it is no longer possible to have a respectable career in another place as a parliamentarian. One's worth as a Member of another place depends exclusively on how far up the executive ladder one has climbed. That is a very unsatisfactory situation.
A number of noble Lords have mentioned a report published two or three days ago by the Hansard Society. I submit—I say this with great humility—that what another place should be aiming for is to make it just as attractive for a young person entering that Chamber to become a Member of those committees which control the executive as it is to become a member of the executive itself. How would that be achieved? I think that it could be achieved in two ways. First, members of the Select Committees must be granted the same privileges as members of the government. They must be paid as much; if they are sufficiently senior, they must be sworn of the Privy Council; they must be given motor cars of the 108 appropriate length; and they must have access to competent staff. Above all, over a period of time they must be able to develop experience—as is the case in the United States Senate committees. For that reason, a member should be allowed to serve on a particular committee for a long period of time. Furthermore, those committees should have the power not only to subpoena Ministers and civil servants; they should also be able to take evidence on oath. That would make all the difference.
I understand that the right honourable Robin Cook MP is somewhat disappointed that he is no longer the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. I have learnt that from the newspapers. I have no idea whether it is right. In The Times today, Mr Matthew Parris graphically depicts Mr Cook as someone who found it difficult to remain awake during the speech made by his right honourable friend the Prime Minister. I hope that, very soon, the right honourable gentleman, Mr Cook, will become aware of what an exciting and challenging task he has in front of him. There is no more important task than that which today confronts the Leader of the House of Commons; namely, to change the balance of power between the executive and those Members of the House who control the executive.
If Mr Cook succeeds totally and successfully in introducing a programme of executive control, then the increase in power that will be required by your Lordships' House will be modest. I could then see the force in maintaining the status quo. However, if Mr Cook fails, then it is my view that nothing less than a wholly elected House will do. If he succeeds partially, we ought to aim for somewhere between those two options.
However, I have a reservation as regards arriving at a point in between the two options, which is partly reflected in what was said by my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth. If we have both elected and appointed Members in your Lordships' House, there is a danger that, politically, we shall end up with first and second class citizens. Noble Lords will have to consider that matter carefully before moving to a decision which would allow for elected and appointed Members to inhabit the same Chamber.
Your Lordships also have to be confident that the elections will be taken seriously by the electorate. Nothing could be more damaging to the future of the reformed House of Lords than to have a turnout of 30 or 35 per cent—that would be a very damning debut for your Lordships; yet it is difficult to see how the electorate will be prepared to go out and vote for those of your Lordships who will become elected members unless it is convinced that something can be achieved by that election.
That, in turn, brings us back to power. So, although composition should depend upon power, power influences the enthusiasm of the electorate. I cannot pretend for one moment to have an easy solution to that problem. That is why the consultations that the Government undertake will be so important.
109 I hope that the consultations will be real consultations and not simply a charade. Knowing how honourable and honest is the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, I am confident that the consultations will be true consultations. For our part, we on the Opposition Benches will be thoroughly co-operative.
§ 8.31 p.m.
§ The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Williams of Mostyn)
My Lords, it was a pleasure to hear the right reverend Prelates today and to see them both still in their places. They and I are soul brothers because we have listened to so many repentant sinners today that they must feel quite at home.
I take it—coming from the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland— that a wholly elected House is official Conservative Party policy? I thought not. Shall we have two for the price of one? Is it or is it not now Conservative Party policy that there is to be a referendum on the euro?
§ Lord Kingsland
My Lords, as to a wholly elected House, it may or may not become Conservative Party policy depending upon how successful the Labour Party is in changing the House of Commons. That is exactly what I said. That is a précis of what I said at rather boring length. So far as concerns the referendum, I simply asked the Government a series of questions and I shall be interested to hear their responses.
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
My Lords, I think that the answer is, "Answer came there none". I am slightly deaf in one ear, but I kept watching the television, listening to Mr Hague saying that there was never going to be a referendum because, if Labour win, then all is doom and there would be no point in having a referendum. I think the words he used were,This is the last chance to save the pound".and the clock started ticking—for a bit, anyway.
I have listened to every speech that has been made today. It was a pleasure to do so. I had thought at one stage that we might restrict ourselves to the subject which most interests us—namely, the House of Lords—but there has been a very wide-ranging debate. I took as he reflection behind much of the thought—I agree with it deeply and fundamentally—that we all recognise that we are experiencing a sea change in constitutional relations in this country. The deep underwater currents are developing momentum, and our skill and craft ought to be to recognise how we can use those changes to the maximum advantage of, first, this House; secondly, Parliament; thirdly, the relations between Parliament and other assemblies, including European assemblies; and, fourthly, of course, the continuing improving benefit of the country as a whole.
Let me deal with one or two specific matters. First, I very much welcome the fact that a number of your Lordships have said that meaningful discussion would be welcomed. The approach of the noble Lord, Lord 110 Strathclyde, was very reasonable. I personally share his view that if we can get consensus on reform we ought to try to achieve it. If we can get consensus on our working practices, we ought to try to achieve it. Thereafter, we would have to put our minds, on a slightly longer term basis, to those deeper issues raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby—namely, is Parliament a wholly derelict institution? Can it be improved? Why did people not vote? Why were there significant categories of those who did not vote? I agree entirely with the noble Baroness about their attitudes from my own personal experience of my daughter and her friends. Those are questions for a different day, which I hope is not too far away.
If we can get consensus—I have to be perfectly straightforward—the Government have put their mind to proceeding on the basis of the report of the Royal Commission of the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham. When one talks about consultation and inquiry, it is just as well to do as he perhaps very gently reminded us and to go back to the volume and to see the work that was done. We should perhaps look first of all at the composition of the Royal Commission. It was hardly partisan. After all, the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, was a distinguished parliamentary servant, but not, as far as I am aware, in any Labour government. The noble Lord, Lord Hurd of Westwell, who is deeply respected on all sides of the House, was one of its other members, as was the noble Baroness, Lady Dean. I shall not go through the rest of the composition because their rather charming photograph is to be found near the front of the published volume.
My point is that we would not feel able to engage in consultations if they were simply a device to put off reform yet again. We have had many discussions. I am entitled to the equivalent of the Burma Star with bar—even with "bishop's bar"—for all the speeches on House of Lords reform to which I have listened even in the relatively short time that I have been here. If we can get consensus, yes, but it would be misleading of me to say anything other than what has already been said several times. My noble friend Lady Jay, my predecessor, made it quite plain that we intended to proceed on the basis of the Wakeham recommendations. We have put it in the manifesto; it is perfectly plain.
There may be opportunities for some degree of compromise, but it will be on the basis that this House should not be able to challenge the supremacy of the Commons; that it should make its own separate and distinctive contribution, particularly—I take up a number of your Lordships' phrases—by being an expert, advisory and revising Chamber. I shall, if I may, repeat what I tried to say yesterday: I believe that we can do good work if, having dealt with composition—I agree with what your Lordships said—we then get to how we work. I do not mean procedural devices but how we actually work. What hours do we spend? Why do we start at 2.30? Why do we finish sometimes at 2.30 the following morning? These are questions that we need to debate sensibly because it will all inure to the benefit of the House.
111 The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, asked me about Northern Ireland, as did the noble Baroness. Of course, if there is something of deep public concern which arises in Northern Ireland, then, without committing the usual channels, I personally think that any request from the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, would have to receive sympathetic consideration. We all hope and pray that such an eventuality will not occur, but we do not know what will happen.
We should remember sometimes amid the evening euphoria that this "jackbooted" Government—so the Chief Whip tells me—still has a minority of Members in your Lordships' House, even compared with a single opposition party. If, by some unhappy, Godforsaken chance, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats vote together, we have no prospect of success at all. That is quite a useful reminder because many people still believe that because we have a very substantial majority in the Commons we have one in this House. We do not. We can only succeed by persuasion.
The noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, put forward his views. In many ways I agree with him. He spoke of revision and scrutiny with authority. I entirely agree. I believe that that authority derives, first, from composition, and, secondly, from the way we work. If one teases out the thinking behind the recommendation of the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, about what should happen to secondary legislation—in other words, power to delay and not to veto—if one thinks about it carefully and does not dismiss it, that will give this House more power.
At present your Lordships have two alternatives: one is to go along with that approach; the second is the "nuclear option". The nuclear option is almost never used—in other words, to cast it out entirely. However, the far more subtle and sophisticated Wakeham solution offers an opportunity for delay—which we know perfectly well is an irritant to a government (whatever their political colour) and an inconvenience. There is an opportunity for compromise to be reached between the two Houses. If one thinks about it carefully, one sees that the recommendation gives extra, effective power to this House and should not be overlooked.
I was grateful to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth for his support in regard to our working practices. I am certain that these provide the key to making this place work in an effective and respected way.
In a moment or two, I must to come to a matter that is rather disagreeable. First, however, I refer to a remark by the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, which I wrote down because it is absolutely right. It bears repeating and bears thinking about. The noble Lord said that it is the differences that we contribute which provide our value.
We are not starting in the late 18th century with clean sheets of paper to devise a constitution for a newly independent republic in North America. If we were, we should be coming to different conclusions. One of the glories of this country is that it is not 112 brutalistically intact in the sense that one could justify every conceivable aspect of our constitutional arrangements. But the bits that work do so quite well. What we should do is to make them work better.
I now come to the disagreeable part. I am sorry to have to say this because the noble and learned Lord, Lord Rawlinson, surprisingly, is not in his place.
§ Lord Kingsland
My Lords, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Rawlinson, specifically asked me to apologise for the fact that he would not be in his place. I ought to have said that in my speech but I did not. I apologise for not doing so.
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
My Lords, I had assumed that, which is why I used the word "surprisingly". The difficulty is that a fairly stinging attack was launched on a colleague of mine in another place. Self-evidently, she was unable to be here to defend herself. I had no notice of it and I do not know whether she did, but I shall not let it go without replying. I specifically pointed out that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Rawlinson, was unusually not in his place because I do not want him to think that I have been discourteous. I am doing this having thought about it.
The noble Lord, Lord Renton, said, for instance—wrongly—that Ms Harman is not a qualified lawyer. She is. She has been a solicitor for many years. If I had done the work for civil liberties that she has done, at an unpopular time, I should be quite pleased with my professional standing.
Perhaps I may refer to another couple of points that are worth looking at. Long ago and far away, Law Officers used to prosecute regularly in the criminal courts, for example in the great poisoning cases, because such cases used to last only about four days. These days, one does not get beyond swearing in the jury in the first four days. It is simply not practically possible for a Law Officer to go away from 9 Buckingham Gate for that period of time. To be away for three or four weeks is simply not possible.
The question was raised as to whether, as a solicitor, Ms Harman could possibly represent the Government. Let me give a few examples. I represented the Government in the opening of the inquiry into the sinking of the "Marchioness". I represented the Government at the opening of the public inquiry into the loss of the bulk carrier "Derbyshire". I represented the Government in the ECHR in Strasbourg in the case of Shah. I also had the infinite pleasure, never to be repeated, of representing the Government before the Committee of this House which decided on the expulsion of the hereditary Peers. On none of those occasions did I need to be a high-rise advocate. So on reflection I believe that the criticism of Ms Harman was unfair. I leave the matter there. I know that your Lordships detest unfairness.
113 The noble Lord, Lord Norton, asked a number of questions. Within the appropriate segment of my 20 minutes I shall offer my reply. What is a constitution for? In my view, its purpose is to regulate the relationship between citizens and those institutions and persons which for a time control their lives in whole or in part, reflecting commonly held views of equity, culture, religion, tradition and history.
Where are we going? We are going, as a government, if we succeed, to the important purpose of the devolution of centralised powers—I take up the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Morgan—to those whose property those powers truly are. If anyone believes that this Government, having passed the Human Rights Act, are a centralising, Stalinist government, I beg leave to question that judgment.
One question raised was: how can we make this place more democratic? Another was: how will value be added? How will the political process have added value? My answer is: we shall be more effective (added value) if we are more accepted. I believe that if we adopt the broad plank of the Wakeham reforms, we shall be more accepted; we shall therefore be more effective, particularly if we attend to the question of our working practices.
The noble Lord asked what will be the electoral turn-out. It is wholly impossible for me to answer that question. Imagine the alternatives. In one constituency the noble Earl, the Earl of Onslow, might be standing, in another he might not. Plainly, in the first constituency there would be an overwhelming turnout— one way or the other.
In any event, it is a fallacy which I respectfully seek to demonstrate as such, to suggest that democracy is about "the will of the people to be paramount". It is not—unless you want to go to town meetings in small habitations in Vermont, or you want to go down the Californian route where you can have a proposition which will effectively expel from office one of the best chief justices California ever had because she is against capital punishment. Why do we have an independent judiciary if it is only the brutalists, the neo-brutalism of the noble Lord, which is to be accepted. I reject the proposition that democracy is all about the will of the people to be paramount. It is not—not if you want to live in a sophisticated and indeed a civilised society.
§ Lord Norton of Louth
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord for giving way. He is describing not a democracy but a liberal democracy, and there is a very important difference between the two.
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
My Lords, given the alternative, I prefer a liberal democracy. I believe that that is what the overwhelming majority of countries, were the will of the people to be supreme at all times, would want—and if they did not, they would be wrong.
114 The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bristol asked about regional government. We are working on the preparation of a White Paper which will set out detailed proposals for taking the policies forward. As he rightly pointed out, this is a significant constitutional development. We want to try to get it right. That is why the detail needs to be worked through. I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate for his inquiry and I hope that I have answered him suitably.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, and to all your Lordships for your overgenerous courtesy to me. The noble Lord spoke about the "docile hordes" at the other end of the building. As I was enjoying his words, I wondered why it is always former MPs who complain about guillotines and the "muzzled" House of Commons.
The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, asked a number of questions about how we could improve this House and how good consequences would come from improved working practices. A few examples have just come to my mind: first, more sensible working hours; and, secondly, greater use of the Moses Room, which works extremely well on detailed Bills such as the data protection legislation, from my experience, and the armed forces legislation, which the noble Earl, Lord Howe, took through this place. He worked extremely effectively when we were in opposition and the present Opposition were in government. I also have in mind no votes on Committee stages of Bills, no absurdly late sittings and pre-legislative scrutiny, as, for example, on the communications Bill. I have just taken those examples at random. They are not definitive solutions but they are possible avenues of improvement that we ought to consider.
The noble Viscount, Lord Astor, asked about Members of Parliament in Scotland. He will recall, as I do, that before 1999 there was the minimum legal number of 71 Scottish seats. Of course, the Scotland Act removed that requirement. Therefore the next Boundary Commission will use a new rota. Indeed, it is more likely than not that the number of Scottish MPs will fall, as the noble Viscount rather suspects.
The noble Baroness, Lady Williams, spoke about consultation. I have to point out to her that the Joint Committee was mentioned in the manifesto, though not at the last election. It was mentioned in the previous one. It is worth remembering that we tried to set up a Joint Committee but we could not reach agreement on membership. We could not agree on terms of reference because, as is well known, we were adamant to the point that composition had been dealt with by the Wakeham Commission; and it was the parliamentary aspects that the Joint Committee was to consider. We were not able to reach agreement on that point. There was no commitment in the 2001 manifesto.
I should add that, by "consultation", I mean our hope that we would be able to publish our proposals. However, we do not wish to fall into the trap heavily disguised in the long grass of having yet more discussions about an issue if we are not likely to be able 115 to achieve an informed consensus. "Consultation" means that one has to listen fairly and open-mindedly to other people's points of view; but it does not mean that one has to put off decision day for ever and ever, Amen. We have been discussing this matter one way or another for 100 years, though sometimes it feels like longer.
I believe that what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, and, if I may say so, reinforced by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, is most important, as were many of the points put forward—and I say this without wishing to be patronising because I am not—by the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland. These are all very important questions; but many of them are not for us to decide. On a personal basis, I agree with the noble Lord as regards giving gratuitous advice to our colleagues in another place, which neither of us ought to do for fear of being disbarred. The small greasy poll of ministerial advancement is not the only legitimate object of human ambition. Indeed, it is not. Perhaps I may give the House two examples. Chris Mullin was an admirable chairman of the Home Affairs Committee. He went into government but voluntarily gave up his ministerial car and position to return to the Back Benches because he conscientiously thought that he would do better as a public servant if he could regain a committee chairmanship.
I shall give noble Lords a further example. I do so because when people behave honourably it is quite a good idea to recognise that fact. As far as I know, Mr David Davis was offered a position in the Shadow Cabinet which he declined. The unworthy might say, "Well, I can quite understand that". However, I recognise that that was not his motive; his motive was to serve. If I may say so—again, without appearing to be patronising—he has done extremely well as chairman of a most effective and powerful committee. Therefore, I do not believe that all our colleagues at the other end of the Palace are incredibly worm-eaten with ambition. Indeed, some of them see different ways to serve. However, taking up the "Kingsland theme", we can think about our own working practices. We are giving advice to those in the other place about how they should behave. Therefore, I believe that we ought to focus on how we might do better.
I should like to make a few points about double jeopardy. We are talking about a Law Commission report and one that is wholly non-partisan. There is no question of the removal of the right to trial, but there is the question of the removal of the absolute power of the defendant to determine where the trial should be held, which is quite different. There is also the question of the introduction in a trial of someone's previous convictions, where relevant. It will not have passed your Lordships' attention that previous acquittals can now be used as part of a prosecution case, as the result of a decision of your Lordships' Judicial Committee.
We have had a really interesting debate today. Perhaps we all become a little jaded from time to time. 116 I suppose that the remedy for a "jaded liver" is to have an election in which we played no significant part. This enabled us to be away from this place for a few weeks and then return to listen to a very high-quality debate. I do not believe that there was any repetition. There may have been a little deviation, but, all in all, those who scoff at this House—even in its present, unreformed state—might do well to read the reports of our debates occasionally. It did not seem to me that self-interest, party advantage or partisan small-mindedness informed any of the speeches that we heard this evening. I am personally grateful to your Lordships.
I have to say that my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor was not able to be here for part of the debate because he had another official engagement to attend, the date of which had been set long before this debate was tabled. I am grateful to noble Lords for this debate—
§ Lord Pearson of Rannoch
My Lords, before the noble and learned Lord sits down, perhaps I may press him on the basic point that I put to him and which he has not, so far, been good enough to answer. Can he say whether the new Government will be prepared to embark upon national debate on our position within the European Union? Alternatively, are the new Government just repeating the mantra of the old Government; namely, that our position in the EU is so obviously wonderful that any debate about it would be superfluous and time wasting?
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
I am so sorry, my Lords. I ought to have attempted to deal with that point. I had intended to do so and had made my own notes in that respect. However, my handwriting is dreadful and my eyesight even worse. I was going to suggest that one of the benefits of a reformed and developing House of Lords is that we shall want to consider the relationships between this Chamber and the House of Commons, between this Chamber and European institutions and between this Chamber and, for example, the devolved Assembly and Parliament in Wales and Scotland respectively.
I do not believe that there has been any shutting down of the debate on the European issue. It may have bored to death a significant part of the population—and I do not know whether or not that has anything to do with a low election turnout. However, as the noble Lord knows, one cannot say that the European debate is not being continued, at least not in this House. I recognise and honour the noble Lord's concerns about Europe. I believe that our place is to be actually in Europe. It distresses me that sometimes our opportunities are just being frittered away because of negative comment about Europe. Many of my European colleagues to whom I have spoken through the jobs that I have carried out in government in a relatively short period of time have been full of admiration for the way that we conduct ourselves in this country, though not necessarily in this Chamber.
§ Lord Carter
My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lady Hollis of Heigham, I beg to move that the debate be now adjourned until Monday next.
§ Moved, That the debate be now adjourned until Monday next.—(Lord Carter.)118
§ On Question, Motion agreed to, and debate adjourned accordingly until Monday next.
§ Lord Stone of Blackheath—Made the Solemn Affirmation.
§ House adjourned at two minutes before nine o'clock.