HL Deb 07 November 2001 vol 628 cc205-24

3.8 p.m.

Lord Waddington

My Lords, I apologise for rising before the noble and learned Lord, but I should like to raise one matter of considerable importance before he makes his Statement on the White Paper.

I am told that the White Paper is not available in the Vote Office. Obviously, that appears to be somewhat discourteous to noble Lords and will pose certain difficulties for those who wish to put questions. I am told the explanation is that it will not be made available until the Leader of the House of Commons rises to his feet at half-past three. If that be the explanation, that raises other very important issues. I should be grateful if the noble and learned Lord can tell us what he can do to help us over this difficulty and ensure that nothing of this kind ever happens again. It is very discourteous to this House.

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Williams of Mostyn)

My Lords, my understanding is that it is normal procedure.

A noble Lord

Yes—during your leadership.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, I am fortified by that helpful support. I have not intended the slightest discourtesy to this House. I shall make the Statement first and my right honourable friend Mr Cook will make it second. The last sentence of the first paragraph was to have informed your Lordships that the White Paper published by the Prime Minister would be available in the Printed Paper Office today at half-past three. I take the other implication of the noble Lord's question. If, at some later stage, one of your Lordships suggests to me that we should have a fairly prompt debate about this important matter, I shall do what I can to assist through the usual channels.

Lord Elton

My Lords, the noble and learned Lord invited a suggestion that we should have an early debate. I merely answer that invitation by making such a suggestion.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, with permission I should like to make a Statement on the Government's proposals for further reform of your Lordships' House. I need not read the next sentence.

These proposals form the second part of the two-stage reform that we promised when we legislated in 1999 to remove the automatic right of hereditary Peers to be Members of your Lordships' House. They will complete the process of creating a modern second Chamber to play its part in a Parliament fit for the 21st century. We believe that Parliament as a whole will be strengthened by these reforms.

The Government are very appreciative of the work done by the Royal Commission set up in 1999 to analyse the issues and put forward recommendations. The Government have consistently made clear that they found much of the Royal Commission's report persuasive. As we promised in our manifesto, we have given our general support to the Royal Commission's recommendations and will seek to implement them in the most effective way possible.

Like the Royal Commission, we have taken as our starting point the role and functions of your Lordships' House as part of our overall constitutional settlement. We concluded that your Lordships' House should be: first, a revising and deliberative assembly not seeking to usurp the role of the House of Commons as the preeminent Chamber; secondly, that it should be composed of a membership appropriate to its revising and deliberative functions, and not duplicate or clone the Commons; and thirdly, that it should be political in approach, but not dominated by any one political party. Further, it should be representative of independent expertise and of the broader community in our country, but not to disrupt the delicate relationship—the continuing relationship—between elected Members of the Commons and their constituents.

Like the Royal Commission, our fundamental principle has been that reform should not undermine the position of the House of Commons. Our system of parliamentary democracy is built on the accountability of government to the House of Commons and through it to the people. To assume power, a government must command a majority in the House of Commons. To maintain power, they must sustain the confidence of that House. This constitutional framework, founded on the pre-eminence of the House of Commons, has provided Britain with effective democratic government and accountability, and few would wish to change it. It is vital that reform of this House does not upset that balance but rather that it strengthens the capacity of Parliament to legislate, to deliberate and to hold government to account, whichever government happen to be in power at that particular time.

Reform of your Lordships' House must, I suggest, satisfy one key condition. It must not alter the respective roles and authority of the two Chambers and their Members in a way that might or would obscure the line of authority and accountability that flows between the people and those they elect directly to form their government. Decisions on functions, on authority and on membership of this House should be consistent with those well-settled principles of our democracy.

The Government's proposals are these: the House of Lords should remain subject to the pre-eminence of the House of Commons in discharging its functions. No group in society should in future have privileged hereditary access to this House. The 92 hereditary Peers who remained in the House under the transitional arrangements in the House of Lords Act will lose their right to sit in the House, although, like everyone else, they will be eligible for membership as appointed or elected Members.

The House of Lords' principal function should continue to be to consider and revise legislation; to scrutinise the executive; and to debate and report on public issues. In carrying out these functions, we shall be looking for the House to make a distinctive contribution.

The primary legislative powers of the House, as circumscribed by the Parliament Acts, should remain unchanged. Its powers over secondary legislation would be changed from one of veto to one of delay, so that as with primary legislation, this House can require the House of Commons to think again when considering a statutory instrument. That was, as your Lordships well know, a recommendation of the Royal Commission.

Membership of the House should be separated from the peerage, which would continue as an honour. That was also a recommendation of the Royal Commission.

Political membership of the House should be broadly representative of the main parties' relative voting strengths as reflected in the previous general election. This means that it is the people, not the Government, as has been the case in the past, who will decide the political make-up of the House.

The size of the House should be capped, in statute, at the figure of 600. To allow an orderly transition from the present House, this cap will apply only after a period of 10 years from the passing of the Act.

The House should be largely nominated. There should be a significant minority of non-political members. We have proposed a figure of 120 for this element. The contribution made by the Cross-Bench Peers is a distinctive feature of the present House to which many people attach great importance. The Government are firm in their belief that that should be preserved. The Royal Commission recommended that there should be an elected element, specifically to represent the nations and regions within the UK. A majority of the Royal Commission was willing to support option B. That provided for 87 elected Members. We have proposed that the figure should be increased to 120.

There should be increased representation of women and those from ethnic minority backgrounds. In order to assist with increasing the representation of women, at least 30 per cent of new appointments will have to be of women. At least 30 per cent will have to be of men. I think t hat I shall enjoy myself by waiting for the subsequent question. There will also be provision in relation to ethnic minority representation.

There should be a statutory independent appointments commission. It would be appointed by Her Majesty in response to an Address from this House. Its functions would be broadly threefold. First, it would manage the balance and size of the House, by deciding how many nominations each political party may make within the requirement, which I specified earlier, that political membership should reflect the share of the votes cast in the previous general election. Secondly, it would appoint the independent Members, using an open and transparent nominations process. Thirdly, it would vet those nominated by political parties for propriety. We do not propose to accept the Royal Commission recommendation that the appointments commission should have the final word about the identity, as opposed to the numbers, of the political members. The Government believe that political parties must be responsible for proposing those who are to represent them in a House of Parliament.

We would retain the Law Lords as full Members of the House.

We would retain the Bishops' Bench, but reduce those sitting to 16. We expect the appointments commission to have regard to the Royal Commission's recommendation that there should be representation for other faiths and denominations.

All life Peers who are Members of the House when the reform is implemented, including Law Lords, would retain their rights to life membership. We would, however, consider a retirement scheme.

In the gracious Speech, we said that we would publish our proposals for consultation. That is what this White Paper does. We have asked for comments on all or any of the proposals and specifically on the overall composition package, by the end of January. Within our proposals we raise a number of questions. The first is whether the overall balance between elected and nominated Members, Law Lords and Bishops, and between political and independent Members, is right.

The second is whether elections to the Lords should be linked to general elections, those for the European Parliament, or over time linked to those from devolved and regional bodies within the UK. The Royal Commission recommended a link with the European Parliament, but the Government see some difficulty with that.

The third concerns the length of term for elected Members. The Royal Commission recommended terms of 15 years or three Parliaments, and that there should be no re-election. Fifteen years is extremely long by comparative standards. The Government are interested in views on whether it is acceptable that elected Members should go on for so long without renewing their mandates.

The fourth question relates to the term of appointment. The same considerations apply here. The Royal Commission also proposed 15-year terms for appointed Members, although it accepted reappointment.

Fifthly, what grounds should lead to statutory expulsion from the House? With the ending of the link with the peerage, it will now be possible to expel Members from the House if that is wished.

Sixthly, should there be a change from an expenses-based system of remuneration? Members of your Lordships' House now receive expenses only. The Government see some attractions in continuing with that system, which I personally could bear with some fortitude. That system is consistent with the part-time status on which the proposals are based. However, it must be borne in mind that the absence of a salary might operate as a disincentive to broadening the social mix of the House. The Government have therefore asked for views on that.

We are confident that the proposals set out in this White Paper will create a House of Lords that is fit for a modern democracy. I hope that it will strengthen Parliament as a whole by providing a better and more effective complement to the House of Commons. That will mean, I hope, better Government for our country.

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

3.20 p.m.

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, I begin by thanking the noble and learned Lord for the Statement and for making available to me earlier this afternoon the White Paper and a copy of the Statement. I agree with my noble friend Lord Waddington that it would have been desirable for the White Paper to have been made available to Members of this House at least by the time the Leader of the House rose to speak.

Having said that, can the noble and learned Lord take from me my bitter disappointment with what I believe are shabby and inadequate proposals? Those of us who have been Members of the House for some time have been promised for years plans to create a more authoritative, more legitimate House. What we have before us is an instrument of prime ministerial patronage hiding behind a fig leaf of token democracy. We were promised a stronger and more independent House. What we now have is a House with its powers reduced and the props that reinforced the independence of Members of this place kicked away. That is not reform. It certainly is not democracy and it is not even what my noble friend Lord Wakeham suggested in his Royal Commission.

This document is muddled, superficial and misleading. Frankly, it is an insult to the intelligence of Parliament. In the foreword to the White Paper, the Prime Minister talks of creating a Parliament "fit for the 21st century". That is a soundbite even Miss Jo Moore would have blushed at. The Government propose a House of patronage on a scale unknown in any country of the world and not seen in this country for many centuries.

Not only is the content of the document utterly inadequate; so also is the timing of its publication. Can you credit it—in the middle of a war, with public services literally falling apart—the Prime Minister picks further changes to this House as the flagship for the relaunch of his domestic agenda? There cannot be a single teacher, nurse, passenger or policeman in this kingdom who shares the priorities of the Prime Minister on this. When the duty of the leadership is to keep the country united, the Prime Minister has set out to divide Parliament and every party in it right down the middle. Make no mistake: opinions are divided on how to go forward in every single part of this House.

No longer can Parliament be treated as a political football, kicked and spun this way and that for the convenience of the inner circle at the top of one political party. Enduring reform should be built only on cross-party agreement. So will the Government now enter discussions on the functions, role, powers and composition of the House? Will they consider even now what they should have done a long time ago; that is, put the issues to a Joint Committee of both Houses and remit this White Paper to that committee in order to seek such a political consensus? Would not that be the right way forward? Parliament cannot be excluded from discussions on the future of Parliament itself any more.

Will the noble and learned Lord explain to the House the reason why there is such a desperate rush? Is not the limit of a few weeks to 31st January next a surprisingly brief period for consultation? Furthermore, can the noble and learned Lord say whether legislation is planned for this Session? That, at least, should be a question to which he should be able easily to reply "yes" or "no".

Parliament stands at a cusp. Unless this place retains its independence, powers and free procedures, and builds its authority to hold the executive to account, parliamentary accountability will be at risk. The other place is not functioning well as a check on the executive or as a filter for bad legislation. We must not be distracted from focusing on that fundamental truth by an executive in a hurry with its own private agenda of manipulation. It is of course essential that we debate the many issues arising from the White Paper. I hope, therefore, that the noble and learned Lord will tell the House what plans he has made to facilitate such a debate and when.

I have not had time to study the White Paper in detail, but I should like to put to the noble and learned Lord some specific points. How can he claim that elected Peers will strengthen this House when he proposes to reduce the powers that Members of the House already enjoy? Is it not astonishing that, at a time when governments rely more and more on legislation by regulation, the Government want to remove from this House its power to reject secondary legislation? How do the Government propose that Parliament should prevent the passage of oppressive regulations? Can he further take it from me that we shall be implacably opposed to any reduction in the powers of this House?

I do wonder what happened to the Jay doctrine; that through reform, this House would be more authoritative and more respected by the Government. It is obvious that elected Peers should mean more power and more authority for this House. If the noble and learned Lord does not accept that, then why on earth are we bothering with this process? The blunt truth is that this Government simply do not want a more powerful House. That is why they go on resisting any proposal to give this House more opportunity to consider and amend financial legislation. How can that position be maintained after the arrival of elected Peers?

Earlier, I said that the Government were out to kick away the props of independence in this House. Why else have they rejected the proposal, common to the reports of both my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern and my noble friend Lord Wakeham, that elected Peers should serve for 15-year terms? The very purpose of that recommendation was to stop Government Whips creeping up to noble Lords and saying, "Oppose Shaun Woodward again, mate, and you'll be deselected". No wonder that is something which the Prime Minister cannot stomach.

Let us consider the proposed method of election. Can any Member of the House believe that the Government are planning to introduce the discredited system used for European elections—the notorious closed lists? It is the system that gives party bosses the say over who is elected. In fact it is appointment at one remove, but appointment none the less. I have to remind the Leader of the House—he may have forgotten—that the system was imposed on this House only by the use of the Parliament Acts. What an insult to propose its use to send party appointees to your Lordships' House.

Can the noble and learned Lord confirm that the new Members of the House would be called "ML", so that the peerage would no longer be linked to a seat in this House? Is not that the very proposal that the noble and learned Lord himself voted against when it was put forward by my noble friend Lord Ferrers? What has changed?

Will the noble and learned Lord also explain a little further the numbers? Currently there are 704 Members of the House. After the proposals before us, excluding the hereditary Peers, the total will be 733 Members. But the noble and learned Lord has talked of a cap of 600 Members. What is the plan to reduce the numbers? Will those aged over 75 be forced into retirement, as I understand is set out in the plans envisaged for senior former Law Lords in the House? How will the transition be operated? Will the noble and learned Lord explain the mechanism? Furthermore, how will the House be rebalanced to reflect party strengths after each general election?

In 1999, the Government were able to tear up a stable constitutional settlement, but they cannot dictate in what shape that settlement will again bed down. That must be a matter for this House and for another place. Inevitably those decisions will be affected by opinions outside the House. Given that, can the noble and learned Lord explain to the public that we now have an 80 per cent-appointed House and that the effect of these so-called modernising reforms will be to deliver in its place an 80 per cent-appointed House?

What is the noble and learned Lord's defence, in what the Prime Minister calls "a modern Britain", for a scale of patronage that has seen the Prime Minister appoint over one-third of the Members of this House in a little over four years? What is the justification for keeping that power? In the Government's view, will elected Peers be more legitimate than life Peers? Does the noble and learned Lord believe that, when elected Members are brought in, Ministers of this House will be drawn only from their ranks?

In 1999, the Government advised another place to reject a statutory appointments commission that this House had demanded, on the grounds that it was not appropriate. Why is something that was inappropriate then appropriate today? Is it something to do with the reception so unfortunately given to the appointment of so-called people's Peers? Or what, my Lords?

Where is the consistency and rationale in all of this? Whenever I look for a philosophy behind this reform, I find only opportunism, and whenever I look for a set of principles, I find only expediency. It is a fig leaf, a token element of elected Peers that is designed to mask the design of the Prime Minister and his cronies to keep their grip on this House. This is the last chance to secure the strong and effective House of Lords that many of us have wanted and were promised. Noble Lords of all parties and none must unite to embrace changes that strengthen our Chamber and unite to resist those that would sweep away the powers and duties of our House.

These are shoddy proposals that were cooked up in the Cabinet Office over a decanter of port and are fit only to get a divided Cabinet past the end of today. The Government should be ashamed of this document. It demeans this House, it demeans Parliament, and, worst of all, it demeans the Government themselves.

3.31 p.m.

Baroness Williams of Crosby

My Lords, I, too, thank the Leader of the House for allowing us to see the Statement a few hours in advance. I am most grateful to him. May I also say that I hope that it will be made as widely available as possible?

First, we are concerned that the White Paper has been published at a time of urgent emergency legislation, because we believe that it requires very careful deliberation by Members of this House and of another place. Therefore, I ask the Leader of the House to give an assurance of the kind that was requested by the Leader of the Opposition. Will he assure us that there will be a full debate in this House before Christmas—that is to say, well before the consultation period runs out—on the basis of at least a full two days of discussion? I ask that question because the White Paper makes it plain that consultation is not open beyond the end of January. Given the Recess, Members of this House will know that, unless we have a commitment to such a debate, there will be no possibility of having the full discussion that is essential on a matter of such importance. It would have been open to the Government to raise this matter later, but the fact that they have not done so means that there is virtually an obligation to make such time available within their own timetable.

Secondly, I have a very central problem with the statement. I believe that it is a problem that should be shared throughout the House. I do not believe that any Member of this House wishes to usurp the House of Commons or would challenge the pre-eminence of the other place. Indeed, during the period in which I have been a Member of this House, I have noticed it defer time and again to the elected House. In some cases, it has done so even to the point of not pressing an amendment on being informed that the other place takes a different view. Of course, it is subject to the Salisbury convention, which, in a sense, enshrines the doctrine of the pre-eminence of the other place.

However, with great respect, that is not the problem. Here I may echo to some extent the sentiments expressed in rather fiercer terms by the Leader of the Opposition. The problem is simply that, in this country, we have an executive that is consistently growing in power and a legislature that is incapable of holding it fully to account. We see in the other place—of course, I was a Member of it for many years—a growing flow of legislation, which means that none of it can be scrutinised as fully as it should be. We see a situation in which Bills are guillotined and are not, therefore, fully debated. I am not making a party point. I hope that I can appeal to Members of this House on the constitutional grounds that this is not a point of that sort, but one about the whole nature of our democracy. I have seen more and more amendments—sometimes they are tabled as late as the Report stage of a Bill—being inadequately discussed, scrutinised and debated and then folded into legislation. Often only a few years later, the government of the day—I repeat that this is true of all governments—deeply regret that legislation, change it and reintroduce it in another form. I have seen as many as nine education Bills in a period of only seven years. That means that governments go back and rework the legislation because it was enacted without adequate discussion and scrutiny. In that context, I very much welcome what the Leader of the House said—I believe that he will stand by it—about making an attempt to ensure more pre-legislative scrutiny and more study of draft Bills.

Whatever our party, we cannot fail to recognise that the fundamental problem is the weakness not only of this place, but, indeed, of another place as well. It is a place that responds time and again to these strong instruments of reward, patronage and promotion, and in which it is, quite honestly, therefore difficult to get independent concerns expressed fully. That is the case because the whole structure of our system means that what is essential is party loyalty, which is a very fine virtue, but is very often to the exclusion of the operation of judgment and common sense on the passage of legislation.

Therefore, the question that is before this House and another place is how we can so far reform our legislature that it becomes a powerful and significant one that can hold the government of the day to account. That is what people want. They want a government who are accountable to the people, and it is the job of the legislature to ensure that that accountability is real and transparent, and that it is upheld.

In that context, one of the things that seems to me and to those on my Benches to be crucial is the need for us to consider the issue of Lords reform in the wider context of reform of the whole of Parliament. It makes no sense for us to talk about having lesser or more functions without knowing how far that will complement—I use the word carefully—the work of the House of Commons. We cannot seriously discuss the composition of this House without knowing what our most crucial functions are to be. If I may say so, that is simply to put the job before the job description, and it makes very little logical sense.

If it is the view of the Leader of the House—and I hope that it is—that there should be very close liaison with another place in determining the reform of this House, I suggest that he might look at the Committee on Working Practices that he has established and at the Committee on Modernisation in another place and consider whether they could work together to ensure that the reforms are complementary and are carried out in a way that makes cohesive sense. May I ask him directly whether he would be willing to consider such a joint gathering or Committee? In that regard, I should like to quote to him some words spoken by the Leader of the House of Commons. With reference to pre-legislative scrutiny, he said: We are currently consulting on the best way in which that can be done, but a Joint Committee is obviously one of the options, and I understand that there is willingness in both Houses to proceed with such a Committee."—[Official Report, Commons, 1/11/01; col. 1007.] Can the Leader of the House tell us where discussions have got to on that issue, what the scope of that Joint Committee might be and whether he is working with his right honourable friend in another place to bring about the cohesion that that implies? I should like to add that it is the view of my colleagues and myself that this requires a reform that looks both at the functions of this place and then, subsequently, at its composition. I fully accept that it would be inappropriate for such a committee to consider composition, but it would be wholly appropriate and, indeed, essential, for it to consider functions.

Turning to the issue of functions, perhaps I may make the following points. We very much welcome the proposal put forward earlier for a committee on statutory instruments. Your Lordships will know of the huge multiplication in secondary legislation—again under governments of both colours—that we have seen over the past 15 or 20 years. I, for one, am profoundly fearful of this multiplication. In many parts of our society it leads to a great sense of grievance that they are over regulated, over instructed and over told what to do. As a democracy, we must be careful about the multiplication of ill-debated secondary legislation. That is why I welcome the lead given by the Leader of the House on this.

I associate myself with the Leader of the Opposition in that we would be extremely reluctant to see the abandonment of the ability of this House to reject a statutory instrument—or, at least, the ability to insist upon a rethinking because of the possibility of its rejection. Many Members of the House—not least the distinguished members of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Select Committee—are aware that, in some instances, statutory instruments now carry very heavy burdens and, in some cases, intervene in the traditional civil liberties that the people of this country have long been able to enjoy.

Further on the issue of functions, perhaps I may draw attention to an area which is not examined by Parliament at all. Perhaps the Leader of the House will tell us whether it is an area which is open to consultation and discussion. Your Lordships will know that on these Benches we have pushed very hard for the concept of a committee to scrutinise treaties. At a time when a body such as the World Trade Organisation is attracting passionate controversy among young people, it is rather absurd that Parliament cannot discuss such treaties. Of course any decision must lie with the Government, but is it really right that we cannot discuss or scrutinise any of these treaties? Another example is the convention on biological weapons, which today is central to the concerns of many of our fellow citizens. So can we look further at the areas which are not considered by Parliament? I gave an example of treaties; another is the area of public appointments.

Let me turn now to the issue of the composition of the House. In this context, I shall refer again to the Leader of another place. He referred to the need for, a democratic and representative second chamber". On these Benches we, simple-mindedly, understand the word "democratic" to mean that people should be elected and accountable to their electors. Therefore it has long been our view—we have never strayed from it—that in the House of Lords political Peers should be elected. I repeat: political Peers should be elected, either directly or indirectly. They must be accountable.

We believe that the combination of a fixed term Parliament and a different system of election—I share the view that a closed list is not a fully democratic method—is critical if this House is to operate as an effective scrutinising chamber. We do not depart from that view. It is important to my position and the position of my colleagues on these Benches that I make that absolutely clear.

In the White Paper, the appointments board has the important function of testing the probity of potential Peers. We agree with that. It also has the function of suggesting the appointment of those who might sit as independent Peers. In our view, none of that retreats from the principle of the election of political Peers.

In that context, we strongly support the proposal of the Leader of the House and the Government that there should be a limit to the size of the House—although, like the Leader of the Conservative Party, I find it hard to see how that can be achieved. We agree with them about the dropping of the title of a peerage and making it entirely honorary. The "Freimeisters" and so on of the Federal Republic of Germany are perfectly acceptable in our country, but they should not carry political power for one moment. We support and commend the Government's proposal that this House should broadly reflect the position of the electors at the last election. That would bring us to at least a kind of dim reflection of democracy. It is certainly a long first step.

I shall not detain the House much further. I should like to ask the Leader of the House whether he can tell us something about his intentions for reducing the size of the House. Does he have in mind a voluntary retirement system or an upper age limit? I should also like to ask him whether the invitation to consultation in paragraph 96 is, as it were, open-ended, or is it a closed list of issues for consultation?

In conclusion, let me stress again, very clearly, that, first, there must be careful consideration of how to scrutinise effectively and hold to account the Government of the day— whatever day, whatever government. Secondly, there must be a combination of reform in the other place and this place, and the two must be harmonised and brought together into an effective common proposal. Thirdly, and finally, we do not believe that you can have a democratic and representative House unless at least the majority of that House is elected by our fellow citizens and given the credibility and legitimacy without which it cannot hope to achieve that position.

3.46 p.m.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, was uncharacteristically ratty today. It must be something in the water. He used phrases such as "patronage" and "stranglehold on the House". Unlike Marshal Goering, I did not reach for my revolver but for my statistics. In November 1999, there were in this House 483 Conservative Peers; in November 1999, there were 194 Labour Peers. Did patronage and stranglehold not matter then, or was it simply overlooked?

Let me look at "stranglehold" and "patronage" for a second or two. At the moment, despite the fact that we have won two crushing victories in general elections, we have in this House about 25 fewer Labour Peers than Conservatives. We are in a minority. That does not sound like very effective patronage to me.

In speaking of patronage, I beg your Lordships to allow the facts to intrude for a moment or two. Historically—not least when Mrs Thatcher was Prime Minister and when the noble Lord was a member of the Government—the Prime Minister designated the number and identity of the Cross-Benchers; the Prime Minister designated the number and identity of Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Labour Peers. This Prime Minister—it must have been overlooked—is giving away virtually all his patronage. None of the Cross-Benchers will be subject to his control; none of the Conservatives will be subject to his control; and none of the Liberal Democrats. The only element of choice that he will have over Labour Peers is to nominate the identities. He will not even be able to select the number. That is for the Appointments Commission. So shall we, once and for all, shoot that particular fox?

The noble Baroness, Lady Williams, asked, as did the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, about the plans for a debate. I entirely agree that we need a full debate, at a convenient time and with sufficient time for all to speak who wish to do so. Obviously, the usual channels will take that forward in the normal way.

I do not believe that what is in the White Paper is the end of the story. I agree with the noble Baroness. As I have suggested previously, we need to look at this matter in the round. We need to examine working practices.

The noble Baroness rightly said that we do not do our work of scrutiny properly. That is partly because we do it at half-past two in the morning, when everyone is exhausted. I have suggested in this Chamber that we might perhaps think of working in the morning; and that we might think about not having two and half months off every summer. These are merely tactful suggestions; they are not intended to frighten the horses. But if we mean business in the way the noble Baroness suggests—and I agree with her—that is the way in which we should begin to work.

I am all in favour of learning what we can from the Commons. I endorse the noble Baroness's view that if Members of another House are going about modernisation in a way that is consistent with our methods and our traditions, of course we ought to learn from them, and they might usefully learn from us. It is a matter of literal indifference to me what the identity of a powerful executive is. I believe that it is the duty of this House to challenge the executive and bring it to account. I do not believe that we do it sufficiently at present. I believe that our working practices ought to improve in that way. I do think that composition is important; and I believe that we shall be a more effective House.

How is the cap to be brought about? Sometimes—not very often —Members of this House are called to service elsewhere. There is a possibility that we might consider retirement. No one is suggesting compulsory retirement. However, if some of your Lordships wish to take retirement, it is suggested in the White Paper that we ought to examine the possibility in a decent, sensitive, thoughtful way. No one is bullying anyone to leave. In any event, I have no power, nor does the Chief Whip, given our minority in this House compared with the Conservatives alone, to insist on anything. I am putting these proposals forward in a spirit of genuine consensus.

There is a 12-week consultation period, which is the usual length of time. It cannot be said that we have not consulted, or at least argued about this matter. We have spent the past four and half years fully engaged on it—and the previous 100 years!

I ask for a decently neutral and objective view. There will be independent Cross-Benchers who are wholly free of prime ministerial patronage. The numbers of the political Peers will be designated by the Appointments Commission. No Prime Minister in the past 100 years of whom I have read has given away so much patronage, so quickly, on a voluntary basis.

The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, spoke about political philosophy. He said how important it was—we approach the purple passages—that this House should be strong, independent and authoritative. On the "Today" programme this morning, he said that what is wanted is a second Chamber that revises legislation, stands up to the Government and holds the executive up to scrutiny. I agree on all three counts. The noble Lord went on to say, "If you want that authority, that inevitably leads you down the road of elections". Now we come to the philosophy. He said, "What that proportion should be, we have not yet decided". That does not sound like a particularly coherent approach to these proposals, which have been trailed for a very long time.

It is idle to talk about further research. We have had a Royal Commission, chaired by a former Leader of the House and former Chief Whip. The noble Lord, Lord Hurd, served on the commission. The other persons sitting on the commission, whatever one thinks of its conclusions, were extremely distinguished. We have had these arguments.

The noble Baroness asked whether the list of questions in paragraph 96 of the White Paper was a closed list. The text makes it plain that it is not. The wording is that the Government are, particularly interested in views on the following questions". We have put this out for debate. But the debate must come to a sensible end and we propose to legislate in due time. The noble Lord asked me when. I am not in a position to say when. I do not know how the parliamentary timetable will pan out. Self-evidently, to be deeply serious for a moment, we have very heavy work to do arising out of events that none of us could possibly have anticipated. I hope—

Baroness Williams of Crosby

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord for giving way. I ask his forgiveness for intervening. Perhaps I may ask him this direct question. Does he see the possibility of a link between those in this House who are concerned with reform and the Commons modernisation committee? Such a link would enable us to consider some of these issues in that particular context—between the Houses rather than on our own.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, I have no objection to taking that suggestion forward to the Lord President. I am happy to discuss it with him.

We have already started on pre-legislative scrutiny—not sufficiently, but we have made a good start. I have stated privately to both Leaders of the opposition parties—I state it publicly now—that it is my presumption that we should accept any PNQ that is proposed. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, will agree that I have done that.

We can do all kinds of important things. What we cannot do is just muddle along in the same old way, whether in the way we work or in terms of our composition.

3.56 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Durham

My Lords, it may be appropriate for me to intervene briefly from these Benches in view of the implications of the White Paper. We are grateful to have had a brief sight of it, and we are pleased with the progress that is being made. We believe that a half-reformed House is worse than no reform whatever. We shall study the White Paper carefully and make our representations.

So far as concerns religious representation in this House, we recall our submission on the Wakeham report, when we concluded that a minimum of 20 Bishops should have places in the second Chamber in order for us to be effective parliamentary servants. We stated then that fewer than that number would mean that a diminished range of experience would be represented. It could result in Bishops facing a conflict between their diocesan and their parliamentary responsibilities. We look forward to further opportunities to make the case in more detail. I emphasise that we approach the matter in terms of an argument for responsible service, certainly not privilege.

I note that the Government's present proposals have recognised the practical difficulties in broadening the religious constituency in this House. I sympathise with those problems. However, I want to emphasise that the principle of broad religious presence is one which we have strongly affirmed, and will continue to affirm. The Church of England seeks assurances that in some way this principle will be given real substance in the final arrangements for the composition of the House. We believe that it is especially important, following the recent tragic events, that forums are developed in which complex and sensitive matters to do with relations between the faith communities and their place in modern society can be aired and debated in a measured and well informed manner. The House of Lords, with its distinctive tradition of religious presence, has a unique potential to play a significant part in meeting this challenge.

Speaking personally, perhaps I may add a word on the subject of election or appointment. The issue touches the perceptions of this House's contribution. I hope that we shall give close attention to the broad representation that unelected Members can bring to the deliberations of the House.

Noble Lords


Lord Craig of Radley

My Lords—

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, I think it is for me to answer the right reverend Prelate at this stage. I understand his point. I think he will know that I wrote to the Archbishop in the early summer. We are having a meeting shortly on this question. We shall listen carefully to any concerns that are raised.

I immediately endorse the principle that there must be real substance in religious attendance and representation in this House. I have no doubt that the Appointments Commission would regard that as an extremely important duty.

Also, if one does not simply adopt the purist approach—which I entirely recognise—that everyone ought to be elected who has any part to play in a modern democracy, I believe that unelected Members are capable of giving a considerable amount of value and public service to this House.

Lord Craig of Radley

My Lords, first may I thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams, for the Statement and for his courtesy in allowing me to have a copy of it and the White Paper? There is much to absorb in nearly 40 pages of the White Paper, but may I first welcome the intention to preserve the Cross-Bench element and Her Majesty's Government's recognition of the great value of the Peers who sit as independents?

Does the noble and learned Lord agree that it will be necessary to look closely at, and to have rules about, who should be included in the make-up of the suggested low figure of 120, which represents only 20 per cent of a 600-strong House? On these Benches we now total almost 25 per cent, excluding the Law Lords.

The Statement appears to lump together representation of independent expertise and the broader community in the United Kingdom. Is it the Government's proposition that the 20 per cent is to embrace all non-party members of the new Chamber, including those from other faiths? What if a Member of your Lordships' House decides to surrender a party Whip? While such Members are welcome to sit among us on the Cross Benches, and to be supported by the Convenor, their political independence will not have been screened by the appointments commission. Does the noble and learned Lord agree that the Government should not be allowed to diminish the total number of independents appointed to the House?

Increased representation of women and those from ethnic minorities is mentioned. Are the Government proposing that the 30 per cent guidance should be applied across the House as a whole, or to each party and group within it? Reference is also made to the peerage continuing as an honour. Will such honours be awarded along with others in Her Majesty's New Year and Birthday honours lists? Who will be responsible for selection for these awards?

Finally, have the Government a view on what the new House will be called?

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, the House will be called the House of Lords and Members of it will be called Members of the House of Lords. The question of honours will be a matter for Her Majesty and it will be her decision as to whether there should continue to be New Year and Birthday honours lists. The fact that a peerage is decoupled from the right to sit in the House of Lords will have no effect on that.

It is intended that new appointments should comprise not less than 30 per cent women. On the question of political independence, one would have to trust noble Lords. If they said that they had left the Conservative Party, or indeed any other, one would assume that they had done so scrupulously and that they had genuinely gone to the Cross Benches. Obviously, the appointments commission will have to monitor those matters, which are some of the intricacies we shall need to work through. There will be no difficulty if one has a statutory appointments commission with a good deal of power.

I shall consider any figures that are suggested by noble Lords. The Royal Commission figure is 120, but if the noble and gallant Lord wishes me to reconsider it I shall be more than happy to discuss the matter with him.

Lord Waddington

My Lords, will the noble and learned Lord give an assurance that hereditary Peers will not lose their right to sit until after the elections have taken place? Otherwise, there would be a temporary imbalance between the parties, which the appointments commission would hardly want to address. If it did so, a new imbalance would occur as soon as the elections took place. It is obvious that the Government cannot get rid of hereditary Peers until after the elections have taken place.

My second point concerns remuneration. Has the noble Lord closed his mind to the possibility of different remuneration for the elected, as distinct from the unelected?

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, no, I have not closed my mind to that issue. The first point made by the noble Lord has some validity and needs careful thought.

Lord Hurd of Westwell

My Lords, does the Leader of the House accept that this Statement has a rather different impact on this House than most government Statements? Whatever the precedents, opinions are being formed as we speak. It is difficult to have such exchanges on the matter when most noble Lords have not seen the White Paper.

I support the protest of my noble friend Lord Waddington. We made a powerful case in the Royal Commission for a mixed elected and nominated Chamber. Will the Leader of the House accept that despite his own silver tongue, the Government have done their best to undermine that case?

I have always argued for a strong elected element, but the case for a nominated element is also strong. It is made stronger by the rapid disappearance from the other House of practical experience of life outside politics. That is a real deficit in our parliamentary system that we can remedy if our arrangements in this House are right. But that will not happen if the arrangements consist of providing that 360 out of the 600 Members of this House are nominated by the party machine. That is not the correct remedy.

Will the Government please consider the matter again in the light of the arguments in our report? Unless they do so, I have the feeling that no Bill will pass through the House because the parties are so deeply divided on the question of composition. We shall be left to proceed more or less as we are, and imperfect as we are, for several years to come.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, I do not follow the point that the noble Lord seeks to make. The majority on the Royal Commission, which he dignified by his presence, chose option B, which suggested 87 elected Peers. However, the Government are proposing not 87, but 120—a significantly larger number of elected Peers. We have erred on the side of generosity rather than on mean heartedness.

I am talking about 120 elected Members. There will be 120 nominated and the remainder will be those who are life Peers who continue here. It is true that they come here—we all did, virtually— by one form of patronage or another, but I have not found that that historical patronage has caused people to be any less independent than one would hope.

Lord Lea of Crondall

My Lords, is my noble friend aware of the strong support on this side of the House for the White Paper? On the specific criticism from the Conservative and Liberal Democrat Benches about how the cap of 600 will work, has not that been answered by the 10-year adjustment period? Is not that the only solution? If there were no cap, the House would continue to increase in number or people would have to be dismissed instantly. Is it not the case that, for once, the Government have got it right? I should have thought that the Opposition Benches would have recognised that this piece of arithmetic is a perfectly tenable solution.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, I am sure that my noble friend is right. When the Opposition have had the opportunity to reflect, I am sure that they will agree with what has just been said.

Earl Russell

My Lords, should some future Members enter this House as a result of voting for a closed list ranked in order by the party rather than the voter, should such Members be classified as elected Peers or nominated Peers?

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, they will be elected Peers in exactly the same way that elected Members of the Commons, who are elected on a closed list of one, are regarded as elected.

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I had the privilege of coming to your Lordships' House almost 40 years ago when I was 22 years of age. I do not think that there has been a time since then when reform of one kind or another was not being considered and when the hereditary system was not being subjected to one kind of scrutiny or another.

On all those occasions, it was hoped that the new House, whatever form it might take, would be more democratic, more responsive and, above all, more accountable. Sadly, the proposals that the noble and learned Lord has unveiled this afternoon meet none of those requirements. I share the deep concerns of my noble friend Lord Strathclyde.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, those comments are not fair. They are not an accurate reflection of what is in the White Paper. Nor are they a fair reflection of the relationship between the White Paper and the Royal Commission report. I am confident that the thrust and theme of the White Paper is in harmony with the thrust and theme of the Royal Commission report.

Lord Sewel

My Lords, will the noble and learned Lord explain how any elected element will enhance the ability of this House to perform its functions within the context of maintaining the pre-eminence of the other place?

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, I do not see any difficulty in that at all. It is important that regions of the United Kingdom are represented here. It is important that there should be that opportunity of election. It seems to me that one will draw on a different reservoir of talent and industry from all kinds of different parts of the community that may not be represented here at the moment. The mere fact that we have a minority elected element I do not think challenges the Commons in the slightest way.

Lord Elton

My Lords, what is striking in my view during the past few years' discussion of this issue has been the enormous general ignorance of what goes on in this House among those outside it who are being invited to comment on the White Paper. Therefore, I ask the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House to accept the suggestion of the noble Baroness the leader of the Liberal Democrat Party and arrange an early debate so that we can do our best to inform the public about what the issues are and what our experience of them has so far been. If the noble and learned Lord can find some way in which that information can be more generously distributed from this Chamber to the public than is usual, that would be an additional advantage.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, I rather agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Elton, said. Of course, there is a respectable argument for saying that if we have a partially elected element in this House, that will generate wider public interest in what we do. We are not properly served by the media. We had extremely important debates on the events of 11th September but there was hardly a mention of them in the newspapers. I do what I can and the information centre is diligent. Unfortunately, although we are sometimes pleased with ourselves, it is not a universally held emotion.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, does not the noble and learned Lord agree that the elected Members will be elected from large constituencies? Others will be chosen not for their personal qualities but will simply be nominated by the relevant parties. What is the difference in that kind of election between the so-called elected people and those nominated by the political parties?

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, the difference is that they will have to present themselves, their manifestos and their individual personalities to the electorate. There may have been a time, which I cannot remember, when the individual Member of Parliament made a difference rather than about 500 votes per constituency, but that has not been the position for a long time, certainly not since the death of the university seats.

Lord Acton

My Lords, can my noble and learned friend say if it will be open to everyone to apply to be independent Members? If so, will the appointments commission be limited to selecting the independents from among those who apply or will it be open to the appointments commission to select whoever it thinks most suitable either from those who apply or from anyone else it may choose?

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, to gain the prize of sitting in this House one would have to make an application. I do not think that a pantechnicon will travel around the country with its occupants stopping disconsolate people on street corners to ask them whether they want to be Members of the House of Lords.

Lord Ampthill

My Lords, this problem has been rumbling for 90 years. Does not the noble and learned Lord think that he is being a little— I hesitate to use my next word—mean in trying to bring this discussion to a conclusion by the end of January? He talks of 12 weeks but there is an intervening feast. Will he be a little generous and give longer than that?

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, one of the reasons the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor and I would like to make some detectable progress is precisely because for nearly a hundred years we have done nothing at all apart from having discussions. Twelve weeks is the usual period. The Royal Commission report has been available for a long time. There is no one who does not know what is in it. To coin a rather crude phrase, it is "make your mind up" time now. We must progress with reform or at least we must focus our minds on the possibility of it.

Lord Davies of Coity

My Lords, I have not yet seen the White Paper and, therefore, my question may be premature. However, if 120 Peers are to be elected, how can we be assured of the political balance of this House?

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, the appointments commission is charged with doing that and it has the power and authority to bring that about.