§ 3.6 p.m.
§ The Lord Chancellor rose to move, That this House takes note of the White Paper The House of Lords: Completing the Reform (Cm 5291).
§ The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, let me try with candour to carve out contours for the current debate about the future of this House. Unicameralism does not have many, if it has any, serious followers, although the House of Commons, elected by popular franchise, could be said to be sufficient for our democracy. However, I believe it to be generally accepted that this House, although unelected, adds major value to our legislative and deliberative processes. It can persuade and restrain—but never compel—the other place, whose pre-eminence is firmly established and protected by the Parliament Acts. This House is therefore a check and a balance within our constitution. For those who regard the other place as excessively dominated by the executive, this House is an important restraint upon the executive, whatever party may be in power.
§ This House is unelected, but election is not the only route to legitimacy in our democracy. The judiciary is a distinct institution within our separation of the powers, but they are unelected—and, so far as I know, no one calls for them to be elected.
§ There are, I am sure, some—perhaps many—in this House who believe that to have any elected element in this House would destabilise our constitution because of a claimed-for greater legitimacy for this House to challenge the other place that would result. I acknowledge that there are some, perhaps many, who regard a hybrid House with two 562 different classes of Member as fundamentally wrong, because all Members should be seen to be of equal status.
§ This Government came to power in 1997 on a manifesto commitment, renewed in their manifesto of last year, that the hereditary peerage should have no privileged place, based on birth alone, in a House of Parliament. As is well known, we compromised on that principle in the last Parliament to avoid, as is equally well known, the "Somme and Passchendaele" to our legislative programme that the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne—who sadly has taken his leave of absence from us—promised if we did not yield a temporary right for some to remain. This is history; and the Weatherill amendment was the vehicle for 92 to remain temporarily. Your Lordships should be in no doubt that the removal of the remaining 92 is unfinished business for the Government.
§ Now, may I take your Lordships into my confidence? I confidently predict that this debate will not disclose any present consensus for our proposals. But let me make one other confident prediction: nor will the debate reveal any consensus around any other particular set of proposals. The reform of this House is par excellence an issue on which there are as many opinions as there are politicians to express them.
§ Let me in the light of what I have just said say a word or two about the spirit in which the Government approach consultation on the White Paper and this debate itself. We continue to seek consensus around compromise between a multitude of divergent views. Compromise often, perhaps almost always, gives a measure of dissatisfaction to all and perfect satisfaction to none. None the less, compromise and consensus can be compatible. A consensus to agree a compromise on the basis that that compromise is the best that can be achieved in the present circumstances—I emphasise present circumstances because we cannot and do not aim to hind our successors—is none the less a consensus for today.
§ That is what we continue to aim for. Our White Paper contains proposals and invites responses to them all; and we are listening, and will listen. The consultation period ends at the end of this month, and this two-day debate is a major addition to the consultation process.
§ May I make one plea? It is easy to knock any proposed compromise, or any component within it, but surely it is incumbent on each of your Lordships who contributes to this debate to say specifically what other compromise he or she proposes in place of the compromise that the Government have proposed, unless the proposition is that the current status quo should be maintained. That, however, would be of course unacceptable to the Government, whose manifesto commitments, powerfully endorsed by the electorate, are so clear.
§ The status quo would be for a continuing hereditary estate of 92 in a House of Parliament, self-perpetuating by election from the ultimate closed list of all—the hereditary peerage. I therefore urge all noble Lords who contribute not to confine themselves to saying 563 why we are wrong, but to say clearly what they believe would now be right. I hope that the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition also will use the opportunity of this debate to take the House into his confidence and reveal his party's proposals.
§ I turn now to our main proposals, which we believe to be the right outcome for today. We took as our starting point the recommendations of the Royal Commission chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham. We have not followed every detail, but we believe our basic approach to be the commission's. We started, as did the commissioners, from the role and functions that the second Chamber should perform. We concluded, as did they, that it should be a revising and deliberative assembly, not seeking to usurp the role of the House of Commons as the pre-eminent Chamber. It should have a membership appropriate to its functions, and not seek to duplicate the other place. It should be as representative as possible of the broader community in the United Kingdom, but not so constituted as to put at risk the relationship between elected Members of the Commons and their constituents, as a wholly or substantially elected House would do. We concluded that it should not be dominated by any one political party.
§ A major vice of the hereditary peerage in Parliament was that it gave one party—the Conservative—a permanent majority in one House of Parliament regardless of whether that party was in government or opposition. When we returned to power, in 1997, there were 477 Tory Peers and 116 Labour—that is, about four times as many Tory Peers as Government Peers. Prior to 1997, the Conservatives created twice as many Conservative life Peers as Labour, despite their in-built majority from 750 hereditary Peers. Since 1997, 247 life Peers have been created, as against 387 under our predecessors, but of those 247, fewer than half—only 113—are Labour.
§ As of yesterday, 8th January, the make-up of the House was: Tory, 221, still the largest group; Labour, 200; Liberal Democrat, 65; Cross Bench and other, 189. The total is 675, excluding the 26 Bishops. With that history, and that current make-up, and after 100 years of one-party dominance, the charge against the Government, of packing, is to say the very least more than a little rich. I shall come in a moment to the huge decrease in the Prime Minister's powers of patronage which would result from implementing our proposals. We have also accepted the Royal Commission recommendations that independent Members should form about 20 per cent of a reformed House: about 120 out of a House, ultimately, of 600.
§ Next, we agreed with the Royal Commission that a second Chamber that was wholly or largely directly elected could bring it into conflict with the other place. Our system of parliamentary democracy is built on the accountability of government to the House of Commons and through that House to the people. To assume power a government must command a majority in the House of Commons; to retain it, they must retain the confidence of that House. That is what has given us stable democratic government for so long and which reform of this House must not imperil. This 564 House has nothing to do with the assumption or maintenance of power by any government. That is exclusively for the House of Commons. It would be wrong and dangerous to put the pre-eminence of the House of Commons at risk by having this House wholly or substantially directly elected so that it could maintain that it had the same, or substantially similar, political legitimacy as the House of Commons.
§ Thus, we have concluded that this House should remain substantially nominated, but also propose 120 elected Members as the best way of ensuring that the nations and regions feel that they are properly represented in a reformed House. That is 33 more than the Royal Commission's option B, which a majority of the commission supported.
§ I greatly look forward to this debate. I know that there will be some, perhaps many, who will say that our mistake was to let the electoral genie out of the lamp and that he should he put back firmly whence he came. I recall, for example, the powerful speech of the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, in that sense on 21st June 2001. I recall also the frequent attacks of my noble friend Lord Barnett upon the unwisdom of a hybrid House. However, our proposal for 120 elected to represent the nations and regions in this House, and by way of a different electoral system, will ensure that the 120 elected could not usurp the individual role of the MP in the constituencies, any more than it will give the House as a whole any ground for seeking to undermine the pre-eminence of the Commons.
§ But I confess that this is pragmatism based on principle. To those who say, "You should have proposed more elected", I say that the numbers would simply fail to add up if, that is, you accept the Government's position—I invite the Leader of the Opposition to confirm that he does—that the rights of all existing life Peers to be here for life must be respected.
§ Today we have 587 life Peers, 92 hereditaries and 26 Bishops. So the start position is 705. If we take away 92 hereditaries we are left with 613; we add 120 elected and reach a total of 733. The maximum transitional House that we contemplate is 750, reducing to 600 over 10 years. Many would say that anything in excess of 700, even on a transitional basis, is excessive.
§ What these figures show is that there is no scope at present for more than 120 elected. Those who say that there should be more than 120 elected should explain where the scope for them exists. All that is on the assumption that the rights of the 587 life Peers are to be respected; we believe they must. They changed the course of their own lives, in many different ways, on the basis of an undertaking that they had a seat in the second Chamber for life. However, as the White Paper shows, we are canvassing opinions on a voluntary retirement scheme.
§ What these figures also show is that there is precious little scope for political parties to appoint new Peers in the transitional period. Therefore it is absolutely nonsense to maintain, as some do, that the majority will be nominated by the political parties. The 120 elected is simply the maximum we can contemplate 565 today. The life Peers, as has been noted with mixed feelings in this House, will reduce in number over time at the rate of around 18 a year, and after a period of years it will no doubt be right to revisit the composition issue. So I emphasise that what we are proposing is a compromise for today, not a solution for all time.
§ Our proposals also signal a huge decrease in the Prime Minister's powers of patronage. Instead of being able to control all appointments to the House, he will lose all rights over the independent Members; he will lose all rights over the nominations of other parties; and most important of all, he will lose the ability to decide how many nominations his party or any other party may make. I have already said how circumscribed the opportunities will be, in practice, to make new Members so as to ensure that the House does not become of excessive size during the transition period. That will be the responsibility of the Statutory Appointments Commission.
§ We have, however, rejected, as the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, knows, one important recommendation of the Royal Commission; that the appointments commission should choose the identity of the party nominees. We do not believe that any political party should accept that an external body should choose who should represent it in a House of Parliament. I readily recognise that the Royal Commission produced a distinguished report, but here we respectfully consider it went wrong.
§ It is impossible to cover every issue. I have confined myself to the proposals which responses to the consultation thus far show to be perceived to be central. We make our proposals in the spirit I described at the outset and I repeat, we seek consensus based on compromise, rooted in acceptance that the pre-eminence of the House of Commons is the bedrock of our parliamentary democracy. I look forward to two days of debate.
§ Moved, That this House takes note of the White Paper The House of Lords: Completing the Reform (Cm 5291).—(The Lord Chancellor.)
§ 3.25 p.m.
§ Lord Strathclyde
My Lords, there are two good reasons why we can all see that this is an important occasion for this House. First, there are just over 80 speakers scheduled for a two-day debate. Secondly, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor led on the subject. He, after all, as Mr Robin Cook told the House of Commons, is the man to whom sole credit is due for the White Paper.
I shall respond in a few moments to some details of the White Paper, although it is well known already that my sense of rapture over its content is distinctly modified. The Prime Minister claims in his foreword,Our mission is to equip the British people with a Parliament … fit for the 21st century".566 If only! If that were the effect of the White Paper, then Peers on all sides might support it. But,fit for the 21st century",it is not. The proposals would weaken the power of this House, entrench patronage and undermine the independence of its Members.
I say at once that my party believes that the only way to secure the lasting reform we all want to see is through cross-party consensus. The time for partisan strife on this issue is gone. That was last century's business. The Lord Chancellor made much of that again today. But the time has come to move forward. This is no time for the unilateral imposition of half-baked single party proposals.
I still believe that the noble and learned Lord was at his most statesmanlike when, in 1997, he proposed creating a Joint Committee of both Houses to prepare stage two proposals—a pledge repeated several times since. Yet whenever I or the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, asked for such a committee to be set up, the Government accused us of delay. If there has been any delay it has come from within government. The Government allowed a miserly 12 weeks for public consultation, across a holiday period, on Parliament's future after dithering for nearly two years following the Royal Commission report.
I hope that the Government do not see this White Paper as the last word. I hope that even now they will open multilateral discussions in both Houses; in this House that should mean including representatives from the Cross-Benches and the Bishops. The Government have never tried to achieve cross-party consensus and it would be a worthy conclusion to this debate if the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House were to make such an announcement tomorrow evening. If he does, I guarantee that my party will move constructively to play a part. If he does not, then we face a tremendous and pointless fight over these plans.
The public expect much more from their politicians. Another battle over the House of Lords will not get one patient treated more quickly, one train shifted from the sidings, one criminal swept off the streets or one more teacher in our classrooms. Instead it will reinforce the growing sense that this Government have lost their focus on the real issues the country want addressed.
The Conservative Party will meet the challenge set out by the White Paper and the invitation made again by the Lord Chancellor to respond in the time the Government set; that is, by the end of the consultation period at the end of January. The essential difference between our proposal and theirs is that ours will be a proposition that can be put before a Joint Committee, not a single-party prescription to which no change is acceptable.
We want to see a House with a composition that gives it the authority and confidence to use its powers. The White Paper utterly fails to do that. Indeed, its fundamental weakness is that it entrenches patronage 567 by replacing an 80 per cent appointed House with an 80 per cent appointed House in which even the elected are selected.
The Government treat election as though it were a danger to be restricted in numbers and controlled through party lists, which are simply appointment at one remove. The kind of choice they want could not be clearer—party choice, not people's choice. The same issue was before us in 1998 when my late noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish so memorably led resistance to closed lists for European elections. They were finally imposed by the Parliament Acts. Closed lists are a democratic monstrosity. It would be a deep affront if they were to be imposed on the House that led the fight against them.
Some may think it unfair to call the Government fearful of democracy. But you only have to look at their latest published views. Where do you find them? Secreted in the supporting documents smuggled out by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor a month after the White Paper was issued. On page 22 of the supporting documents, one reads:It is widely asserted that in the twenty-first century, the only basis for selecting a chamber of Parliament in a democratic society is a form of election. The Government does not accept that for a second chamber in the UK parliamentary system".There you have it—from Keir Hardie and an Independent Labour Party fighting for democracy to new Labour and the noble and learned Lords the Lord Chancellor and the Leader of the House rejecting it all in the course of one century. If elections and democracy in this case are such a bad thing, why have any at all? The House put forward by the Government is a miserable hybrid with the weakest and least independent form of democracy imaginable. They have sought out all the devices put in by my noble friend Lord Wakeham to buttress the independence of Peers and brutally struck them out.
I do not agree with all the findings of the Royal Commission. For instance, I am opposed to the removal of the power of this House to reject secondary legislation suggested by the commission of the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, and eagerly snapped up by the Government. I am disappointed by the Government's total rejection of any method either House might seek to amend ministerial regulation. The idea is dismissed on page 18 of the supporting documents:
The whole point of secondary legislation … is that it does not have to go through an elaborate Parliamentary procedure".The candour of the noble and learned Lord in setting out the Government's modern democratic vision in these documents is disarming. With regulation mushrooming out of control I must signal to the Government that we shall strongly resist any reduction of this House's powers if they are included in any future Bill.
But if I disagreed with the commission of my noble friend Lord Wakeham on that issue, I agree with him on so many others. There are two which go to the very heart of the matter. First, as regards the appointed element, the Royal Commission wanted the Appointments Commission to appoint all nominated Members, including political ones. My noble friend 568 called the bluff of a Prime Minister whose spin doctors and, today, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor—like to claim has "given up patronage". I always thought that a slightly ridiculous thing to say of a man who has appointed a third of this House in four years. Incidentally, as the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor has reminded us, those Peers will remain in this House for the rest of their lives. Be that as it may, the Royal Commission put forward one idea to restrain party patronage and the Government rejected it. In this brave new world of democracy and representativeness, direct party patronage will still remain the main route to membership of this House.
A second important insight of the Royal Commission, shared with the report made in 1998 by my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern, was that Peers, whether elected or appointed, should have long terms to ensure their independence of party Whips. The power to select and deselect is the power by which patronage dominates another place and, if the Government have their way, is set to dominate this House too. Up to now, life membership has given independence. Let me take one example almost at random. The noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, after 54 years of service, has been expelled from the Labour Party for objecting to Shaun Woodward. But, quite rightly, the noble Lord cannot be removed from this House. Nor can his distinctive voice be silenced by the threat of removal.
The Royal Commission sought to replicate that independence so far as possible, proposing that Peers in the new House should serve long terms, effectively 15 years, to entrench independence. The same long terms would ensure that their mandate would decay and so avoid what government claim to fear; that is, confrontation between two Houses with equal mandates. It was an ingenious proposal, like the commission's suggestion that Members of this House should not be re-elected or be allowed to move immediately to another place. But the Government rejected each one of those crucial proposals.
There is so much else wrong with the White Paper. Why, for example, are the only Peers to be made to retire compulsorily at 75 the Law Lords? Are the likes of the noble and learned Lords, Lord Donaldson of Lymington, Lord Brightman and Lord Simon of Glaisdale, too much for Ministers to bear? Would not the House lose much without the retired Law Lords? Why precisely is 16 the right number for the Lords spiritual, not 20, or 26? How will rebalancing after landslide elections fairly take place if the powers of patronage are removed from the Appointments Commission and given to party leaders? Who will qualify for the retirement bonuses promised to Peers who agree to go? I refer to a matter buried in the supporting documents. Will the noble and learned Lord identify the mysterious Peers he describes on page 73 who,have never regarded membership of the House as important to them, and who accepted a peerage because of the honour it conveyed rather than in expectation of taking an active part in the legislature"?569 Will such Peers qualify for bonuses for retiring from a place they apparently never wanted to come to in the First place? What kind of use of public money is that?
Why do the Government believe that elected Peers should not be paid salaries at all? That is what they suggest. How can a person who has canvassed for election justify not being here full time? Where are the proposals to improve scrutiny of finance and European legislation or to bind the United Kingdom together?
What is the Government's precise view on legitimacy? Three years ago the noble Baroness, Lady Jay of Paddington, set out in her famous doctrine that reform would make the House more legitimate and authoritative. Five years ago the Government talked of a "more democratic" House. But now we have the Williams doctrine. On 18th December the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House, in replying to a Starred Question, told the House that elected Peers would be no more legitimate than appointed ones. And he gave this reason for having elected Peers—that they might, as he put it,add a certain degree of variety".—[Official Report, 18/12/01; col. 130.]to the House, as if variety had even been new Labour's prime criterion in approving parliamentary candidates. Was not variety the reason that, according to the White Paper, justified appointing Peers to this House? Or is that just one more piece of confusion in the Government's mind?
Is the Williams doctrine—that elected Peers are no more legitimate than appointed ones—really the settled view of the Government? If so, I suggest that they are speaking one constitutional language and the rest of the country another. That is the central dilemma that the Government do not begin to resolve. If they do not see elected Peers as more legitimate, what is the point of having them? And if they are no more legitimate, the House will have no more authority in the eyes of the country or of another place. How can the Government seriously propose a reformed House with elected Peers with reduced powers and no more authority? That is surely nonsense. One has to ask what is the point of going through the whole ghastly charade at all?
The White Paper fails practically every test. Key principles should govern any further reform. That reform should deliver a stronger, more authoritative House and restrain the growing power of the executive. It should be built on cross-party consensus and wide public debate and should take place alongside reform of Parliament as a whole. The White Paper should entrench the Parliament Acts to prevent this House's powers being reduced unilaterally. I refer especially to the power to extend the life of a Parliament. That is another key Wakeham recommendation that was rejected. In relation to all of those measures, the White Paper fails and fails again.
The House should not have its powers reduced, as the White Paper proposes. It should retain the power to reject secondary legislation; the White Paper 570 proposes removing it. It should have more power to consider and advise on financial matters; the White Paper has nothing to say on that matter whatever. The White Paper is nothing to do with authority, with legitimacy, with democracy or even with the core proposals of the Royal Commission's report. It is at best a camel and at worst an albatross. It is no basis for lasting or effective parliamentary reform.
The noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House will no doubt wish to tell the House in responding tomorrow evening when we may expect a Bill. I warn him that if that Bill is based on these plans, he should prepare for a very rough ride. The reform is not worthy of such a name and should be condemned to the ministerial dustbin.
§ Lord Barnett
My Lords, I was interested by the noble Lord's criticisms of the White Paper and the fact that he agrees with parts of the Wakeham report. Will he tell the House what he wants to see by way of composition of your Lordships' House?
§ Lord Strathclyde
My Lords, I thought that I had answered that rather adequately when I said that we accepted the invitation made by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor and laid out in the consultation paper; that is, that we should respond by the end of the month. My Lords, we shall do so.
§ 3.42 p.m.
§ Baroness Williams of Crosby
My Lords, I begin on a consensual note by saying that I strongly agree with the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor on two points. The first is that at the end of the day there will have to be a compromise. Perhaps I might be forgiven for saying that there are bad compromises and good compromises. Secondly, I very much agree with his comments on the lack of justification for the way in which the House of Lords, as an unreformed House, used to operate. No one can argue that the House of Lords of the last century was a model for any kind of democratic upper Chamber.
I also strongly agree with the point made by the Leader of the Opposition, the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde; namely, that at the end of the day there will have to be some attempt at a meeting of minds between both Houses and all parties in the two Chambers.
We on these Benches perhaps see the problem in a slightly different way from the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor and the Leader of the Opposition. We believe that in this country we are facing a considerable crisis of confidence in the parliamentary system. We are deeply troubled by growing evidence of a lack of interest among the public and a sense that the parliamentary system is no longer very relevant to their lives. However painful it may be, we need to address the findings of, for example, the BBC study that showed that among the civic institutions of the United Kingdom, Parliament rated third from the bottom, with only 32 per cent of the public expressing confidence in it.
571 Even more disturbing in some ways is the lack of confidence among Members of Parliament in their own Chamber. That was expressed in their responses to the Hansard Society study that asked them what they thought were the effective instruments the legislature had vis-à-vis the executive. The reply—this involved a majority of Members of Parliament and their belief about being effective in controlling, supervising and scrutinising the executive—was that there was not a single such instrument, with one exception: Select Committee hearings. That finding came shortly before the crisis that blew up over who appointed members of Select Committees and the way in which chairmen were chosen. Incidentally, the House of Commons, thank goodness, won that battle itself. That was the first example for quite a long time of it standing up for itself.
I do not make a party point. There have been different governments in this country, which have been powerful and which have come from different parties. Consistently, however, the story has been the same: that we in the United Kingdom have one of the most powerful executives of any democracy in the world and that that executive is less effectively scrutinised and checked than virtually any other legislature in the democratic world. That is at the centre of the point from which reform should start.
We on these Benches are concerned about the consistent attempt to reform the House of Lords not as part of Parliament but on its own. We must recognise that reform of Parliament as a whole is needed if we are not to short-change our citizens.
It will not do for the Government to argue continually that the battle between the House of Commons and the House of Lords is about the pre-eminence of the House of Commons. I know no sensible person who would ever argue that the House of Commons was not pre-eminent within our Parliament. The noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Weedon, is the distinguished chairman of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee and one of the most respected Members of this House. In his speech to the Constitutional Unit a few weeks ago, he said that the House of Lords was—I use his phrase—"necessarily subordinate". All of us accept that.
A great many, but not all, upper Houses in other countries are effective. I refer to the Indian, French, German, Scandinavian and Dutch upper Houses. They do not challenge the lower House—they live with it. They complement it and attempt to support it. That should be the case in this country as well.
We who seek to reform the House of Lords most want greater strength in the House of Commons, not less. We should complement what it does, and help and support it in scrutinising legislation in the most effective way. We on these Benches specifically want greater strength for Select Committees in the other place and more free votes for Members of the other place. We want those in another place to choose their own members of Select Committees, and not be under the influence of the Whips. Does that challenge the 572 pre-eminence of the Commons? No, my Lords, it does not. It suggests that the Commons should be stronger and that there is no battle between us in the attempt to scrutinise adequately legislation that is presented to us.
The approach to reform should be holistic, not split into little pieces. I strongly endorse the plea of the Leader of the Opposition that there should be at least some meeting of minds between the leaders of parties in both Houses in order finally to try to get straight what the relationship should be. We should make our Parliament, with its long and marvellous traditions, as effective in the future as it was in the 19th and first half of the 20th centuries. Since then, the executive has increasingly grown in strength. The late lamented Lord Hailsham said that we in Britain had an elected dictatorship—those are his words, not mine. I fear that for many of us that frightening phrase echoes with growing validity as we perceive what has happened to our Parliament.
What, then, is the role of the House of Lords? It is to be an effective, scrutinising body. That matters all the more as those of us in this House who were involved, for example, in the counter-terrorism Bill know very well. Quite straightforwardly, the House of Commons is no longer able totally to discharge its duty of scrutiny. That is not because it does not want to do so but because the growing demands of constituency work combined with the very proper growing demand of Select Committees, many of them excellent, make it difficult for Members in another place to discharge that duty fully. As many of us know, the counter-terrorism Bill was debated for only two days in the House of Commons. An issue as major as that of detention without trial was discussed for just two-and-a-half hours in that place. Had there not been eight hours of scrutiny in this House, I believe that the ultimate Act would have been much more troubling that it turned out to be.
This House repeatedly proposes amendments to legislation and many of them are in the name of the Government. But all of us in this House who have been engaged in major Bills know that many of those amendments are inspired by sensible and intelligent criticism of legislation and by proposals for improving the drafting. But, more than that, they are often inspired by suggestions to the Government that quite simply what they propose is wrong. Why is it that time and again in this House we see coming back from the House of Commons Bills which merely reiterate what they stated two or three years previously? That applies to Bill after Bill on education, police powers, prisons, criminal justice and health. They reiterate what was debated previously because, in the end, the Bills were not considered adequately before being passed into law.
Therefore, in order to be an effective, scrutinising Chamber we believe that we need to introduce much more pre-legislative scrutiny of major Bills. No major Bill should go ahead without pre-legislative scrutiny, enabling our fellow citizens to make their contribution. In this day and age it is riot so radical to suggest that the introduction of information technology to our children means that they, too, as 573 young citizens, could be encouraged to suggest their own ideas about Bills and even to propose their own suggestions for amendments. That is what happens now in the United States and there is no reason why it should not happen here.
Secondly, with regard to scrutiny, it is crucial that the Lords maintain their powers over secondary legislation, of which there is more and more with less and less being scrutinised. Here, I agree strongly with the Leader of the Opposition that we cannot accept the proposal for delaying legislation as an alternative to the proposal to retain the ultimate veto. Incidentally, that veto is used very rarely because, as we know, if the parties in the Commons agree, our delay can be swept away within a matter of days. Far from that, it seems to me that we require a new Select Committee on statutory instruments. Such a committee would be able to consider the substance and not only the vires of those instruments and to recommend to the House those that should be more fully debated. Dare I say that perhaps those that are entitled to be more fully debated might conceivably be amendable as well?
With regard to the powers of the House, of course we on these Benches do not believe that there should be a major increase in our powers but neither do we believe that there should be a diminution in them. In that context, we should like to see the House of Lords take on some responsibility for the large areas of legislation and government policy that are simply not scrutinised by anyone. I refer here not only to a matter for which we have pressed for a long time—a joint committee on treaties—but also to the whole issue of international agencies and government agencies, which go virtually unscrutinised by anyone.
When we look at young people clenching their fists in the protests against the World Trade Organisation, we might spend a moment considering the fact that at present there is no legitimate parliamentary way in which they can make their feelings known. The WTO and treaties do not come before any House of Parliament to be debated or considered or for their reports to be deliberated upon.
I want to raise two other issues. The first is crucial: it is composition. We agree with what the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor said. It is very difficult to suggest that some other body should make political appointments. In that sense, we understand why the Government decided to disregard that element of the Wakeham commission report. But let us be fair to the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, and his colleagues. They were trying to grapple with the issue of patronage and political appointment. If we do not like the way that they did it, we need to come up with something more convincing, and on these Benches we are clear about what that is.
The House of Lords should be substantially elected and there should he only a proportion of independent people to maintain the rich tradition of expertise in this House. But, in the end, there is no escaping what almost every other elected upper House in the democratic world has long since embraced—the concept of elected Members to this House. We believe 574 that they should be elected in a much larger proportion than 120; we believe that such elections should take place over a period of time; we believe that they should be associated with the timetable of the European parliamentary elections; and we believe that they should be linked to the regions and nations of the United Kingdom. One day, when we see more effective regional government, that role will be even more important than it is today. But even today, given devolution, it is important that Scotland and Wales are clearly seen to be associated with some Members of this House.
Finally, I turn to the issue raised by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor concerning the size of the House. Let us confront that directly. The proposal to remove the Weatherill Peers—perhaps I may say on behalf of these Benches that we greatly respect much of the work done by them—would take from this House some 92 Members. In addition, over a five-year period some 90 Members will be carried away by retirement or by the inevitability for all of us of moving to another world. That means that over a period of five years approximately 180 people will leave this House. We on these Benches believe that if one offers adequate retirement assistance for those who wish to retire voluntarily from this House because it has become difficult for them to maintain their work here, combined with a tranche of elected Members who come in over a 10 or 15-year period, the problems raised by the noble and learned Lord will simply disappear. We shall show him the reasons for saying that.
Before I sit down I simply want to say that we on these Benches have a clear and positive alternative route for this House. We believe it to be democratic and legitimate. Frankly, given the crisis of confidence in our parliamentary system, we believe that the time has come to address that crisis and to address it radically, thoughtfully and with truly imaginative proposals. The White Paper falls very far short of that.
§ 3.58 p.m.
§ Lord Craig of Radley
My Lords, I start by making clear that my very elevated position on the speakers' list does not mean that I speak today for the Cross-Bench group. What I say reflects my own personal and very independent view.
My starting point is to agree with the Government that it would be quite wrong to attempt to clone another place. I accept that the Commons must be the pre-eminent Chamber of Parliament. Further, I fully support the concept that a significant proportion of the membership of your Lordships' House must be non-party political; that is, independent Members. I was pleased to note that the Government acknowledge that the independent element of the existing House of Lords is one,to which people attach the highest importance".Consequently, I agree also with the Government that a reformed House of Lords should not be—indeed could not be—fully elected if these criteria are to be met.
575 However, whether considering the appointed or elected elements of the reformed House, it is important to ensure that the new arrangements prove attractive to individuals of quality and experience inside and outside the political arena. The White Paper and its supporting documents make a number of references to government concerns that no one of any substance will be prepared to stand and that this or that aspect of the options could discourage excellent candidates.
Not enough consideration has been given to what will make the reformed House, on the lines proposed in the White Paper, attractive to individuals with the expertise, the skills and the parliamentary commitment required. An entitlement to put ML after one's name does not strike me as sufficient.
The arguments advanced to de-link the peerage from membership of a second Chamber, still to be called the House of Lords, may have some weight. But that also leaves room for considerable confusion. I welcome the Government's intention to retain the title House of Lords. I recall encouraging them to make that decision during the debates in 1999.
I am concerned about the incentives and attractions for individuals to stand for election or appointment to this Chamber, particularly for those who sit on these Benches. These candidates will want to consider their expected period of service and their opportunities for re-election or re-appointment, as well as status and remuneration. The Government's proposal that,re-election and re-appointment should both be permitted",does not make clear whether that would be just once or more than that. I hope that the Government will give these aspects, which are so important in attracting the right quality of candidate, further thought before they finalise their proposals.
I turn now to the new statutory appointments commission. First, it is self-evident that the chairman and members of that commission should be familiar with the workings of the House. They must know how Members spend their days and time here, whether on the floor of the Chamber, in Select Committees or on other parliamentary activities. These commissioners will, after all, he responsible for identifying and selecting individuals to sit on these Benches as well as for a number of other issues of importance relating to membership of the House; for example, the Royal Commission excluded MPs as members. For those reasons I agree with that.
The proposals in the White Paper and supporting documents do not provide enough of a guarantee of the quality and experience required to sit on the statutory appointments commission. I expect those criteria to be set out in the Bill. The comparison with members of the Electoral Commission is not apposite. Their functions are not in any way similar, although there is a reference to the Electoral Commission as well as the appointments commission having responsibility for propriety, which may need further clarification.
576 The Royal Commission proposed that one of the eight members of the appointments commission should be nominated by the Convenor of the Cross Benches—not, incidentally as represented in the White Paper as,by … the cross-bench peers".Moreover, the Government's proposal makes no reference to the Convenor being consulted, along with the party leaders, about the members of the appointments commission who would be appointed in response to an Address to the Queen. Bearing in mind the role of the appointments commission in selecting Members to sit on these Benches, I believe that there is a role for the Convenor, as envisaged by the Royal Commission.
Secondly, a number of references are made to "each round of appointments", but it is not clear whether the frequency will be left to the appointments commission or decreed by statute. A prolonged gap between rounds could lead to a reduced independent number. Twenty per cent will not adequately represent the value perceived for the contribution of independent Members to the work of the House.
The White Paper is also unclear about how those who choose to surrender a party Whip, or who would be classified, as happens today, as "Other", are to he counted. It has been suggested that that will be for the appointments commission to decide. But how should it do that? It is not acceptable that from the clay a Peer surrenders a party Whip, or for those who are not independents —for example, Others or minor party members—that they should be included in the independents figure of 20 per cent. Those who surrender a Whip should still be counted within the percentage of their party for a period of time and not immediately added to the independent quota.
No mention is made of the future of the two hereditary office holders. It should be made clear what the Government proposes for these offices. Do they intend to make any changes to State Openings and other events involving the Crown where the present holders have responsibilities?
It is also unclear whether the Prime Minister's intent to,retain the discretionary right to make a small number of appointments—4/5—in each Parliament of people intended to work as Ministers in the Lords",is additional to the Government's share of the membership of the House. Will those appointed remain MLs for the period of that Parliament or only for the time that they hold office?
For retiring archbishops or holders of senior public appointments, such as the Governor of the Bank of England, the Cabinet Secretary or the heads of the Diplomatic Service and the Armed Forces, there appears to be no straightforward route to these Benches as in the past. Will they have to apply for membership and be considered by the appointments commission? I hope not for such individuals. The Prime Minister recognised this difficulty tinder the current interim Appointments Commission arrangement. He revoked his decision not to 577 recommend peerages himself and proposed the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Guthrie, for a peerage to Her Majesty. I hope that, on reflection, the Government will also consider how best to provide a path to this House for such individuals, who can bring invaluable experience and knowledge to these Benches and to the House.
I am also concerned about the abrupt loss of experience and expertise that we enjoy in the hereditary element on these Benches, if they are to be culled en bloc. The Convenor, who currently gets minimal financial assistance to provide him with support in a range of activities of importance to the Cross-Bench group—in dealing with accommodation needs or with the audit and other revenue requirements affecting the handling of the Cross-Bench's Cranborne money—is greatly indebted to the support that he receives from hereditary Cross-Bench Peers.
But Cross-Bench hereditaries, unlike their counterparts in the parties, who want to return as appointed MLs, will have to seek appointment through the appointments commission. It is already clear from experience following stage 1 that excluded hereditaries have returned to the House by the party route, but no former Cross-Bench hereditary has been able to do so other than by filling a vacancy due to death. It seems unfortunate that the detailed knowledge and experience of the House, which the remaining hereditaries have, should be lost overnight. I hope that the Government will agree that it is still within the spirit, if not the wording, of their manifesto commitment to allow the remaining hereditaries to continue as MLs, without further selection or appointment, for life or at least for the ten-year adjustment period. That would greatly ease the transitional arrangements and sustain the expertise of the workings of this House; for example in the role of Deputy Speakers.
I question—although I am not sure that there is a ready answer—why ethnic and faith representation should be in proportion to the population, while the threshold for minor parties is deemed to be 5 per cent of the votes cast, not 5 per cent of the whole electorate. There seems to be an inconsistent approach to those two important issues, especially as the parties will be subject to the requirements in relation to gender and ethnic origin.
The Government say that they are keen to seek consensus on further reform. I welcome that. I hope that they will hold themselves to that undertaking and will give adequate time to address and work through the many aspects of the change. I have addressed only a few of the issues relating to independents. They are important, but they are of course only one aspect of the whole. We seem no nearer a consensus on the issues concerning the elected element—their number, electorate, terms of office and so on—than when the idea of reform was first mooted. The Royal Commission itself was unable to agree a single solution. The White Paper seeks views and lacks a clear definition of the Government's position.
578 That is bound to prove the most difficult and contentious issue before both Houses of Parliament, yet until it is resolved many of the other issues, including those affecting the independent element, cannot be fully addressed in context, let alone settled. I urge the Government to allow further debate and discussion to concentrate on the complex issue of the elected element. The White Paper is not a good basis on which to discuss further reform of your Lordships' House.
§ 4.12 p.m.
§ Lord Gordon of Strathblane
My Lords, the footnote to the Speakers' List reminds us that the Companion recommends that speeches be limited to 15 minutes. One does not need to be a Nobel prize winner in mathematics to calculate that with 42 speakers, we will rise somewhat after half-past one in the morning if we all take our 15 minutes. Tomorrow, with 40 speakers but starting later, the same will be the case. I therefore hope that I shall find favour with the House if I unashamedly curry that favour by keeping my remarks to roughly half that time or even less.
§ Lord Gordon of Strathblane
Perhaps I should sit down now.
One thing is already clear—my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor alluded to it. It is hardly prophetic to say that it will be difficult to reach a consensus. I hope that efforts will be made to reach a cross-party consensus because, frankly, unless we get one, a reform will not get through this House. The numbers just will not work. However, I hope that the whole House will now recognise the Government's wisdom in proceeding with stage one reform of the House—on which we could achieve consensus—when we did, rather than waiting for a total package, as we were urged at the time by some noble Lords, which would manifestly have produced substantial delay.
There is a bit of a hang-up on the composition of the House of Lords and not nearly enough attention paid to procedural reform of how it works, of how the House of Commons works—I entirely endorse what the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, said—and of how the two Houses work together. As a relative newcomer, it seems to me silly for a Bill to go through all its stages in one House and then all its stages in the other House. We could well have debates on its substance on Second Reading in both Houses and then adopt a Committee structure involving both Houses.
We could experiment with many things to improve the way in which the House of Lords works. I want to concentrate on one small issue, on which I take issue with the noble Baroness and others. Election is not the answer. If there is widespread disillusion with the House of Commons, I must say that it is partly caused by media coverage of it—we exaggerate the difficulties. However, let us say that there is disillusion 579 with a wholly elected House. I do not see how we dispel that disillusion by applying the elective principle to this House.
For the avoidance of doubt, I have not gone fascist in my old age. I recognise that a democratic mandate is essential for the exercise of ultimate power, but not for the scrutiny of legislation or participation in debates in a second Chamber which by convention—and, to some extent, by statute—has ceded the exercise of real power to the House of Commons.
A House of Lords with a significant elected element will inevitably—perhaps justifiably—seek more powers as it shares democratic legitimacy with the House of Commons. It is all very well saying that we do not want that at present; the reason for that is that we are not elected and we recognise the supremacy of an elected Chamber. If we were elected, why should we go along with all the conventions that grew up during the 20th century by which we regard the House of Commons as supreme? In what way would it be supreme?
If I may appeal directly to noble Lords and Baronesses on the Liberal Democrat Benches, if this Chamber were to be elected by a better electoral system—in their eyes—would that not confer on it greater democratic legitimacy than a first-past-the-post House of Commons? If this House were elected at a different stage in the electoral cycle, could it not be regarded as a more up-to-date expression of the electorate's will? Could it not therefore be entitled to say to the House of Commons, "Sorry, that may have been true two years' ago; you had a mandate then. But we have a mandate now and ours is more recent"? There is a real danger of stalemate.
At present, this House does an extremely good job of focusing attention on matters on which the Government are then almost compelled by pressure of public opinion, rather than by statute, to rethink. That works—it worked recently, just before the recess, on the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001. It will not work nearly as well if we have an elected Chamber. Let us be clear: one reason why we are better at scrutiny than is the House of Commons is that we do not have the constituency workload of Members of the House of Commons.
We should also acknowledge that democracy—which, let me repeat, I believe to be essential for the exercise of ultimate power—brings other weaknesses in its wake. It induces short-term thinking. It is perhaps only natural that some Members of Parliament, if not all, have an eye to ensuring that they are re-elected at the next election. Are we really so arrogant—which would be deeply uncharacteristic of this House—as to say that the people who are elected to this House will somehow be made of sterner stuff and want to do unpopular things immediately before a general election? I think that unlikely. It is true of successive governments, although the present Government are making efforts in this regard, that one reason that we have long-term infrastructure problems in this country is that few political parties are willing to spend taxpayers' money on a benefit that will not be 580 apparent for 10 or 15 years when they recognise that, given the swings and roundabouts, they may well he out of office.
That is a drawback of democracy, which is still, as someone once said, the least bad system that we have. We do not need an elected element for scrutiny of legislation. The solution proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, of Peers who would be elected for one long term of 15 years and not allowed to stand for re-election, is ingenious. But let us be honest, the element of accountability is lost. It is precisely because they will not be re-elected that they can behave independently. Let us grasp the nettle and recognise that if they were not elected in the first place they might be even more independent.
Even if that argument is not accepted, there is a further problem, and this is where I disagreed with the major reform involving the hereditary Peers. The hereditary principle was not the reason why hereditary Peers could behave with a degree of independence of thought; it was the lack of election. That is as true of life Peers as it is of hereditaries. If we lose that, we will run into severe danger.
Even with the ingenious suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, we face another problem, one that was alluded to by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig. Are we to pay the elected Members? If we pay them, we must, if we are to be honest about it, pay everyone. We cannot have two classes of citizen. I look at the sterling committee work done by hereditary Peers. In that connection, I must respectfully disagree with my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor. His arithmetic suggested that we could not have more than 120. Things might be worse than he thinks. It would be unthinkable that a government, of whatever political complexion, would not wish to baptise, as it were, the 92 departing hereditaries—or, at least, a good many of them—and make them life Peers, in view of the continued contribution that they would make to the public life of the country. If we pay everybody, the public will assume that the House is doing more than it did before. That runs against the fundamental principle that we should try to preserve the supremacy of the House of Commons.
There is another danger. If some Members are to be elected, especially if they are allowed to seek re-election—I concede the report of the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, did not recommend allowing re-election, but the Government are, at least, canvassing the possibility of short terms, with re-election—we must make sure that the constituency basis of that election does not remove the pre-eminence of MPs in the service of their constituencies. We might make it sectoral, creating, for example, an old-age sector for over-55s or over-60s. If I am elected to represent old people in Scotland, will old age pensioners in various constituencies come to me or to their MP? We must be careful about that.
We must also be careful about the geographical basis of any election. As the Lord Chancellor invited us to be constructive, I shall endeavour to do so, by 581 suggesting a way round the salary problem. If we leave the House unsalaried—although with generous allowances—but allow those who are nominated by a subordinate body or a national parliament to recompense indirectly those who are elected, that might solve the problem. Otherwise, we face a major problem.
Having promised to take half my time, but having taken two thirds, I must sit down, but I urge the House to consider the damage that might be done if we have any elected Members. Certainly, the figure of 120 is on the high side.
§ 4.23 p.m.
§ Lord Wakeham
My Lords, it has been my misfortune not to have heard the noble Lord, Lord Gordon of Strathblane, speak before. He made a helpful contribution to the debate. However, I would like to comment on the matter of Members representing the regions and nations in this House. We thought about having a series of appointments boards—I, certainly, thought about it—and we concluded that the electorate was probably the best way to get them appointed. Such Members will have some of the characteristics of appointed Members, but they must also be appointed or elected by the regions and the nations. The noble Lord was kind enough to call that an ingenious solution, but we arrived at it by means of a tortuous process.
The first thing that I want to do is to congratulate the Government on embarking on the exercise in the first place. I intended to say that it was a difficult exercise and that we had ducked it when we were in government. However, with my noble friend Lady Thatcher sitting beside me, I would like to rephrase that and say that we had different priorities.
Lord Whitelaw, when he was Leader of your Lordships' House, and I, when I was Chief Whip in another place, discussed the issue on more than one occasion. We considered that it would be too divisive a matter to get a consensus at that time. Unfortunately, we may still be proved right. The Royal Commission, which I had the honour to chair, managed to get a consensus during our deliberations, and the Government have departed from that consensus in several important respects. Frankly, I am fearful as to the consequences.
In his foreword to the White Paper, the Prime Minister said that the report of the Royal Commission offered an excellent way forward. I cannot yet return the compliment. There are several aspects of the White Paper that differ significantly from our recommendations and give me cause for concern. As they stand, I find them difficult to support.
Of course, I welcome the Government's decision to press ahead with the second stage of reforming your Lordship's House. The current "interim" arrangements, introduced in 1999, are unsatisfactory and inadequate as a long-term response to the challenge of Lords reform. It is vital to the health of our parliamentary democracy that we move rapidly to 582 establish a second Chamber with the authority and confidence to play a full part, working alongside the other place in holding the Government to account.
I also welcome the Government's support for the great majority of our recommendations, especially those relating to the role and functions of a reformed second Chamber. The Government are right to endorse our conclusion that the reformed second Chamber should not be wholly or largely elected. Such a chamber would inevitably compromise the role of the other place as the United Kingdom's decisive political forum. It would produce a second Chamber that was a clone of the other place, full of professional politicians and dominated by the political parties. It was interesting to find, as we went around the country taking evidence, that nobody—but nobody—thought that that would be a desirable outcome. Such a chamber would be either a compliant rubber stamp for government legislation or a source of legislative gridlock.
A reformed second Chamber needs a different source of political authority from that of the other place. The Royal Commission argued that that authority could be derived from the state of being broadly representative of British society, relatively independent of partisan politics and expert and experienced in a range of walks of life. So, I welcome the Government's support for the conclusion that most of the Members of a reformed second Chamber should, as now, be appointed.
I am concerned, however, by the Government's proposal that most of the appointed Members should be chosen by the political parties. A continuation of direct political patronage—whosever cronies they are—is unlikely to give the reformed second Chamber the necessary political authority to play an effective role. The Royal Commission recommended that all appointed Members should be chosen by an independent statutory appointments commission. On a related point, I must say that the method of appointing the appointments commission is also important. The commission should not be the creation of the Government, as the present one is, but should be set up by an all-party agreement. To that extent, the present members of the Government's Advisory Committee on Appointments ought not to be members of a truly independent appointments commission. They are excellent people, and many of them are good friends of mine, but there should be a fresh start. I know that the Government intend to have a statutory appointments commission in the proposals.
We recommended that the appointments commission should be required to maintain the proportion of around 20 per cent of the total and work towards a situation in which the distribution of politically affiliated Members matched the pattern of the votes cast for political parties at the most recent general election. That way, there would never again be a realistic chance of having a second Chamber that was dominated by a single political party. The Government would normally have the allegiance of 583 the largest group of Members, but no overall control. Other parties would be represented in proportion to their electoral strength.
The Government support the application of that formula but also want the political parties to determine who should represent them. That creates two problems. That would preclude the appointments of politicians who might make an excellent contribution to the work of this House but who happen to be out of favour with their party leadership—and we can all think of examples. It would also inhibit the appointments commission in proactively seeking out good quality candidates from different walks of life if it were prevented from appointing people who happen to have political affiliations. There are many good and suitable people who would not get on to a political list, but who have expertise and experience in other areas, but are members of one party or another and cannot be considered Cross-Benchers.
In practice, I believe that the Government are being unnecessarily defensive. The political parties will be able to determine which members of the second Chamber receive their Whip and in practice they will be able to insist on having the right number of members able to respond to their whip. The appointments commission could be expected to give very serious consideration to nominations from the political parties. And it just may be that it would be rather smart of the Government to distance themselves a little from the appointments process. I can think of many occasions when I was Chief Whip when I would have found that quite useful.
I also have major concerns about the Government's provisional views on the arrangements for electing "regional" members. If "regional" members have only a short tenure and remain dependent on their party for renomination, they are less likely to apply independent judgment in their contribution to the House. If they perceive membership of the second Chamber as a stepping stone to a wider political career in another place, they would be inclined to behave in a partisan fashion that would alter very substantially the nature of the second Chamber. More fundamentally, if Members of the other place came to see "regional" members of this Chamber as rivals for their political influence, they will either oppose or, if they do not oppose, they will later regret the whole concept of this second stage reform. A very distinguished veteran of the 1968 reform of the House of Lords told me, "You can only go as far as the other place is prepared to let you go". The issue goes far wider than merely ensuring the supremacy of one Chamber over the other. The Government ignore that advice at their peril.
The relatively high proportion of elected members and the rapid turnover inherent in the Government's current proposals would also make it much more difficult to achieve and maintain the right political balance. One argument I have heard advanced—and it has been mentioned today—is that the relatively short terms proposed by the Government would enhance the accountability of the "regional" members in the second Chamber. But that is precisely the point on 584 which I would challenge the proposals: direct accountability to the electorate should be the preserve of the other place. Extending it to your Lordships' House would risk undermining the proposition that under our present constitutional settlement the other place should have the greater political authority.
My third reservation is that the White Paper does not mention the Royal Commission's recommendation that the Parliament Acts should be entrenched against further unilateral amendment by another place. This is a vital constitutional safeguard. It would protect the current balance of power between the two Houses of Parliament, which was not seriously challenged in arty evidence to the Royal Commission and which the Government say they support. It would also entrench the second Chamber's current veto over the other place legislating itself into permanent existence, or at least extending its life.
The Government say—and I am pleased about it—that they are seeking a consensus and have identified a number of points for consultation. I welcome that and trust that the Government are sufficiently open-minded to alter their position. After all, the Royal Commission reflected a broad spread of political opinion and consulted widely. We were very widely divided when we started, but we had to work very hard to achieve a consensus. The Government have moved away from that consensus. I believe that they will have to move back towards our recommendations if they are to succeed in their attempts to modernise your Lordships' House.
§ 4.35 p.m.
§ The Lord Bishop of Guildford
My Lords, the report and subsequent debates in this House made clear the commission's skill and the Government's commitment to a reformed and modernised upper Chamber. These Benches have on previous occasions paid tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, and the work of his commission. We support the broad aims of the commission's report, including those which affect the role of the Lords Spiritual. We do so wholeheartedly. None of us is here today—and not least those of us on these Benches—to defend privilege or position.
The consensus achieved by the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, offered us an opportunity and it would be a failure of political responsibility if we did not achieve the reform of this House. That may involve some tough discussion in the coming months, but failure to use the opportunity would not only undermine the credibility of our future work but would undermine the credibility of our parliamentary process as a whole.
The details of what proportion of the House should be elected, who should be appointed and the means thereby are important and will be at the heart of the debate. However, I want to offer a reflection on the principle of why noble Lords want to avail themselves of counsel from these Benches and, from that reflection on the principles, offer a few comments. My fundamental theme will be that politics is too important to leave to the politicians and religion is too important to leave to the bishops.
585 The Government have, in my view, wisely chosen to follow the commission's proposals on two fundamental principles. They accept that constitutional reform should be evolutionary and they look to build on the experience of the past, recognising the vital role that this House has played in the process of parliamentary life. There seems to be a third principle in the Government's proposals. That is that this House needs to be different from the other place and therefore complementary to it. It should not be a rival or, worse, a pale reflection of the other place. It should be a House distinctive in its composition and style of working which adds to the task which Parliament exists to do for the people.
The danger in thinking that the only way in which we can be democratic and representative is through election is that it threatens to make this place increasingly like the other place. Since the first steps in reform were taken, some have commented in recent months that there are already signs of that happening in the way in which this House works. If we choose a large or even predominantly elected membership, not only do I doubt whether large numbers of people will be queuing at the polls to elect members—and what will be the credibility of people who have been elected by less than 20 per cent of the electorate, as happens in some local elections in our country?—but we may well be in danger of losing a distinctiveness which we should not give up too lightly.
I am glad to see that the Government accept that there is real merit in involving people with particular skills and experience, whose working and professional life is out there in the community, in the life and work of this House. I believe that we should resist the idea that this House should follow where the other has gone and have a virtually exclusively full-time and professional and, therefore, predominantly political membership. If this place remains the second House complementing the elected House, there is real merit in drawing on the experience of people who bring engagement with the common life of our country in all its diversity. Election by no means exhausts the meaning of representative democracy. We have the opportunity in this House to draw on the many faces of our contemporary life.
A few months ago I gathered with assembled members of the judiciary, high commissioners from a number of countries and many others at the site of Runnymede, which is in my diocese. In the language of our day, Magna Carta was an attempt to bring stakeholders together. It is no coincidence that the meeting on that plain was brokered by a bishop. Since that date the Church has, thank God, assumed a more fitting role as servant rather than superpower. Nevertheless it retains a pivotal role in the common as well as the constitutional life of our nation.
When I come to the House, which I seek to do on a regular basis, I bring with me my life and ministry as a bishop: a public ministry to one million people across 500 square miles of Surrey and North-East Hampshire. My daily work, and that of a thousand clergy and lay people is tending to the ties that bind our 586 society together: its towns, neighbourhoods, schools, families and a host of other global and local connections. Our ministry, which is a public trust, is open to all. That is the foundation of the historic role that the bishops have played in this House.
Like other Peers who seek to bring their experience to this place because of the character of our contributions to our national life elsewhere, I cannot be here each day. Your Lordships need me to be involved in my life in the wider church and community if my contribution here is to be of value. That is why we are not convinced that these proposals are right, either in terms of the size or the nature of what the Bishops as Lords Spiritual or those who would enrich us with the life of the other churches and faith communities can bring to the House. The Government are seeking to do a very Anglican thing: choosing the middle way between having what some see as an embarrassment of bishops and those who want to see Parliament cleansed of all spiritual representation and contribution. They have alighted on the figure of 16, which is down from 26, so it appears a reasonable half-way house. It may be reasonable but it is not workable if these Benches are to provide the constancy and continuity that are the prerequisites of attaining the benefits of our presence.
The figure in the report of the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, was arrived at in connection with the arrival of members of other churches. I am sorry that the Government have given up on a structured ecumenical presence in this House that would have had the full support of the bishops and, even with all the difficulties, would be achievable. One can focus the argument on the difficulty of justifying too large a number of spiritual leaders, or one can hold the view that the House needs people on these Benches who cannot be here all the time. Paradoxically, it is our not being here that has the potential to enrich the life of the House, because when we are here we bring the spiritual ministry entrusted to us in our local communities.
Imaginative and sensible conversation might help us to find agreement. To erect barriers to faith being interrogated and called to account would be the worst possible news for a dynamic 21st century legislative Chamber whose role is to scrutinise and, when necessary, say no to those caught up in short-term or popular solutions that need long-term or sometimes unpopular demands to be made on them.
At a time when there is growing spiritual concern in people's lives, and when complex issues of religious faith and vision are affecting even our international order, we need more than ever to bring all the voices of our shared life together. Religious life and faith play a powerful role for good or ill in people's lives and communities. The creative and the destructive possibilities of faith are plainer now than ever for all to see. We need only to contrast the chaos of Afghanistan or the Balkans with the post-Soviet renewal in Poland, the truth and reconciliation work in South Africa, or the rapidly decreasing HIV infection rates in Uganda. The faith of ordinary people is often the transforming lump of leaven in the bread of life that feeds families and nations.
587 We should encourage reform in this House. We should hold on to our conviction about what can be achieved in a House which is distinctive in its form and composition, and which can draw the many voices of our common life together for the good and welfare of our people. That, together with the excellence of our legislative work, is a trust that we need to fulfil. Along with many others, I would encourage seeking a route by consensus and structured conversation if we are to seize the moment that the work of the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, has offered.
§ 4.46 p.m.
My Lords, I regard it as a great privilege to follow the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford, not only because I happen to have been Recorder of Guildford for some years and enjoyed attending the most modern and magnificent cathedral over which he presides spiritually, but because I agree so much with him that we should not interfere with the representation of the episcopacy in this House. I hope that the Government will bear in mind the fact that the Bishops represent only England, which is merely a part of the United Kingdom. I believe that we should have more representation from the spiritual leaders in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
In considering the future composition and powers of your Lordships' House, we should realise that within our constitution such composition and powers must dovetail with those of the other place. During my 56 years in Parliament, 34 of which were spent in the House of Commons, I have seen the powers of the other place remain about the same but its composition has declined, whereas your Lordships' powers have also remained about the same but the composition has improved enormously and widely. Your Lordships' House is not only representative of all the professions, but includes field marshals, an air marshal and an admiral of the fleet. It is now a magnificently well-informed and responsible body. But we should remember the need to dovetail with the composition and powers of another place.
I am sorry to say that general elections do not always represent the views of the majority of the voters. No government since the end of the second world war has received a majority of the votes polled. More voters have supported the opposition and independent members in another place than have supported any government. I have the statistics and I ask your Lordships to bear with me, as I shall be selective. The highest turnout of voters was 84 per cent in 1950 when a Labour government were elected. The lowest was at the last general election when only 59.4 per cent of the electorate voted. But what about the proportion of votes for the winning party? Again, the highest proportion was obtained in 1950 for the Labour government with 39.9 per cent of the electorate only—yet that was the highest. The lowest figure in that respect was at the last general election when only 24.2 per cent of the electorate voted for the present Government.
588 I shall give your Lordships just one more statistic because it is relevant. In 1955, the winning party's share of the votes polled was the highest at 49.6 per cent. That shows that never more than half of the electorate who voted has supported the government of the day. I realise that that is partly due to the three-party system. In days long ago when we just had the Conservatives and the Liberals the matter was more simple and, you could say, more democratic. The lowest proportion of the electorate voting for the government of the day in all these years—nearly 60 years—was recorded last year when only 40.7 per cent voted Labour. Surely that is one of the reasons why your Lordships should have—and should not hesitate to use—the power to ask the other place to think again.
The other factor to be considered is this: the nature of Members of Parliament has changed. In my first 30 years in another place we had a wonderful collection of people who were representative of responsibilities of all kinds. Until 1997 there were a large number of men and women MPs who were accustomed to responsibility in all the professions: in business, in farming, in the Armed Forces, in the public services, and in the academic world; indeed, one could go on because in various other ways they were also representative.
However, since 1997 there has been a large number of young Members in the House of Commons who have had little or no experience of responsibility. After the last election, it was significant that the Prime Minister could not find in the other place a Queen's Counsel who was fit to be appointed Attorney-General. So, I am glad to say, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, was appointed from this House. As for the position of Solicitor-General, a lady Member of Parliament was chosen. In actual fact, I was at school with her uncles. For the first time on record, I believe, a solicitor was appointed Solicitor-General. But, alas, she was a solicitor who had scarcely ever practised as such.
But in your Lordships' House we have a vast array of talented experience of all kinds. I hope that no Member on the Labour Benches will be embarrassed by this, but I dare to add that the Government Front Bench in this House is much more talented than that in another place—
My Lords, with all those fundamental thoughts in mind, I turn, now, to the Government's White Paper. I shall deal with it briefly because so much has already been said and there is very little that it would be either necessary or desirable for me to add.
On page seven of the document under the heading, "The Main Government Proposals", the fifth proposal states that political membership of this House,should be broadly representative of the main parties' relative voting strengths as reflected in the previous General Election".I disagree most fundamentally with that proposal. If that were to be the starter of making this House democratically elected, it would begin to turn us into a 589 microcosm of the House of Commons. We would lose our reputation and our power. I believe that that would be a very bad step to take. The Government claim that this proposal came from the Royal Commission, but I was not conscious that it went as far as that.
Under paragraph 12 at the bottom of page seven reference is made to:Areas where the Government would welcome views"—that is, the views of noble Lords in this debate. Perhaps I may briefly refer to them. The first area is the,overall balance between elected, nominated and ex officio members, and the balance between political and independent members";and the second proposition asks: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".In his vivid and clear speech, my noble friend Lord Strathclyde entirely demolished that thought. I hope that most Members of your Lordships' House will realise that that, too, would turn us into a mere microcosm.
The third proposition relates to the,length of term for elected members".If we must have any elected Members—a proposition that I do not support—I would say that 15 years, as recommended by the Royal Commission, should be the minimum term. However, although their successors may be elected at the end of the time, I think that such Members, having gained the experience in this House, should be allowed to remain here until their lives come to an end.
Our views are sought next on the "term of appointment". I believe that there should be no limitation. We have, so far, always managed without a limitation. So let us continue in that way. The following proposition asks:What grounds should lead to statutory expulsion from the House"?I believe that the Government have a point in this respect. I do not say that every little crime should lead to the expulsion of any of your Lordships. Indeed, I have had a driving offence, and I hope that I shall not gain another. I should not have been very pleased if I had had to give up my membership in your Lordships' House. Serious crime should be a reason for expulsion. If a noble Lord is overtaken by insanity, I am sorry to have to say that I also believe that that should be a reason for expulsion—or, at least, it should be suggested to the unfortunate Peer that he or she should stop coming here.
The final suggestion is whether there should,be a change from an expenses-based system of remuneration".I am comfortably off, but I am not a rich man by modern standards, and I would prefer to be paid untaxed allowances as is the practice at present. I very much hope that that system will remain.
590 I could continue, but I shall not because I have already spoken for 13 minutes. Perhaps I may conclude by making two points. Yes, the Commons must have the last word, but we must always have the power to ask them to think again. My second point is that the House of Lords must not be democratised to any major extent. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Richard, for whom I have had a great regard for many years—we both served on the same rather important committee—wishes to go much further, but I hope that your Lordships will not be persuaded by his arguments, and I hope that he will not mind my saying so. If we were democratised to any major extent, it would reduce our capacity and make us less representative of people accustomed to responsibility.
I have not mentioned this before, but I wish to say finally that we must not become "whole-timers". We must keep in touch with the realities of life and not suffer, as Members of the other place are now doing, from having to keep our noses to the parliamentary grindstone.
§ 5.1 p.m.
§ Lord Dahrendorf
My Lords, the experience of my own life does not entitle me to be quite as bold as the noble Lord, Lord Renton, in my comments on elections and elected parliaments. What the noble Lord has just said to the House has further increased the enormous respect that I have for him and, indeed, makes me grateful because, as your Lordships will soon see, in several important respects I agree with him.
My noble friend Lady Williams of Crosby made a strong case by saying that we are debating not simply minor reforms of the House of Lords, but the reform of Parliament and that in reality the proper way forward would have been to set up institutions to discuss those reforms. My noble friend also made certain clear statements on the functions and powers of the House of Lords and I agree with all that she said on those points. However, I wish to raise an issue which, in one important respect, leads me to different conclusions from those of my noble friend.
The Government White Paper, in one of the points listed in paragraph 35, states that:The House should include expertise and experience to add a distinctive approach to its consideration of legislation, and to help it fulfil its more general scrutiny functions".I want to argue that that distinctive approach is indeed crucial for the acceptability—and, dare I say, legitimacy?—of a second Chamber and is relevant to the principles on which its composition is based. However, the most important feature of that "distinct approach" is a degree of independence. By that I mean that the House of Lords not only has to encourage independent views by the nature of its membership and working practices, it also has to remain once removed from the pressures of party and of excessive topicality. It has to be, as the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, put it, "relatively independent".
591 "Expertise and experience" may well have a role in bringing about this effect, although one caveat is important to note with regard to expertise. The Wakeham report rightly pointed to the pitfalls of the notion that,specified vocational or other interest groups … be represented in the second chamber".Let me add to the arguments of practicality and of principle deployed there the reminder that such corporatism was of course the essence of most versions of fascism. In 1939, Mussolini replaced the Italian Chamber of Deputies with the Camera dei Fasci e delle Corporazioni in which 22 defined "Estates" were represented. The purpose was to ensure that the "Leader" controlled the chamber rather than the other way around. Any formal representation of "corporations" takes away the political character of a chamber and leads to authoritarian government. I would therefore argue that expertise must be an incidental rather than a constituent feature of the House of Lords.
"Experience", linked in the White Paper with "expertise", is another matter; it has to do with independence. Some noble Lords may have heard me say facetiously that the House of Commons is a Chamber of parents, while the House of Lords is a Chamber of grandparents. I say that with an apology to the younger Members of this House who make such a welcome and valuable contribution. Parents are directly and often nervously involved in issues whereas grandparents have a degree of detachment because they have seen it all and can therefore examine sensitive matters such as cannabis, or even stem cell research, calmly and wisely. What is more, grandparents have usually—though I admit, not always—overcome the ambition disease which tends to cloud minds.
However, I am not suggesting that being a grandparent should be a criterion for the appointments commission. The independence of the second Chamber is as much a matter of style as of formal criteria. In this Chamber, Whips operate by shame rather than by threat. The next election is viewed as much with curiosity as with fear of losing position; lobby efforts are looked at with critical eyes rather than the desire to marshal support—or at least, that is how it should be.
That leads to a comment about party and about elections. The Wakeham commission was clearly right to insist that,it would be unrealistic to think that the second chamber could be somehow insulated from party politics".At the same time, I regret that reform of the Lords so far seems to have led to strengthening the role of parties, and that the next stage of reform will do so again. To talk about "Tony's cronies" is a red herring. What really happens is that, one way or another and whether through appointment or election, party membership, party interest, party loyalty and, above all, the influence of party leadership, gain in importance and the independence of the whole Chamber is reduced. The House is becoming more tribal and, by the same token, less independent.
592 Let me add that that is also true for elections. I cannot insist too strongly that elections are neither the only source of legitimacy nor do they necessarily create legitimacy. I was pleased to hear the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor say that elections are,not the only route to legitimacy".As the noble and learned Lord pointed out, judges are not elected, yet, as a body, they may be more legitimate than some parliamentary institutions. On the other hand, a limited number of representatives selected from party lists and elected by a miserable turn-out to serve for long periods in a badly understood parliament cannot be described as legitimate in any meaningful sense.
The point at which I am aiming is once again well made by the Wakeham commission, which stated:Putting it bluntly but accurately, a wholly elected second chamber would in practice mean that British public life was dominated even more than it is already by politicians".A partly elected second Chamber, too, would increase the influence of party further and, I suspect, it would do something else—it would deceive the electorate by a semblance of democracy when in fact the input of the people would remain very limited. Hybridity as such is not the main issue; an elected element which misleads the electorate rather than empowering it is the issue.
How then does one go about securing, to quote from the Wakeham report again,a second chamber which was relatively independent of the influence of political parties"?First, it is of more than symbolic significance that the group of independent Peers on the Cross-Benches should be both strong and active in their participation in the legislative process. Secondly, an appointments mechanism has to be developed for Members of the House which can take the Wakeham proposals as its starting point, although that requires further thought. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, made some relevant points in this connection. In my view, this mechanism should apply to all Members of the House. Thirdly, it is crucial that the procedures of the House, including the "usual channels", favour independence rather than entrenching party domination.
I make these points whether or not de facto changes in the powers and functions of the two Chambers will occur. The anomaly that this House has become the Committee stage in the legislative activity of Parliament cannot, and probably should not, last. But however powers develop, the strength of the second Chamber has to arise from its "distinctive approach", and this approach has to have a degree of independence from constraint, from party and from day-to-day politics as its condition. When the compromise comes before us in a Bill, I shall judge it on its merits—but its merits for me will depend on the preservation of the independence of your Lordships' House.
§ 5.13 p.m.
§ Lord Denham
My Lords, I hope that the House will forgive me if I do not discuss this White Paper in much detail. We have already gone a step too far ahead of ourselves. If ever there was a case that can be compared with the answer given by the Irishman who was asked the way to Ballymurphy, it is this one. If you want to arrive at the best possible next and final stage of Lords reform, you do not start from here.
The noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House, therefore, will not be surprised if I revert to the subject of the promised Joint Committee of both Houses of Parliament. As he knows, I was horrified when, in his winding-up speech on the debate of the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, of 18th July 2001, he confirmed that Her Majesty's Government were not now prepared to appoint the Joint Committee and said, in vindication of this, that they had not been able to agree the terms of reference for the Committee with the other two parties. In particular, the Government were not prepared to allow the Joint Committee to discuss the composition of the ultimate House.
The noble and learned Lord quoted the words in the 1999 White Paper:The Joint Committee will then"—that is, after the report of the Royal Commissionbe asked to examine in more detail the Parliamentary aspects of any proposed reform".He maintains that these words would of themselves limit the terms of reference to the relationship between the two Houses after reform.
The membership of the Royal Commission was broadly based and no more than half were members of either House of Parliament. I had therefore taken those words to mean that, after the Royal Commission had reported, the Joint Committee would examine all its recommendations, including powers and composition, from a strictly parliamentary point of view. With the advantage of hindsight, after listening to everything that has been said, copious correspondence and a long personal interview that the noble and learned Lord very kindly gave me, my reading of the disputed words still stands.
Be that as it may, the undertaking to appoint a Joint Committee was repeated on several occasions throughout the passage of the House of Lords Bill through this House by the then Leader of the House, the noble Baroness, Lady Jay of Paddington, and by two law officers of the Crown, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, and the noble and learned Lord the present Leader of the House himself, without any pre-conditions of any kind being mentioned. And all these were listed by the noble Lord, Lord Ampthill, among others, in that debate of 18th July last, to which the noble and learned Lord replied.
Again as the noble and learned Lord knows, when the draft agreement between the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor and my noble friend Lord Cranborne about the 92 hereditary Peers who were to 594 remain first became public knowledge, I was against it. I came round to it eventually, however, for one reason and one reason only: that it would give representatives of the hereditary Members of the House an input into the shape that the definitively reformed House would take, which they had already been denied—in my view somewhat maliciously —by not being represented on the Royal Commission itself. It was during the stage of the Joint Committee that the influence of the 92 would have stood the best chance of being felt.
It was only after the House of Lords Bill was safely on the statute book that Her Majesty's Government made clear what they meant by the words "parliamentary aspects" in the White Paper of 1999, and therefore the limitations that they intended to put on the Joint Committee. The Bill had its Royal Assent on 11th November 1999, the day of Prorogation, the State Opening was on 17th November, and the House rose for the Christmas Recess on 12th December and resumed on 10th January 2000.
Then on 24th January, the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, asked, in a supplementary to a Starred Question, that,the remit of the Joint Committee will not be restricted simply to considering the proposals in the report, which many of us regard as deeply flawed?".The noble Baroness, Lady Jay of Paddington, replied:We said in our white Paper on House of Lords reform, published approximately a year ago, that the Joint Committee would be established in order to consider the parliamentary aspects of any reform. We stand by that".—[Official Report, 24/1/00; col. 1319.]The noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, then Leader of the Liberal Democrat Peers, said:I am a little concerned by her suggestion, if I understand her right, that there may be some object in getting common ground before the committee meets. The noble Baroness shakes her head. I took it for granted that the terms of reference of the Joint Committee were stage two reform of the House—nothing narrower than that".The noble Baroness, Lady Jay, replied:… given the establishment of the wide-ranging review of House of Lords reform that the Royal Commission undertook, it is not appropriate, in the Government's view, to invite a subsequent approach on that wide basis. That is why we said in the White Paper that we would ask the Joint Committee to look at the parliamentary aspects of implementing any reform. The Government do not feel that it would be appropriate to invite another, new type of Royal Commission drawn from within the Palace of Westminster to look at precisely the same issues as the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, and his colleagues usefully spent the last year doing".—[Official Report, 24/1/00; col. 1321.]I have quoted these exchanges rather fully because they show beyond doubt that whatever private reservations Her Majesty's Government may have had about the role of the Joint Committee, they had not made them clear to the rest of the House while the House of Lords Bill was still before it, as it was their clear responsibility to do.
After 30 years on the Front Bench, both in government and in opposition, I find even the suggestion of any undertaking from the Dispatch Box being disregarded as total anathema. And this is not just any undertaking, it was one that was largely 595 instrumental in getting a highly controversial constitutional Bill through the House with the least possible trouble to the government of the day. This is a breach, or at the very least what will be seen as a breach, of a pledge that, for the very future of the House that we are now discussing, is something that we dare not allow to go by default.
I have noticed over the years that any party that has a larger than usual majority in another place is inclined to find the usual rules and procedures irksome and, because of the size of that majority, somehow gets the impression that they do not apply to them. I watched my own party suffer under this delusion on occasions in the 1980s and 1990s and I did not like it then any more than I do now. Because those same rules and procedures often carry a built-in safety net, which is designed to protect the country from an over-powerful government. It is at times like this, therefore, that far from becoming obsolete they are more necessary than ever before.
I would urge the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House to give the most serious consideration to all these points before he comes to reply to the whole debate tomorrow night.
§ 5.21 p.m.
§ Viscount Bledisloe
My Lords, I intend to concentrate on points in the White Paper which are specifically relevant to the issue of ensuring a proper independent element in the reformed House.
I have been one of a group of six individual independent Peers who have got together and prepared a paper on these matters which has been submitted to the Government in response to their White Paper. I say in passing that anyone who is rash enough to say that he or she would like to see that paper is welcome to a copy.
One of the members of that group is the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, who played a key role in the proceedings on the 1999 Act. He would have wished to lake part in this debate but is prevented from doing so as, for pressing personal reasons, he cannot be present tomorrow. He has asked me to express his regret at not being able to take part in the debate.
On the issues of independence, I make a distinction between those on the one hand who come to this House as members of a political party, whether elected or appointed—and I see some force in the argument of those who say that they see very little difference between appointment and election under the closed list system—and on the other hand those who are here as independents. I emphasise that it is plain that on the basis of any electoral system of the kind contemplated by the Government there is no real prospect of the election of an independent. Thus, all the elected members will inevitably belong to some or other political party.
On the generally accepted basis that the other place is to retain its primary role, the House of Lords has to provide something which is different, complementary and useful. The natural conclusion is that the House of Lords should continue, first, to be more independent 596 and less partisan than the other place and, secondly, to contain experience and expertise in a wide range of subjects, particularly those which are of direct relevance to legislating and to the main topics frequently in issue in Parliament. I wholeheartedly agree with the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, on that topic.
The natural source for independence, and for experience and expertise, is the independent Cross-Benchers. That is precisely what they are here to provide. That said, I hasten to make plain that I recognise that many party Members in this House have considerable areas of expertise and display a considerable degree of independence of their Whip. If that independence is to continue, as it should, it is vital that political Members, once in the House, should be assured of their position for a substantial period and that they are under no threat of not being re-appointed or of being de-selected. Here, I agree wholeheartedly with the noble Lord, Lord Gordon of Strathblane.
A quota of appointed independent Peers is the obvious, indeed the only, way of having a non-party-political element in this House. The more one has criticisms of the rest of the government scheme, the greater the need for that independent element. I say in passing that, taking the figures placed before the House by the noble Lord, Lord Renton, if 40 per cent of the electorate do not vote for any political party, then these Benches represent more of our citizens than any political party does.
Whatever is decided about election versus appointment, the source of independents has to be appointment by a commission of some kind. However, the Government's proposals will achieve a satisfactory independent element only if their quota is large enough and is filled only by those who are genuinely independent of party influence. At present, virtually everyone who does not take a party Whip and is not a Bishop is labelled a Cross-Bencher and all are lumped together in one figure. It is very encouraging that the Government recognise that under the new system this treatment will no longer be appropriate. They have expressly accepted that the members of "other parties" will count against the political quota and that any one appointed as a Law Lord should fall into that separate category.
But there remains the issue of those who come to this House as political Members, whether appointed or elected, and who then cease to receive their party Whip. Are they to be numbered as part of the independent quota? Surely the right answer must be: yes, if they have truly been converted to independence and have abandoned their party ties—and perhaps also a suitable transition period has elapsed; but, no, they should not so count if their move is for other reasons. There are various other reasons why someone may move. They can include the withdrawal of the party Whip or the perfectly proper feeling of a Member who holds, or has held, some office or appointment and who considers that, by reason of that position, it is unsuitable to be seen as a supporter of 597 any political party. Such a person may rightly sit on the Cross Benches, but he or she should not count as part of the independent quota.
The third reason for such a move may be described as purely tactical. Unless the second part of my proposition regarding those who do not move genuinely is accepted, there will be an inevitable temptation for Whips to induce their less regular or less reliable Members to move, so that they count against the independent quota and thus create a vacancy in the political quota which the Whips can then fill with some more reliable Lobby fodder. It is vitally important that the Government make plain to us how they intend to protect the independent quota from infiltration or from counting by people who rightly sit on the Cross Benches but who are not truly independent. The Government have accepted the principle that only genuine independents should count. We shall be interested to hear—in the closing speech, I hope—how they intend to operate the system to achieve those ends.
The White Paper recommends a quota of 20 per cent of the membership of the final House to be independents. Whether 20 per cent is sufficient will no doubt be discussed by others, but I should be grateful to have definite confirmation from the Government that whatever the final percentage is, it will be applied throughout the transitional phase from the passing of the Bill until the final House of 600 is achieved.
I was disturbed by some of the figures that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor gave in his opening speech. It must be recognised that when the House loses its 92 hereditaries and gains 120 elected members, all of whom will obviously belong to a political party, overnight the political representation will increase by 56, but the independent element will be reduced by 28—the number of hereditaries who sit on these Benches. I was disturbed to find, when the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor did his mathematics, that he made no suggestion of extra independents being appointed as part of the final figure of seven hundred and thirty-something to compensate for that gross overnight imbalance. There must be a clear understanding that that imbalance will be corrected immediately, at the time of the change, and that the proportionate quota will be maintained throughout the transitional period.
To achieve independence on these Benches or within a political party, it is essential that the individuals in question have nothing to fear or to hope for from the powers that be, whether those powers are the Government, the party Whips or an appointed body containing party elements. At present, your Lordships can speak or vote as they see fit with no apprehension that they may be deselected or forcibly retired. In the future, that necessary condition of independence can continue only if the period of their appointment is long and non-renewable. One solution is appointment for life, with proper provision for retirement when the Member is no longer able or willing to take a proper 598 part. If that is not acceptable, the appointment should be either until a fixed age, let us say 75, or for a fixed term, let us say 15 years.
There is another cogent reason for wanting a high degree of permanence and continuity. Once one has become a Member of this House, one gradually discovers who is—and who is not—a sound and reliable voice on topics that are outside one's own expertise. It is an unusual feature of this House that what is said in debates, in committees or in informal discussion can still affect or alter the way in which Members think and vote. That depends on respect for and reliance on those with special expertise whose arguments one finds convincing. I shall take a deceased example to avoid any problem—the late Lady Faithfull. Over the years, I am sure that many Members of the House learnt that what she said about children was almost inevitably a sound guide to their own decisions. Such confidence in the opinion of others can grow up only with a large degree of permanence. I therefore urge the Government to ensure that, whatever the period of appointment may be, it is long and that there is no need to fear deselection or to hope for reappointment.
§ 5.34 p.m.
§ Lord Peyton of Yeovil
My Lords, I strongly echo the noble Viscount's plea for the maintenance of the number of independents in your Lordships' House. I shall refer in particular to two speeches that have been made during this remarkable debate: those of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford and of the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf. The right reverend Prelate made an excellent point about how much his role here is enhanced by what he spends most of his time doing in his diocese. I also echo the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, about membership of political parties and the peculiar ways in which members are affected by the fact of belonging. In most cases, the effects tend to be baleful rather than beneficial.
The rather dim document that we are discussing today is at least a little bold in part of its title—"Completing the Reform". One does not have to be a bold prophet to say that it is very unlikely that this document will be the last milestone on the road to reform. It revives and justifies the protest that we on this side of the House have made from the beginning that the Government, in their determination to hunt down the hereditaries, have neglected the problems of Parliament as a whole. The White Paper follows suit.
While mentioning White Papers, I might point out that when I was young—a long time ago—White Papers were very drab in appearance. They remain drab in their content, but an attempt has evidently been made to put a highly coloured cover on the drab contents in the hope that the brilliance of the cover will conceal the drabness of the content.
Labour's election triumph—and it was a triumph—in 1997 gave the Government a chance to do something to sustain Parliament in a changed and rapidly changing age. It is idle for them to go on 599 prattling about democracy but to do little or nothing to sustain the institution that is central to its survival. Far from looking at the problem as a whole, the Government have been content to tinker with your Lordships' House, which is less powerful and less important than the House of Commons, and perhaps also less in need of change.
It is generally agreed that the House of Commons need have no fear of its powers and privileges being in any way encroached upon by your Lordships' House as it is at present constituted. Rather, it is the Government who continually threaten to bypass and undermine Parliament. Of course, they cosset Members of Parliament, providing them with the comforts of Portcullis House and encouraging them to make their hours and voting times more convenient. It is permissible to express some doubt as to whether increased comfort is particularly friendly to democratic governance.
I had hoped to see in the White Paper, first, some assurance that—here I employ an exceedingly hackneyed metaphor, for which I apologise—the playing field on which Parliament competes with the executive will be made less tilted. Secondly, I looked for a recognition of the need to improve the procedures under which the cascade of primary law is examined. Thirdly, I hoped for some thoughts on how Parliament might be better equipped to control the flood of secondary legislation. Instead, we have the lamentable proposal to remove your Lordships' power to reject an order, no matter how inept. I was very glad to hear my noble friend Lord Strathclyde say quite clearly that we shall oppose that proposal. I was very glad also to hear the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, say the same thing in her splendid speech.
I am disappointed with the White Paper. I also regret that the Government have shown little or no sign of being really worried by the diminished regard in which Parliament is held by the public, as witnessed by the pitiful numbers—to which my noble friend Lord Renton has called attention—who thought it worthwhile to vote in the last general election.
I do not challenge—I do not think that anyone in your Lordships' House does for one moment—the pre-eminence of the Commons, although one might pause in passing to ask how well performance justifies that pre-eminence. However, I recognise that that is an affair for the other place and not for your Lordships' House. Nevertheless, the genuineness of the Government's concern for that pre-eminence, which is repeated again and again in the White Paper, is slightly open to doubt and question if only because of the frequency of the complaints that one hears from the other end of the building about the way in which Parliament is frequently bypassed, overlooked and neglected. It is just possible that the Government's concern for Parliament is not entirely different from the concern of the walrus and the carpenter, in Alice in Wonderland, for the oysters they were about to consume.
When I have the chance, I agree with the Government. I rather agree with them that an elected second Chamber—I think that this is their view— 600 would be a far greater threat to the pre-eminence of the House of Commons than a largely nominated second Chamber ever could be. In thinking of how a new second Chamber should be constituted, we have to have in mind that in modern politics, sadly, the independent Member—save for the Cross Benches in your Lordships' House—has been squeezed out and become extinct. Consequently, politicians have increasingly become the creature of political parties, whose influence is often both excessive and baleful.
A largely nominated House, to which I see little objection, would provide a place in Parliament for people other than professional politicians: people who would not even consider standing for election but still have much to offer, such as, I stress, scientists, engineers and representatives of the Armed Forces and police; people whose lives have not been filled and conditioned—I almost said contaminated—by their membership of a political party.
I find it difficult to erase from my mind the suspicion that the Government's paramount intention and concern, above and beyond everything in the White Paper, is to keep your Lordships' House in its place. It must not be allowed to become a source of irritation to Ministers of the Crown. But what other useful role does it have?
I have reached the conclusion of my remarks. I should like to end simply with a reminder that your Lordships' House was once dubbed as "Mr. Balfour's poodle". I fear that, if we continue down the road indicated in the White Paper, your Lordships' House may well be turned into a kennel full of poodles.
§ 5.46 p.m.
§ Lord Richard
My Lords, I was very interested in what the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, had to say about the independence of people in this House. I cannot help but observe—particularly following the noble Lord, Lord Peyton—that both the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, and the late Lady Faithfull were both members of a political party. They both took the party Whip, although the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, wears it lightly, as he has done for many years past. The same is true of Lady Faithfull. I make the point simply to illustrate the fact that independence and membership of a political party are not necessarily contradictory.
I shall be relatively brief, as the points that I want to make do not improve with repetition and the lines of argument are now clearly drawn. I should, however, like to deal with one matter before making my remarks on the White Paper. There seems to be a feeling that this is not a political House, but of course it is a political House: it does political things, passes political legislation, and inevitably has political parties. The idea that somehow or other the British Constitution can have a second Chamber that works as if it were populated by a set of independent Solons, however wise they might be, is totally fallacious.
Of course I am in favour of keeping the Cross-Benchers: I would give them no less than one-third of the total membership of the House. I should hope that the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, would at least to 601 a certain extent approve of that. However, this is not merely a deliberative House. It is not only a debating Chamber but a House of Parliament, and it needs to be regarded and treated as such.
I was pleased to hear the Lord Chancellor say that the Government are looking forward to hearing the contributions of Members of this House as regards their proposals in the White Paper. It is quite right that they should have an open mind, or at least a mind that does not seem to be firmly closed. It is quite right also that they should say that they are still seeking a consensus. I hope that a consensus is possible. At some stage, however, consultation will have to cease and decisions will have to be made. I hope that we can reach a consensus on these issues. A consensus might he possible, but achieving one will require some determination by the Government.
One important aspect of the White Paper is that the democratic principle now seems to be accepted (though in a severely truncated form). The idea that one can confine those directly elected to 20 per cent is unrealistic. I do not believe we can have tokenism of that kind when dealing with representative government. But gone at last is the argument that somehow or other elected and nominated Peers cannot sit comfortably in the one House. The issue for the Government now, as it emerges from the White Paper and the various statements that have been made, is not whether there should be an elected element, but how large that elected element should be.
It is worth looking for a moment at what the public seem to want in that respect. Not for the first time it seems to be in advance of government thinking. The latest polls indicate that there is widespread public support for a more democratic upper House. Following the publication of the White Paper, a national opinion poll in the Evening Standard of 14th November last year found 71 per cent backing for a largely elected House and 91 per cent thinking that 120 elected Members was too few. A poll by Democratic Audit submitted to the Royal Commission found that 84 per cent of the public favoured election over appointment for the upper House. In an ICM poll of last September 78 per cent said that the Labour Party should commit itself to a majority rather than a minority elected replacement in the House of Lords.
The fact is that the electorate as a whole seems no longer prepared to put up with a second Chamber whose composition is primarily determined by Prime Ministerial patronage. With respect to the White Paper, whatever else it does, it does not abolish that.
I support the general principle that emerges from the report of the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, that the system of political appointments to this House should come to an end. Where we differ is with what it should be replaced. He would replace it with appointments by a public appointments commission. I would replace it by direct elections.
At both the 1997 and the 2001 elections the Labour Party campaigned for a more democratic and representative House. When we were in opposition the 602 phrase we all used, going back indeed to the days when John Smith led my party, was that the second Chamber should be predominantly but not exclusively elected. That was my position seven, eight and nine years ago in opposition; it was my position in the brief time that I was permitted to serve in the government; and it remains my position today. I shall be interested to know at some stage, from somebody, what has changed. Why has the position altered? If we had said in 1997 and repeated in 2001 that that was the firm position for which this Government were going to fight, we would have found it much easier to take reforms of this Chamber through.
I want to see, as is well known to many noble Lords— I have said it often enough—a second Chamber two-thirds of which is directly elected and one-third of which is nominated. I believe the political part of the Lords should be by election and the Cross-Bench, independent element should be by appointment.
Let me try briefly to deal with the question of legitimacy. In this country legitimacy comes primarily from the exercise of democratic choice. With respect to the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, I do not follow him in his arguments. I have never understood the argument that appointments can produce a more generally representative House. The public are used to elections; they are part of the fabric of the constitution. Sometimes they may choose not to vote. But it is a democratic right not to turn up and put a cross on the ballot paper just as much as it is a right to do so.
If that is the position as regards the rest of the constitution, why not this Chamber? There is no reason in principle why two-thirds of this Chamber should not predominantly be elected. Therefore one has to look outside the principle of the democratic legitimacy point in order to find some reason why we are supposed to be different.
The argument is sometimes heard—we heard it this afternoon— that to have over 50 per cent of this House directly elected would be to produce a clone of the House of Commons. I do not believe that for an instant. The powers and functions of the two Chambers are clear. The electoral systems would be distinct. The claim that a more democratic second Chamber would challenge the supremacy of the Commons or produce legislative gridlock is surely misplaced. A more democratic outcome would not mean that the upper Chamber would be equally as legitimate or powerful as the House of Commons. The upper House could not threaten the primacy of the Commons. We would continue to have strictly limited powers and functions. Members would be elected for a different and secondary Chamber with no role in determining the government or controlling finance, which are quite rightly the roles of the House of Commons.
Nor would the second Chamber be able to veto a Commons Bill or, under the terms of the White Paper, any statutory instrument. If a minority of Cross-Bench appointees were included too, as many suggest and the Government propose, the difference between the two 603 Houses would be further emphasised. It would be arithmetically impossible for any one party to control the second Chamber.
Again, I try hard but for the life of me I do not see what problems that set of facts raises. It may make it more irritating for the Government. It may force the executive to be more responsive and more accountable. At one stage in my political career, many years ago when I was naïve, I thought that was the function of Parliament. Perhaps I am wrong.
The opportunity for major constitutional reform seems to come about once every 50 or 60 years. It would be sad if the opportunity to produce a more workable second Chamber and to resolve the issue of the relationships between the two Houses were now to be missed. I do not pretend that those relations would always he simple or smooth. It cannot be expected that between two Houses with credibility and legitimacy it would he. But it is worth noting that a report for the Irish Senate published in 1997 found that of 58 second Chambers around the world, 41 were wholly or largely elected. Only two (Malaysia and Swaziland) had a mixed appointed/elected membership where the majority was appointed. In only one western democracy—Canada—was the second Chamber wholly appointed.
The truth is that no government like making life more difficult for themselves. A second Chamber where the majority were elected would prove more troublesome to the executive. In common with most of the country, particularly with the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, that is a prospect which he and many others would welcome.
Many MPs believe that this House is basically irrelevant to the real business of Parliament. Anyone who has been a Member of the other place knows well how little attention is paid to this Chamber. It could easily be dismissed when it was dominated by the hereditary peerage. It still suffers from the total absence of any kind of democratic credibility or legitimacy. It can be dismissed as being appointed and not elected. But if we want a properly functioning second Chamber, not merely a legislative reviser, then we have to give it that credibility and legitimacy to do its job.
I have said on a number of occasions outside this House that in essence the argument is about what sort of second Chamber we want. If we want the family pet of the constitution—colourful, good for the tourists, little power and very conscious of its own superiority—then that is what we will get. If we want a properly functioning second Chamber which is part of the legislative process and part of the constitution of this country, then it has to change. I fear that yesterday I went a little far in describing these proposals as "half-baked"; perhaps that is putting it a little high. But they are seriously under-cooked.
§ 5.59 p.m.
§ Lord St John of Fawsley
My Lords, it is always a privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Richard, who informs his speeches with an intellectual concentration 604 and sharpness which produces great admiration. We also admire him for his independence. His career has been rather like that of the Benedictine monks: one minute they are scrubbing the floor; then they become abbot; and then they are back scrubbing the floor again. The noble Lord has fulfilled all those functions with great grace and lack of resentment and has continued to make a major contribution to our discussions in this House.
Peering into the future I venture to opine that the White Paper is unlikely to become a distinguished constitutional document. The root of its weakness is that the Government rushed into the project of getting rid of the old basis for the House of Lords without ever having properly thought through what was to be put in its place. As a result they have been living from hand to mouth and going from one expedient to another ever since.
Let us consider the question of an elected or an appointed chamber. There is something to be said for an elected chamber. There is something to he said for an appointed chamber. But for a partly elected, partly appointed chamber, which carries within itself a mass of contradictions, there is nothing to be said whatsoever. It is a hyphenated hybrid which will not be a permanent solution to our constitutional problem, but will lay out problems for the future.
Let us consider the other central point in this White Paper—the appointments commission. It is unclear to me, having read the White Paper, and, indeed, the Royal Commission report, what powers the appointments commission will have. Will it have the powers of the Prime Minister to advise the Crown with binding effect to appoint Members of this House? If I am right in that—I should be grateful for clarification from the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House—it is a major constitutional change putting power in the hands of a strictly irresponsible body because it is elected by no one. It is said to be responsible to the House of Lords but only in the vaguest possible sense. I am reminded of a favourite saying of my mother, "Who are these people, why are they there and why should we listen to them?"
The Prime Minister has from time to time been denounced as a control freak. I must say that anyone who can control the noble and learned Lords the Lord Chancellor and the Leader of the House is not a control freak but a control genius. I have known every Prime Minister since Neville Chamberlain. Your Lordships may find that difficult to believe, but I am well preserved! They all become control freaks sooner or later, wherever they start from. There is only one Prime Minister in my experience who did not do so and that was Sir Alec Douglas-Home who was prevented by the true nobility of his nature and by his moral and physical courage from having to resort to such expedients and devices.
Another matter arises in the discussion and in the White Paper and that is the question of patronage. There has been patronage as long as there has been a House of Lords. What is an hereditary Peer but an appointed Peer whose appointer has passed into what 605 the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, with her usual outspokenness, referred to as the next world where we must all end up? However, she was diplomatic enough not to say in which part she thought individual noble Lords would end up.
There has been much talk of transparency. That is the latest instalment of the hypocrisy and humbug that have made us a great nation. How can the appointments commission possibly be transparent when we do not know how its members will be appointed and who will be considered? How can we judge whether the members of the commission will do their work properly? I ask the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House why should not the names of those who apply to be considered as Members of this House be made public? If they wish to be Members of this House they should lay their cards upon the table and let other people have a look at them and express their opinion. That would be transparency, but there is no suggestion of that from the Government.
The principal matter on which I wish to speak concerns the very important question of religious representation in this House. I certainly have no objection at all to the presence here of the bishops of the established Church in a representational and institutional capacity. If I had any doubts, they would have been resolved by the powerful and moving speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford.
One of the key recommendations of the Royal Commission report was that there should be a wider representation of religions, faiths and denominations. What has happened to that? It has completely disappeared from the White Paper. I refer to the Roman Catholic Church as it is the Church about which I know marginally more than the others. I assure noble Lords that I do not mention the following matter in any triumphalist way but the figures of the practising members of the Church of England and of the Catholic Church are revealing. According to the latest Church statistics of 1999, there are 1.6 million practising Anglicans and 1.8 million practising Catholics who attend Mass weekly. Can it really be right to exclude their Episcopal representatives from this House? You might say, "Yes, historically that is what has happened". But, historically, the Government have embarked on what they claim is a radical reform of the House. So let them look at that issue and let us know what they think about it and what they propose to do. The whole question is dismissed in two sentences in the White Paper. It states that the practical difficulties are too great, although it does not say what they are, and that most other denominations and faiths have no hierarchy. I have heard the Catholic Church accused of many things in my life, but that has never been selected as a cardinal fault.
I wish to say a few words about the position of the Catholic bishops, as far as the circumstances allow. The Catholic bishops do not seek membership of this House. Indeed, although some are not unfavourably disposed to the matter some are strongly opposed to it. The memorandum to the Royal Commission, which 606 was placed before the commission and signed by Cardinal Hume on behalf of the bishops in 1999, contained what amounted to the provisional acceptance of an invitation to become Members of this House. There are difficulties in that regard. There is a canon law that prohibits clerics from taking part in politics. I do not know how that leaves the position of the Sovereign Pontiff and the Holy See, because he is an independent sovereign in his own right. However, those are the inconsistencies of history. Good theology is no guarantee of good government—otherwise, Catholics would be placed in a nice dilemma by the history of the Papal States.
There are two further questions that need to be addressed. First, if Catholic bishops came to this House, what would be their status? Would they be spiritual Peers or Cross-Bench Peers? We need guidance from the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House on that important and serious question.
§ Lord St John of Fawsley
Well, my Lords, that should not be beyond the capabilities of the noble and learned Lord, who is good at everything else; I do not see why he should not be good in this regard, as well.
Secondly, how many bishops would there be? That raises an important issue. It is clear that the present Cardinal, for example, would not be content with token representation, which would give us the worst of all worlds. There is studied vagueness in this part of the report, and I therefore make a constructive and positive suggestion; namely, that if Catholic bishops were invited to be Members of this House, there should be a definite number of them—perhaps the five Archbishops in England. That should be part of an invitation that I am sure would be seriously and gratefully considered by the bishops.
I end with a quotation from the document that was signed by Cardinal Hume and sent to the Royal Commission. It states:It is no part of the bishop's job to seek power. Indeed the Gospel we serve is often set against 'the powers which rule this world'. But at the same time, there cannot be no-go areas for the Church. Our duty is to serve the Gospel, to give voice to the fundamental spiritual and moral truths about humanity, and to speak for those who have no power, no voice or who are dispossessed. If an invitation were extended to us which would enable us to do this more effectively, without in any way compromising either our role as bishops or the Law of the Church, or the presence, by election or appointment, of other Catholics in the Second Chamber, our view is that we should accept it".
§ 6.13 p.m.
§ Lady Saltoun of Abernethy
My Lords, before going any further down the road to reform, the Government need to answer honestly the question, "Do you want a second Chamber?". The answers to that question, as provided in the White Paper, are less than honest. Yes, the Government want a second Chamber, but why? The second Chamber that is envisaged by the Government in the White Paper will provide no check on anything that another place wants to do, because it will be so composed that it will be virtually impossible 607 to defeat a government in a Division. It is not easy to do so now. By the time that the number of independent Members has been reduced to 120 and that of Government supporters has been beefed up to a similar proportion vis-à-vis the other parties, as obtains in the House of Commons, it will be as nearly impossible as makes no difference to ask another place to think again.
There is absolutely no point in having a second Chamber in which party strengths approximate to those in the House of Commons. It would be almost impossible to win a Division against the government of the day. One would merely have a rubber stamp for the House of Commons, which is, of course, what the present Government want and what the White Paper proposes.
I point out to the Government that in all likelihood they will probably not be in power for ever and that one day there will be a government of another complexion. In that situation, they might not like the arrangement so much. They are proposing single-chamber government that is thinly disguised as two-chamber government. It would be much more honest to abolish the House of Lords altogether. In that case, the whole country would know that we had single-chamber government. That is already the case in Scotland and Wales. The House of Commons would have to take responsibility for what it did, instead of being able to pretend that the House of Lords was partly or wholly responsible. It would he much cheaper, too.
The House of Commons would have to take over various committees and functions which are currently the responsibility of the House of Lords, in order to find appropriate time. The volume of legislation would have to be drastically reduced, which would be no bad thing. We should also probably have to have a written constitution.
If a second Chamber is retained, it should do all that it currently does and possibly a bit more. In that case, a House that was composed in the following way might be worth having. It would have 240 independent Members, who would be appointed by the appointments commission, and who would include representatives of various professions, religions, races and so on, and retired Law Lords. Those Members would be appointed for 15 years or, better still, for life by the appointments commission. I should retain the 26 Bishops and the working Law Lords. Again, 82 regional Members would be appointed for a term of 15 years by the appointments commission. Finally, there would be 240 party Members, divided between Labour, the Liberals and the Conservatives, in such proportions as the appointments commission, in its wisdom, deems expedient. The appointments would be nominated and made by the appointments commission and the term of office would be for 10 to 15 years. That would of course need adjusting should a fourth party of any significance emerge in the House of Commons. That would be the job of the appointments commission.
608 As the White Paper suggests, the appointments commission should be appointed by Her Majesty the Queen but perhaps on the advice of the Privy Council, leaders of the political parties in the House of Lords and the Convenor of the Cross Benches. That way, one might get a reasonably independently minded appointments commission.
If the committee on the working of the House decides, in its wisdom, that the House should keep office hours, Members will have to be paid a salary as well as expenses, because it would be very difficult for them to earn a living outside the House. Exceptions to that might include existing life Peers who wish to continue to be Members of the new House. They would not have an obligation to attend regularly and participate in committee work. Those considerations might possibly also apply to the Law Lords and Bishops, who would already be receiving salaries. Those who did not receive salaries would continue to receive expenses.
I am very glad that the present life Peers are to be granted a courtesy that was not granted to hereditary Peers when they were kicked out in 1999; namely, of remaining Members of the House for life with the ability to retire, should they wish to do so.
Unlike the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, my Convenor, I should like the reformed Chamber no longer to be called the "House of Lords" but the "Senate". Members of it should be "Muggins Mugwump, MS", unless they happen to be a Lord already, in which case they will be "Lord Mugwump, MS". That will finally separate the second Chamber from the peerage. In that case, no more peerages would need to be created at all.
All the present powers should remain, including that to reject secondary legislation, and the power to amend secondary legislation should be added. Most important of all the present powers of this House is the power to prevent any Parliament extending its life beyond five years.
My plea for double the proposed ration of independent Members is entirely my own and I do not in any way speak for the rest of my colleagues. However, it may be helpful and of interest to say something of the voting habits of the Cross-Benchers. The late Lord Halsbury, who was so much loved and respected on all sides of this House, made a study of them. He conclusion was that in general the Cross Benches divided approximately 50/50 for and against the Government. But when they voted on an issue about which there were strong views in the country, then the vast majority of them normally supported those views.
§ 6.21 p.m.
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
My Lords, where do I stand on this matter? The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor fairly asks that question. During the passage of the Bill on reform of the House, he asked, "Where do you stand?". First, I am wholly against any form of elected Chamber for the reasons given far better than I could give them by the noble Lords, Lord 609 Gordon of Strathblane and Lord Dahrendorf, and by my noble friend Lord St John of Fawsley. In a curious way I believe that I am perhaps with the Government on that point; but if I am, it is the point of departure because on the rest of the proposals, I stand against them.
I support the proposal for the retention of the 92 hereditaries, as advanced by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, and the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe. I have discussed this matter with the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, who I see is in his place but who is unable to be present for the debate tomorrow, and with whom I am in total agreement. I also support retention of an appointed hereditary element in some form. There is not time to deal with the machinery of such a proposal but at a later stage I may try to deal a little with the principle, which emanates from a paper written by the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill.
Lastly, I share the view of my noble friend Lord Strathclyde that one must have a form of consensus. I support his speech, in particular what he said in relation to secondary legislation. I believe that that was the view put forward by my noble friend, and it was assuredly the view expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, who made a wholly remarkable and magnificent speech, quite beyond the plain of politics—on a plain of responsible address to a parliamentary problem. I think that they are saying—and if I am right, this is my view—that you must have a form of consensus and get the parties together before you can start to formulate your own views on how to reform. Once one has heard what is put forward in that light on the assumption that a Joint Select Committee is created to advise, then, whatever one's own views, one will tend to compromise and accept what is put forward. That is our traditional approach. That, in a clumsy way, is where I stand. On the benign assumption that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor will understand that we cannot trim our pipes to the drum, I welcome the opportunity that he has given us for this debate.
The concern of this speech is with the hereditary element—now the 92, serving under Section 2 of the House of Lords Act. The entitlement of the Weatherill amendment is not the same as Section 2, which represents the Cranborne agreement to which the noble and learned Lord was a party. Again, that was not exactly represented in the Weatherill amendment. That is the concern. Albeit that some proposals, most of which do not require legislation, are acceptable; it is the pre-emptive threat to eliminate those 92 before enactment of the Government's declared constitutional agenda—to cast them out of the threshold—which is contrary to the Cranborne agreement to which the noble and learned Lord was a party. The Cross Benches were also a party to it. It is not in the interests of the House that they should be cast out. It is not in the interests of the people that they should be cast out. As the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, my noble friend Lord Peyton and other noble Lords pointed out, the 610 people no longer have ready access to having their views expressed in Parliament. In that context, this House has an important and truly representative capacity. I need not go into examples but some occurred before Christmas.
It is appreciated that, in the Government's scheme of things, unless the 92 are removed—I am not much good at the mathematics—the whole structure of the edifice on composition (paragraphs 35 to 64) would collapse as if a house of cards. I accept that and I say, "Well, so be it". In any event, as my noble friend Lord Hurd of Westwell said on the Statement on this matter, the parties in this House are deeply divided on the issue of composition. If so, let it be accepted. That would mean that there is no reason why the 92 should not remain. Why should that be? It was because of the Cranborne agreement—the agreement brokered by my noble friend Lord Cranborne, whose absence is our deprivation. It was the result of an initiative of four Cross-Benchers—the noble Lords, Lord Weatherill and Lord Marsh, the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, and Lord Carnarvon. They went to see the noble Baroness, Lady Jay. The idea was that perhaps something like what eventually became the Cranborne agreement would emerge. They then went to see my noble friend Lord Cranborne.
Later my noble friend took over the management and control of the matter and brokered the agreement. It had the support of the Government and the Opposition, and was ratified by the House. But it was tainted with hybridity and could only be implemented under Section 2 after about 14 drafts of Standing Orders.
I have gone into the matter in a little detail to point to the essence of this argument on the Floor of the House which is dependent on what was agreed between the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor and my noble friend Lord Cranborne, and what was said in the House. That agreement would be broken if the 92 were eliminated before their time has ended under the agreement. Why is that so? It is because the essence of that agreement is that they should remain until the enactment of a Bill which implements the Government's then declared constitutional agenda. That provision would be implemented in the light of the recommendations of a Joint Select Committee of both Houses to be set up for that purpose.
At that time, the constitutional agenda, as understood by your Lordships' House, both before and after the passage of the Bill, was that there would be substantive comprehensive reform to modernise the powers, functions and composition of the House in conjunction with those of another place. That point was another taken up by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, and the noble Lord, Lord Gordon of Strathblane. These reforms should be produced in the light of the recommendations of the Joint Select Committee.
It is absolutely plain that the proposals for reform in the White Paper do not reflect that declared constitutional agenda, as was recognised, albeit in 611 another context, by the timid tinkering article in the Independent of 8th November. That Joint Select Committee has never been set up.
Under the Weatherill amendment, which has worked well—and there is no reason to suppose that it will not continue to do so—the 92 are entitled to remain. Their removal would substantially impair the working of the House. The volte-face on the setting up of the Joint Select Committee was referred to in a speech by the noble Lord, Lord Ampthill, to which my noble friend Lord Denham has referred; and no more need be said about it, except that the Government would be reneging on the Cranborne agreement if they removed the hereditaries on the proposals in this Bill which do not in any way reflect the declared constitutional agenda.
Perhaps I may end by saying this. I have referred to the thoughts of the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill. In the House Magazine on 11th November 1999, the noble Lord expressed the devout wish that, to preserve continuity, if the Cranborne agreement worked well—we know that it has worked well—it could be left alone to retain in this House a number of very able hereditary Peers to serve the nation and, in particular, as the noble Lord put it, to serve on the Select Committees. That matter has never yet been debated, but it would lie within the remit of a Joint Committee of both Houses if one were set up.
That is the case for the retention of a hereditary element in this House, and, at all events, for the retention of the 92 under the Cranborne agreement.
§ 6.37 p.m.
§ Lord Neill of Bladen
My Lords, the debate has been going on for some three and-a-half hours. I feel that I am beginning to draw on your Lordships' powers of concentration, well-known stamina and good will. I am only number 17 out of a team of 82. However, I hope that I shall have your Lordships' indulgence of good will if I try, for my part, to be as brief as possible.
I want to focus on the elected element. I agree to a large extent with the contributions of the noble Lords, Lord Gordon of Strathblane and Lord Dahrendorf. I begin with the qualities of the House which are widely admired outside. Perhaps I can say that as a recent entrant. If one talks to people about the House of Lords, the qualities they mention are independence, the experience that is brought to bear on the topics under discussion and the sheer quality of performance. I refer also to a matter that has not been mentioned today— the scrutiny of European legislation. That is done to a level through this House and its committees that has no match anywhere within the Union.
With regard to domestic legislation, we saw with the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Bill a very high standard of performance by this House. It may not have been agreeable to everyone, but the quality and intensity of the debate was of a high level. There are 612 also expert debates on specialised topics. For example, yesterday there was a debate about the European Court of Auditors. All participants in that debate were people with specialised knowledge who knew exactly what they were talking about. It was a standard of debate which this House produces consistently and which is not matched.
Perhaps I may say something about the overall reputation of the House. I say it on the basis of the work of the committee of which I had the honour to be chairman, the Committee on Standards in Public Life. When I was not chairman it held an inquiry into, among other issues, the standards in the House of Commons and the problems in the House of Commons. Much adverse evidence came from the public in relation to the House of Commons. When I was chairman we carried out investigations into the House of Lords and the reaction was completely different. There was not one word of criticism of the way in which this House functions. It is held in the highest repute. So when I hear the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, talking about the low standing of politicians, I believe—I may be wrong—that we are talking about a problem at the other end of the Corridor. I do not think that that opinion is held of the Members of this House.
One day, we may have a debate on what are the underlying problems with the public perception of politicians. That is a fascinating topic. On my shortlist, I would include the perceived lack of candour on the part of Ministers and other politicians, failure to admit error, the response made to a good point when in a corner of saying what someone did when they were last in power, sharp practice, such as publishing had news on the day after Parliament goes into recess, and of course, more recently, the phenomenon of spin. We could have an interesting discussion about why that situation has come about.
Curiously enough, the remedy of the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, for all that is to fill the House almost entirely with party politicians—virtually 100 per cent. I detect not a consensus but a large measure of agreement in the House that it would be a recipe for disaster to have a high proportion of elected Members. We would inevitably create a conflict between two sovereign bodies, each claiming legitimacy. Amusing points were made earlier about how those most recently elected would claim to be more legitimate than the last lot.
I am not in favour of having any elected Members of the House. We used to hear a good deal about the word "legitimacy" earlier in talk about reform of the House of Lords. I must say that it is a most unfortunate word to have entered currency. Legal legitimacy is one thing: the hereditary Peers were as legally legitimate as anything in sight. Moral legitimacy is different, and is being chipped away in the White Paper. Paragraph 37 states:It is sometimes argued that only direct election can provide legitimacy for the second chamber. This was not an argument accepted by the Commission or by the Government".613 Paragraph 38 states:Its role"—that is, the House of Lords,is one of a subordinate revising and deliberative Chamber, for which direct election has a role to play but is neither a necessary nor a sufficient basis for its membership".It follows that any argument that we must have an elected element to confer legitimacy on the House has disappeared. The Lord Chancellor himself said today that election is not the only route to legitimacy.
So I hope that legitimacy will disappear from the argument. We are constructing something on paper that will have to work in practice. We are trying to get the best thing that we can, and it does not help to say that this, that or the other part of the legislature is legitimate.
§ Earl Russell
My Lords, the noble Lord is making a powerful case, but will he concede that in this case we are concerned with legitimacy only in one quarter—in the eyes of another place? Its Members are unlikely to deny that election confers legitimacy.
§ Lord Neill of Bladen
My Lords, with respect to the noble Earl, we have earlier heard opinion polls cited. The noble Lord, Lord Richard, cited them as something to which we should have regard and which should influence our conduct. The argument seems to be that opinion polls show that by a margin of about 85 per cent the man in the street would like a greater input into this House. So we must consider legitimacy more widely than simply in the eyes of Members of another place.
The real question is: will the 120 elected Members of this House improve its quality? Or will they be a mere cosmetic device or tokenism? We all have our views on that. My view is that they will diminish the quality, the independence and the perceived independence of the House. More particularly, they will introduce an alien element, as there will be 120 people with some sort of link outside to an electorate—an umbilical cord, as it were. We have heard words such as "answerability", "accountability" and so on. It will introduce a different element to the House if 120 people are here on such a ticket and the rest of the House is not. That is not a recipe for success.
Let me move to practicalities, which have not yet been mentioned today. How would elections work? How would they take place? The so-called option B—which the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, will recognise—is to hold elections to the House of Lords at the same time as elections to the European Parliament. I remind the House that there was a 24 per cent turnout at the last election to the European Parliament. That was the lowest in Europe and the lowest ever in any member state since elections began—if anyone wants to challenge that, the Library has given me the figures. It would be a disaster to think of linking those elections.
614 Suppose the election is on the same day as the general election. The noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, said that we deceive the people by a semblance of democracy. I shall refer to an article by the noble Lord, Lord Hurd of Westwell, in today's Financial Times. That is not unfair, because the noble Lord is to speak later and can demolish what I am about to say. His article states:If elected members are to be convincing and effective, they need to be different in character from the members of the Commons. They should be free as far as possible from subservience to party whips and from the temptation to regard the second chamber as a stepping-stone to the Commons".Imagine the scene at a polling booth with a philosopher-king, or the noble Lord, Lord Hurd himself, standing there when a voter comes along and asks: "What am I doing today?". The answer will be: "It's the usual thing: you are electing MPs, but I must tell you that there is something extra. You are electing to the House of Lords". "Are they the same sort of thing? Are they MPs but sitting in the House of Lords?" "Well, not quite. I think I ought to tell you that they are meant to be different in character from Members of Parliament." "But how?" "Well, they are meant to be free as far as possible from subservience to the party Whips." "Does that mean to say that they do not have to take the party line on any particular issue?" "Yes, it does." "I am not sure I want to vote for those sort of people. Anyway, can I choose the order, because I recognise one name on the list at number 10?" "No, you cannot choose that. There is a list set by the party machine; you cannot make a choice." "Well, thank you very much."
As far as I am concerned, that is not a splendid exercise in democracy. If we analyse what is involved, it is not much of a recipe for the public—if they had it explained to them; I am sure that the pollsters did not give them my little spiel.
I shall quickly make two more points. This House ought not to lose its power to strike down subordinate legislation. It does so rarely, but I recall an example that struck me as especially impressive, which concerned the election of the Mayor of London. The issue was whether the argumentative prospectus issued by each candidate should be paid for and arranged by the state.
The Government said no, because it was not like a parliamentary election. It was then pointed out that the constituency was far bigger than that in a parliamentary election—between about 8 and 10 million. In the end, the House of Lords simply voted down an Order in Council that provided for the election and the Government had to give way. Eventually, a useful little booklet came round—all of us in London received it—containing addresses from 10 candidates. That is a splendid example.
There is a curiosity concerning retired Law Lords. An earlier document—the other White Paper—states:The retired Law Lords play a particularly distinguished role in the examination of legislation, especially that with a highly technical or legal content. Most significant is their contribution to debates on the administration of justice, penal policy and civil liberties, when law and politics intersect".615 Paragraph 82 of Completing the Reform states:The Government proposes that once the reform is implemented, all those appointed as judicial members shall continue to be members of the Lords until age 75, whether or not they sit judicially. This retirement provision will replace the term appointments of the other appointed members.So, the retired Law Lords, who, according to the first part of the document, were doing such a splendid job on various issues will be handed their retirement ticket at age 75. That should be reconsidered. I do not wish to embarrass anyone, but I was thinking particularly of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman, who has made the most marvellous speeches demolishing exercises in parliamentary draftsmanship and showing how such things should be done. I shall not embarrass other Law Lords by referring to them—at least one of them is present—but they have also made major contributions in their retirement. That is why it is a foolish recommendation.
§ 6.51 p.m.
§ Lord Saatchi
My Lords, I hope that the Leader of the House, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, will not think me too sad a figure when I tell him how many hours of my Christmas holiday were spent poring over his previous statements on the reform of your Lordships' House. In fact, those statements form much of the text of my speech. I hope that the noble and learned Lord will take it as it is intended, as a mark of respect for what he says and how he says it.
In a recent personal interview, the noble and learned Lord said:You are put in this life to question, aren't you? You have to wonder why things should remain the same. Often, there's no reason why they should.So it was that, in the name of "modernisation"—the word was used 11 times in the original White Paper—the Government embarked on the proposed changes to this House. Accordingly, during the passage of the House of Lords Act 1999, the then Attorney-General said that the result would be a modern House of Lords, which was,better equipped to do its proper job of holding the executive to account.When it comes to the powers and functions of the new House of Lords, the Government's Cromwellian fervour for change appears to have come to a sudden halt. Gone is the language of modernisation and change. Instead, as my noble friend Lord Peyton of Yeovil said, a new word emerged: "pre-eminence". That word is used 12 times in today's White Paper. There is also a new gospel—the primacy of the House of Commons—and a new fundamental principle, which is thatReform should not undermine the position of the House of Commons".Why might that happen? The noble and learned Lord explains:Reform of your Lordships' House must satisfy one key condition".What might that be? The noble and learned Lord continues: 616It must not alter the respective roles and authority of the two Chambers".He goes on:The House of Lords should remain subject to the pre-eminence of the House of Commons in discharging its functions".I stress the words "should remain". The noble and learned Lord continues:The primary legislative powers of the House, as circumscribed by the Parliament Acts"—I stress these words—should remain unchanged".What happened to modernisation? Well, on 18th December, the noble and learned Lord explained that,the House of Commons is to be supreme … it must have its own way … No changes"—I repeat—no changes … will be proposed".—[Official Report. 18/12/01; col. 130.]What happened to that reforming zeal?
The Government's response to the apparently simple notion that changes in functions and powers might go along with changes in composition is blank. Nothing has changed and therefore there is no need for any change. In response to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, the Leader of the House said:Essentially nothing has changed that requires any modification of the Parliament Acts".—[Official Report. 24./1/01; col. 299.]The Government have cut your Lordships' House in half, in the most dramatic change in its 600-year history. There will now be elected Members coming into your Lordships' House, all in the name of legitimacy, authority and democracy, but still the Government say that nothing has changed.
Is it too much to suggest that we are witnessing one of the most blatant pieces of political manipulation that this venerable House can ever have seen? The Government already control another place, in which they have never lost a vote. They will continue to control appointments to your Lordships' House and will gain dramatically from the replacement of 92 hereditary Members with 120 elected Members. With the Government's current poll rating, they will go from having two Members in that 92 to having 60 out of the 120, leaving the rest of us to scrabble around for the leftovers.
Several noble Lords have recently expressed the view that something has changed and that that should be reflected in the relationship between the two Houses. For example, the noble Lord, Lord Desai, said:The balance of power has now been disturbed … The danger of the excessive power of the executive is today the major problem of the British constitution.The noble Lord, Lord Barnett, agreed:Lord Hailsham described the elective dictatorship. We have that now in another place.617 The noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, the former leader of the Liberal Democrats, said that the Government's motive looked like,fear of competition from this House.He also said:As this House becomes more legitimate, it should more often be heeded and more often trusted.The response of the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House was given in an uncharacteristically crisp reply at the end of the debate on the Parliament Acts (Amendment) Bill which was brought forward by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson of Lymington, early last year. At one point, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, asked my noble friend Lord Kingsland whether he was,questioning the supremacy of the Commons".—[Official Report, 19/1/01; col. 1329.]As a former Attorney-General, the Leader of the House will have thought carefully and with great precision about the choice of the word "supremacy". It is different from the word "primacy". I looked it up. "Supremacy" has many benign meanings that all of us would accept as descriptions of the position of the House of Commons in relation to this House, including the following: above, greater, top spot, first place, senior, top dog, top banana, have the last word, outrank, number one. As the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, said, all of us accept that. However, the thesaurus gives another set of meanings for "supremacy", and here they are: omnipotent, almighty, all-powerful, absolute, unlimited, high handed, domineering, dictatorial, overbearing, heavy handed, big stick, under one's thumb, browbeat, order around, kick around, ride roughshod over.
The debate is about how Parliament will scrutinise the executive. Should not Parliament decide how it will do that, rather than having the decision made by the executive by what my noble friend Lord Strathclyde called unilateral imposition? That is what my noble friend and the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, were driving at when they asked for a Joint Committee to examine the proposition.
The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor said of the House of Commons that its pre-eminence—there is that word again—was protected by the Parliament Act 1911. However, the case for revisiting—if only modestly—that iconic Act has been made by two of the most distinguished Members of the House, the noble and learned Lords, Lord Simon of Glaisdale and Lord Donaldson of Lymington. They reminded us that examination of the preamble to the 1911 Act showed that it was intended only as an interim step. If it does not bore your Lordships, I shall tell you what it says:;'And whereas it is intended to substitute for the House of Lords as it as present exists a Second Chamber constituted on a popular instead of hereditary basis, but such substitution cannot be immediately brought into operation … it is expedient to make such provision as in this Act appears for restricting the existing powers of the House of Lords".618 The noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson of Lymington, showed how such recitals made the Parliament Act,an interim measure … pending a constitutional change".He said that the 1911 Act contained,the agreed terms of an armistice".—[Official Report, 19/1/01; col. 1311–12.]The second relevant aspect of the history of the Parliament Act 1911 was the motivation behind it. The record seems to show that its raison d'être was the hereditary nature of the composition of the upper House. Commending the Parliament Bill to the House of Commons on its Second Reading, the Liberal Prime Minister, Mr Asquith, said of the hereditary principle:Let it not be our master. So say we. It is because it has been our master … because it enslaves and fetters the free action of this House, that we have put these proposals before the House and we mean to carry them into law".Winston Churchill, campaigning for the Parliament Bill around the country, asked:Why should their children govern our children? Why should the sons and the grandsons and the great grandsons have legislative functions?".He hoped that the Bill would be,fatal to the hereditary House of Lords".The hereditary House of Lords has gone. Elected members are about to appear. Yet still the Government insist that everything should remain the same in the relationship between the Houses. The Government have judged the reform to the inch; just enough elected Members to ensure that they never lose another vote in your Lordships' House but not enough elected Members to threaten their pre-eminence in the House of Commons.
In the name of modernisation, the Prime Minister used his superior power in another place to remove what he saw as an in-built majority for his opponents in your Lordships' House. In the name of democracy, he achieved parity between the Government and Opposition Benches in your Lordships' House. But, as they say, power corrupts and so now it appears that he wants even more power. He has enough power; he should stop and if he will not, we shall stop him.
§ 7.2 p.m.
§ Lord Ampthill
My Lords, I am about to displease a large proportion of the 18 speakers who have already addressed the House and, especially, I am about to displease the Government.
Ninety years have elapsed since the country was told that your Lordships' House needed to be reformed. A great amount of thought and much debate has ensued and only in 1968 did a government get near a solution. One of the greatest difficulties to progress was that the arrangements which prevailed until 1999, and not very differently since, had worked surprisingly well, although governments of both parties were occasionally much irritated by the House upsetting their plans.
Although this Government deserve credit for grasping the nettle—indeed, we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, that he and the great and good 619 Willie Whitelaw had discussed the matter many times and had stumbled at the task which the Government are now grasping—they deserve little credit for the manner in which they have and are proceeding. Consensus could have been reached whereby the majority of hereditary Peers who never played a part in our work could have been induced to retire by existing mechanisms, thus clearing the way for the reform to be done in one stage. Now we are compelled to go into battle against a Prime Minister who writes in his foreword to the White Paper:The imperative is for a reformed second chamber performing broadly the same functions as in the existing House of Lords, but in a more effective manner".That caused a great many of your Lordships to be displeased.
Our Annual Report and Accounts show that we are sitting longer in both number of days and hours than ever before. The state of the Bills brought to us has been so bad since the Government came into office that no fewer than 4,761 amendments needed to be made last year, surpassing the previous record number and being two and a half times the number of any previous government. I wonder whether the right honourable gentleman might ponder whether his Ministers could be induced to present their Bills to Parliament in better shape than that which prevails.
I am not alone in my disappointment with the White Paper. On the day following its publication, it received an unprecedentedly had press. Perhaps I may quote brief extracts from the five daily broadsheets of Thursday 8th November 2001. The Financial Times stated:The House of Lords deserves better than these intellectually thin and politically squalid proposals".The Independent stated:Tony Blair and his ministers give the impression that, having set out with grandiloquent plans to modernise Britain, they have grown bored by the intricacies of our constitution. But this faltering approach, combined with a terrible lack of vision, is not good enough; their half-hearted tinkering is a betrayal of the body politic".The Guardian, no less, stated:Two years ago, we called that report [the Royal Commission's] a dog's dinner. By that token, yesterday's white paper was a regurgitated one".The Times stated:The charitable explanation for the White Paper on the future of the House of Lords presented yesterday is that Lord Irvine of Lairg possesses an unappreciated sense of humour. The more cynical, and alas more accurate, interpretation is that the Government has come to like the 'interim' Upper House which exists at the moment and has therefore proposed an alternative which is so shameless that it has not the slightest chance of being accepted and enacted".The Daily Telegraph stated:Mr Blair has already appointed nearly 250 peers, which is thought to be the fastest rate of patronage ever. It equates to half of all Labour peers and a third of the entire membership of the Lords. Political patronage is not of itself a bad thing, but it needs to be kept within bounds. Yesterday's proposals were presented as an offer, by the Prime Minister, to reduce his powers of patronage. In fact, they will do very little to restrict political appointment to the Lords, and greatly enhance control over MLs once they are appointed. Overall, that must surely amount to an extension of the 620 power of patronage, not a reduction. In that respect, they went even further than the Wakeham report on which they are based. But then Labour's intention yesterday could hardly have been clearer; it was not to improve, or even really to reform, the Upper House but to enfeeble it".In this age of the bonus ball, perhaps I may be allowed a final one bowled in his Monday column a few days later by the noble Lord, Lord Rees-Mogg. He stated:This proposal has no coherent reason, no pragmatic merit, and almost everyone dislikes it".I share the abhorrence expressed throughout all the articles from which I have quoted, but it is time to try to be constructive. My proposals will inevitably be received with derision, but that I will risk.
I suggest that the House be called the Senate. I am sure that those who become members would prefer to be senators than the insignificant ML. Half of the new House (51 per cent might sound better) would be elected and the constituencies would be the counties and unitary authorities. Each county would have the same number of senators with the exception of those in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland which should, as they have their own parliaments or assemblies, be entitled to only half the number of the English counties. There would of course be howls of protest from Yorkshire getting the same number as Rutland, but in the United States California has got over its fury at Rhode Island or Delaware, though I agree that the constitutional differences between ourselves and the United States prevent direct comparisons.
Three hundred elected senators would leave the same number for party life Peers and Cross-Benchers in the proportion of 30 per cent party life Peers and 20 per cent Cross-Benchers who would survive as senators. This sadly would require the cull of both groups, and the parties and Cross Benchers could decide who stayed or went, as in 1999. I would hope that those eliminated could be found from those who never or rarely turned up. They would of course retain their peerages. The cull would be conducted after the first election by the counties, so the balance which the Government sought could be achieved.
That brief outline of what is in my mind will probably have irritated a large number of your Lordships. However, I very much hope that noble Lords who are still to speak will take the opportunity to give the House the benefit of their own thoughts on the way forward. Whatever they propose is bound to be more acceptable than the White Paper.
§ 7.10 p.m.
§ Lord Hurd of Westwell
My Lords, I do not think that anyone could conceivably have been irritated by the speech to which we have just listened. On the contrary, we are more likely to find it ingenious and well worth further study.
We find ourselves on a half-way island in the middle of the river. The Government have brought us to it with some difficulty. They are now pointing us to the further shore, which is labelled complete reform and they are indicating in the White Paper a vessel on which we might voyage to that further shore. The 621 noble Lord the Lord Chancellor claimed again today that the vessel is based on a design by the Royal Commission, but I agree with my noble friend Lord Wakeham that the vessel would be rather more seaworthy if that claim were true.
I thoroughly enjoyed serving on the Royal Commission, not least because of the skill with which it was led by my noble friend, but also because we did the rounds of the country. We read a great deal of paper, received a great many letters and conducted a series of small debates throughout the country. I formed a clear view, which I have not changed, about what people in this country really want in a second Chamber. They are clear about wanting an elected Chamber, provided that there are no wretched politicians in it. That is not a realistic vision, but we must take careful account of both its elements.
In the work that my party did under the chairmanship of my noble friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern on the Royal Commission, I always argued for a substantial minority of a directly elected element in this House. I shall not go into all the reasons for that, but I believe that it would be strengthening, which is needed. We have our occasional triumphs. The Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001, which has been referred to several times today, was a triumph of our system working, but that does not entitle us to be satisfied day in and day out by our effectiveness. We deceive ourselves if we are so satisfied. We should always be trying to find ways of strengthening the system and I believe that an elected minority would do that.
However, it would have to be different. The article in the Financial Times today, to which the noble Lord, Lord Neill of Bladen, was kind enough to refer, was not so much a defence of the elected principle but a warning to the Government that they were mucking it up. The Royal Commission suggested three specific safeguards against the danger that elected Members of this House would be clones or poor shadows of Members of the House of Commons. Most of us favoured the open list. We couched it in Royal Commission language, but it is plainly there for anyone who cares to read it. Most of us did not believe that the closed-list system was acceptable. We favoured a long period—around 15 years—so that those elected were not constantly consulting the Whips or worrying about the state of opinion in their constituencies. We favoured effective discouragement of any attempt to use elected membership of this House as a springboard for membership of the House of Commons.
Those three substantial safeguards were neglected—indeed, discarded—by the Government. I hope that they will reconsider those safeguards because without them the case for elected membership is greatly weakened. Many of your Lordships are worried about a hybrid House. That issue has surfaced at least twice in this debate. We are worried about the impact on all our relationships and ways of doing things by the arrival of even a minority of elected Members. The case for that would be stronger if we were 622 homogeneous now, but we are a very mixed lot. We come through all kinds of channels; for example, through distinguished legal careers, from positions of senior bishops of the established Church, as life Peers or as hereditary Peers, fortified—if that is the right word—by a process of election. Each of us brings a particular kind of authority which is useful to the House. Each of us has continuing connections of different kinds with the outside world, and thank heaven for that.
I have been struck by the number of formidable Members of this House. They are people whom I have learned to respect for the force, vigour and effectiveness of their utterances. They tend to cluster behind these Benches and are the ones who are the most convinced that they will be bullied and swamped by the arrival of even a single elected Member. These particularly powerful Members of our House seem to be the ones who are most fearful of this development, although I do not share those fears.
Those who believe, as I do, that there should be a majority of nominated Members of the House realise that we are up against it in terms of the argument. I am not talking about the argument in this House. Anyone listening to this debate, discussing the matter in the Tea Room or reading Hansard will know that there is a strong majority in the House against election and overwhelmingly in favour of nomination. But we are up against it. That is true of the political parties. I look forward with excitement to the announcement that my noble friend Lord Strathclyde said would be made in the next few days about my party's policy. I study the opinions and research; I occasionally read the newspapers, although that is not a popular thing to do in this House; and I listen to what is happening down the road. We are up against it and must search for reasons that are valid outside this Chamber for supporting a high degree of nomination.
My noble friend Lord Renton put his finger on the right argument when he spoke of experience of life outside politics. He recalled a time when both Houses of Parliament had a substantial asset in the form of many Members who spoke out of continuing experience of practical life outside the world of politics. My noble friend Lord St John of Fawsley referred to his mother, so I shall refer briefly to my father. He served as a Member of Parliament for 19 years, but throughout that time he was a farmer first and a politician second. He spoke about agriculture, but listened on every other subject. By contrast, a few weeks ago the leader of my party appointed Mr Clifton-Brown, the Member of Parliament for Cotswold, to be a junior shadow spokesman on agriculture. That was not a sensational development, except for Mr Clifton-Brown. However, there were immediate grumbles, mutterings, long letters and consultations, resulting in the Member of the other place stepping down. He had to withdraw from his promotion. Why? What was his offence? What sleaze or potential scandal was involved? The reason was that he was, and had always declared himself openly to be, 623 a practising farmer. His offence was that he knew in the real world about the subject on which lie was asked to speak.
I might not have related that absurd story had it not been that we have the benefit in this House of the noble Lord, Lord Neill of Bladen, who now presides over the Commission on Standards on Public Life. He did not invent the muddle and cannot be blamed for it in any way, but I look forward to reading his article in the Financial Times or elsewhere, at a time of his choosing, about how he proposes to sort it out. We cannot do anything about that matter in this House, but it leaves a serious gap in the parliamentary system, as my noble friend pointed out. There is a lack of people who come with practical and up-to-date experience of the world outside politics.
Many of us have experience, but—I must put this very delicately, though it applies to myself as much as to others—our experience tends to ebb a little. Things change and we do not always perceive those changes. There is always a danger that we shall make speeches which are wholly accurate about a situation that we knew so well 15 or 20 years ago, but which may not be entirely apt now. That is why we placed much emphasis in the report on the proposal that there should be space in this House for part-time Members, who would have to he nominated. Such Members would not be here all the time. But, when they came, they would take part in our debates and contribute something out of their own up-to-date personal authority to the matters of importance to the nation being discussed. They would be able to speak and bring to our discussions their up-to-date authority on practical life.
In my view, that development is crucially important for the health of our Parliament. It is a great pity because, as with elections, so with nominations: there is a danger—and I use an un-parliamentary phrase—that the Government are "mucking it up". They are spoiling a good case on nomination by insisting on clawing back what we on the Royal Commission suggested that they should give up; namely, the power to nominate the Members of this House who belong to political parties. I hope that the Government will study carefully the very subtle points made by my noble friend Lord Wakeham on this point as regards the actual convenience for the party managers of having an appointments commission that has the final say in this respect. Unless they are willing to concede on that point, I believe that they will seriously weaken the uphill argument on the question of nomination.
Like my noble friend Lord Wakeham, the chairman of the Royal Commission, I believe that we would be unwise to set sail in this vessel in its present form to the further shore. The Government must set to and repair her substantially. Although I listened carefully, I did not detect very much indication from the speech of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor that he has his tools ready for that purpose. Either this will be a substantial repair job, or noble Lords will have to be ready to camp for some time on our halfway island in the middle of the river and try to make it as comfortable and as effective as possible.
§ 7.22 p.m.
§ Baroness Strange
My Lords, with 82 speakers—42 of whom will speak today—I shall, out of fairness to other noble Lords, especially those who have to change for official dinners, be even more subliminal than usual. But I should just like to put my toe into the water. With all the endless talk that there has been, and some unhappy actions, too, over the past few years about the reform of your Lordships' House, it seems to me that most people have been looking at the subject the wrong way round, like peering down a telescope the wrong way, or the Rock of Gibraltar, which is in fact upside down.
The noble Baroness, Lady Williams, got it right. If we are to preserve your Lordships' House—I very much hope that we shall—we must look very closely at what its functions are. As I see it, its functions are threefold, the first being to provide a very thorough screening process for legislation. I have before now described this function as being like a high-class sewage filter, filtering through untreated legislation from the other place, to make it workable in the country. This I believe to be its most important function; associated with it there is also the power of delay, of making the other place think again. Over the anti-terrorist Bill last year we had a very significant example of this. We all wanted an immediate antiterrorist Bill. We all supported the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, but we did not want it overloaded trailing strings of unattended consequences, which would only cause future difficulties. The other place did have a chance to think again, and, with great wisdom, took it.
The second function is the absolute power of causing any government, whatever, to hold a democratic election after five years. It is possible, as happened in the last election, for the same party to be returned with a greater majority. This is democracy in action, and how the people have chosen. It is very important that they should always keep that choice. Our third function is in our debates, and in the dissemination of wisdom. We are proud to have among your Lordships so many wise, experienced and knowledgeable people on so many subjects, to whom it is always a pleasure to listen.
We have been concentrating on how or why we are here, and not on what we are here for. Over the past few years your Lordships, who are all Peers, and, therefore, in your essence, all equals, have been treated like pigs in Animal Farm with some more equal than others. Some of us have been created Peers through our own past services to the country, through politics, or the services, through the law, or the medical profession, or the Civil Service; some of us have supported financially a political party; some of us have powerful friends; and some of us have ancestors who came into one or other of those categories, and inherited through them. But we are all here, for whatever reason, to contribute to the work and the glory of this House.
My youngest grandson, Tay, particularly likes the stars in the blue vaults at the top of the Peers' staircase. He always looks for them. It seems to me that your 625 Lordships are rather like the stars. Why or how they got out into space does not seem to me to matter, it is rather like worrying about infinity in the middle of the night. It is what stars do that matters. Stars are the navigation lights of the sailor on the dark seas, they are the goal of the Three Wise Men, they are the map by which migrating birds find their way home, and they give light in our darkness and hope to the hopeless. We all need the stars.
§ 7.27 p.m.
§ Lord Wallace of Saltaire
My Lords, it is very difficult to follow such a wonderfully elliptical speech. We have to start with the principles on which we should judge a reform. The first must be that the composition of the House, as the noble Baroness, Lady Strange, just said, must relate to its functions and powers and not be discussed separately. Secondly, the role of the second Chamber must clearly relate to that of the first Chamber, so we have to consider the reform of Parliament as a whole and not the two Houses separately. Thirdly—here I agree very strongly with what my noble friend Lady Williams, said in her opening speech—we must recognise the low esteem of Parliament at present and seek reform that will contribute to increasing the credibility and legitimacy of Parliament as a whole, and not simply attempt changes that will satisfy the current balance within both Chambers.
The fourth principle—namely, the supremacy of the House of Commons, to which so much importance is given in this White Paper—is, in part, a self-serving myth. I note that paragraph 13 of the document says:The United Kingdom is a Parliamentary democracy. Sovereignty rests with the Crown in Parliament".Paragraph 14 continues to say:In practice, the powers of the three parts are uneven".In reality, it is the power of the Crown rather than the efficiency of the legislature in checking the power of the Crown which is dominant. It is the executive which is supreme, using the authority of the Crown and exploiting our half-closed electoral system and the over-extensive patronage of government appointments to control the Commons. The underlying argument in this White Paper is to maintain the established imbalance between Crown and Parliament, not to address the question of how we might have a more democratic and modern form of government. "Modernisation" used to be a term much used when this Government came into power, but they seem now to have forgotten about it.
Fifthly, Members of the other place should, therefore, approach the topic of House of Lords reform with a degree of humility. The aggressively partisan style of the elected Chamber is largely responsible for the decline in public respect for Parliament. It offers a two-party battle between an all-powerful government and a highly privileged and entrenched Official Opposition in which MPs of the governing party see their role as unconditionally supporting the Government's control of the agenda 626 and the outcome, and resisting all reasoned criticism from the Opposition. That no longer corresponds to the diversity of opinions held in this country or to the real needs of modern government.
Sixthly, I suggest that in any reform of Parliament, the aim should be to move the style of debate and scrutiny towards the spirit of compromise, sometimes exaggerated co-operation and attention to reasoned criticism which characterise this Chamber rather than towards the partisanship which disfigures the other place.
I should like to make one major point about why the two Chambers behave differently. This Chamber has an effective four-party system with no overall control. Therefore we are forced, eventually, to compromise with each other. That is part of the reason why we operate differently. By all those standards, the proposals before us are astonishingly timid and limited.
Perhaps I may say a little about the functions of a second Chamber because they form an important part of the debate. Shortly after I came to this place I was privileged to serve as the chairman of one of the subcommittees of the House of Lords Select Committee on the European Union. I found that to be a fascinating learning experience. What I discovered was the politics of influence rather than of power. The extent to which committees enable us to hold reasoned debate among ourselves, to interact with interested and informed lobbies outside and with those nongovernmental organisations which form the organised representatives of civil society, and so contribute in a pre-legislative role to informed discussion, education and debate, and in a post-legislative role to scrutiny, thus ensuring that Ministers can stand up to sustained questioning and that officials can manage to justify what they have done, is considerable. Most important, that is what politics needs to be about; it is not about power but it is certainly about real influence.
When discussing issues with officials and Ministers both outside the committee as well as inside the committee, I learnt a great deal about the necessity of maintaining that kind of dialogue. To that end, I should say that I was impressed by the officials and the Ministers with whom I dealt. We need to expand that dimension of the second Chamber. Perhaps less time should be spent on the Floor of the House and more off the Floor. Furthermore, I strongly agree with my noble friend Lady Williams when she referred to expanding the committee system to cope with the broader internationalisation of government as a whole. We do have quite effective scrutiny of the European Parliament in this House, but we do not look at treaties, we do not look at UN agencies and we do not consider the other international commitments which crowd in on the British and all other governments, however proudly they might wish to protect their sovereignty.
Again, much could be done that would not interfere with international organisations, but which could make a valuable contribution to the need to raise issues of public concern and, therefore, usefully to influence 627 public debate. All that might lead to a stronger second Chamber—and why not? Politics should comprise a dialogue and a constant search for acceptable compromise, a process of discovery and learning; it should not comprise the unalterable position of government proposals. That would make for a stronger Parliament as a whole.
Part of the mistaken emphasis of the White Paper is the notion of tensions between the House of Commons and the House of Lords rather than between the executive and the legislature. What we ought to seek is stronger legislative control of the executive, stronger scrutiny, accountability and debate, which in turn ought to put both Chambers of Parliament on the same side.
I turn now to the question of composition. First, election itself is not that much worse than appointment. As I look around the Benches, I see that a high proportion of the current Members of this Chamber have stood for election during their careers. I count myself among them, having stood five times. Perhaps I may humbly suggest that that in itself is an argument against those who say that if there were to be a substantial proportion of elected Members, no one of substance would stand. If one holds to that opinion, then that would cut out a large proportion of the House as people of no substance.
The second argument I have heard muttered is that if we put in place a regional basis for election, it would lead to an incursion of superannuated county councillors. One of the first lessons I learnt on joining this Chamber was that among the most valuable and hardworking Members of the House were a collection of people from all three of the parties represented here of precisely that background—superannuated county councillors. They are immensely valuable, they are conscientious and they bring to the House their experience and knowledge of issues such as education, transport, policing, social services and planning. Furthermore, as a Labour Member of the House remarked to me earlier today outside the Chamber, they bring to this place the valuable experience of having had to co-operate with other parties in situations where councils do not have overall control. They can appreciate a rather different style of politics from that which is the norm in the other place.
A great deal depends on the electoral system chosen. Our current electoral system is a prime source of popular disillusionment with politics. For the majority of seats in the House of Commons, before the election is even held one knows who is going to be elected. As I went around the country helping my own party during the last general election, what most struck me was that the campaign was being fought in fewer than 200 seats. In one constituency, all three parties put up posters all over the place and canvassed widely, while in another constituency one would not have known that a general election had been called. That is part of the reason why the turn-out in so many seats went down.
If we are to choose an electoral system for this Chamber, then closed lists surely provide the worst alternative, given that the aim is to promote a degree 628 of independence and diversity. We should all make it clear to the Government that if they stick to that aspect of their proposals, they will deserve to fail. One might consider, for example, the Irish electoral system, which promotes looser parties and even allows for a number of mavericks to come in. Earlier it was suggested that no independent would ever get elected, but I recall that we have just seen an election which brought forward an independent Mayor of London and in which the major party nominees did not succeed. A number of Green representatives have been elected to the Greater London Authority, even under a closed list system. That is highly desirable since it recognises the diversity of popular opinion. Representation by the more minor parties, even single-issue parties, in this Chamber might actually help a greater proportion of the people in this country to feel that they are being more widely represented. The Dutch, the Danes, the Swedes and the Norwegians cope relatively well with parliaments containing representatives from six to eight parties. That reflects a civilised form of government which we should not necessarily reject.
The noble Lord, Lord Gordon of Strathblane, suggested that constituency responsibilities of any kind would detract from this House. I venture to suggest that those of us who have sonic regional base in politics and try to maintain it do in fact contribute to the value of the House. After having taken part nine months ago in a debate on the chaos at Leeds station, yesterday morning I gave a fourth interview to Radio Leeds. That demonstrates how one's activities in this House feed back into local politics. Regional ties provide a valuable element of diversity to bring to the House.
Of course we shall need to have sufficiently long terms for elected Members, nine years or perhaps even 15 years, to ensure that there would be a degree of distance from the electorate. Perhaps, along the lines of the US Senate and others, we should have a minimum age for candidates in order to guard against the House being used as a stepping stone to the Commons. At this point perhaps I may also mention one of the taboos of the debate; at some stage we might wish to suggest a maximum age limit, or term limits even for appointees.
I would also suggest that a mixed Chamber of appointees and elected Members is quite thinkable because, as the noble Lord, Lord Hurd of Westwell, pointed out, we have been mixed for a long time. The idea that a "hyphenated hybrid" would be new and unworkable, as suggested by the noble Lord, Lord St John of Fawsley, is nonsense. I recall a Conservative colleague telling me that during the debate on the first stage of reform of the House, Conservative hereditary Peers used to refer to Conservative appointees as "day boys"—with all the patronage that anyone who has attended a public school will know that term implies. That is a two-class system for you.
We also have Members who were former Members of Parliament and there are those of us who have not been MPs. Former MPs have some interesting privileges, in particular at the other end of the 629 corridor. We have party members and Cross-Benchers. We can manage a mixed House in a normal and practical way.
One of the most important issues, however—and again I agree strongly with the noble Lord, Lord Hurd—is whether we remain a part-time Chamber or become a full-time Chamber. Part-time status has strong advantages, but the current drift towards a full-time commitment is clear. If the suggestions that we read in the newspapers from the Leader of the House about morning Sessions and sitting in September are accurate, that would make this Chamber more of a full-time commitment. It would also require that it becomes a salaried Chamber. I would strongly resist becoming a full-time House. But we are drifting towards that and we should seek to reverse the trend.
I have taken up too much time, for which I apologise. Perhaps I may therefore summarise rapidly. We have a basis for consensus in what I would like to call the "Richard compromise"—that is, that we should move towards a House which would be, roughly, two-thirds elected and one-third non-elected. If we were to take 120 the first time, another 120 five years later and another 120 after that, we could think about a House of 540 members—180 nominated and 360 elected.
There must be consultation among the parties on this—and soon. We await the Government's proposal that they will be consulting with all other parties. The outcome of all this might be a stronger second Chamber, to which the Government and the other place would have to listen and as regards which they would have to recognise its influence and even, perhaps, share a little of their power. That would mark a constructive reform of Parliament and a great improvement in the style of British politics and government.
§ 7.41 p.m.
§ Lord Stewartby
My Lords, I start with an apology for not being here at the beginning of the debate. Having put my name down to speak tomorrow, I was somewhat taken aback to find my name down to speak at a relatively early hour today. I have therefore the disadvantage or advantage—whichever way one may care to look at it—of not having prepared as well-crafted a speech as that of the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, and many other noble Lords who have spoken today. However, it does give me the opportunity to make certain remarks based on personal impressions and in the light of what I have listened to today.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Strange, and many other noble Lords have pointed out, the starting point is the purpose of the House and its functions. We need to keep in mind that aspect when we look at the individual proposals in the White Paper.
More and more we need to perform within the constitution those parts of its role that another place has increasingly come to neglect. The noble Lord, Lord Ampthill, mentioned a point which is well known 630 to all of us—that is, that the condition of the legislation arriving in your Lordships' House is less and less satisfactory. Bills have been less carefully prepared, more amendments are necessary and. Therefore, more amendments have to be incorporated at a later stage during the passage of a Bill. Under those circumstances, the Bill as a whole cannot be seen in the round until a relatively late stage in the process. Your Lordships are frequently called upon to deal with major changes to legislation at a late stage. One wonders sometimes whether another place is trying to exercise any serious detailed scrutiny of much of the legislation coming through Parliament.
So we need to ask ourselves whether any proposals for change in the composition of your Lordships' House are likely to enable it to carry out its important roles more successfully than it does at present. If one looks at some of the main elements, it is not at all clear that these proposals are likely to lead to more effective scrutiny and deliberation than the present structure of the House.
Of course we need to ensure that the membership of this House includes those elements which are increasingly lacking in the membership of another place. In his article and in his speech today, my noble friend Lord Hurd referred to the Clifton-Brown affair. It seems to me to be the ultimate absurdity that you may speak with responsibility in Parliament on anything as long as you do not know anything about it. From observing the way in which much legislation is now processed, some noble Lords may have come to the conclusion that that is happening already.
When I was a Member of the other place in the 1980s, I had the responsibility in the Treasury for taking through the House a number of Bills on financial institutions—the banking Bill, trustee savings banks and building society legislation and so on. The only reason that I was asked to do that was because I had spent several years before arriving at Westminster as a banker and working for and among financial institutions. It is absolutely crazy that another place, which is increasingly short of people with practical experience of the world outside, should now be in a position where those who do know something from their own experience are, in effect, precluded from making the contribution that they are best qualified to make. It is such a nonsense. I hope that the remarks of my noble friend Lord Hurd and the publicity that he has given to this case will ensure that the matter is thoroughly reconsidered.
When one looks at the party element of the proposals for future membership of the House, one has to ask whether they are likely to increase party control in detail over the membership of the House which represents those parties. Because of the mathematical scheme embodied in these proposals and the closed list system proposed for elected Members, there is likely to be an even greater emphasis by the political parties on trying to ensure that those who come here will be regular attenders, very loyal, show the minimum amount of independence of mind, and, in their contributions, stick very closely to the collective position that their party represents.
631 That is all very well from one point of view—it deals with part of the democratic element—but it does not coincide with the way in which the House currently works and which has generally been found to be fairly satisfactory, if it changes the nature of the membership in relation to party affiliation, the way in which the commission process and the appointments system would work is likely to move us further away from the mix of contributions which we currently enjoy in your Lordships' House. Priorities of party are likely to become increasingly important and to impose on the system—I hope in only a small way—more of what has happened down the corridor, which is that fewer and fewer Members of another place have serious experience of the world outside or the opportunity for robust independence within the framework of their party commitments. That would be a great pity.
When one looks at the elected element, the debate about numbers, to which the noble Lord, Lord Richard, and others have referred, is a little metaphysical. The question is whether such an element is likely to change the way in which your Lordships' House works. If so, is it likely to be for the better? I have strong reservations about this, as have a number of other noble Lords who have spoken. It is crucial that the safeguards proposed by the Royal Commission are built into the system. The key point is whether or not those who might come here as elected Members would be open to re-election. That would change the conduct of any Member of this House.
I well remember when broadcasting was introduced into another place and when "Today in Parliament" began using live inserts from speeches. It changed the way in which Members of another place conducted themselves, and indeed what they said. I was becoming pretty cheesed off by my constituents saying that they never heard me on the programme, so I deliberately changed my way of doing things. I began to include in every speech two or three sentences with more colourful language and one or two racier ideas—and lo and behold, they were reported.
This is not a fanciful angle. I am sure that if Members of this House were subject to re-election, they would be hound by human nature to want to play to their constituency in order to be better known, in order to encourage support and to have a better chance of being re-elected. That is why the Royal Commission proposal for a long period of appointment, not followed by re-election, is so important. Otherwise, we should find that this House was increasingly being used in the way in which, inevitably, another place is used by elected Members of Parliament, for their personal needs in terms of re-election. That would not be suitable or compatible with the functions that we perform—and which, it is generally agreed, we ought to continue to perform.
We must regard with some scepticism the idea of an enormous public wish—as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Richard—for a large elected element, and the idea that it is the only thing that would "put us on the map". I wonder whether my noble friend Lord Hurd, when he went round the country picking up comments as to how we went about our work and what 632 it should consist of, asked any members of the public how they thought we had handled the Financial Services and Markets Bill, with hundreds of amendments at every moment. I wonder whether a large elected element would enable us to continue to do that kind of thing. I very much doubt it.
I should prefer, like the noble Lord, Lord Neill, and others, not to have an elected element. That is not because I believe that elected people lack ability or the opportunity to make contributions—as the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, has said, one can point to many examples. I merely think that it would change the process of our work in this House in a way that would take us away from the essential functions that we have up to now been trying to fulfil.
Even if the White Paper is not—as the noble Lord, Lord Ampthill, said—a deliberate nonsense in order to ensure that the Bill, when it comes, will fail, it is a hotchpotch of individual ideas which seem to have been added one by one in order to make a how in the direction of a number of quarters who have different and often conflicting objectives. The hotchpotch does not add up to a coherent whole. For my part, I need a lot of persuading that they would amount to an improvement on the status quo.
§ 7.54 p.m
§ Baroness Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde
My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, who was chairman of the Royal Commission, and the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, I too was a member, along with the noble Lord, Lord Butler, on the Cross Benches and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford, who is not present. Therefore, I declare an interest.
I am the 24th speaker in this debate, and the White Paper has not found one friend among those who have contributed. The Government must take note of that, whether they want to or not.
I congratulate the Government on picking up this issue some two years to the month after the Royal Commission reported directly to the Prime Minister. The issue of House of Lords reform has been a poisoned chalice for governments over the past 90-odd years. Indeed, the previous attempt to reform this House took place 33 years ago, when it fell as a result of the extreme Right and the extreme Left in another place coming together. My fear is that the White Paper is drawn in such a way that this attempt could suffer the same fate. It would be a tremendous opportunity lost. Therefore, I hope that the Government—although I note that neither the Lord Chancellor nor the Leader of the House is in his place—are prepared to listen and to make amendments.
The report of the Wakeham commission, as it became known, contained 128 recommendations. The Government must be congratulated on accepting the majority of them. The recommendation about ensuring a more equal balance as between men and women Members of this House is self-evidently necessary. Perhaps even more self-evidently necessary is a balance reflecting the ethnic communities in our diverse society in Britain.
633 A further recommendation is that an overall guarantee should be written in, so that in the future no one party, in or out of government, will have sufficient members to dominate this House and recommendations relate to the independent element. I hope that I am not nit-picking, but the Wakeham report stated that "at least" 20 per cent of the Members of this House should be independent; the White Paper uses the words, "about 20 per cent". The Independent Members of this House may well want to examine that point.
The noble Lord, Lord Hurd, rightly mentioned, as did our eminent chairman, that the members of the Royal Commission were a mixed bunch. We were. We came to the issues before us from very different standpoints. We decided early on that we could all stand by our principles and our strong points, and that we should end up with a report that would probably gather dust on the shelves like any other. We quickly decided that we had to work together to examine the issues and see where we could achieve consensus. It is a great credit to the chairman of the commission that the report does achieve a consensus. It will not suit everyone, but at least it is a working document which will enable reform of this House to take place.
We decided also—a point that has not been directly touched on in the debate—that reform of this House is not the property of this House; nor is it the property of the House down the corridor. It is a matter in which the people of this nation have a vested interest.
We had just 10 months to do our work, and we "went on the road". We had 21 meetings up and down the country, including in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. We received 1,700 pieces of evidence. As this is a complex situation with no simple answers, the report delivered to the Government was one that was knitted together rather like a jigsaw puzzle, in the sense that one part related to the other. Once you start messing about with the principal component parts, the rest of the proposals are severely damaged.
I suggest that that is what the White Paper has done. It has undermined an overall recommendation which, with some amendment through consensus, may have found the way forward. It is for those reasons that I cannot support the White Paper. Indeed, if there is any consensus today it is from the three members of the Royal Commission who have spoken so far, from different sides of the House.
There are two key areas. The issues of the appointments commission and the composition of the House, although separate, are clearly interlinked. I greatly welcome the provision in the White Paper of a new statutory appointments commission that will be responsible for appointing the independent members. However, the proposals in the White Paper are a long way from what the Wakeham report suggested.
There has been a lot of talk today about elections. The noble Lord, Lord Hurd, rightly drew some laughter in the House when he pointed out that in our meetings members of the public said that they wanted elected Members in the House of Lords. We asked 634 them what they meant by that, although not about the detailed process. They did not like indirect election—I have yet to find someone who does. However, they did not want the political parties replicating in this House what was happening down the corridor. Although they, and probably many Members in the House down the corridor, do not know how this House works, they knew that they did not want two Houses that were constituted in the same way, with the same powers. They accepted that the House of Commons was the House that was elected by the people every five years at the most. They wanted the House of Lords to be different. They wanted elected members. There was no consensus about the number—perhaps 20, 30 or 50 per cent—but there was a strong consensus that the political parties should not control the House. There was a lot of positive support when we explained that part of our remit was that no one party should have control of the House.
The report's recommendation that the appointments commission should appoint all appointed Members was clearly thought through. We know the difficulties with the Whip. A party cannot be forced to give a Whip to a Member that someone else has appointed. We were conscious that our report would have to be the basis for primary legislation. Those details could be discussed within that legislation. The problem can be dealt with in a number of ways.
With my background, having stood in election after election throughout my life and taken the view that when I was elected I was accountable to the people who had elected me—I think that that is the right approach—I initially felt that we would probably end up with a recommendation for an elected House. However, I changed my opinion as the work of the commission proceeded. I support the presence of elected Members. I support Model B set out in the report, although it is not written in tablets of stone. However, a wholly elected House, as some in the media and elsewhere have called for, is not the answer. There is no simple answer. Just electing everybody will not solve the problems. However, I sincerely believe that there has to be an elected element. That may not suit everybody in this House. There may be a majority opposed to the idea in this House, but we have to take note of what the public expect.
Elections have not served women or ethnic minorities very well down the corridor. In recommending elections, we also had to take account of the fact that someone elected at the same time as a Member of the House of Commons would immediately become part of the political process. They would campaign and watch their every step. They would be under the Whip and may be threatened with deselection if they expressed an independent point of view in this House. We all know that that is how party politics works. The challenge was to devise a system of delivering elected Members but ensuring that they have the ability to be as independent as possible and do not use this House as a stepping stone to becoming an MP or challenging their local MP. That is why we 635 suggested the provision for 15-year terms and a 10-year delay before Members could stand for election to the House of Commons. That is how the proposals on elections knit together. Without those proposals, the nature of the House would be changed. It is and should remain a revising and scrutinising House.
I am particularly concerned about those two key elements. Movement is needed on them. I was pleased to hear the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor say today that the Government would listen.
However, there are other issues. The role, powers and functions of the House was the first area that the Royal Commission looked at. One third of the report—paragraphs 7 to 19—covers the role, powers and functions of the House. If you do not know clearly what they are, you cannot legitimately move on to deal with the composition. I entirely agree with the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, on 7th November, when the Statement on the White Paper was made, that we need to look at functions.
I was terribly disappointed to see that the White Paper had just one page on the role of the House and two pages on its functions. I was even more disappointed to read paragraph 24, which says:There is no case for giving specific new functions to the House of Lords. The Government agrees with the Royal Commission that there is a role for the House of Lords in reviewing the impact of constitutional reform".Having accepted that, the White Paper goes on to say:But this is something which should develop within the existing constitutional framework".In a way, that almost dismisses the argument.
Recommendations 19 and 20 deal with the authority of this House to veto a Bill from the other place to extend the life of Parliament. That idea was not rejected at any of our meetings and no politician who gave us evidence and was confronted with that question challenged it either. That is why the Wakeham report calls for an amendment to the Parliament Act to that effect. There is no specific reference in the White Paper to those two recommendations. I should have thought that they were an extremely important aspect of the powers of this House.
Last year, the Labour Government were re-elected on another landslide. Obviously I am delighted about that. In the manifesto, the party reconfirmed its support for the Wakeham report and the conclusions of the commission. It went on to say that a Labour Government would implement them,in the most effective way possible".It grieves me to say that the White Paper does not meet in full that manifesto commitment. It does not implement the recommendations of the Wakeham report in the most effective way.
In conclusion, some Members of this House have said in the margins—some have implied it in the debate, directly or indirectly—that the House should be left as it is. That is not how the matter was left with the exclusion of the hereditary Peers. We have unfinished business. This House has to go to the next 636 stage of reform. Neither do I agree with the idea of "completing the reform". One reason why we are in this situation is that we have never revisited reforming this House. We need to do that every 15 or 20 years. When the Government of the day tried to do so 33 years ago, they were knocked back.
The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor said that the Government were willing to listen. As he said, we all know that we shall not achieve unanimity, but we need proposals around which we can secure a sizeable consensus. The report may need amending, but we should not kick away the stool and abandon the principles on which the report was built. The biggest tragedy of all would be a stalemate, brought about by those at either end of the spectrum, that left matters as they are—as unfinished business. People are ready for reform. I was heartened to hear the Leader of the House say on 4th December:the White Paper is very green".—[Official Report. 4/12/01; col.706.]I look to the Government to carry that out.
§ 8.10 p.m.
§ Lord Inglewood
My Lords, at the beginning of her most interesting contribution, the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, declared an interest. I suppose that, as an hereditary Peer, I too should declare an interest because we are discussing proposals for the attainder of my membership of this House. If anyone can be said to have a non-pecuniary interest in the debate, I am sure that it is me. I also hope that, under the so-called Clifton-Brown doctrine, I am allowed to speak about the issue. As my noble friend Lord Hurd was speaking, it occurred to me that, if the logic of that proposition were taken to its extreme, we would be unable to conduct this debate at all.
I have expressed my general views about reform of the second Chamber and do not propose to repeat them now. Although I suppose that it is trite to say that fact is stranger than fiction, the case of House of Lords reform must surely fall into that category. Let us go back just to 1997, when the Labour Government came in with a manifesto commitment to remove the hereditary Members of the second Chamber, all of whom were there for life. After all, it was argued—and I do not disagree—it was no longer appropriate for hereditary peerage to be sufficient to confer a seat in Parliament. I make it quite clear that I do not subscribe to the idea that the legal right to legislate should be a piece of entailed heritable property.
So out they went, except for the so-called 92 elected hereditaries, of whom I am lucky enough to he one, who would remain until the reformed Chamber was put in place—not until the next stage of the reform was reached. The Government then sucked their teeth. By 2001, they concluded that a life peerage, just like an hereditary peerage, is not an appropriate basis for membership of the second Chamber. So what do they do? No, they do not expel them as well; rather, because a life peerage endures for life, they will remain for the rest of their days.
637 Having been in politics for a number of years, I no longer expect consistency or logic. However, the way in which this particular project is evolving, we are in danger of going down the rabbit's hole to Wonderland if we do not recognise that, basically, it is a fix—or, to use a word that the Lord Chancellor used in his opening, a compromise. In this case, it is a compromise made with himself to achieve consensus.
It seems extraordinary that there is an historical precedent for all this. In late 1648, when Colonel Pride purged the House of Commons to leave the Rump, he did much the same to the House of Commons as the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, did to the House of Lords in 1999. Yours Lordships will recall that that Rump soldiered on until the end of the following decade, between bouts of failed electoral reform and government experiment. On balance, although I think that the 1650s was a remarkable decade in British history, it is not a glorious chapter in the history of Parliament or parliamentary democracy. It seems that it should be an example of what not to do, and not a precedent.
I should like now to confine my remarks to two general points. The first, which touches on some remarks made by the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, is to suggest that the proposals for a revised form for the second Chamber have been formulated in the wrong way. Apparently an attempt is being made to find a way of devising a second Chamber as a convocation of the "great and good", however one might define it. However, sufficient time has not been spent trying to analyse how the new Chamber will perform its functions. Only when one is clear about how to achieve an objective can one work out how best to find appropriate, good and competent people to contribute to achieving that objective.
Secondly, I should like to share some thoughts on regional constituencies, of which, as one of the three MEP Members of your Lordships' House, 1 have some direct electoral experience.
As we all know, there has been considerable debate about the composition of the second Chamber, but, as has already been mentioned, there has not been much discussion about how it will perform the tasks assigned to it. One point on which there is widespread agreement is that the House should take a lead in scrutinising European Union matters. Interestingly, that topic has recently been considered in some detail in the document published before Christmas by the Select Committee on the European Union, on whether a European Union Senate comprising Members of national Parliaments might be a desirable development. Its conclusion, which I am glad to say is in line with the evidence that I gave to the Committee, and the likely conclusion of the European Parliament, is that it would not be a desirable development.
What is required is greater scrutiny and accountability of member state governments to national Parliaments in respect of actions and decisions taken by those governments off the Floor of the House. In a rapidly globalising world, which is 638 increasingly politically and economically interdependent, less and less policy and legislation will be made on the Floor of the House of any Parliament; rather, Parliaments' scrutinising function will become increasingly important. How are we going to do that? Who are the right type of people to do it? How much time will it take? How much preparatory paperwork will be required? How much travelling, both internationally and domestically, will be needed? How much research and support will be needed? Precisely the same considerations will apply in other spheres in which a second Chamber plays a big role.
It is terribly important that we have reasonably clear answers to those types of question before deciding the composition of the reformed House. It is highly unlikely in practice that "the very great and very good" will want to come in day after day to perform relatively important but perhaps somewhat repetitious work. I suspect, conversely, that the views of people who are willing to work in that manner might be of much less value and carry much less authority when discussing great matters of state.
Until we are clear in our minds about how Parliaments in general will work in the 21st century—in this I echo the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Williams—we cannot really be sure how the House of Lords itself should function as part of a 21st century UK Parliament. If the second Chamber is not going to be elected or predominantly elected, which the White Paper seems to reject, the Pandora's box of alternative possibilities is open, as we have seen in this debate, and an almost limitless number of permutations can be debated. I suppose that the only consolation of opening Pandora's box is that Hope is at the bottom. In many things in life there is a distinct link between form and function, and I believe that this is one of them.
The Government's proposals include the suggestion that there should be regional representation along the lines adopted at the last European elections. As leader of the Conservative MEPs in the North West, and as the first candidate from the North West to have been elected in the last Euro-elections, 1 have —although I am not sure whether it is despite or because of being an hereditary Peer—some first-hand experience of the system, and there are a number of comments that I should like to make.
Unlike Scotland and Wales, which are historically homogenous, English regions are not homogenous. In my own case, and I speak as a Cumbrian, there are very serious misgivings about the north-west region as currently constituted. Those misgivings have been echoed by, among others, the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours. As one who is a supporter of devolution and wants more decisions to be taken out of London, I am concerned about what is happening and what might be proposed for England.
It is also my opinion, which I believe is shared by my fellow MEPs of all parties—we have obviously discussed these issues between us—that there are considerable difficulties in establishing satisfactory relationships in our constituencies with the media, 639 MPs, local government, the political parties and the electorate as a whole. I think that that is unsatisfactory for both the elected and the electorate.
I believe that regionally elected Members will, when all their constituency work is taken into account, be full time. I also think that, if they are full time, they will have to be paid. I say that for the very simple reason that one cannot be part time if one has no other time to work. Allowances cover expenses; they do not cover the necessary infrastructure of life such as housing, clothing, insurance and pensions. We are urged to take out private pensions by the Government in order not to be a drain on the state. Allowances will not cover private pensions, among other things, and they do not cover a whole range of expenses, such as "keeping shirts on the bairns' backs". If we have a full-time activity, we cannot go out and earn in any other time the necessary money to deal with those aspects of life.
It is my view that, de facto, it is now extremely hard to participate in the business of this House if one happens to be based outside London unless one is either a pensioner or is very rich. In fact that has had a significant effect on the impact that I might call "out of London" has made in this House. It is simply not possible to get regionally elected Members to operate on a part-time basis.
If there are to be closed lists—I was interested to learn from his opening remarks that the Lord Chancellor. like me, does not like them—we must put in place proper rules as to how those lists are put together. The selection process is a formal primary. I was interested by the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Neill of Blaydon, in that regard. It was interesting to see how each political party in the last European elections carried them out. I start with the Labour Party. As far as I know, the lists were put together after some preliminary sifting at local level in the smoke-filled rooms at Stoke Rochford. The lists were zipped and stitched together in that manner.
We in the Conservative Party had a process which improved upon that. We had a series of siftings which culminated in a hustings meeting where all those present voted, and ranked the candidates to go on the list. That in fact was less satisfactory than it sounds. In my case some of my supporters wanted to go to the selection meeting. They left home on the west coast of Cumbria at around six o'clock in the morning to go to Lancashire. They had to sit through the entire meeting, otherwise they were not allowed to vote. The poll was carried out late at night and they arrived hack home at 10 o'clock. They were aged about 80. That cannot be a good way of selecting party candidates; it is neither even-handed nor proper. In that regard the party that did the best job was the Liberals. They had hustings and a postal one-man:one-vote system.
If we are to go down that route, it is essential that the rules for selection of the candidates by the parties are made strictly clear by regulation, and that public money be provided to fund that.
It is also inevitable that partisan-elected Members in this House will considerably alter the nature of the House. Indeed, on a number of occasions I have found 640 myself biting my tongue to stop myself making "House of Commons-style" interventions to make a point related to my Euro-constituency, which I know would make a good press release.
If we are not to have a fully or predominantly elected second Chamber, it is important that the traditions of this House, which are markedly different from those down the corridor and which accord it considerable public esteem, are not lost. Populist party political point-scoring is inherent to elected partisan politics. But I suspect that the introduction of even a small number of partisan-elected politicians is likely to change quite markedly the way this House works. It is important that we are clear about that before embarking in that direction. It may not be a reason for not doing it; but we do not want to do it blindly.
Finally, great care and thought needs to be given to the date and form of the election. Of one thing I am quite sure: it should not unthinkingly be made to coincide with the Euro-elections. I have fought four European elections and contrary to what is suggested in the White Paper, none of them had anything at all to do with Europe. Rather, they appeared to be a plebiscite on the superficial popularity of the government of the day on the particular Thursday in June when the election was held. As far as I can see, that plebiscite is conducted without any serious national discussion of the issues in advance. It would be an error to embark blindly down that road for elections in that way.
In his opening remarks the Lord Chancellor called on critics of the proposals and said that they should come forward with an alternative. I shall not do that. There is much about which I am still not sure. But we must be clear on one important constitutional principle; that is, whether we in the United Kingdom are to have a genuinely bicameral system, or the unicameral Parliament to which is attached an institutionalised Comite de Sages—a kind of national Economic and Social Committee.
I am not clear what the Government want. They must make up their mind. The answer to that question is of fundamental importance to the future of Parliament in Westminster and the form in which democracy evolves in Britain in the coming century. Once again, if one can be clear about that, a whole series of other things will follow.
In his opening remarks the Lord Chancellor said that he did not expect much agreement on the matters under discussion this evening and tomorrow. Having heard the speeches so far, I disagree. There is general agreement to disagree with the noble and learned Lord's proposals. I asked myself why, and the answer came from a Labour predecessor of the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House, my noble kinsman—an hereditary Peer—Lord Longford, to whom he gave such a generous tribute not all that many weeks ago. Lord Longford said at least twice in my hearing in this Chamber that there was one overridingly important thing to remember about this House, and I dare say he observed the proposition as much in the breach as in the observance; that is, that 641 the House of Lords is a Parliament and not a club. It is because the Government have forgotten my noble kinsman's proposition that the proposals that have come forward have engendered such criticism.
§ 8.26 p.m.
§ Lord Marlesford
My Lords, though neither Minister can regard the White Paper as having yet achieved a terrific push forward from this debate, both the Government and the Wakeham commission were quite subtle in the way in which they tried to forestall in-House objections. I refer to the proposal which I find a little curious in the context of radical thought; that is, that life Peers should be entitled to stay for life.
I was particularly intrigued by the proposal in paragraph 95 that the Government would welcome views on the possibility of a resettlement grant for Peers who choose to resign or retire. However, I should like to make a specific suggestion so that at least if it were to go forward—that is unlikely, for reasons I shall mention in a moment—we would get value for taxpayers' money.
My suggestion is that each year, all life Peers would be entitled to bid for a stated number of departure tickets. The lowest bids would be selected first. That would continue until either the quota for the year was filled or—here I nod to the Treasury—the available funds were expended, whichever came first. Though a paid exit ticket is not a particularly respectable device, I suspect that all of us eventually, with trembling hands and fading eyes, would be guided to fill in the departure application form by our children, grandchildren or even perhaps our great-grandchildren. At any rate, that is my suggestion to obtain good value for money.
My Lords, perhaps my noble friend will allow me to intervene. It may be of interest to him and he may think it relevant that when I was in another place I helped the late Lord Butler of Saffron Walden, when he was Home Secretary, to pilot the Life Peerages Act. We made it perfectly plain that those who accepted life Peerages had them for life.
§ Lord Marlesford
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that helpful intervention.
The Lord Chancellor wants specific proposals. My main one must be that a period of consolidation is allowed before any further change is made to the major reform already made to the House of Lords. I intended to suggest five years from change to change and was intrigued that the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, suggested 15 to 20 years. Mine would appear to be the more modest suggestion.
However, there would be one exception. The topping-up of hereditary Peers, which is due to come to an end at the end of this Session, probably should neither be renewed nor be replaced by fresh elections. That would allow natural attrition in the number of hereditary Peers. That would be a good way of reducing the number of hereditary Peers which seems to be one of the Government's main objectives.
642 I am strongly opposed to a hybrid House as that is so clearly political tokenism, whether the token is as small as 20 per cent or as big as the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, would like. However, the real reason that I do not want further change at the present time is that there is a far more important constitutional issue to be dealt with: the now rapid decline in the reputation of Parliament as a whole and particularly that of the House of Commons. I believe that may have four causes. The first, I suggest, is the ending of the political battle between capitalism and socialism as economic systems. That was an almost single-handed achievement of my noble friend Lady Thatcher. However, that has made party politics, and thus the House of Commons, less exciting, less challenging and arguably, in a radical sense, less important.
The second reason for the decline is the attempt made by many governments, but now increasingly successfully, to dominate, bypass and frustrate the will of the House of Commons and thus to emasculate that Chamber. The third reason is the misbehaviour, spotlighted and much exaggerated in public perception, of a few venial or foolish MPs over the past 10 years. I speak only in terms of parliamentary behaviour. That has brought Parliament into public disrepute and made the House of Commons, in Groucho Marx terms, a club of which many today would not wish to be a member. The fourth reason is the desire and success of the media in gaining ever growing influence over the conduct of public affairs in this country.
The consequence of all that is that the House of Commons is decreasingly a career of choice for the most able and talented of our citizens. I come to this conclusion on the experience of my professional observation of the Commons from the Press Gallery for 16 years from 1975 to 1991. Since then I have continued that observation as a hobby. One by one the great political names have departed from the House of Commons. I refer to Thatcher, Powell, Heath. Whitelaw, Foot, Heffer, Benn, Healey, Grimond and Jenkins. Those who have succeeded them do not seem likely to replace them.
I recommend to your Lordships a study of the register of MPs' interests as it reveals how very modest are the achievements and experiences of a significant proportion of the MPs who have been elected in the past 10 years. That, combined with the submissiveness of MPs to the present government, is a sad picture. My noble friend Lord Hurd gave the telling example of Mr Clifton-Brown not being able to continue as a Front Bench agriculture spokesman as he is a farmer. However, that is part of the ethos of the House of Commons today and it is not the kind of thing that makes people want to become MPs. My worry is that, especially when combined with the power of professional and political civil servants, this will result in the British people increasingly feeling that the House of Commons is no longer able to defend their individual rights, freedoms and interests.
The dangerous consequence of that is that we could move towards the position in France where all too often the mob is seen as the protector of the people.
643 When a French government put forward a proposal which is unpopular with those it affects they are often faced with the choice of surrendering to the mob or sending in the CRS to break their heads. I should hate to see Britain in that position.
By contrast to the House of Commons, the House of Lords represents a huge and, indeed, growing reservoir of experience, talent and expertise and, above all, effective independence. Seldom can there have been a better example of the House of Lords in its role of effective watchdog for better government than in its performance over the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Bill last month.
I believe that the earlier reform of this House was justified, especially when moderated by the brilliant—I pay tribute to the noble and learned Lord and to my noble friend Lord Cranborne here—compromise of having 92 hereditaries and by the conversion of a number of distinguished hereditaries into life Peers. That reform was justified both because of the unacceptability of 750 hereditaries with the right to at tend and vote—a number which showed no real sign of reducing naturally—and also because of the longstanding public demand for reform.
I say straight away that the reason we are holding this debate is, to some extent at least, because my party demanded, "No stage one without stage two", a demand to which the Government, I think wrongly, gave way. In their 1997 manifesto, on which the Government were originally elected, they called for,an initial, self-contained reform, not dependent on further reform in the future".I know that that did not mean there was no possibility of further reform, but it was meant to be free-standing. The real pressure for stage two came from the Conservatives and, to be fair, from the Liberal Party, which is far more radical about the whole thing and would basically wish to abolish the House of Lords totally in its present form and have a fully elected chamber. That was certainly its position until recently.
The democratic deficit has been largely reduced by the earlier reform. Although the evidence of the performance of the present House is by no means complete, I frankly think that it is promising and that we have made much progress. I do not believe that there is public demand for further reform or, as Sir Bernard Ingham used to say when he was anxious to guide the press away from some mythical hare, "It is not what they are talking about in 'The Three Ferrets' at Hebden Bridge".
The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor predicted that there would be no consensus on the White Paper and he has been proved right. There is no consensus on stage two either in this House or in the House of Commons or even in the media. Therefore, I suggest—I hope that this is music to the ears of both the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor and the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House—that the Government postpone proposals for further changes in this House, at least until the end of this Parliament. I believe that there are much more important uses of parliamentary time over the next four years.
§ 8.38 p.m.
§ Lord St John of Bletso
My Lords, fear that much of what I have to say will be a repetition of many of the forceful speeches already made, notably that the White Paper is far too focused on composition rather than ensuring a workable, effective upper House.
I am mindful of my speech when I spoke on the White Paper on the first stage of Lords' reform when I was the 128th of 135 speakers. I introduced my remarks with a slight Freudian slip when I said the debate had been an excellent opportunity for your Lordships to "let off wind" when I should have said let off steam. Today, however, we have an opportunity not to let off steam about the future of your Lordships' House but rather to debate the most prudent and workable solution to complete Lords' reform.
I have always supported reform of this House, although I recognise that that process will mean my ultimate removal from it, having served here for more than 24 years. In that time, I have never suggested that the structure, composition or mechanics of the Palace of Westminster are faultless. However, I continue to maintain that this House has done an excellent job and I remain convinced that hereditary Peers have contributed substantial service to this country through their work in this Chamber and their contribution to the many Select Committees on which they have served for many years.
We have brought hands-on experience in many varied walks of life and have offered a different focus to debates. None the less, whatever the practical reality, I am not able to defend my place in this House in the context of a theoretical democracy. Democracy, we were told when the process began, would be the guiding light of reform of the House of Lords. As we all know, the White Paper proposes that only 20 per cent of the new House will be directly elected—the remainder will be appointed by an appointments commission or the faceless authors of political party lists.
The White Paper threatens to transform your Lordships' House, which was once a pillar of this country's constitution—it was hewn by passing years and became a proven guardian of our democracy—into nothing more than a nodding donkey for the other place. I had hoped that, in leaving this Chamber, I should at least leave a beacon of democracy that was fully equipped to scrutinise, delay and amend—but not reject—government measures. The cross-section of distinguished Peers from all walks of life in your Lordships' House makes it clear that the current system of appointing noble Lords has worked remarkably well. It would be a terrible shame if the future system were not equally successful.
Was I naïve in hoping that my position would be sacrificed in the noble name of democracy rather than on the altar of naked and unashamed patronage? Once the process was started, it seemed that the only justifiable conclusion was going to involve a largely elected House. In hesitating on that road—or maybe growing weary of the constitutional intricacies—the 645 Government may be overlooking what matters to the cause of good governance in favour of what matters to their friends.
The White Paper contains paragraph after paragraph relating to the composition of the House, but a scant two and a half pages outlining the powers of this House, which surely is the nub of the issue. Completing reform of the House of Lords should, above all, be aimed at providing more effective governance.
It may be unfair of me to presume this, but it appears that the noble and learned Lord, the Leader of the House, for whom I have huge respect, has developed a bit of a bee in his bonnet about removing the remaining hereditary Peers. Is that, I wonder, because he believes that it will further the cause of effective governance? My greatest disappointment about the White Paper is that its proposals would effectively enfeeble this House at a time when its powers should be enhanced.
Our role, of course, is not to initiate policy but to refine, scrutinise and check government policy. The House has always respected the Salisbury convention, which I wholeheartedly support. In my experience over many years here, our theoretically indefensible mish-mash of hereditary and life Peers has fulfilled that important role with distinction.
The question now is: what kind of theoretically defensible body will continue efficiently to perform those functions? Will it be the politically patronised or the electorally mandated? In our heart of hearts, we all know the answer. When reform was started, many people issued warnings. I remember the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, the Leader of the Opposition, warning the Government against embarking on a journey when they had no clear idea of the final destination. Perhaps those warnings are coming home to roost. We find that the process is floating on a grey sea of uncertainty and confusion. In such times, our last—indeed, our only—place of refuge will be the simple tenets of democracy. If we are effectively to complete reform of the House of Lords, we should trust the people to elect at least half of the Members of the new House.
Finally, I turn briefly to the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Mostyn—I mean of Crosby. That is another Freudian slip! She referred to the crisis of public confidence in the parliamentary process. One of my enduring frustrations during my many years here has been the stubborn public perception and the media consensus that the House of Lords is one of the most exclusive clubs in Britain and is, in essence, a fairly ineffectual body. That has patently not been the reality, and I hoped that the process of reform would substantially improve the public perception of your Lordships' House. Sadly, the reaction of the public and the media to the publication of the White Paper suggests that the reverse is the case.
§ 8.46 p.m.
§ Viscount Goschen
My Lords, we generally observe the convention in this House that we do not criticise or discuss the affairs of another place, and it tends to observe a similar convention. However, that will have to be put carefully to one side for the purposes of this debate; otherwise, Members in another place will have very little to discuss.
It is interesting that of the half dozen or so former Members of another place who have spoken so far, none has defended the House of Commons' current ability to scrutinise legislation. Very few Members of another place—I refer to those who are not currently serving as Ministers—would say that the House of Commons is now an effective body for scrutinising legislation. The evidence for that is incontrovertible. Deeply flawed legislation, such as the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act or the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, emerged from consideration by the Commons virtually unamended. When Ministers brought such legislation to this House, they thought that it was in good shape and fit for the statute book. However, by the end of the passage of such legislation through your Lordships' House, a rather different conclusion had been reached—certainly in relation to the RIP Act. It was a much better piece of legislation after noble Lords had discussed it.
Against that background, your Lordships' House surely plays an increasingly vital role in scrutinising legislation and in asking another place to think again about provisions with which they disagree or about which they have not thought in the first instance. When that happens, the Government's automatic reaction has been to criticise the institution of your Lordships' House rather than to examine the policy. That is surely unacceptable.
During the passage of the anti-terrorism legislation. the Home Secretary—or at least his agents—made it known that he thought that the legislation was being "kneecapped" and "disembowelled" by unelected Peers. That was an interesting allegation not only in terms of its substance, which was entirely untrue—the more workable Act that is on the statute book bears witness to that—but also in terms of the emphasis that was placed on the unelected nature of this House. That is particularly significant when we consider that the shape of the current House is squarely the responsibility of this Government. I should be the first to accept that it is flawed but, despite that, it has delivered improvements to legislation.
The Government's byword in reforming Parliament has been "modernisation". The House of Commons has been modernised to the extent that guillotine Motions ensure that debates are stifled, timed votes mean that no one has to bother with the arguments and the results of votes are an entirely foregone conclusion; they are, in effect, a rubber stamp. What other conclusions could be drawn from an institution with a voting record in which the Government have yet to let the ball into their net? Noble Lords should try 647 going to William Hill's and placing a bet on the outcome of a particular Division in the other place; the odds will he fairly slim.
The same approach now awaits your Lordships' House from the same authors of this modernising zeal. It is interesting that the one House of Parliament which still works is now the focus of the Government's reform agenda. I should be the first to accept that there is a strong case for change, but the objective, as has been said universally this afternoon, must be to strengthen the ability of Parliament as a whole to hold the executive to account. That is why the House of Lords surely cannot be considered in isolation. Any proposals for this House must strengthen its independence and effectiveness and, indeed, preserve or increase its powers, particularly in relation to its role in preventing abuses of the quinquennial Act.
The Government have demonstrated continually that they do not consider a House of Lords made up of appointed Peers to be legitimate. I referred to the earlier remarks of the Home Secretary, but it has been reflected by almost every other Cabinet Minister whose legislation has come in for a mauling in this House. Is it not strange, therefore, that the proposals in the White Paper are, in effect, for a wholly nominated House, albeit one that is cloaked in the aura of electoral democracy by laundering a small portion of the party nominations through the discredited party-list system? That is the reality of what we are being presented with. It is seen by almost every party and every commentator, apparently apart from Her Majesty's Government, including, it seems, 140 or so of their own normally ultra-loyal Back-Benchers, as being a sham.
If the case for elections is made, surely they should be done properly. In my view, that must mean, first, that the mechanism should be direct elections and, secondly, that the elected element would have to make up the majority. Surely if that were not the case, the elected Peers would he overwhelmed by the voices of the appointed, and the function not of their membership but of their election—how they came to this place—would be purely to add a flavour, and no more than that, of democratic legitimacy. Terms of appointment would have to be long with no possibility of re-election, and a statutory appointments commission should select the appointed Members. I do not begin to deny that the task of that appointments commission would be tough, and no doubt it would have to be revisited.
We have been told repeatedly that the election of a majority of Members to this House would be unacceptable because it would create an automatic rival to the supremacy of the House of Commons. But, like the noble Lord, Lord Richard, I do not accept that. Members would be elected to this House to perform a very different function. They would not be elected to the House of Commons mark two but to a body whose functions and purpose are entirely different. Those functions and purpose are to scrutinise in detail legislation which has already passed through the House of Commons and to act as a check and balance on that institution.
648 The alternative is to continue with an appointed House but one in which the overall numbers and relative party strengths are laid down, unlike the current extraordinary arrangements where the patronage and potential for control by the Prime Minister are unlimited. They are powers of patronage which, as we have seen and discussed, have been used very fully by the current Prime Minister, who has hand-picked 250 or so individuals to sit as the jury on the Government's performance. Surely that is taking the principle of self-assessment a little too far.
The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor drew parallels with the judiciary, who, indeed, are appointed and not elected. But how valid is that? Surely we are closer to the defendant picking his own jury from among his associates to consider his performance—in this case, the defendant being the Government. On occasion I take friends and associates from overseas around the House of Lords. They ask how people come to this House and whether the numbers are limited. When I explain that if the Prime Minister feels that he is not doing well enough he can simply appoint a few more people to the House, they are quite simply staggered. That makes the case for change.
There is a case for a wholly appointed House—the noble Lord, Lord Neill, made it extremely forcibly—but within a structured framework and with entry controlled by an appointments commission. The current House benefits immeasurably from the experience of very senior figures from politics, business, science, the arts, the military, the law, religion and the voluntary sector. It is clear that few such figures would put themselves forward for election as full-time legislators.
However, there is a great drawback to an appointed House; that is, that the Government do not recognise the legitimacy of an unelected House. When this House made changes to legislation—in particular, recently to the anti-terrorism Bill—I never once heard the Lord Chancellor or the Leader of the House on the radio defending the right of the unelected House of Lords to stand up to the House of Commons. That was simply not known. So long as that remains the case, surely we are being led inextricably towards a majority-elected House. But the Government realise that such a House would be powerful and difficult to control. Therefore, they have predictably chosen the option which they believe would give a cosy feeling of elections but, in fact, would be based largely on party nominations with only the Cross-Benchers chosen independently.
The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor kicked off the debate by implying more or less that one compromise was as good as any other and that there would be no compromise that would seem to be particularly strongly held. Indeed, that has proven to be the case. However, I certainly recognise the point made by my noble friend Lord Inglewood that the one compromise that has not come out too favourably is the one made by the noble and learned Lord.
649 Surely one principle of good governance is accepted by all the parties, apart from—uniquely, so far as I am aware—the Government; that is, that changes to our constitution and to Parliament itself are extraordinarily important and should be made so far as possible only with consensus between the political parties. That is vital if a lasting settlement is to be found.
That is why I was quite staggered to hear the noble and learned Lord say that we were not looking for a long-term satisfactory solution but for the right solution for this year, perhaps next year or perhaps for a very few years afterwards. I do not believe that that is what we should he doing now. We have an historic opportunity to move towards a strengthened Parliament—a strengthened House of Lords being a major factor in it; we should not merely consider how to get the Government out of a difficult hole so that they can say that they have completed the reform of the House of Lords, that it is time to bury that and to go on to something else.
Surely most people accept that the institution of Parliament is greater perhaps even than our current Government. It may even last longer and should be treated with care. By contrast, as we heard earlier, the decision taken by the Government to renege on the promise to refer the issue to a Joint Select Committee so that Parliament as a whole can take a view merely follows the prevailing cavalier attitude.
The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor can take very little comfort from the discussion we have had so far. His proposals have been universally condemned from all sides of the House, by members of the Royal Commission, by Labour Back-Benchers in another place and, indeed, by almost all sections of the press. We have an historic responsibility. We should rise to that challenge.
§ 8.58 p.m.
§ Lord Cobbold
My Lords, from all the contributions today there appears to be agreement on all sides of the House and, indeed, in the country at large that we need a second Chamber. There is also broad agreement that it should be a revising Chamber charged with scrutiny of new legislation and holding the Government to account. It should not seek to, or be put in a position where it could or would, pose a threat to the House of Commons as,the pre-eminent voice and representative of the people",to quote the Prime Minister in the introduction to the White Paper.
There is also general agreement that the second Chamber should be less political, that it should accommodate Members with outside careers, that it should operate on an expenses-only basis, and that the qualities needed for membership are expertise, experience, diversity, independence and a willingness to contribute to the workings of the Chamber, albeit in many cases on a part-time basis. Is that not a description of the House that we have at present? So why should we change it? Why indeed?
650 The main arguments for change are that the existing House lacks democratic legitimacy and that its membership should be more representative of society as a whole. Many noble Lords have addressed the question of legitimacy. Many argue that the only source of democratic legitimacy is through election. If that is the case, then logic requires that the second Chamber should be 100 per cent elected. Many favour this option. But it is ruled out because it clashes with the accepted need to preserve the primacy of the House of Commons. However, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor told us today that election is not the only basis of legitimacy.
In the House Magazine of last November, the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, claimed that it is a curious myth that elections are the only source of legitimacy. He argued:We regard bishops as legitimate and certainly judges. Legitimacy clearly has something to do with how people get to positions, but also with the definition of these positions, with the way in which decisions are reached, and even with history. Having a portion of elected members from huge constituencies and for long periods of time is probably a mistake, which the electorate will see as deception rather than empowerment".The larger the elected element, the greater the threat to the House of Commons. The smaller the element, the more it is an ineffective sop to electoral principle. It is unlikely that the elective process would attract a wide range of expertise and experience. Elected Members are to be closed-list party nominees, making the House much more political.
Unlike the previous two speakers, I believe that we should reject an elected element and accept that appointment is the best option for this House in that it is the best way of assuring the desired quality and spread of membership. We should concentrate on making the appointments process as transparent and as effective as possible and thereby more acceptable to the electorate. The constitution and role of the proposed statutory appointments commission is therefore of the utmost importance.
Unfortunately, the temporary Appointments Commission got off to a bad start. It raised public expectations. It attracted over 3,000 applications. It then chose only 15 new Members, all of whom might readily have been appointed under existing mechanisms. The proposed statutory appointments commission must not make that kind of mistake. It must earn public acceptance and therefore legitimacy. It will stand or fall on its perceived ability to make membership of the House more representative of society as a whole than it is at present and better able to execute its functions than it does now. That is not an easy task.
The proposals for the statutory appointments commission set out in paragraphs 65 to 68 of the White Paper seem by and large sensible. I have one or two suggestions. I believe that consideration should be given to establishing the appointments commission as a committee of the Privy Council. I think that the proposed statutory cap of 600 Members is a mistake. I propose a more flexible guideline because I believe that the term of employment should remain as it is 651 now—for life. In any case, the 600 cap looks to be unworkable in practice under the White Paper proposals as they now stand.
I believe that there should be an option for retirement at any time and a statutory retirement age at, say, 75. In that event, there should be an "emeritus" category of membership, by which at the end of the Parliament in which a Member reached retirement, he or she could put their name forward for reappointment. It would be up to their fellow Members to decide on their re-appointment by secret ballot. Candidates receiving the requisite number of votes would qualify for continued membership for the next Parliament.
If there is to be an elected element, which I do not advocate, I would support a suggestion made by the noble Lord. Lord Norton of Louth, that Members of the European Parliament should be that element. The noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, combines the role of MEP with representation in this House. He was very much anti the election process being associated with the European elections; but if candidates at those elections were to be elected for both roles, I think that that would increase the interest of the electorate. However, as I say, I am not in favour of an elected element, and I bring that in only if it becomes a necessity.
As a Cross-Bencher I support strongly the proposals for the maintenance of a strong independent representation. As an hereditary Peer, I wanted to see a provision for some continued residual representation of that peerage. After all, we are one of the country's minority communities. That would acknowledge the historical evolution of this great institution and provide an element of continuity. But I guess it is not to be.
My points are relatively minor reforms that could be introduced without radically changing the existing House. A much more radical proposal in the White Paper is to separate membership of this House from the peerage. But would it really help to make the House more representative of society as a whole if it was divorced from the peerage and the sense of duty and public service that traditionally goes with it?
This, it seems to me, is a matter for you life Peers and life Peeresses to decide. There are 587 of you, although not many are here at the moment. But you are all experienced achievers in your respective fields. You form a unique pool of expertise and experience. Casual research reveals that 20 per cent of you came from the other place, including two former Prime Ministers, live former Chancellors of the Exchequer and more than 60 other former Ministers; another 20 per cent come from business, international commerce and financial services; and some 14 per cent are lawyers and judges. Other well represented sectors are local government, the Civil and Foreign Services, trades unions, teachers, professors, doctors, nurses, the voluntary services, the armed forces and police, agriculture, the religious faiths and the media.
The future of this House is now in your hands. Your successors, if the White Paper proposals are implemented, will be designated "Members of the 652 Lords" or "MLs". Only you can answer this question: would you be sitting in this House today if you had been asked to become an ML, rather than being given a life peerage? It must be your judgment and yours alone if this proposal makes sense. It seems to me to be a high-risk strategy from which there would be no turning back.
As so many noble Lords have said, this House is a treasure trove of expertise, experience, independence and diversity. The noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House confirmed that. He said that,there is expertise in your Lordship's House on all conceivable topics known to the mind of man".—[Official Report, 13/12/01; col. 1414.]My Lords, why change it?
§ 9.7 p.m.
§ Lord Naseby
My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord. He and I have been friends for nearly 50 years; he will remember sitting one cold winter in the depths of Canada, in Moosejaw, when we were learning to become Royal Air Force pilots. It is interesting that he speaks today not just as an hereditary Peer but as a re-elected hereditary Peer. He was unlucky on the first ballot but, under our current system, when one of our colleagues became deceased, he came back. I agree with much of his contribution.
I shall make a few remarks, some of which I hope are original; some will find an echo of consensus; and some may well find total rejection. I make them against the background of what the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, called in her speech a crisis of confidence in the parliamentary system. She is quite right. From this debate should come the blueprint for the United Kingdom's second parliamentary Chamber.
First, the second Chamber should contain men and women of independence, experience and expertise who give a commitment to this country, in particular to protect its democratic foundations—men and women who recognise that the House of Commons is the preeminent House because its Members are elected by the people and it is they who create the government of the day. The second Chamber cannot represent the people. It is there to be the guardian of our constitution and to revise and scrutinise legislation, as so many of your Lordships have said.
Set against those criteria, I see little merit in a hybrid second Chamber, with 20 per cent elected Members. If the elected element is to be sent here by the party list system on what, by all evidence so far, will be a tiny turnout, it will have little democratic legitimacy and, frankly—I do not mean to be too abusive—will lead to party hacks coming to this Chamber. If it were to be elected by a different system—maybe the first-past-the-post system or some form of proportional representation—it would be more legitimate but nevertheless, because its electoral legitimacy would be stronger, its contest with the primary Chamber of the Commons would be the greater. Some of your Lordships believe that the proportion should be a third or a half. The higher we go, the more the competition will increase and the greater the difficulty.
653 In my judgment, a wholly appointed Chamber selected on the basis of the Royal Commission's proposal could find favour with the great British public if we in this Chamber and those who succeed us were to sell to the public what we are about. We get coverage only during the passage of major Bills such as the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001. But that is our fault. We are not prevented from communicating. We ought as a body corporate to be able to communicate what we are about. As I go up and down the country—I have for only four years had the privilege of serving your Lordships—when I talk to people I find the beginning of a recognition of and thankfulness for the job that this House does. The challenge is to communicate what we do as an appointed Chamber.
My conclusion is that, if 600 is the ideal number of Members, it would be far better to increase the independent, Cross-Bench element than to elect 20 per cent of Members.
Secondly—I recognise that this may be a little controversial—I draw attention to the Law Lords. When I first came into Parliament, I was taught that Parliament creates the laws and the judiciary interprets and disposes. Surely in today's world—let us consider other countries—the judiciary should be totally independent of Parliament. That leads me to the conclusion that all the Law Lords should go. That does not mean that those who have served as Law Lords and demonstrated an independence of mind should not return as appointed Members, but we should at least consider changing the position of the Law Lords.
Thirdly, much play is made of the need for party balance. I recognise that the government of the day should be the largest single party in the upper House. However, the mechanics of that appear horrendously difficult. I have wrestled with them, and I will make one proposal to the Government. One way round the problem would be for a number of ministerial positions to rest with the government of the day. That may be 20 or whatever number is chosen; it could even be a band. Those positions could automatically go to the Government, so that, automatically, the Government of the day would be able to increase the number that they have. Of course, when the Government changed at the next election—assuming that they lost the election—they would lose those people.
I want to raise a fourth point. It is a small point, but I have raised it every time that I have spoken on this subject. The Royal Commission considered the position of the dependent territories. I realise that the Government appear to want to find a new status for Gibraltar, but, leaving that aside, I believe that this House would be strengthened if we had appointed persons with specific knowledge and expertise of Gibraltar, the Falklands and the other significant dependent territories.
Finally, I shall echo the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold. We have had a House of Lords for centuries; we had one long before there was a 654 House of Commons. Why must we reject the name? That is a modernisation idea that has gone too far. I am one of the life Peers on whom he believes that we should have a viewpoint, and my view is that it should remain the House of Peers, whatever happens.
The issue of functions is not covered in much depth in the White/Green Paper. Nevertheless, in the introduction, the Prime Minister places some emphasis on the matter, tasking us to be better able to perform. We are to be better able to scrutinise and revise—I see a distinguished former member of the Public Accounts Committee, under whose chairmanship I had the privilege of serving—and that scrutiny and revision can be done exceedingly well, but we must have strong people of independent mind on the committee.
I view the way in which we handle secondary legislation here with amazement. I cannot see why any Government should resist allowing this House to amend, reject or delay secondary legislation. All three options should be within the compass of the Chamber. I remind noble Lords that we are dealing with secondary legislation, not primary. A delay of up to three months is hardly an advance. When I was Chairman of Ways and Means, there were thousands of statutory instruments going through that department every session in the other place, not just a few hundred. Given that number, the second Chamber will not wish to amend, delay or reject many. Any Government should recognise that it is a serious matter if a question is being raised about that. We should be able to do all three things. The same applies to regulations.
It may be an oversight, and I accept that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor could not cover every aspect in his introductory speech, but the Quinquennial Act is very important to our parliamentary democracy. I hope that when the Leader of the House winds up, he will make it clear that there is no proposal to alter that Act.
My final point is not controversial. In making my suggestions, I emphasise to the noble and learned Lord that there is nothing personal in what I want to say. I am thinking about the control of our proceedings in a modernised House. I have been here for only four years, hut, as I understand it, things are done through the usual channels, the Chief Whip, the Whip on duty, the Leader of the House or some combination of those noble Lords. There seems to be little or no control by the noble Lord or noble Baroness sitting on the Woolsack. I emphasise again that there is nothing personal in this, but to me, as a democrat, it was—I am not sure what the right word is—wrong or upsetting that the Lord Chancellor, the quasi-Speaker, took prayers, rightly; presided over three questions. rightly; and then, for the fourth, stepped aside, still wearing the wig of office, and answered a political question. Not only did he answer a political question, there was almost a mini-political debate between the Lord Chancellor and the Liberal Party. I believe that that is wrong.
655 After the mini-debate, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor takes off his wig and goes to the Dispatch Box to sell the Government's policy on the reform of your Lordships' House. In my judgment, such a partisan role is not compatible with the role of whoever is to preside over the proceedings of this Chamber, if it is to be modernised. After all, it is to that person each of us and anyone else who is appointed or elected to this Chamber, particularly those who are elected, will look to defend their rights and ultimately protect this House and the nation's constitution.
Therefore, if there is a crisis of confidence in Parliament, and I believe that there is—
§ Lord Elton
My Lords, can the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, explain a little more what he means by the Speaker of the House, who has no powers whatever over our proceedings, standing as the defender of our liberty?
§ Lord Naseby
My Lords, that is probably for another day, but in principle I am saying that elected Members sent to this House by the general public—and the Quinquennial Act is a prime example—will look to whoever is presiding over the proceedings to ensure that their viewpoint is given fair exposure. If necessary, that is the person whom they can see privately and raise a particular point with, as is done in other Chambers. But it goes wider than that.
I recognise that other noble Lords want to speak so I shall conclude. If there is a crisis of confidence in Parliament—and there is—in my judgment the answer does not lie in a hybrid solution. Either it must be fully elected or fully appointed. My four years here lead me to believe that a fully appointed Chamber could be sold with conviction and with success to the British public.
§ 9.22 p.m.
§ Lord Harrison
My Lords, I believe that the House of Lords should become a House of comment and not another House of Commons directly elected by the people. As a House of comment, deliberation, debate and revision, the House of Lords can, in a complementary manner, support the pivotal role of the Commons as the pre-eminent decision-making forum in the British body politic.
In that role, the House of Lords can join all the other bodies which in effect support and comment on the work of the Commons. Incidentally, I point out that all the other bodies to which I refer are unelected and unaccountable: the judiciary; the Monarchy; and, yes, the press and the media. When, for example, did the presenters of the "Today" programme ever stand for election or make themselves accountable to the public? And yet they powerfully influence the political debate in this country; more so indeed than the majority of your Lordships. Before bacon and eggs each morning, it is the "Today" programme, not us, which determines the daily political fry-up.
However, no one suggests, other than perhaps the former Lord Stansgate, that all those other commenting bodies—the press, the media and the 656 judges—should be directly elected. And nor should we as a House of Lords be directly elected. We should rather concentrate on our current job and reform our antiquated practices. We should strive to be an effective, specialising, revising, advising and supervising House, bringing added value to the body politic by becoming that House of comment which I described.
Let me make two recommendations to propel us on that path. First, our Committee system needs root and branch reform. Committees of the Whole House should be abandoned and replaced by Committees in the Moses Room or wherever, using a modern, business-like approach to our work. We should jettison the grace notes and curlicues of custom and practice used in this Chamber, which may be quaint and quixotic to the onlooker but which only serve to impede proper progress and effective debate on legislation that requires contemporary elucidation and not ancient obfuscation.
As for the Select Committees, never has so much talent been assembled for so little return. As a proud member of European Union Sub-Committee C—note how we hide behind the anonymity of the letter "C"—I am appalled that the wonderful array of talent, experience and expertise found among my fellow committee members leads us to write reports on foreign common and security policy which frequently fail to reach the Floor of the House for engaged debate; whose tired and unserviceable presentation makes them an unappetising read. These reports are seldom read outside the House or sent to those who might benefit from them, such as British Members of the European Parliament, because little attention is given to who might be their core audience.
Moreover, I am aggrieved to be part of a committee system whose method of taking evidence is antiquated, inefficient and, at times, downright lacking in civility. On making my way to the committee one day, I was astonished to discover languishing in the Corridor a lone and unattended distinguished European ambassador who had given up his time to come and give evidence to our committee. Common courtesy requires at the very least that he should have been chaperoned and refreshed with tea and biscuits. We did not do that. Instead we boast in our annual report about how proud we are of doing everything on the cheap.
When a witness comes for his or her Star Chamber grilling, further indignities ensue. We still employ an out-of-date recording system, which entails placing the stenographers directly in the sight line of chairmen and witnesses. I looked on in astonishment recently when the Secretary of State for Defence was told to "budge over a bit" because half of the committee could not see him properly.
What about the fraud of holding meetings that are open to the public so that we can claim to be an open, transparent and democratic second Chamber? Our system does everything in its powers to dissuade the public from scrutinising our work. First, we have the farce of finding the ever-changing committee rooms, 657 whereby half the room allocation in the House is peremptorily changed in an attempt to throw participant Peers and the public alike off the trail. Very occasionally an explorer of Shackletonian endurance will find our committee rooms and enter, where he is greeted with stares of surprise and disbelief. But no other welcome is offered. No effort is made to accommodate or inform the unexpected guest about the nature of the inquiry taking place. Soon the member of the public tires and quits this South Pole of democracy, emerging anew into Parliament Square a sadder and no wiser man than when he entered it.
My anxieties about the present European Union Committee system were brought to a head last autumn when the media became hot under the collar about the so-called European army—the European rapid reaction force. Sub-Committee C had published an excellent and informative report on this subject a couple of months previously, but because of the lack of resources and the absence of an established press officer for the Lords, our report was rendered impotent for the purposes of enlightening and enlivening the public debate. No one had heard of it and certainly we had done little to promote it. Our Olympian aloofness means that our report stayed with the gods.
I turn now to the future composition of the House. It has been little appreciated that the Wakeham report does, in effect, call for an indirectly-elected House, alongside those directly elected from the regions, by requiring the remaining 80 per cent or so broadly to reflect the proportion of votes cast for each party at the previous election. The problem with Wakeham is that no satisfactory method is offered of immediately achieving this de facto proportional representation on the surcease of the general election.
I can offer my solution, which I call the "Manchester United squad system" in that, like manager Alex Ferguson perming 11 players on the field out of a wider squad of 30, each political party in the House will field a team of Peers from which will be drawn the quota of Peers eligible to vote according to the percentage of votes cast for the party at the previous general election. Without elaborating on the details of my proposal, which I have summed up in a paper available from my office, I can say that the system has, I believe, the following virtues.
First, it could be enacted immediately after each general election and would be effective from the start of Parliament, unlike Wakeham. Secondly, it would ensure an indirectly-elected House drawn from the popular vote at that election. Thirdly, it would support a proportional representation system that sharply distinguishes the House as a House of comment from the House of Commons, the home of direct elections. Fourthly, it would provide continuity because the wider team from which the quota is drawn does not have to change; and, fifthly, it would provide an easy bridge from the current revised House to the new House in a final form, including the flexibility of setting a cap on the size of the House of 750, 600 or, indeed, a smaller number, if desired.
658 The sixth virtue is that it would accommodate both working Peers and occasional Peers—the unique feature of the current House. Finally, it would allow all Peers to retain equal speaking, voting and all other rights and also allow parties to retain (and honour) senior party supporters without requiring them to be permanently on tap as voting fodder. Peers who were ill, absent on business, or otherwise unavailable, would not be letting down their party.
I shall submit my ideas to the consultation on the White Paper, but it is my firm belief that we now have a golden opportunity to establish a second Chamber fit for the 21st century. We must find the alchemy to secure that noble end.
§ 9.32 p.m.
§ Lord Northbrook
My Lords, I was full of high hopes for the White Paper, The House of Lords: Completing the Reform. However, I had suspected that the document might be somewhat confused due to the range of views on the opposite Benches. On the one hand, the view of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor a few years ago, as expressed in Janet Jones' book Labour of Love, stated that he favoured a fully appointed House: while on the other hand we have the views of the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, when serving as Lord Privy Seal as expressed in Michael Cockerell's television documentary in February 2000 "Blair's 1,000 Days: The Lady and the Lords" in which she asked:How is it possible to justify any House of Parliament which is not at least mainly democratically elected?The document is a dog's breakfast. It was rushed out in great haste and there is a major misprint on page 22 where a whole line has been omitted. Moreover, a very short time has been allowed for consultation—only until 31st January. In addition, I have worries about the composition of a new House in certain areas of detail. First, how are the ranks of the bishops to be cut from 26 to 16? There seems to be no detail on that point. Secondly, how will the number of Law Lords be reduced from 28 to 12? Even that total does not seem to have been finally fixed. Thirdly, there is the question of how, in practice, the initial political balancing of the appointed political Peers will take place.
I am also confused by the meaning of certain sentences in the White Paper. On page 25, we are told:In particular, the Appointments Commission will ensure that at least 30 per cent of new appointees are women and 30 per cent are men".What about the remaining 40 per cent?
I shall move on to more detailed criticism. Along with many other speakers, I should like to focus on the role of the appointments commission in relation to political Peers. As has already been said many times, this Royal Commission proposal has been watered down. No wonder my noble friend Lord Wakeham is concerned about parts of paragraphs 65 to 68. The role of the commission has been emasculated; it will not be allowed to choose political appointees, and therefore their quality will be less good due to lack of independent scrutiny. It should not be left to the political parties to select their own people.
659 My next area of criticism concerns whether the new proposed structure will be any better than the existing House or whether it will be worse than the former House. The present House does a good job of revising legislation. As has been stated, 4,761 amendments to Bills were passed in 2000. Adding a number of elected Members may have a symbolic resonance, but would it necessarily produce a more effective second Chamber? Would it make up for the skills lost through the exclusion of the hereditary Peers?
Furthermore, I believe that instability will be introduced by creating a two-tier membership of the House. Overall, it will not add value. It will make the House more complicated and it is unclear whether their numbers will be taken into account when determining the political balance of the House.
My next criticism concerns the problem of bringing the numbers down to 600 within 10 years. Initially the number of Peers must rise. An extra 24 Labour Peers will be needed to rebalance the size of the House, thus pushing the overall size to 727. Then, as stated in paragraph 95, will come,a real challenge … to work towards a reduction in numbers".It is stated in the document that provision will be made for Members formally to retire, but would that apply to elected Members?
Continuing on the theme of the size of the House, if one expects some new appointments over the corning two years before a Bill is passed by the House, then the size of the membership will increase to 750, as stated in paragraph 91. However, the size of the House is to be capped at 600 in 10 years' time. How will that work in practice? The problems governing the mechanics are difficult. As independent life Peers die, will they be replaced automatically, or only when the House is reduced to 600 in size? The same problem of the mechanics will arise with regard to the appointed life Peers. What is to happen if not enough Peers volunteer to retire?
My next concern is the task of the appointments commission of balancing the House according to the political vote at the most recent general election. Paragraph 66 states categorically that the appointments commission cannot enforce resignations, a point which has been referred to by other speakers. However, the problems will become apparent if there is a big change in the party vote or if general elections are called one after the other, as happened in 1974.
My next criticism concerns the form of the Bill that is to come before the House. The complexity of the arrangements could lead to hybridity in the legislation. Some 92 Peers, who in effect are now life Peers, are to be treated differently from the rest of the House. A separate class of elected Peers will be created by the Bill. Some Members will be Peers and some will not. We seem to have a situation where, as per Erskine May, specific private or local interests will be affected in a manner different from the private or other local interests of other persons or bodies in the same category. All those matters will require many hours of debate.
660 In conclusion, the White Paper fails to offer a solution to the composition of the second Chamber and instead creates a complicated and highly unsatisfactory structure for the House.
§ 9.40 p.m.
§ Lord Mackie of Benshie
My Lords, I have enjoyed many of the speeches today. I greatly enjoyed my leader's speech. I agreed with practically all of it—which is quite unusual—until she advocated moving towards an elected House. I can say categorically that I am against an elected House. But, as the Lord Chancellor said, people are willing to compromise, and if we compromise along the lines of the commission's report it might work.
The reason that we must have this House full of good, experienced and able people is what is happening in the Commons. The point has been made already by the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, and other noble Lords, that the number of Members of the Commons who have no other experience is quite extraordinary. We have all seen in our own lives and our own parties, able young men and young women coming in as research assistants, going out to a party, seeing the party staff, getting a place on the electoral register and becoming candidates. In my view, it would be infinitely better for the House if these able young men first went and did something outside and were successful at that.
The Commons is getting more and more like that. I do not think that there are so many great men corning out of there. Perhaps the best example at the present time is the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, who has done this House a lot of good with his direct approach.
I do not mind the White Paper. Of course I disagree with parts of it, but I do not think it is bad at all. Many parts of it can be put right by this House.
It is important that we have 600 Members because my experience in Europe and elsewhere has shown that the committees of this House have a tremendous value and are thought very much more of than the committees in the House of Commons. We need reasonable numbers of able people to come in and man the committees.
If we are to have elected Members—which I would not like—for goodness sake let us take the 87 recommended and ensure that they are elected not by a list system but as people. We could change the election procedure for the European Parliament at the same time. We have a lot of work to do. The list system is awful but, if we have names, the election might produce people from the regions who would be extremely valuable. I would still prefer to stick to nominated people because in that way we would know the enormous number of people who are willing to serve in the House of Lords on the old basis.
I have missed out the bishops. I do not see the justification for nominating 16, 12 or any number of bishops to this House. There are able and good people in the Church of England who can be nominated by the excellent committee which has already produced 661 Peers in the House who, it is universally agreed, are exactly the kind of people that we need. Nominees could be people from all the Churches. They do not have to be bishops. They could be vicars—or whatever they call them in the Church of England—or ministers of religion who are good at their jobs. To have bishops as such is wrong in spite of their excellence as persons.
We must also examine the country's opinion of this House. I am afraid that it is regarded by the country as a geriatric House. There are too many old people here. I am 82, and am obviously deteriorating fast. But, so long as you pay my fare down and give me enough for my dinner, I shall come here. Too many people have that view. Indeed, some need the money. I do not say that I cannot use it, but I could do without it at a pinch. So if you cannot shoot us—which would not be popular—then you should buy us out and send us off home with a pension or something of that sort. We must have a House that is up to the minute, not one that is out of date.
Perhaps I may give a small example. I bought a new house with a nice lawn, and I like a croquet lawn. So I rang a friend of mine who is a dealer in manures and said, "I want a bag of tattie manure for my lawn". He said, "You've got a big lawn?". I said, "Not bad. Big enough for a pitch". He said, "you do realise that we now sell manure in tonne bags". It is a small example of how you can get out of date. Many of us are out of date, and we should do something about it before it is too late.
§ 9.47 p.m.
§ Lord Jopling
My Lords, I want to begin by recalling the situation in which I found myself in 1992. At the request of the then Leader of the House of Commons, now the noble Lord, Lord MacGregor of Pulham Market, I was asked to take the chair of a Select Committee in another place on the Sittings of the House of Commons. Just before the election in 1993, we produced a unanimous report on changing the arrangements for the Sittings, which was broadly accepted. A number of people were kind enough to attach my name to the recommendations of the committee, which was extremely flattering.
However, after the 1993 election, given the Conservative Party's majority in another place, we could perfectly easily have forced through those recommendations with the greatest of ease. I say that as a former Chief Whip. It would have been simple to do. But we did not. At that time we took the view that, until a consensus had been arrived at in implementing the reports of the committee of which I was chairman, we ought not to do that. Eventually, when there was a consensus, nearly all the proposals of my committee were implemented. That was, I believe, in 1996.
How I wish that this Government had a similar approach to major changes in the way in which this House conducts its affairs. If the Government had sought changes in the way in which this House is set up and works in the same way as we did in the House of Commons seven or eight years ago, we should be 662 approaching this situation in a totally different way. I only wish that the Government had not seemed so arrogant in brushing aside any efforts to achieve an agreed reform, which is how we should have gone about it. I very strongly resent that.
I could go on for a long time about the details of the White Paper, but I shall confine myself to two points, the first of which I shall deal with briefly. The Government must radically change their attitude to the House of Lords. The Leader of the House, who is kind enough to be here, will know what I am going to say. The Government's indifference to this House is clearly shown by the way in which they respond to Questions that we put down for them to answer. I remind the Leader of the House that today's Order Paper includes no fewer than 92 Questions for Written Answer that have been awaiting an Answer for more than three weeks. He will not mind me saying that he and I have had discussions about the problem. He nods at that. I know that he is concerned, but he must do more than wring his hands. Something must be done to deal with it.
When I first went to another place, the general rule was that Answers must be given to Written Questions within three or four days. I well remember that in my previous position as Chief Whip down the other end of the building I used to rant when Ministers failed to do that. I also remember ranting at my civil servants when I was a Minister if Written Questions were not answered within three or four days. I understand that one week is now regarded as the norm for Answers to Written Questions, yet we have 92 Questions here that have been waiting for more than three weeks. That is intolerable. It will not do. I invite the Leader of the House to ask his officials to show him an Answer that was given to Mr Burns, a Member of another place, in November with regard to Questions that had not been answered in a short period. He will discover from that that the record of answering Questions promptly is infinitely better in the House of Commons than it is in this House.
I begin with that abrasive point, because it is a reflection of the Government's attitude. It can only come from Ministers and I know from two previous incarnations that Ministers can put these things right if they want to. They ought to do so in this case.
I do not know whether the phrase has been used before, but the Government's general proposals on the composition of the Lords are neither one thing nor another. I am not arguing with the proposal that the Lords should be subservient and of secondary importance to the Commons; I think that it should be. However, it would be impossible to sustain that situation of subservience in the long run if this House were all elected. We cannot have both things. This House cannot be both all elected and subservient to the Commons. The two propositions are incompatible. Our successors in a fully elected House of Lords would not, in time, put up with that situation. That will not do.
The Government are proposing to have 120 elected Members representing the nations and the regions. A number of points have been made on that. However, 663 the proposal seems to suggest that the nations and the regions are not properly represented already. Although I hesitate to name some of my old friends who sit on the Benches opposite, I do not think that they would mind very much if I were to mention them. I do not know what the noble Lord, Lord Islwyn—the former Roy Hughes, an old friend of mine, who is one of the great champions of Wales—or the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, would say if it is suggested that the regions are not properly represented already. There are endless major champions of the regions in the House and I do not know why they need to be significantly strengthened.
I feel that it is far better to leave this House as it is, by making it all appointed, and not to tinker with elected elements. We have already heard a good deal about the horrors of a hybrid House, and I shall not enlarge on that. However, I believe that a hybrid House could be described as neither nowt nor summat—nothing nor something, for those who do not understand my native Yorkshire vernacular.
I now turn to the political element of the House's composition. The Government have proposed that the numbers from each party should reflect the votes cast at the previous general election. If that is to work properly, it surely must mean that there should be an adjustment in the numbers, memberships and the party balances immediately after each general election. I believe that that is what should happen.
That would be best done if those appointed to membership of the House were appointed for only one Parliament at a time. I am very strongly opposed to people being appointed, once the life Peers have all disappeared from the scene, for more than one Parliament. We would say to people, "We are appointing you for one Parliament. It may be that you will be here for two, three or even four Parliaments. It will depend on the balance of votes cast at general elections". As I have said in the House before, there will be no difficulty in finding people at the end of their career who would be happy to come here for one Parliament. Endless people will stand at general elections knowing that they may be in for only one Parliament. I am sure that we could find endless people with great distinction who would be happy to be appointed to this place for only one Parliament. It is essential, however, that we can readjust the membership of your Lordships' House immediately after a general election.
I believe, however, that the concept of party balances according to general election votes is a short-term concept and extremely dangerous. The Government suggest that the balance between the parties of the political Members of the House of Lords should be based on the votes in the previous general election. I tabled a Question, which was answered on 22nd November, asking what would have been the state of party balances in all elections since 1966 if that rule had applied. Leaving aside elections up to 1974 where the Northern Ireland Members took the Conservative Party Whip (I may be excused for doing that because I was the Northern Ireland Whip in another place up to 1974), starting with the first 664 election in 1974 and looking at all the elections since, it is interesting to see how the political Members of the House of Lords would have divided in those circumstances.
During that period the government of the day would have had between 28 and 35 per cent of the vote in this House; the Opposition would have had between 40 and 47 per cent. That means that on each occasion, in each Parliament, the government of the day since 1974 would have had a large minority in this House, in spite of having had a large majority in another place. I have made that point four times already in these debates and at last the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, responded to my point in our last debate, which was good of her.
I have consistently taken the view that the situation at present, where this Government have only 30 per cent of the votes in this House, is totally inadequate; it is quite unfair. The Government are only able to live with it in the short term because the Liberal Democrat Party invariably votes with the Government. But if the situation arose in the future where the Opposition parties were unanimously opposed to the government, and the government had only a small number of the votes, their task in this House would be hopeless.
We need to think in the long term. The carve-up of political Members on the basis of votes in a general election will not work. I predict that it would have to be changed at some future date to be lair to the government of the day. In my view, the government ought to have equality with all other political parties. The government should have 40 per cent of the votes in this House and all other Opposition parties should have 40 per cent; the remaining 20 per cent should be made up of Cross-Benchers. That is how the House should be structured and I hope that at last somebody will take notice of my suggestion.
§ 10.3 p.m.
§ The Earl of Sandwich
My Lords, I shall try and move the debate quickly on and my time to half of that so generously allocated.
I speak as someone who, on the one hand, has benefited from the extraordinary privilege of centuries and yet, on the other, as someone who has felt and been made to feel able and entitled to contribute as an equal and full Member of this House. My father thought it was a stuffy place, as the noble Lord, Lord Renton, well remembers. He was forced to come here in 1962 when his father died and unsuccessfully tried to get back. But after nearly seven years I have come to understand and respect the independence of this House and would regret any unnecessary dilution of its historic traditions.
I do not wish to prolong the hereditary principle and I am ready to walk the plank when the time comes. If a reasonable adaptation of the Wakeham proposals ever receives the support of a majority of this House, I am ready to vote for them. I would go further and say that this country does not want to see any further postponement of reform.
The research has been done and here I disagree with the noble Viscount, Lord Goschen. He underestimates the feeling. It is up to us to reach a compromise 665 solution, if not this year, at the latest by the end of this Parliament. As the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, said, a stalemate would be a tragedy. We have heard enough members of the Royal Commission tonight make not only themselves, but also the Government, so unhappy that they should go home and rethink the proposals even before tomorrow's 40 extra speakers.
I do not see any endgame emerging from the present proposals, not least because of the views of another place. I believe that the Government have let the Royal Commission down badly. They have made a fundamental mistake in building up the expectation of an elected Chamber only to fall back on a compromise partial election which, I agree with many others, is no democratic election at all. We do not need a charade of the democracy which exists, more or less, in another place. We are different. We are a part-time, value-for-money House using the best experience which is on offer and we must not throw that away.
Nor do we want to compete with another place for legitimacy. That was well put by the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, who spoke succinctly of a misleading sense of empowerment. A partially elected Chamber would run the risk of dividing the House and a European-style election, as has been said, would be a sham which would fool no one, least of all the voters. The elected MLs would he chosen like MEPs from large regional constituencies and would not enjoy public confidence like MPs. Once here, they would inevitably expect this House to behave very differently and radically change its procedures. Worst of all, a party dominated, hybrid House, as many have said long before today, would fly in the face of the most important principle which is accepted by everyone; that is, the value of an independent second Chamber which is complementary to the first. That is already a recognised, understood principle, so why threaten it with a mixed bag of clowns and poodles?
I am not personally worried, as I know many people are, about poodles because arrangements can be made, and are proposed, to tighten up the Appointments Commission and make the statutory commission much more independent and authoritative, perhaps involving the Privy Council. Like the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon, who will speak tomorrow, I am much more worried by the spurious legitimacy of the clowns, as he described them in his excellent recent article in The House Magazine. It would not be wise to give the Commons any impression that MPs are to be overseen by regional shadows whose electors will—as I am afraid is the case with most MEPs—never even learn their names. I do not think that many people, not even the Liberals, see a limited number of regional Peers as a serious plank in the process of devolution. Nations and most of the regions are already well served in this House and any under-representation can and should become an issue for the new appointments commission.
My concern is, therefore, much more basic, rather like that of my noble friend Lord Cobbold. As a Cross-Bencher I deplore the reduction in the number of 666 independents which would be a direct result of the small elected element. The arithmetic is still unclear, not least because of the undecided status of other faiths and the Law Lords, but also because of the disparity of which my noble friend Lord Bledisloe spoke. I believe that 20 per cent is much too low a proportion of independents for a reformed House which will pride itself on its independent character. I was encouraged by the willingness of the noble Lord, Lord Richard, to go to 33 per cent.
I have not said this before as I do not defend the hereditary principle, but I could come to regret the loss even of hereditary independent Peers elected by their colleagues who already demonstrate independence of mind and other qualities more suited to this House than the remote-controlled regional Peers who are intended to replace them.
I would personally do away with the elected Peers altogether and bring the independent quota up to at least 30 per cent so that the country recognises the value of experience devoid of party political background. I believe that we could build a consensus on that in spite of the present content of the Government's proposals. Of course, there is a limit, perhaps beyond 35 per cent, at which the parties could no longer control the agenda, but we are a long way from that.
I know that there are many in this House, including, I suspect, many on the Government's Back Benches, who are sadly absent at the moment, who have acquired a refreshingly independent character over the years and who would be happy to see a higher proportion of independents to balance party political appointments. If these figures are regarded as unrealistic, I can only say that I hope the Government will at the very least look again at the balance between genuinely independent Peers and party members in this House.
Cross-Benchers cannot in their nature reach corporate decisions, but genuine independence is one issue on which there has been a surprising degree of consensus. While understanding that there will always be compromises where former party members are concerned, many of us feel quite strongly that there should be some basic test of independence on the Cross Benches in a reformed Chamber. However, that must not be interpreted negatively. There should also be encouragement of former party members to join the independents—some noble Lords may currently be considering just that—provided that they had genuinely renounced their party membership.
In time, I believe that genuine independents would become informal "representatives" of a wide cross-section of professions and be recognised by their different constituencies as such, as many are today. The Royal Commission explored that idea but did not take it very far. Those independents would be amplified by some of the other groups that were identified by the commission—minority communities, other faiths, women in public life and members of professions and charities, who perform a democratic function. Such appointments must, as now, be 667 promoted by the relevant sections of society but should not be formally elected or representative because that would produce an unworkable system.
I briefly add my voice to those who would prefer to retain the principle of expenses versus salaries. Having salaries would be another nail in the coffin of the idea of elected Peers. It would be crazy to lose the advantages of unpaid public service—that system already suits the House and the country well.
In summary, I do not want to alter the present functions or character of the House that have developed over centuries. I would strengthen the Appointments Commission, do away with the idea of elections altogether and have a greater proportion of independent Peers replacing the hereditaries. The public are not fooled by sham democracy. I want to see a more, not less, independent House, which the public would perceive as being a truly impartial revising Chamber. Let us not have change for change's sake; we should preserve what we have, which is already of proven value.
§ 10.12 p.m.
§ Lord Norton of Louth
My Lords, I am conscious of the time and shall endeavour to keep noble Lords awake. Unfortunately, it is not in my gift to keep noble Lords warm.
I begin by agreeing with a point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams. We should not be considering reform of the second Chamber as some discrete change to our constitutional framework. We have to look at the second Chamber within the context of Parliament and Parliament's place in our constitutional arrangements. Yet discussion of reform of each House takes place independently, as if change to one Chamber can be considered without reference to its impact on the other.
At the moment, there are clearly problems with the other place in fulfilling some of the functions that are traditionally ascribed to it. Indeed, some people appear to see reform of this House as a means of compensating for the failure of the other place to carry out its functions effectively. If the House of Commons is not doing its job effectively, that is not an argument for reforming the second Chamber; it is an argument for making sure that the first Chamber is provided with the means to do its job properly.
I turn to the content of the White Paper. The Government want to achieve significant change to one Chamber of the legislature. One would therefore expect that for a change of such constitutional importance the Government would have a powerful and consistent argument to deploy in favour of it. However, when we look at the White Paper and what has preceded it, what do we find? We find not only that no consistent case is made but also that Ministers and other proponents of reform appear uncertain about what the justification is for change.
At least five reasons have been offered: those of democracy, legitimacy, representation, variety and effectiveness. The first finds expression in the Government's election manifestos of 1997 and 2001; 668 the second finds some support in the 1999 White Paper; the third underpins the report of the Royal Commission and the Supporting Documents accompanying the White Paper; the fourth has been advanced by the Leader of the House; and the fifth was put forward by the Prime Minister.
The argument that electing some Members is the democratic option is, as I have argued previously, sustainable only if democracy is defined in terms of process—that is, election. If one defines it in terms of ensuring that the wishes of the people are carried into effect, then in fact our existing arrangements are democratic. Electors choose one body—the party ingovernment—to carry out the programme that they have endorsed and they can hold that body to account at the next general election. One has the paradox that an unelected and, hence, unaccountable second Chamber is necessary to preserve the fundamental accountability of the political system.
I have advanced that argument previously in your Lordships' House. My definition and resulting line of argument were rejected by the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House on 21st June last year. In the course of his comments, the noble and learned Lord said:I reject the proposition that democracy is all about the will of the people to be paramount".—[Official Report, 21/6/01; col. 113.]Yet we now find that the Government accept the argument that I have advanced. In the supporting documents to the White Paper, we find the following—the Lord Chancellor repeated it in his opening speech—It is widely asserted that in the twenty-first century, the only basis for selecting a chamber of Parliament in a democratic society is a form of election. The Government does not accept that for a second chamber in the UK parliamentary system. It is vital to know where true accountability lies".It then goes on to develop the argument that I have just outlined, although not taking it to what I regard as its logical conclusion.
The second, and related, argument is that election will confer legitimacy on the second Chamber. The 1999 White Paper spoke of the need for greater legitimacy to fulfil the function of legislative revision. The noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House made a similar point on 21st June last year in talking about acceptability. But how will the election of some Members confer greater legitimacy on the Chamber as a whole?
If legitimacy derives from election, what is the position of appointed Members? According to the Leader of the House, all Members will be equal, he they elected or appointed. Therefore, if appointed Members can claim legitimacy, why do we need elected Members? In any event, that line of argument begs the question: legitimacy to do what? Is it to express an informed view, or to carry out the functions of legislative revision, debate, and scrutiny of the executive? I have argued that the legitimacy of your Lordships' House must be earned, not assumed. I believe that it is earned through the work of Members who have expertise and experience—a phrase that I first used in evidence to the Wakeham commission.
669 There is nothing in the material before us to show that elected Members will add anything to the effective fulfilment of those tasks.
Then we have the argument that election will deliver a more representative House. The case advanced by the Royal Commission was that election could be used to ensure that the different parts of the United Kingdom each achieve a voice in the second Chamber. It is repeated in the White Paper and in the supporting documents. One can see the logic of the argument. However, it is not conclusive because election is not the only means of delivering that particular goal. Indeed, if one wishes to achieve a House with a membership drawn from a wide range of backgrounds—not only regional but also social and economic—then election is a highly inefficient means of achieving that. A process of appointing members can be much more efficient. If one wants a more structured representation of the regions, that can be achieved without the need for direct election. Indirect election may, in this context, generate fewer problems.
Furthermore, it is not clear from the White Paper and supporting documents whether Members should be representative of the regions—that is, speak for them—or simply be drawn from the regions, rather in the same way that Bishops are drawn from the Church but speak in an individual and not a representative capacity. The White Paper talks of representation, yet the supporting documents point out that a directly elected Member of the second Chamber would have the potential to challenge the representative role of Members of the other place—a potential for conflict clearly deemed to be undesirable.
The argument that elected Members will add variety is a variation on the argument of representation. It was offered by the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House on 17th December in answer to a Question from my noble friend Lord Geddes. The noble and learned Lord believes that election leads to variety. Has the noble and learned Lord looked recently at the profile of the membership of the other place? It is because of the absence of variety that the noble and learned Lord has been steering the Sex Discrimination (Election Candidates) Bill through this House. Greater variety can best be achieved through appointment and not through a uniform system of election. A proactive, independent appointments commission could do an invaluable job in ensuring that Members are drawn from—not representative of, but drawn from—a wide range of backgrounds. A great deal can be done in that direction. The argument advanced by the noble and learned Lord does not bear the weight of serious reflection.
The argument that reform will deliver a more effective House is one that is advanced by the Prime Minister in the foreword to the White Paper. It has already been quoted earlier in the debate. He wrote:The imperative is for a reformed second chamber performing broadly the same functions as in the existing House of Lords but in a more effective manner".670 We must therefore assume that that is the authoritative justification for the changes proposed in the White Paper.
Elected members are to be introduced in order to enable the House to fulfil its functions more effectively. How? This is where we find a gaping hole in the White Paper. The same hole appeared in the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Williams. How will elected members enable this House to be more effective in carrying out its existing functions? The House is able to fulfil these functions because of the experience and expertise of its membership. The value of such a membership is, in effect, conceded by the Government in making the case for retaining an appointed element. Neither the White Paper nor the supporting documents produce any evidence to show that elected members will add value to the House in fulfilling its functions.
The supporting documents touch upon ways in which the House may be strengthened in fulfilling its functions, drawing largely on the Royal Commission, but none relates to election. If the Government want to proceed with reform, they must demonstrate how the proposals in the White Paper for an elected element will meet the criterion advanced by the Prime Minister. When the Leader of the House made his statement introducing the White Paper, it was a speech of two halves. The first half outlined the functions of this House and the second adumbrated the Government's proposals for reform. I felt that there was a part missing in the speech; the bit that actually linked the two parts—to explain how the reforms would actually deliver the functions and improve the fulfilment in terms of those functions that he so clearly adumbrated. We find exactly that gap in the White Paper.
If we are to have reform of this House, and there is a debate to be had, then consideration of reform must proceed on the basis of an informed debate. The subject is too important for anything else; and we are entitled to expect one. The White Paper that is before us is, I regret to say, no basis for an informed debate. It makes no coherent intellectual case for a part-elected House. What is before us simply will not do.
I conclude with one or two quick points in response to points already made in this debate. The noble Lord, Lord Richard, points to opinion polls. He clearly thinks that we should place great reliance on them. The logic of that is that we look forward to his voting for the reintroduction of capital punishment. My noble friend, Lord Hurd, noted that we are up against it in terms of opinion in the other place.
In terms of opinion polls the outcome depends on the question asked. There is no agreement if we look at opinion poll data in terms of different options for a reformed Chamber. As I say, it depends on the question asked. A quite extensive ICM poll last December asked:When it comes to making new laws in the second chamber, whose views do you think should be more important? The views of eminent people who have special knowledge or expertise, or the views of elected representatives of ordinary people?671 The results were, eminent people 43 per cent, and elected representatives 49 per cent. We should ask how strongly people feel about the issue. This is really not a pubs and clubs issue. Support may be broad; it is certainly not deep. We should also ask how much they know about the subject. The Wakeham commission found that those most knowledgeable about Parliament were most likely to support retention of an appointed Chamber. Certainly, when I give speeches about what the Lords does, at the end few people want to depart from the present arrangements.
We may be up against it in terms of views in another place. That is not an argument for rolling over and giving in. We should argue for what we believe is right.
§ 10.25 p.m.
§ The Earl of Listowel
My Lords, I begin by commenting on observations made by several Peers about the last election. There was indeed a low turnout, but there is more than one interpretation of the reasons for it. Might it not reflect the greater complexity of government today? The Government are seeking to be both socially responsible and economically prudent in a balanced way that ideology perhaps prevented in the past.
I welcome the pre-eminence accorded to the Commons in the White Paper. I am sure that we all agree with that, but it is fundamental. When I first arrived in your Lordships' House, I remember attending Questions and hearing that the United States had defaulted on its payments to the United Nations over several years. I have great respect for the United States, its dynamism and its achievements, but it was defaulting on those payments. Children and families in Africa were not getting clean water or advice on HIV-AIDS—the sort of support that the United Nations could provide—because of the constitutional settlement in the United States. Congress denied the money to make that possible.
I also remember the denial of President Carter's energy reforms and the denial of President Clinton's reform of the health arrangements. Many Americans are happy that their government are often incapable of governing. In many ways, it suits the affluent and reasonably well off that the government are unable to interfere in their business—they can look after themselves. It is the poorest in society who suffer when a government are hamstrung. The US obviously has a very different constitution from ours, but we have such close affinities with the US—there is indeed a special relationship between us—that it is important to bear the US experience in mind.
Constitutional experts suggest that a more likely model for us is that of the upper House in Australia. There is a fully elected, directly elected upper House, which is accorded general popular respect. That is most unusual for upper Houses: most are not popular with the public. In Australia, the upper House is respected for its ability thoroughly to revise legislation and because it will occasionally intervene in the legislative process. It has blocked the government's legislative programme at times.
672 However, I hope that your Lordships' would agree that we would not want to pursue that model. In 1975, the upper House denied a Bill of Supply. As a consequence, both Houses were dissolved and the Labor Government were not re-elected. I refer your Lordships to Meg Russell's book, Reforming the House of Lords: Lessons from Overseas. She in turn quotes John Uhr, who stated that the Senate has,proven its capacity to bring down government and, with that power as a threat, to transform the policy substance as well as the administrative style of governments".Meg Russell states:Gareth Evans, leader of government in the Senate during this period is recorded as saying that the Senate 'made my life an absolute and unequivocal misery' and that negotiating with other parties there was 'the sort of thing that made grown men weep and jump off tall buildings'.What might happen to the Salisbury convention if the new reformed House of Lords were to begin to take on more legitimacy? The House might, from time to time, block manifesto commitments made by the Government if they were seen as contentious or controversial. It might want to be seen to stand up to government. We all enjoy twitting authority from time to time, but there might be a new force of conservatism.
I shall consider the virtues of the current House. I am reminded of the contribution of my noble friend Lord Laming on the Children Leaving Care Bill and the Care Standards Bill. He is a former director of the Social Services Inspectorate, and he brought immense insight and understanding to that Bill. He now serves as the chairperson of the investigation into the Victoria Climbiê affair. When he returns to your Lordships' House, he will have even more fabulous experience to bring to bear on legislation.
I think also of a conversation that I had with one of my noble friends and an Opposition Front-Bench Member in your Lordships' Lobby last year. The Opposition Member was praising her opposite number to the skies, saying what a competent job she did, how much on top of her brief she was and how much she admired her. I think of the noble Lord, a member of the Labour Party, who, when I asked his advice during the passage of the anti-terrorism legislation, said that he had listened to the debate on his party's proposals and was now even more confident than before that he would oppose them.
We have the virtues of independence, of listening to one another with respect, of experience and expertise in great abundance in this House. I salute the support in the White Paper for the principle of maintaining an experienced Membership in the House and its acknowledgement of the need for Peers to continue to be part-timers, thus replenishing the fund of their experience.
The noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, talked about his age and the age of the House. As one of the younger Peers, I think that it is arguable that having a higher age profile than the House of Commons and having more grandparents than parents in this House is to our advantage. Peers are more mature and have, therefore, achieved most of what they wish to achieve 673 in life. They are more independent, less worried about promotion—outside the House or inside—and have the confidence of their life experience behind them, which helps them to contribute.
My concern is that there may be an unwished for dilution in the pre-eminence of the House of Commons. If the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, is right in his prophecy that the public will see the proposed elected element as a mere sop, rather than a genuine attempt at democracy, there may be a call for far more radical change and a greater representative element in the House. I was reassured by the clear limits that the White Paper put on the elected element, but then I spoke to senior Members from all parts of the House, and they all told me that they expected that the House would eventually be a mostly or fully elected House if we started off down the road of election.
The Government are trying to tackle years of lack of investment in housing, education, transport and other areas. They are attempting to take on that mammoth task and at the same time to balance the books. They seem to be achieving that.
Your Lordships may recall the debate on child poverty. The recent Rowntree report on poverty indicated that last year, more than in any previous year, the indices were improving in terms of social exclusion. We have the lowest unemployment rate in the EU and our economy is doing fairly well.
However, I am concerned that if we are not careful we shall not achieve the difficult targets of reinvestment in our services. That is essential. We can make interventions in the lives of the poorest people but what would really help them are properly funded services and proper investment which will benefit us all but will most benefit the most vulnerable. If there is a hamstrung House of Commons, if unintentionally the pre-eminence of the House of Commons is undermined, it will be considerably more difficult for the Government to achieve their aims.
§ 10.36 p.m.
§ Lord Sheldon
My Lords, to me the debate is largely about the relationship between the executive and Parliament. We do not have in this country the separation of powers which exists in the United States and I have always argued that we have certain advantages in not proceeding along those lines. However, we need to do more in that direction than we have in the past. In our recent history, Parliament has never been so subservient to the Administration.
In 1968 there was introduced the Parliament (No. 2) Bill in which I played some part. I opposed that Bill. It was designed exclusively to create Peers. The idea was that the total number of life Peers would be 200 to 250. That is very different from today's situation. After long discussion and deliberation—after 14 days, nights and mornings because that was when Dick Crossman was introducing such changes into all the procedures—the government withdrew the Bill. After 14 days they reached only Clause 6 of a 20-clause Bill. 674 In those days, Parliament still behaved as a body which could oppose the executive. I was concerned about the patronage power of the Prime Minister as a result of that Bill. I was concerned about the distortion not just of the House of Lords but of the House of Commons, too, as Members would have been expected to line up for transfer into this House. I could see the House of Lords becoming an aldermanic Bench.
As it happened, that did not take place and I have seen the House of Lords improve considerably over the years. At that time I wanted the House of Commons to undertake a number of reforms. I wanted it to undertake reform of the Select Committee system and to examine policies which the Select Committee system would undertake. Instead of remedying the inadequacies of that time, those inadequacies have become much worse.
We have seen a real need for Parliament and the executive to be realigned. What is always needed are people of independent mind who, while obviously owing allegiance to political parties, exercise their judgment. When I was first elected to the House of Commons in 1964, that was the position to a greater extent than now. As the noble Lord, Lord Norton, said, reform of the House of Lords comes from those who look to see the House of Lords remedying the defects and inadequacies of the House of Commons. That is not its job. The House of Commons should remedy its own faults. Over the years the weaknesses of the House of Commons have increased and the number of parliamentary disasters has grown. The conventional role of Members of Parliament is to present their different views with some candour, and such Members of Parliament and noble Lords are vital to the reputation of Parliament.
In my years in the House of Commons, I supported the government, but I opposed them in two important particulars. Harold Wilson was strongly against devaluation. I was the chairman of a Back-Benchers' group on economic and finance and wanted the pound to be devalued in 1964–65. He never forgave me for that. I wanted to see a withdrawal of troops East of Suez and he did forgive me for that, even though at one stage he said that our frontiers were on the Himalayas. In due course I became a member of the government. I should be rather surprised if such a thing could happen today. We have seen a change—but not only today; I cannot see that it would have happened under Mrs Thatcher either.
The model that we have here is the need for the independence of Members of this House and the modernisation of their proper role. There needs to be a new requirement, but we must not replicate the House of Commons, not because of the challenge to its powers, but because of the need for a Chamber that is less dominated by the executive. What pleases me the most is when I hear people speaking from the heart. They are not trying to prove anything here. The great advantage that we have is that this House is not the road to power, so people can speak their minds. We have better discussions and debates than in the House of Commons, not because we are more clever but 675 because Members of the other place have a different agenda. They see themselves at the foothills of power. Of course, we know that power resides there, but our advantage is that we are not in that kind of race.
We have to ask whether we can devise a House of Lords that will avoid some of the disasters of the past. What should a new, or even the present, House of Lords do about a matter such as the introduction of the poll tax? It was a disgrace and I am sure that the House of Lords today would be much more vociferous than in Margaret Thatcher's time. We would speak our minds forcefully and strongly if such an issue came up again.
What about the privatisation of British Rail? Robert Adley who was the greatest expert on railways in either House unfortunately died. He called the proposed privatisation of British Rail a "poll tax on wheels". He was right; it was a disgrace. Unfortunately he died so we were unable to have the advantage of his knowledge and understanding of railways. What would happen today? Would we be quiet and subservient even if the House of Commons were such? I think that we would be much better. One of the advantages of getting rid of so many hereditary Peers is that we have become more legitimate, and because of that we can say things in a way in which we were unable to do so before.
What about the decision on the Dome? It is a much less important matter, but nevertheless I think that we would have spoken out in a different way. The House of Lords would bring fresh and different views and contribute in a different way, in a less executive-dominated Chamber. That is one of the important matters that we have to discuss today.
The domination of the executive has increased and is continuing to do so. The power of the Whips used to be about privilege, the possibility of government office, committee membership, overseas visits, and so on. Added to that, we now see the possibility of paid appointed Peers. That is a serious matter because once we start paying new elected people to this House, they will be thinking of their electorate. They will want secretaries, special advisers, research assistants, offices and so on. If you envisage those people with us, you can imagine the kind of dominance that there would be in this place. They are in it for real. They are dealing with power in a different way from us. We would be putting sensible points forward; but they would be in the electoral system, while we were not.
One conclusion we should dismiss straightaway is the introduction of the list system, which is an abomination. In my area we had local MEPs who decided which of them would speak for each constituency. Along came the MEP to my constituency. We were outraged, and said, "We didn't choose you; you've no right to choose us". We sent him packing—quite right too! I wish that I had seen that happening in every constituency in the country. That is the kind of gumption that I want to see. If we see the list system doing that sort of thing, the outrage will be much greater. I hope that we shall be able to get rid of that kind of thinking immediately.
676 There is an important consideration here; namely, the quinquennial Act, which has already been mentioned. I remember the debates in the early 1970s when people talked about getting rid of the House of Lords. The one insuperable barrier to that was the quinquennial Act. The one super advantage that we have is that they cannot get rid of Parliament at will. That remained here. Therefore, the fact that it is not mentioned in any of the papers is an omission that I find both appalling and astonishing. I hope that that is an oversight, but we need to ensure that it does not happen again.
The power of the machine has grown. De-selection is on the agenda. Members of Parliament in the other place are thinking in terms of that: they have to keep their noses clean. They realise the problems that they have with their constituents. Indeed, recently there has been a case of someone not being included on a shortlist, and so on. We never used to see that sort of thing. So the power of the party has grown and there are dangers in that respect.
There used to be parallel paths in the Labour Party, through the National Executive Committee on one side and, on the other, through the parliamentary party. I was against that process. I felt that they were too much opposed to each other, but at least you had an alternative system. You had to have an alternative system; it was not monolithic. I hope for a better accommodation, but not a take-over. What we have seen is substantially a take-over. We have seen the whole of the political system moving in a way that I find rather sad.
As I have always said, an important aspect of all of this is the power of the Back-Bencher in the House of Commons. I made use of that power. I always believed that the task and power of the Back-Bencher was to look as he was running to escape from the net and he pulled back. That is the way to exercise the maximum amount of power. On occasion I did so, although perhaps not as much as I should have liked. That is something that a Back-Bencher can do. Unfortunately, with the size of the majority and the kind of Back-Benchers that we now have we have lost that power. Francis Pym said that the most important point is the size of the majority. If you have a majority of about 50, 60, or 70, the power of the government Back-Bencher is much increased. That has the greatest restraining effect upon the government of the day. That is a most important aspect.
The independence of Members will not be obtained by election. If the election is controlled, that independence is a myth. But there is a paradox here. An elected element can be more easily controlled by party than can an appointed one because there must be another election. An appointed element is for life and you cannot do much about it. This House should have no place for such an elected element if it is to be subjected to executive selection by the list system, or by some other system that has the same kind of results. If that were to happen, it would not lead to the reform of the House of Lords; it would lead to its emasculation.
677 Furthermore, the worst of all the proposed changes would be anything which increased the power of the executive still further. Better to introduce no changes than to invite such an outcome. My noble friends should he aware that much work has yet to be done. I wait to see it.
§ 10.50 p.m.
§ Lord Blackwell
My Lords, my aim in intervening at this stage of the debate is simply to add my voice to those of the many noble Lords—indeed, I suspect that they are in the majority—who have already spoken against the principle of introducing elected Members into the House. Like other noble Lords, I do not accept the argument that election is necessary in order to create legitimacy or that it has any role in increasing the effectiveness of the second Chamber.
Many noble Lords have made the point that we need to look at the democracy of Parliament and at the Constitution as a whole rather than to consider this Chamber in isolation. Every noble Lord who has spoken has accepted the primacy of the first Chamber. However, like the noble Lord, Lord Neill of Bladen, who spoke earlier, I believe that the biggest danger lying behind the primacy of the first, elected Chamber, is elective dictatorship; the dictatorship of large majorities and tightly whipped votes. In such a system, the democracy of Parliament as a whole is undoubtedly enhanced rather than diminished by the presence of a second Chamber that is truly independent and can delay legislation and make the first Chamber think again.
My noble friend Lord Norton of Louth argued that elected Members would add no value to this Chamber. I would go further and argue that in practice such elected Members would he likely to diminish the independence of the House. Members elected on a party system inevitably would have obligations towards their party manifestos. They would also have obligations to the party which selected them, as well as to the party workers who would have worked on their behalf. Many would seek election to this House as part of a career plan that would tie them to their party and enhance objectives they might have in mind for a later stage. Having such Members, aside from the fact of their political ties, would I suspect inevitably diminish their level of independence and would change the climate of the House, a climate so eloquently described by the noble Lord, Lord Sheldon. No doubt that climate would change if Members were introduced who would bring a far more party political nature to our debates and interventions.
Against those disadvantages, I agree with many other noble Lords that the proposal to introduce appointed Members of the House of Lords is that it could bring in a different kind of individual; that is, people who could bring to the House expertise from the jobs they have outside the world of politics, as well as individuals who in many cases would not be willing to stand for election to public office.
678 While many of us are in debt to those who give a high proportion of their time to this House on a voluntary basis, I subscribe fully to the argument that we do not need all Members of the House to be full-time or professional politicians. Indeed we benefit from being a House of part-timers and from the many Members who contribute and vote only when they have a particular knowledge of or interest in the subject matter under debate. Such a House creates a greater challenge for the Government than the other place where there is a fixed number of full-time Members. Thus, in the Lobbies, the arithmetic is predetermined, whatever the subject and whatever the arguments that have been put forward.
The weakest argument for reform is that which states that this House should seek to reflect populist or fashionable opinions. If the House of Lords has any role, it is to serve as a bastion or a bulwark against fashionable tides of opinion and to speak out and argue the case for the unconventional or the unfamiliar.
I remind noble Lords that there have been times in history when fashionable opinion has held, for example, that the world was flat, that witches should be ducked and that particular religions should he persecuted. Fashionable opinions are not always right and can, as we have seen at various times in history, be manipulated by people who would be dictators. A House that is not modelled on fashionable opinion has an essential role in democracy as a bastion, a bulwark, against fashionable opinion when that opinion gets things wrong. To argue for modernisation as a driving force risks throwing away many of the linkages to history and to conventions that, once turned away, cannot be easily replaced or reinvented. We should do so at our peril.
My experience of this House is that the Government do not always lose votes. In fact they rarely lose votes simply because the massed ranks of the Opposition turn out against them. The Government lose votes in this House because they cannot get their own supporters to turn out and vote for them. That was true under the previous government when, despite their numerical majority, they lost votes in this House on important issues when they could not carry the conviction of their own Back-Benchers. That is a part of the benefit of the conventions and independence of the House as it is currently constituted.
It follows that I would favour relatively minor changes to the status quo. Certainly changes, in the way advocated, to limit the Prime Minister's powers of appointment, capping the total number of Members, having some rule about the way in which new Members are appointed in accordance with ratios at previous elections and strengthening the appointments commission would all help.
But it also follows that I—like many other noble Lords, I suspect, from what has been said today—would oppose any element of a Bill that results from this debate that opens the door to elections in order to bow to some false notion of democracy. With respect to some of my noble friends on this side of the House, 679 I would also deeply oppose any proposal which seeks to further increase the elected representation from that which the Government have proposed.
§ 10.57 p.m.
§ Lord Williamson of Horton
My Lords, it is important that, despite the large number of speakers in the debate, we should make available our views from all parts of the House before stage two of the important constitutional reform is concluded. That is why, as a relatively new independent Cross-Bench life Peer but a regular attender both in the Chamber and in committees, I intervene now. We are at the end of a long feast of speeches. At the end of the feast, I hope that what I say will he considered not as cold rice pudding but as at least warm apple pie.
My first point is that, having set up the Royal Commission and received its excellent report, we should be cautious about moving away from its recommendations. In general, that is a principle that we should follow. But I do not entirely share all the criticism that has been made today of the Government's White Paper. I feel that many of the arguments in it are clearly argued and that where they differ from the Royal Commission they generally have reasons for doing so. Of course, that is not to say that the Government are always right.
I wish to make two general points and then to respond to the open questions set out in paragraph 96 of the White Paper. The two general points are these. First, although we are moving to a further stage of reform, it is, for me, very important that we should not prejudice, inadvertently or by accident, the notable strengths of the current House—that is to say, the great diversity of expert knowledge in different fields; the thoroughness of our scrutiny and, where necessary, amendment of draft legislation; the balanced nature of our debates; the good reputation of the work and reports of the Select Committees; and, last but not least, the support which the public gives to the work of this House. When I arrived in the House, I was quite amazed to find how many letters I received from the public, and how many of them were supportive of the House. That was quite a surprise for me.
Secondly, I want the reform to increase the public perception of this House as an essential and integral part of Parliament as a whole. We know the value of the role of this second Chamber; and the Clerk of the Parliaments—whom I congratulate on his knighthood—reminds us in various reports that we work as long and as hard, or longer and harder, than most parliaments in scrutinising draft legislation and in holding the executive to account. But the public, or many of them, still see this House not as a workplace—although it is that—but more as a traditional and privileged place, more Coronation Coach than Coronation Street.
I am not in favour of abandoning tradition—it is good for everyone to carry a little of our history around with them—but I do want the reform to strengthen the feeling among the public that this House, like the other place, is their Parliament. That is 680 why I am in favour of having some elected Members. The figure of 120 in the White Paper is reasonable. That is also why I am in favour of their election oil the basis of the nations and regions of our country, as that will tend to reinforce the feeling among the voters that these Members are their Members. The arguments for elected Members have been made in the Royal Commission report. I am slightly surprised that some of those who speak in favour of elected Members want them to be rather half-hearted, rather at a distance. They want cats with no claws, but, of course, that is not what they will get. If we have elected Members, they will be operational in relation to those who elected them.
I turn now to the specific questions posed in paragraph 96 of the White Paper. The balance between political and independent Members seems broadly right, as does the balance between about 240 elected and independent Members on the one hand, and a maximum of 330 nominated political Members on the other. The 330 should indeed be a maximum. I should have preferred—I believe that I am in the minority—a House smaller than 600 Members. But we are where we are, and I am well aware of the difficulty and the time needed to move down from the present figure. It is the arithmetic of trying to fit a quart into a pint pot—if the European Union allows us to use that phrase any longer.
To have regional elected Members is a completely new step. We have to be sure that the choice of timing, the method of election and the term of membership get off to a good start. I favour elections simultaneously with the United Kingdom parliamentary election, because I want the public to see the election of these Members as an election to Parliament equivalent in principle to the election of Members in the of her place. For the same reason, the term of office should in my view he one parliamentary term, with a possibility of re-election. I know that I am again in the minority on that point, but it is the way I see the potential introduction of elected Members into this House.
The method of election is extremely important. I am strongly opposed to the closed list system. I did not like it when it first came in, for other reasons; I do not like it at all now, and I hope that we can have a system which ensures that the public cannot say afterwards that it was all rigged beforehand, they did not have any choice and that is how it came out. We must avoid that at all costs.
The appointed political Members are not quite in the same position as the elected Members, and I see no difficulty over a difference in the length of term of elected and appointed Members. I do not have strong views on the length of term. I should be content with a term of 10 years. I bear in mind that that could give an annual turnover of about 33, which could be useful in re-balancing the political membership after one election. This calculation is also partly linked with the question of whether or not Members of this House could retire or resign. I cannot see any reason why there should be any objection to retirement or resignation.
681 The independent Members appointed after the reform could perhaps have the same term as the appointed political Members, but there is an important difference, which has been referred to in the debate. Some of the political appointees might reasonably expect reappointment, if that was agreed in the system, but the reappointment of an independent appointed Member would be highly unlikely, in view of the competing claims on the appointments commission. The term for an independent appointed Member therefore needs careful consideration, because in practice it would be a fixed term without reappointment.
The Government have asked whether we should continue the present system under which Members of the House receive reimbursement for expenses that they have incurred when attending the House, but no salary. The present system does not reimburse all the costs associated with membership of the House, such as if a Member lives outside London but has to maintain a London flat because of membership. On balance, I support the continuation of the present system rather than a salaried system.
Changes have been proposed for how this House deals with secondary legislation. I hope that the Opposition will not accept that we have to choose between a system under which we can refuse a statutory instrument—that is the current system—or one under which we can amend it. If we are making changes as important as those that are foreseen for the House, I do not understand why we should not have a 682 system under which this House could decide to accept, to refuse or to send back a statutory instrument for a limited period. That would be a change, but it is not a serious change against the interests of the other place. It would probably be considered to be against the interests of some bureaucrats or against the interests of the Government at times, but it is not against the interests of Parliament. Now that the Pandora's box has been opened, I hope that we will let everything out.
Finally, I support the position of the noble Viscount. Lord Bledisloe, on the independent quota. It should be for independent Peers, not for wandering albatrosses from political parties. They may be excellent albatrosses, but they should not count towards the independent quota. By independents, I mean those who have been appointed by the appointments commission or who have signed or could sign a declaration that they are independent. That should apply in the transitional period as well.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, I beg to move that the debate be adjourned until tomorrow.
Moved accordingly, and, on Question. Motion agreed to.