§ 4.18 p.m.
§ Debate resumed on the Motion that this House takes note of the first report from the Joint Committee on House of Lords Reform.
§ Baroness Jay of Paddington
My Lords, it is a privilege to open the second day of this important debate. I follow noble Lords who spoke yesterday and congratulate the Joint Committee on its excellent report. It has reinvigorated the reform process.
I particularly welcome the degree of cross-party consensus, which the report emphasises. As the opening paragraph says, it is now possible to speak of,broad agreement on the roles, functions and powers of a reformed second chamber".There is also broad agreement about the creation of a statutory appointments commission and the future sitting rights of the remaining hereditary Peers. 721 Overall, the explicit common aim is to increase the representativeness of the second House. We have certainly moved a long way since 1998.
I know that we have heard that my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor, who will reply to the debate this evening, thinks that only a genius can resolve the current, apparently intractable reform issues. However, I hope that my noble and learned friend, as one who struggled with me through many days of debate on some of the points that now appear to be commonly accepted, will agree, in his winding up speech, that the Joint Committee has helpfully formalised and crystallised a basis of positive consensus. Above all, the report has broken the log jam.
The fulcrum of disagreement is now how to achieve a more representative second Chamber. Here, too, it seems that the parameters of debate have shifted recently quite a long way. I am sure that noble Lords of the Official Opposition will forgive me if I do not explore the reasons for the change in their party leadership's stance. Having listened to and read yesterday's debate in this House, the policy does not appear to be widely supported by Conservative Members here.
I am more concerned with apparent changes in the views of Labour Members of Parliament. I shall give an example. When the Labour Party was preparing to submit evidence to the Royal Commission, chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, it was agreed, following nationwide consultation, that the primacy of another place required that there be no possibility of a challenge to the elected Members of the House of Commons by an elected second Chamber. Once the Wakeham commission had reported and raised the idea of the hybrid House, the possibility of some elected Members was discussed in policy forums and in 2000 at the Labour Party conference. A figure of about one-third elected Members was generally accepted, although I acknowledge that this small number was not agreed by my noble friend Lord Richard and other party colleagues.
However, the 2000 conference position became the basis for the Government's general election manifesto in 2001. The manifesto spoke of,effectively implementing the Wakeham conclusions and maintaining the primacy of the House of Commons".Apparently, a significant number of Labour Members of Parliament no longer support that position. As my noble friend Lord Richard said yesterday, the game has changed.
If the game has changed and it becomes the settled and consistent majority view of my right honourable and honourable friends in another place that only a,wholly or substantially elected second chamber",satisfies their understanding of a "representative body", ultimately, as on many other issues, I would accept the decision of the popularly elected House. However, I hope that the present mood may be diluted—or may even pass—and that Commons' Members will reassess the dangers to their supremacy 722 and the impact on the constitutional balance if in future they were to be powerfully challenged by another wholly or predominantly elected Chamber.
Personally, I stand by the Government's 2001 manifesto commitment on the next stage of reform. How does the report help advance that commitment? We have before us seven options for the future composition of the Chamber. At first glance it seems an almost indigestible choice. I am sure that my noble friend Lord Carter is happy that he was a member of the recommending committee rather than the Chief Whip trying to facilitate the process of choice.
Nearly all noble Lords who spoke yesterday declared their voting intentions. So let me say a t the outset that my personal first preference is for Option 5; that is, 60 per cent appointed Members and 40 per cent elected Members. I remain convinced by the arguments of the Wakeham commission that there is great value in a critical mass of authoritative, expert nominated Members, a point well illustrated yesterday by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, and other speakers.
On the other hand, I have been persuaded that in the 21st century some elected Members will give a future second Chamber greater legitimacy and help to achieve better representation in particular categories. I am certain that the appointed Members should be selected by an independent statutory appointments commission, as proposed by the Wakeham commission, by the Government's election manifesto, and by the Joint Committee.
I also agree with the committee's report that all Members should serve for a limited term. The committee proposes a tenure of some 12 years without giving explicit arguments for this particular period of time. Personally, I prefer 10 years as an adequate term to indicate independence and to generate experience, but I do not regard this as a significant difference from the committee's position.
I am, however, concerned that there are what I see as regrettable gaps in some of the committee's proposals which undermine our ability to make a completely informed choice now, or in the near future. From my perspective the most important omissions are the questions of how to achieve a workable size of the new House; questions of cost; questions of how any elected Members should reach the House; and whether they, or any nominated Members, would have a link with the peerage. I recognise that all those problems are acknowledged in the report and will, apparently, be the topics of future committee work. My concern is that if we are to make a guiding, if not necessarily a final, choice on composition in two weeks' time, it will be more difficult to do so without having the results of some of that work before us.
I turn to some of the omissions that I regret, in no particular order of importance. I have long argued that the character and nature of the second Chamber would be changed at a stroke if membership were decoupled from the peerage. In my view, the award of a life peerage should continue to be a high honour, but should not automatically confer a seat in Parliament. 723 During the passage of the 1999 House of Lords Act we discussed at some length whether ML was a suitable designation for appointed Members to this House. Indeed, the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, who I am delighted to see in his place, has continued charmingly to chide me about the Government's decision to vote against that proposal at that time on the basis that it was irrelevant to that particular Bill.
Now the time has come when we can all cheerfully join hands and agree that all should be MLs. It would be particularly anomalous, and no doubt constitutionally improper, if anyone elected to serve on an external franchise was elected to a peerage.
§ Earl Ferrers
My Lords, perhaps I may interrupt. I am absolutely delighted that we can all be at one together on something—I am not quite sure what. But what is the point of making a person a Peer and then saying, "You can't be a Member of the House of Lords"?
§ Baroness Jay of Paddington
My Lords, I am afraid that my double negatives may have failed me. I was not saying that he or she could not be a Member of the House of Lords; I said that it did not automatically confer a seat in the House of Lords. It would be an honour which might lead to an appointment as a Member of the second Chamber, but would not do so automatically. I apologise to the noble Earl if that was unclear. I am sure we agree on ML.
Secondly, whatever the Members are called, how and by whom will any elected Members be elected? In my experience, this has been one of the most complex, sometimes arcane issues faced by every forum that discusses reform. Again, at this stage, the Joint Committee does not give clear guidance. The tentative preference in paragraph 69 seems to be for some form of indirect election. Personally, I am attracted to this potential solution. The idea of allying an indirect election system with regional representation could be a useful method of improving representativeness. The Royal Commission helpfully described in some detail what it called "elected regional members". The Labour Party put it well in its evidence to the Wakeham commission when it stated that,the Second Chamber should become the place where the UK unites".With respect to all the eminent committee members, I feel that it is hard to reach a conclusion on the value and size of an elected element of membership without more work and perhaps more firm conclusions on electoral systems.
My final regret is that the Joint Committee has avoided—I realise temporarily—the knotty problem of transition to a different Chamber. How do we get from here to there? The committee does not give us a map beyond saying that there should be about 600 Members and that the transition process may be very long and drawn out.
Paragraph 55 states:At this stage we have concluded only that we are not attracted by the idea of compulsory retirement for existing life peers".724 At the risk of inviting some robust answers, in that case I shall ask the question personally. What is to be done with people like me? I am now in my eleventh year of membership as a life Peer—I knew there would be robust answers, if not necessarily from a quarter of the House I might have expected—and I have served on both the Opposition and the Government Front Benches. As I reach my mid-sixties, I suppose I could acquire the senator status comfortingly described by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, yesterday. However, the report proposes that tenure should be for 12 years; so under the new system I would be on the verge of retirement. But I assume that this proposal cannot and will not be made retrospective.
"Compulsory retirement" does indeed sound harsh and redolent of bad industrial practice—I state clearly that I am not advocating ermine-lined retirement packages—but if we are to avoid the embarrassments of a House which gets considerably bigger before it gets smaller or takes a generation to reach the optimum membership, tough decisions about us, the increasingly elderly life Peers, need to be taken sooner rather than later.
In conclusion, I hope that we will hear that the Joint Committee is determined to produce recommendations on all these issues in a consensual way. As I said, my main enthusiasm for this work is that it has kick-started what I had come to believe was a stalled reform process. Now the time has come to accelerate. It would be a sad historical judgment on this generation of parliamentarians if a future generation could fairly accuse us of wasting decades between one stage of reform and the next.
§ 4.31 p.m.
§ Lord Higgins
My Lords, it is a privilege to speak in the debate and a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, the former Leader of the House.
In the course of the long-running saga on Lords reform, it is important to distinguish two issues. The first is the question of what should be done about the hereditary element. The second is the proposal that there should be a wholly or partially elected element. As regards the first, I deeply regret the departure of the hereditary Peers and I pay tribute to the substantial work which those remaining undertake in this House. If anything is to be done on this issue, yesterday's speech of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, as Convenor of the Cross-Benchers, with regard to what he described as Option 1A, deserves careful consideration.
As regards the possible move to a wholly or partially elected House, the central argument is that it will make the parliamentary system more democratic. I believe that that is a profoundly wrong and superficial view. We have a democratic system. It rests on the House of Commons being elected, in Burke's famous words, as "representatives not delegates". It is vital that the House of Commons should remain supreme and having elected Members in the Lords would inevitably call that into question.
725 Yesterday, the noble Lord, Lord Richard, said that this is not a "zero sum game", an expression I was intending to use. It is a zero sum game. If the elected Members are to be given greater authority, that inevitably reduces the power of the other place and we must oppose that most strongly.
Having listened to yesterday's debate in this House and read yesterday's debate in the Commons, I am struck by the extent to which there is a difference of view between the existing Members of the House of Commons and its former Members who sit in this House, the majority of whom are not in favour of an elected element. That is an important issue to consider. Why are the views of those two groups so different?
The enthusiasm of present Members of the House of Commons for an elected element in the House of Lords, which was not apparent some years ago, reflects a disillusionment with the situation in the Commons and a frustration with the overwhelming majority there.
A second reason is the almost unthinking and superficial view that election is good and appointment is bad. That was somewhat qualified yesterday because one of the few unanimous views which appeared in the debate in another place was that candidates for this House as elected Members were likely to be the export rejects who failed to enter the House of Commons.
A third reason is, frankly, ignorance. I find that from my own experience. In 33 years in the House of Commons, apart from State Opening and an occasional visit to this Chamber to see whether Mrs Thatcher's government would be defeated, I rarely visited it. I strongly suspect that the knowledge of this place in another place is appallingly low. Perhaps the Joint Committee should organise an "overseas" visit and cross the gulf between one Chamber and the other. That should ensure that those in another place understand what happens in this Chamber. It would be a marvellous advantage—irrespective of what one does about having a Mr Speaker—if our Question Time were transferred to the other place. I fear that its Members do not understand and those who vote next week will not understand that the situation in this House is a tremendous advantage to our democratic system. We must not undermine it or undervalue the important contribution which we in this House make.
Hybridity would be the worst of all possible worlds. Yesterday, some noble Lords argued that we already have a hybrid House because some Members are hereditary and some are life Peers. That concept is completely different from a hybrid House in which some are elected and some are not. That would be wrong. However, it is curious that those who argued against hybridity of the first kind seem to be in favour of hybridity of the second kind. I do not understand why that is so.
The crucial point about a hybrid system is that, whatever the percentage—20/80, 60/40, 50/50—it would not be stable. The first time the unelected Members defeated the elected Members there would be increasing 726 pressure to have more elected Members. We would slide steadily towards a wholly elected Chamber with all the disadvantages which many noble Lords have raised.
This House is not here to be democratic; this House is an effective revising Chamber. Yesterday, the noble Baroness, Lady Goudie, in the course of a series of good rhetorical questions, asked whether we want the legislative scrutiny in this House to be like that in the House of Commons. My Lords, I hope not. It is appalling. "Modernisation" and the introduction of programming in another place has undermined its central role properly to scrutinise legislation. It no longer does so.
That is why it is vital that the situation in this House should be preserved. I give as an example the Tax Credits Bill in which I was much involved. It arrived in this House in a totally unworkable state, apparently having gone through all stages in another place. We had to rewrite it line by line from beginning to end. Clearly the Minister in another place did not have a clue what was going on. We must exercise our expertise and, if I may say so, our enthusiasm for scrutinising legislation, if we are to offset the deterioration which has occurred in another place.
If we were to have either a wholly or partially elected House, in scrutinising legislation we would have less expertise and it would be less representative than a House in which appointment was made by an independent commission which could take into account issues of gender, race, regional representation and so forth. Moreover—this is a point made by many noble Lords and is vitally important—there would be far greater pressure from the Whips in this House than is presently the case. We are vastly better carrying out our task of scrutiny in our present form than we would be if there were an elected element.
Of course the present situation is not perfect—the status quo is not perfect—but we are in a position where, with comparatively minor changes to the House, we can resolve this long-running saga in a way which will preserve our democratic system rather than undermine it. I hope that those in another place will gradually understand that. Time is running out before the votes take place in a few days time, but I notice that in another place Mr Forth—whose views I fundamentally disagree with at the moment—said that he would listen to the debates in this House. Despite the inadequate knowledge of this place in another place, I hope that its Members will at least study carefully what has been said in this debate.
§ 4.41 p.m.
§ Lord McNally
My Lords, speaking on the second day of the debate feels a little like being invited to join a Roman orgy half-way through. Yesterday was certainly an orgy of self-congratulations, self-delusion and not a little arrogance. I therefore welcome the more constructive approach adopted by the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, and the momentum she urges to our proceedings.
Some facts did emerge. We are, in the main, a group of elderly, white, middle-class south-easterners. We do some things rather well and we can draw on a great 727 deal of experience and expertise. We are a House which encourages less partisan debate and encourages some old courtesies and customs. We scrutinise legislation rather better than the Commons. We do not challenge the authority of the democratically elected House and we perform a worthwhile role as a revisory and advisory Chamber. "It works, so don't let's try to fix it" was an underlying theme of many of yesterday's contributions. The noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, even claimed to have looked for inspiration to the debate on the Great Reform Act 1832 and then made a speech arguing against introducing an element of democracy into this House worthy of the Member for Old Sarum.
I remind the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, of a meeting we both attended in 1979. It was the Labour Party manifesto drafting committee. Mr Benn wanted a commitment to abolish the House of Lords. The then Prime Minister—now the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan—resisted. He did so because he believed that manifestos should reflect what parties intend to do in government, and he had no intention of abolishing the House of Lords.
Fast forwarding 18 years, in 1997 I served on a committee of the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats under the joint chairmanship of Mr Robin Cook and Mr Robert Maclennan. The result of those deliberations was the Cook/Maclennan report, which was published as a joint manifesto on constitutional reform which both parties submitted to the British people.
To the great credit of the Labour Government, much of the Cook/Maclennan report has passed into law. But in 1997 both the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats said to the British people in regard to reform of the House of Lords that,a joint committee of both Houses should be established…This body should produce recommendations for a democratic and representative second chamber".The noble Baroness has put the 2001 manifesto gloss on that commitment, but perhaps the Lord Chancellor will tell us where and when the Labour Party changed its commitment to a democratic and representative second Chamber?
Let us be absolutely clear that such a second Chamber could fulfil all the criteria set out in the first report before us today and not carry with it the stigma of cronyism and patronage which would stick to a wholly appointed House. Legitimacy, representativeness, no domination by one party, independence and expertise could all be delivered given the kind of voting systems, regionally-based constituencies and term lengths envisaged.
Cook/Maclennan recommended retention of the Cross Benches at about 20 per cent of the reformed House. I see merits in so doing. But let us not get too carried away by the mystique of the Cross Benches. You do not have to call yourself a Cross-Bencher to have independence of mind or integrity of action. To listen to some speeches yesterday, you would think that there could be nothing so shaming as to be a party politician. It took the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Worcester to speak up for party politics, and those and other of his remarks about the health of our 728 democracy are well worthy of study. Party politics is the life blood of our democracy. Mine is a real commitment. Like Elizabeth Taylor and marriage, I have tried more than one.
The other self-delusion expounded yesterday was that things are not what they used to be in another place, a point referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, today. Speaker after speaker bemoaned the falling standards, lack of expertise and lack of experience now to be found down the Corridor.
I can speak only from personal experience. Part of my job as Deputy Leader on these Benches is to attend the weekly meetings of the parliamentary party. Listening to Dr Evan Harris on the health service, or Professor Steve Webb on pensions, or former headmaster Phil Willis on education, or the former chief economic adviser to Shell, Dr Vince Cable, on trade, or Dr Jenny Tonge on child health in developing countries, I do not find the present Commons so lacking in experience as some would have us believe. It is true that our leader, Charles Kennedy, entered the House in his early twenties, a handicap that he shares with William Gladstone and William Pitt.
As for the fear that an injection of democracy would simply bring into this House failed MPs and political retreads, I think I can recognise that description. In that self-recognition, as I look around the Chamber I do not feel particularly lonely.
My view is that the system, tenure and job description would bring in a whole new range of people, including some of those terribly eminent people who are unwilling to run for elective office at present. The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, said that Peers elected on a regional basis for long tenures by a system of fair votes would be little different to life Peers. In some ways he is right. I would hope that the system would give them some of the attributes for which this House is rightly praised. But it would also link them with the people, and, like the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, I have a long-standing trust in the people as the final arbiters of power in a democracy.
But we are told that reform is awash with dangers. We are told, for example, that hybridity would produce first and second class Peers. There is no evidence that hybridity would produce the kind of problems which the Lord Chancellor simply asserts. On the contrary, my fear is that the elected Members would show undue deference to those appointed on grounds of eminence, forgetting that a former president of the Royal College of Surgeons might talk the most awful tosh when not talking about medicine, or even that an ex-Lord Chancellor—and we all become "ex" one day—might be considered a legal dinosaur by the modern legal profession.
The truth is that a hybrid reformed House would soon settle its own relationships and get on with the job. The most authoritative source of opinion in the other place—Mr Tony Wright's Select Committee—shows no fear about either hybridity or a reinvigorated second Chamber.
729 Neither are we talking about stand-alone reform. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Birt, that we must press on with wider and more fundamental reforms of our constitution and governance, including contemplating the written constitution which the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, finds so shocking.
The noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, asked what historians will make of our deliberations. I suspect that they will wonder in amazement that a Labour Government, with all but 100 hereditaries gone, with their largest ever representation in the House of Lords and two successive landslide majorities under their belt, should settle for so timid and conservative a solution as the one now being advocated by those calling for a wholly nominated House. It would be a supreme irony of history that a Conservative Lord Chancellor, at a time when this House was packed to the gunwales with hereditaries, produced more radical proposals than those now being leaked and spun from No. 10.
When I saw this Motion for debate, I looked forward to it being concluded with a final flurry of radical Welsh oratory from the Leader of the House, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn. But he is silent. Instead, casting his long, dark shadow over this debate is the Darth Vader of British politics: the Lord High Chancellor himself, ready to deliver the coup de grâce to radical reform.
The historian Janet Morgan wrote these words about this House and reform:On Summer evenings and Winter afternoons, when they have nothing else to do, people discuss how to reform the House of Lords. Schemes are taken out of cupboards and drawers and dusted off. Speeches are composed, pamphlets written, letters sent to the newspapers. From time to time the whole country becomes excited. Occasionally legislation is introduced. It generally fails".The Lord Chancellor could not have put it better himself.
But I believe that there is still time for this House to move to an historic compromise between itself and another place which would pave the way for genuine reform. If it were to approve a hybrid House with a majority of elected Peers, that would produce a result not far different from the Commons. But if the Labour Party abandons its firm and settled commitment to introduce a democratic element into this House, then we on these Benches will take our case for wider constitutional reform back to the hustings. Then the electorate will remember that the clearest and most solemn pledges on reform made by the Labour Party meant nothing when it came to delivery.
This morning, a wise old colleague said to me:The Tories don't stand a chance against this lot. They are more conservative than the Conservatives".So they are, my Lords, and those on the Benches opposite should be ashamed.
§ 4.51 p.m.
§ Lord Elder
My Lords, in rising to add my views to the debate, I am conscious that I shall not receive an enormous amount of support for my basic position. Although there are seven options in the Joint Committee's report for the future membership of your 730 Lordships' House, I find myself without an option to support as my first choice, because I remain a holder of the view that in an ideal world we should have a unicameral system and I fear that there would be little chance of the one House being this one.
Unicameralism is dismissed by the report as having little support. Perhaps so, but I believe that it would be the best final outcome, and that belief defines the way in which I examine the available options. Indeed, because of it, I cannot bring myself to support the idea of two elected Houses. There would be bound to be a clash—not least because, as the report fairly points out, a second elected Chamber would have some representative role. There would be hound to be challenges to each other's mandates and authority. The result would be inter-House rivalry, at the expense of fulfilling the main task of the legislature; namely, holding the executive to account.
Already, given the limited reform that has taken place in this House, there have been moves by the House into previously banned territory. Much has been made of the Commons' control of supply, but with your Lordships' Economic Affairs Committee, of which I am a member, already authorised to examine the detail of tax changes in the Finance Bill in the coming Session, I have no doubt that were there to be a second elected Chamber there would be further encroachment on the activities of what is at present the one elected House.
All these problems would be exacerbated if, as some wish—it would, I fear, be inevitable—the second Chamber were to embrace proportional representation, with claims and counter-claims as to which House had the greater legitimacy. Perhaps I may point out, as a Scot, that were there to be an election for a second Chamber, I would person ally opt for an open list system, for the simple reason that we should then have the full set in Scotland—first past the post for Westminster; additional member for Holyrood; closed lists for Europe; open lists for this place; and, if the Liberals have their way, STV for local government. If nothing else, my noble friend Lord Carter would be able to add to his list, of explanations as to why so few people turn out to vote.
If we believe, as I think is common ground, that we must preserve the primacy of the Commons—which arises because it is the sole elected House—the best way of doing so is to limit the tasks of a second Chamber to its role as a revising Chamber: not the upper House, not the senior House, not Lords rather than Commons, but a revising Chamber pure and simple, whose prime function would be to assist the elected House in doing its job, without challenging its fundamental rights, or threatening its mandate.
There will always be difficulties so long as this Chamber appears the more historic and senior House. Presentation matters. My noble friend Lord Desai suggested that the Queen's Speech should be made, not here, but in Westminster Hall, before both Houses, perhaps with the Prime Minister reading the Speech to both Houses and presenting it to the monarch. It is an 731 idea that I strongly support. The idea that the Commons, who are elected, should be called to the Bar of the House of Lords is ridiculous, and looks that way. And looks matter. If we are to be a revising Chamber, no more and no less, then all that flummery must go.
Much has been said in the debate about legitimacy. I believe that legitimacy comes not from direct election but from appointment by a directly elected body. No one would doubt the legitimacy of the Cabinet of the United States, but it is, of course, unelected—being appointed by the elected President. The legitimacy of the second Chamber comes from the legitimacy of the first, elected Chamber, and the definition of its role as subservient to the first Chamber. In the interests of clarity, I should like to see a Queen's Speech made in Westminster Hall after every general election, and a formal appointment by the executive and by the Commons of the second Chamber for the period of that Parliament, to fulfil the task of assisting the Commons in its work.
I must make it clear, however, that having an unelected Chamber should not mean keeping the Chamber as it is. Of course there must be reform, and a great deal more imagination must be shown as to composition. We shall need to avoid a re-run of the "People's Peers" system—which is now, I fear, wholly discredited. A potentially important initiative, it was in fact a badly disguised way of rounding up some wholly predictable candidates—all entirely worthy—who have added much to this House but who in all likelihood would have arrived in the Lords in due course. There was nothing new or imaginative in the system; by pretending otherwise much damage was done.
I myself would be in favour of a much more open approach to membership. I cite as an example of what I have in mind the case of the noble Lord, Lord Rix, who has made an outstanding contribution to this House, based in part on his knowledge of and contact with Mencap. We have been very fortunate to have him here. We need to find ways of getting such organisations and such individuals representation here, to improve the quality of our work. However that is done, I fear that it will not be done by further elections.
The committee points out that in recent years the House of Lords has developed its role as a revising Chamber—and, I would say, whether as a result or not, at the same time the Commons has apparently lost interest in scrutinising legislation. Someone must do it. And in the absence of interest in another place, it must be done here. But that is to assist the elected Chamber, to allow it better to fulfil its role.
The recent reforms of the Commons timetable have not been encouraging to someone who supports the idea of a single House. With MPs having more time to spend on constituency business—and I do not play down the importance of their representative role—they have, perforce, less time to spend on the scrutiny of legislation.
732 I have no illusions that, were there to be only one House, the Commons would need to be much reformed. But I do not doubt that with further changes and the proper resources the Commons could fulfil the role that is required. I reject the argument that a second Chamber is essential to provide checks and balances; that somehow the Commons, left to its own devices, could not be trusted. I believe that, precisely because it has been able to leave scrutiny to us, little has been done by it. That could easily change were the option of "Leave it to the Lords" not available. Some constitutional backstop would have to be built in to any new system to replace the present role of this House.
Whatever happens next, interim arrangements will need to be in place as a new House is established. Had we a written constitution, the changes that we are talking about would require a re-writing of that constitution; and I have no doubt that there would be a wide debate in the country about the way forward. There is, frankly, no such debate. But that should not encourage us to think that this is not a matter of the highest importance. The case for caution is considerable. Perhaps the constitutional settlement has been "settled" for too long; but we need to move with care before we introduce a wholly new, necessarily untried, set of arrangements.
Without a realistic possibility of a one-House system, when faced with having to vote, I shall support the idea of a much reformed but wholly appointed second Chamber.
§ 5 p.m.
§ The Earl of Sandwich
My Lords, the Joint Committee has already achieved a remarkable degree of consensus, judging from yesterday's debate and what we have heard from the noble Baroness, in particular. It has been given an almost impossible task so, not surprisingly, it is asking us to dig it out of a hole and will ask us to do so again. But the absurd range of options should serve as a warning to all of us that the time is up for stage two. Elections will not work, and common sense should now replace experimentation.
I have had the privilege of serving this House and the country for nearly eight years, during a fascinating period of change. Why do we need more change? We should feel content with what we have achieved. Abolishing a whole system of inherited power, obvious as it may seem, is no small reform; it is a historic landmark. We need to move beyond it.
I hold no brief for the continuation of the hereditary Peers or the hereditary principle. But the interim House has worked well, and I know the House recognises the contribution of hereditary Peers and the dedication shown by many. The House will miss the remaining younger Peers, in particular, and the random effect that has made some hereditary Peers from different professions seem closer to the public than distinguished life Peers. I do not, however, see how that can be perpetuated, even under the interesting version of people's Peers suggested late last night by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, or the vision 733 presented by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Worcester. The election of 1999 may have given us respite, but the prospect of the guillotine still leaves us in limbo, a transitional state that will have to be brought to an end sooner or later.
I am glad that enough time was taken during stage two for the Joint Committee to recognise the difficulties of transforming this House root and branch. The whole Parliament is being educated by the process, which has helped us all to appreciate the value of the House and to understand the subtleties of parliamentary checks and balances.
Having started out, after Wakeham, in favour of a 20 per cent elected House, I no longer think that the principle of even a partially elected Chamber is right. Regional balance can be achieved without it. In any case, the southern English regions are still a fiction. An elected Chamber would cost at least four times more. The noble Lord, Lord Carter, the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, David Clelland and George Foulkes in another place and many more have said that an elected Chamber would only create more politicians, whose names, like those of Members of the European Parliament, would be almost meaningless to the public, at least after their election.
We cannot move from a high-bred House to a hybrid House. A hybrid House would be unequal and unworkable. It would jeopardise the important principles mentioned many times of independence, expertise and experience. Kenneth Clarke says it would be a betrayal of the oldest democracy not to have a n elected second Chamber. I disagree profoundly. I have seen democracy in many forms in many parts of the world, most recently in Uganda and Mozambique, and I am impressed by one fact: each society must make its own arrangements. There is no longer a Westminster model or an absolute system of democracy—we did not even invent the word. It would now be a mistake to expect our democracy to translate into the same constitutional principles around the world. It will not. Nor should we copy or envy any other system. So it is not a betrayal.
We need to preserve and improve our own version, not to at tempt an approach hitherto untried simply on grounds of apparently popular representation, when we already have our elected Chamber. I agree with many others that we should not shadow another place. It is unimaginable that we would send home our present life Peers and expect them to be returned in an election. They would not. The elected, professional, political Peer, as other noble Lords have said, would be a different animal. Such Peers could never develop the expertise in this House at present, nor could they work in committee with technical experts as some clever people have suggested.
More than that, I am anxious that we preserve the principle of independence, for which this Government have reaffirmed their support. The noble Lord, Lord Bledisloe, and others have spoken about the need for independent Peers to give an undertaking that they do not feel any hidden loyalty to a political party, which would comprise their independence. That may 734 be difficult to achieve. But, as the son of a Conservative Member of Parliament and a Liberal mother, who ultimately went separate ways, I have come to admire the ability of Cross-Bench Peers to examine all sides of a problem before reaching a decision.
The expertise available to this House, mixed with the political experience of the parties, provides just the right recipe for a revising Chamber. We should build on that rather than throw it out because of some notional idea of democracy, as the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, has said. Independent Peers can also represent a broader spectrum of this country's professional life. The noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, helped us with the phrase, "second-order legitimacy".
At present, it is pot luck whether an appointed Peer—the noble Lord, Lord Rix, has just been mentioned—speaks for his or her profession. But, as the Joint Committee implies, a strengthened independent appointments commission could seek nominations more formally from the recognised professions. Acclamation could be another way. It may not be possible to represent birdwatchers, furniture restorers or bee-keepers, for example, but the commission could look more systematically at the balance of professions and invite recommendations. Those could come directly from associations and interest groups, rather as the Honours List is developed today only more visible to the public. The appointments would not be delegated or even indirectly elected. I do not go as far as my noble friend Lord Thomas of Swynnerton, although he is very imaginative, but they would be more transparent and seen to be more representative of the professions than at present.
The commission would be much more proactive than the present one. It would have more authority, taking soundings and receiving nominations from a wider constituency as well as Parliament. It would be independent of Downing Street, which is very important, especially for our acceptance in another place. But I cannot see why the Prime Minister should not make recommendations, provided that neither he nor the governing party had any power of veto over decisions by the commission.
In conclusion, I believe that this House has already made up its mind and will vote to retain its present composition—not out of complacency, but from a conviction that it is working well and suits our present constitutional arrangements in a way that directly benefits the people of this country.
§ 5.8 p.m.
§ Lord Beaumont of Whitley
My Lords, on the first list of speakers issued for this debate, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth and I were down to speak twice. That seemed to betray a laudable desire for a theological input and to reinforce the case for the Bench of bishops having a place in a reformed House. I support that case, not least because it was with considerable eagerness that I awaited the arrival in this House of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop 735 of Worcester, who was once my bishop, and, I hope, is my friend, although not politically speaking. I was not disappointed by his contribution last night, which was radical and extremely interesting. But I am afraid that I cannot follow his conclusions. He is too enthralled by the admirable theological concept of realised eschatology. We must live a little more in the fallen world when we are in a position such as the present one.
I speak this afternoon not on behalf of my party, which may well be horrified by what I say, but as a Peer who has served in this House longer than all but four or five of your Lordships. I find it difficult to keep in touch with all the obituaries. I am seeking a short-term solution. Indeed, I take the view that if something is bust, you mend it, but you do not then think it necessary to replace it entirely to stop it breaking in other ways.
Parliament has had a serious fracture since at least 1906, when my grandfather won the Commons seat at Eastbourne as a Radical on a platform for abolishing the second House. We have more or less mended that fracture. I see no need for reconstruction.
The glory of this House is its expertise. When I first entered it, the Liberal Front Bench suggested that I make my maiden speech in a general debate. It so happened that I saw an opportunity in an Unstarred Question on primary schools in Hong Kong, on the grounds that I was probably the only Peer who had been the chairman of a primary school in Hong Kong and it was good to keep up the traditions of the House of having an expert on every subject. It may not have been an earth-shaking maiden speech, but I do hold that expertise, both major and minor, is our best contribution. For this reason, I will be voting straight down the line for an appointed House.
§ 5.11 p.m.
§ Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe
My Lords, speaking on the second day, it is extraordinarily difficult to find something to say that was not already said on the previous day. However, even if it has been said many times over, I wish to express my gratitude to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon, for moving the first report of the Joint Committee and the way in which he did so. I say that as a member of the committee. He is making a significant and influential contribution to the committee's work, as well as being a most congenial companion. His advocacy of a 100 per cent appointed House of Lords takes some matching.
As we heard last night, the noble and learned Lord has won over at least one former PPS, who is also on the committee, the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth of Drumlean. But as yet, so far as I know, he still has not made a great deal of impact on his other former PPS on the Joint Committee, the right honourable Kenneth Clarke. As I know from conversations with many noble Lords opposite, Mr Clarke is, as they see it, their only hope of reconnecting with the people. Given the Conservative Party's record in recent years of getting 736 it rather wrong on constitutional issues, I suspect that Mr Clarke wants to avoid his party making another constitutional misjudgment here. There may be some points here on which to reflect.
In fairness to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon, before I stood up, one of my colleagues behind me said, "I hope you're now going to make a formal announcement that you have also been won over by his arguments to support a 100 per cent appointed House." I regret that that is not so. I believe, as the noble Lord, Lord Richard, argued yesterday, that the game has changed and moved on.
My fear is that my party—or, to be more precise, my government—is at risk of making the same kind of mistakes as the Conservatives have done. As I said, I am on the Joint Committee and, in favouring elections, I am in the minority. I was persuaded by the force of the Royal Commission's findings and its recommendations that we should have elected Members to represent the nations and regions. Its report, in my opinion, is the most comprehensive and compelling document with evidence that exists on the subject. If, as my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor said, we are to avoid making ill judged decisions, it is important to turn, wherever we can, to hard evidence rather than relying on assertions.
The Royal Commission identified our strengths; we have heard a good deal about those over the course of the past 24 hours. We have many, and I am proud to be a Member of this House. But we have our weaknesses too, and it is important, in a changing world, to recognise and address those wherever we can. To remedy them, the commission gave us a range of options. I maintain, even though it is almost three years since it produced the report, that the principal lines of analysis still stand and have not, in spite of all the argumentation, been fundamentally refuted. In my opinion, they provide a basis for a settlement that will last. I favoured option C, which would have given us a House that is around 35 per cent elected, with a substantially appointed majority. Some problems will arise from having a hybrid House, but if the will is there, they are not insurmountable.
I accept that some of the Royal Commission's recommendations, particularly in relation to finding representatives from the nations and the regions, could be addressed through a revamped independent appointments commission. I gather that that is what senior members of the Government favour. I shall introduce a number of new elements here in analysing the problems of the appointments system to some degree. We should make no mistake—there will be problems, and I leave aside entirely the influence of the media and the part that they will play. Do all those who have spoken in favour of a system of 100 per cent appointments really think, in their heart of hearts, that having some obscure body in London selecting people in secret and then foisting them on Scotland, Wales, Cornwall and the North East, will work without problems?
I regret that not as many of my colleagues on these Benches are here to listen to me as were here to listen to the noble Lord, Lord McNally. I remind them that we 737 have already had some dress rehearsals when it comes to trying to impose people selected in the centre on other parts of the country. We tried it with the leadership of the Welsh Assembly; we tried it with the Mayor of London; and we have dabbled with mayoral elections around the country. Even if the Conservatives are quite incapable of moving themselves, surely we can learn lessons from our recent experiences of falling flat on our face. I also gently ask my colleagues to consider whether there will be trouble for us if we are seen as abandoning a manifesto commitment, as the noble Lord, Lord McNally, pointed out.
Do colleagues believe that a settlement based on 100 per cent appointments will hold? I know the Labour Party pretty well, and my view is that we will not get a permanent settlement within the party on these terms.
I regret that all the good work that the Government, especially the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor, have done on constitutional issues is likely to be overshadowed by this. If, as the noble Lord, Lord Oakeshott, indicated from the Liberal Democrat Benches yesterday, we end up with an impasse, which is a distinct possibility—I believe that all the hot money is being put on an impasse—Labour Peers, including members of the Government, will find themselves in extraordinary difficulty with the party further down the line. I recognise that I am making a party political speech and that it is primarily addressed to colleagues here. If that proves to be the case, we must bear it in mind that the ambitions of the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, and the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, will be met. The hereditaries, as we see increasingly when there is an impasse, will stay with us.
The speech made by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, as the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, indicated, was an important contribution to yesterday's debate. If noble Lords did not hear it or have not read it yet, I suggest that they do so. I shall give a short quote, because it goes to the heart of some of the difficulties that we have in this House. He said:As Convenor, I am extremely dependent on—indeed, I could not function without—the willing and totally voluntary assistance of a number of Cross-Bench hereditary Peers in discharging my responsibilities, including keeping the obligatory detailed accounts for our Cranborne money. Departure of all the remaining hereditaries in one go would leave a very, very considerable gap indeed—a gap that could affect for some time the ability of the new House to perform as well as does the present one. It would be perverse if stage two were to end in a debasement of the present capability of the House to carry out its roles and functions".—[Official Report, 21/1/03; col. 589.]Why does the noble and gallant Lord make that point so strongly? I tried to raise it in the context of some of our discussions in the Joint Committee. We were given details about who attends the House, how frequently, who votes and in which way, but regrettably those details were not included in the report. However, they are worth having a look at and they are illuminating in several respects. As I mentioned before to the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, it casts some doubt on whether 100 per cent appointees attending on the present patterns would enable the House to continue to discharge its principle responsibilities.
738 As the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, said yesterday, our first and abiding duty is to commit ourselves to the,tedious, boring and absolutely essential job of scrutinising legislation".—[Official Report, 21/1/03; col. 585]In addition to examining the House's role and powers and moving on to finding the people to discharge those functions, we should first find out who is doing what in this House. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon, yesterday conceded that the Joint Committee had not really addressed the issue of how a hybrid House would work. Nor have we given detailed attention to how the House as presently constituted would perform in a changed set of circumstances. We should now do that.
In the light of what the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, said, I shall give noble Lords a few figures about how we are working.
§ Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe
My Lords, I apologise, but I thought that I had a quarter of an hour. I shall be brief.
Hereditary Peers make a substantial contribution to the work of the Cross Benches and the Conservative Party opposite. Withdraw them and there will be serious difficulty in maintaining the functions of the House, because there will not be sufficient people coming in on a daily basis. If we had elected people, we would get them in, but under an appointments system I do not believe that there is any more guarantee that people who have accepted appointment to the House would necessarily come in and do the daily grind of work that is required. Will the Lord Chancellor give his opinion on how that difficulty might be solved? In the next debate, on 4th February, I shall endeavour to give your Lordships some further figures.
§ 5.24 p.m.
§ Lord MacGregor of Pulham Market
My Lords, by this stage of the debate, it is inevitable that one is going to repeat arguments already heard. However, if the debates in both Houses this week are to be considered from the point of view of how people will vote at a later stage, I want to make my contribution so that where I stand is known. I shall speak more from the point of view of practical experience than constitutional theory.
I have three main points and two preliminary ones. The first is on legitimacy or, as the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, put it, "acceptability". Some have dismissed the entire issue with the simplistic and sometimes glib assertion that the only method of establishing acceptability is by election. I speak after having spent 40 years either involved heavily in, or standing for, election. I have no doubt that the electoral system and standing for election is an important part of our constitution.
I wish to take up the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Richard, when he quoted the opinion poll 739 that Charter 88 commissioned. In my experience—throughout my political life—few people out in the country have ever raised with me the question of House of Lords reform. I suspect that when people were asked that question, they had not thought about any of the issues before, so they had to give a quick response. The quick response was, "Well, if it is a Parliament, there must be an election process". We should not give much weight to that because I do not believe that they gave any weight to the consideration of the issues. Therefore, the weight that we give in considering the arguments is much more important than an opinion poll.
I also question what the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, said yesterday. She said:Election today is almost the only way in which people acquire respect for their authority".She went on to refer to people in positions of authority. I agree with her that,position no longer attracts the deference it once did".—[Official Report, 21/1/03; col. 585.]However, it is not self-evident that most people today give that degree of respect to those who have been elected. I say that most sadly, because it represents a very detrimental stage in our political life, but it is a fact. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford made some relevant points on that matter yesterday. We may choose the system of election that has been chosen for the European Parliament, but that heavily centralised party-dominant system does not give the authority or attract the respect of the electorate.
More important than that is the question of fitness for purpose. Like the noble Lord, Lord Carter, I used to argue in another place and here that we should consider role and functions first and then composition. However, I want to turn the argument the other way round. The interesting thing about the Joint Committee's report was that people who came from different points of view as to composition agreed on role and function. That was Part 1 of the report. If that is the case, it is extremely important to the question of composition.
If this House tried to duplicate the House of Commons or did not accept that the House of Commons was wholly dominant, the question of election would be important to this place. That is not actually the position, however, because we all agree that the role and functions of this place are secondary to the House of Commons. The election point applies to the composition of the House of Commons and how its Members are elected and to the composition of the Government that comes through the election system. The roles and functions of this place mean that we need other methods of appointment to this place to ensure that we have both the necessary range of expertise and the time that the House of Commons can no longer give to scrutiny of legislation, and so on.
My second preliminary point is that I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, who said that some of the issues that the Joint Committee had not yet addressed 740 were very important. My noble and learned friend Lord Howe agreed that those points were important. The pattern, methods and timing of election are as important as decisions that we might take about composition. I referred to the legitimacy of the MEP election system, but it is also important in relation to the tenure of elected Members, if there are to be elections to this House.
I shall now briefly make my three main points. Part 3 of the Joint Committee report refers to the qualities required in the make-up of a reformed House. I have already referred to legitimacy. The other four are: representativeness, no domination by any one party, independence and expertise. The paragraphs in the report discussing those matters lead inevitably to the view that a House that was composed by more than 50 per cent—or even more than 40 per cent—of elected Members simply will not produce those qualities that were unanimously agreed on by the Joint Committee. I do not have the time to go through them. However, I urge noble Lords who have not read them carefully to do so, and to ask themselves whether, if this House had a substantial majority of elected Members, it would ever produce the composition required by those five qualities.
I turn next to the implications of having a number of elected Members, and first to the implications for the Government and the House of Commons, especially if more than 50 per cent are elected. I think that it is almost inevitable that Members elected to this House would feel that they had a democratic legitimacy, and that the dynamics of politics would entail that the role and the function of this House would be challenged. They would wish this House to have many more of the powers possessed by the House of Commons. After all, they would be elected like Members of the House of Commons. There would inevitably be that sort of demand. I am constantly surprised at the number of Members of another place who do not take that argument on board. I do not believe that the implications for the House of Commons or for the Government have been fully thought through. I have never seen them thoroughly analysed.
The implications for Members of this place also seem fairly clear. As Members elected to this place would be elected by constituencies, there would be constant challenges in those constituencies to the Members of the House of Commons. One need only look at what has happened to Scottish MPs and their difficulties with MSPs to see that that would inevitably be the case. One could argue, of course, that if there were a limited tenure of 15 years or less, the scope for challenge would be reduced because it would not be necessary to fight for re-election. If that were the case, I would question the legitimacy of the election. If they do not need to go in front of the electorate again, they would effectively become appointed Members to this place. Unfortunately, however, because of the type of system that might be chosen, they would be appointed Members appointed by the central parties and not by the electorate as a whole.
741 So we would end up here with a large number of elected Members who did not fear returning to the electorate, who would become bored with the fact that they did not have the powers of the House of Commons and the same ability to enter the Government, and who would then start to argue for the same type of powers. I think that, in many respects, we would have the worst of all worlds. It seems inevitable that that would happen, and it really would challenge the democratic legitimacy point. If such Members had a fixed tenure but then could not stand for election to another place, it is fairly clear that they would not always respond to the electorate. It is also much more likely that they would be party cronies. I feel that, in most cases, those who were willing to put themselves forward for such a post would themselves come to the conclusion that they were unlikely to get into the House of Commons. Therefore, it would be the second line of politicians who came to this House.
I believe that the arithmetic of a substantially elected House would simply squeeze out the Cross-Bencher element and many of the independent Peers. If people had to give up their career, in mid-career, to be a Member of this place for 12 or 15 years—in what is effectively not a full-time job—would we really attract the range of expertise and quality that the Cross-Benchers and appointed Members currently bring to the House? That element would inevitably decline.
Thirdly, I have long regretted that Parliament is increasingly composed of professional politicians who have done nothing much other than politics in their working lives. I believe that, if we had a substantial or even a 40 per cent elected element, that danger would be reinforced. I urge noble Lords who share the view of the noble Lord, Lord Richard, to look at the arithmetic of what they are arguing. Unless we have a very long transition period, the arithmetic would inevitably entail that the Cross-Bench element and the independent element are squeezed out.
For all those reasons, I am clearly in favour of Option 1. However, the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, made the point, both yesterday and in his Royal Commission report, that any solution must have a significant element of compromise. I wish to consider, between now and when we vote, whether one should vote for Option 3, for a 20 per cent elected element, not that I find it attractive—I hope that I have made that clear—but in a spirit of compromise. However, I make it clear that my first choice—although we are not able to indicate the priority which we assign to our votes—would certainly be for Option 1.
§ 5.35 p.m.
§ Lord Desai
My Lords, I am an anorak of the House of Lords reform debate. I first spoke on the issue in 1996, and I have spoken about it several times since then. Six years ago, I even wrote a pamphlet about House of Lords reform, pointing out that I favoured an elected Chamber. I do not think that I have heard anything in the last two days, or the last seven years, to change my mind. I am very glad that I find myself firmly behind the leader of the Conservative Party. Every leader needs at least one follower, and here I am.
742 The argument for why we need an elected Chamber was put very succinctly by my noble friend Lord Richard. It has nothing to do with our expertise, our wisdom, or how handsome we all are, but with the fact that the executive in this country has far too much power. While the House of Commons has traditionally been a good check on executive power, due to various circumstances it is no longer such a check. Our House, which could be such a check, is unable fully to exercise its limited powers. As the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, pointed out yesterday, we do not even use the powers that we now have. We do not do so because we are self-constrained by our lack of legitimacy. I have even heard several noble Lords make that statement after legislation had been returned to us and the House of Commons had rejected our amendments. I heard noble Lords say, "We know that they are wrong and we are right. Of course we are right—we are wiser. But, as we are an unelected Chamber, perhaps we should not push it so that they have to use the 1949 Act".
The 1949 Act has been used very few times in the last 54 years. It has not been used because this House lacks legitimacy and knows that it lacks legitimacy. It has therefore failed to use its limited powers adequately. If it is to use those powers adequately, it will need greater legitimacy. That is one of the reasons why I have always thought that this House should have an elected element.
All the nice functions that we perform would not end. It is unimaginable that no other body of people could revise legislation as we do. If they were not so capable, they could learn. When I first came to this place, I did not know how to revise legislation, but I picked it up. It is not a difficult thing to do. It requires only the ability to read and write.
Noble Lords have pointed out many difficulties with elections. In the pamphlet which the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock, and I wrote in 1997, we said that there were two possible routes to membership. The first was a regional seat based on European Parliament constituencies, and the second was indirect election whereby each local authority elects a Member to come here. There are advantages to such a system. Disastrous policies such as the poll tax would never have been implemented if this House had properly represented the different regions of the country. Because "The Great and the Good", as they call themselves, live in the South East, the outlook of this place is focused overwhelmingly towards the South East. We could do much better if local authorities were represented here more widely. However, that is a matter of detail and I do not want to dwell on it.
When the White Paper was published and suggested that there be 120 elected and 120 appointed Peers, I suggested that we should reduce the size of the present Chamber to 120 in total. I am perfectly willing to contemplate collective suicide; I have no fear of that. Just as we reduced the hereditaries from 750 to 100, we could boil down the life Peers from 600 to 120 by an election procedure. Then we would have proportions of 120, 120, 120. As the life Peers died off, they would be replaced by properly elected persons. To begin with 743 only one-third would be elected but eventually two-thirds would be elected. In that way we would transit to a substantially elected House rather more slowly than under the current proposals but we would solve the problem of the size of the House at the same time as that of transition.
I do not want to suggest only those figures. It is quite possible to adopt proportions of 200, 200, 200. In the first instance we might have 200 elected members and 200 appointed members. That would make it possible to transfer the entire block of the Cross-Benchers to the appointed element. We could reduce the party hacks in your Lordships' House to 200. That would be a good starting point. Once that process had started, we could transit to a two-thirds Chamber. That process would not be difficult.
I am not a fan of the Joint Committee's report. It is dull and reveals nothing that is new or that we have not heard before. It makes an awful muddle of the options. The proposed voting procedure is the daftest I have seen in a long time and will not result in a decision being arrived at. It is almost an elementary proposition among people who write about voting theory that if people answer yes or no to seven options, a consistent position will not be arrived at. As the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, said yesterday, how would we decide what the House had chosen if a majority was reached on four of the seven options? I could vote for all seven options. I might say yes to all seven options just to wreck the procedure. Why should I not do that? Nothing prevents me from doing so.
The right way to approach the matter is to ask all of us to rank the seven options from one to seven and then add up those rankings. If one's most preferred option is ranked one and one's least preferred option is ranked seven, once the rankings are added up, the option with the lowest total ranking is the preferred option. As the noble Lord, Lord MacGregor, said, we may not all obtain our preferred option. We may have to compromise. That compromise may be our second or third most preferred option. The present system of voting does not allow for that at all.
Given that we are all grown-up people, we still have time to rethink the method of voting. I hope that the Joint Committee will rethink the matter. If its members do not believe me, they can ask an expert on the matter. I could tell them which experts they could ask. There are many such experts and they all say the same thing. We really ought to use a system of ranking alternatives, adding up the rankings and reaching a decision on the rank order criterion. I hope that that will happen; otherwise, another 90 years will pass before this issue is decided.
§ 5.43 p.m.
§ Lord Rix
My Lords, I suspect that the thrice made speech has the edge on the thrice told tale when it comes to the competition for the wooden spoon of tediousness. However, this issue is both too important for the country, and too close to my own heart for me simply to sit and listen, valuable and pleasurable 744 though that has been, particularly hearing the kind reference made to me by the noble Lord, Lord Elder. On behalf of people with a learning disability I should like to thank him, but I must tell him that nothing on God's earth would persuade me to join him climbing the Munroes. To return to my speech, if I cannot avoid repetition, at least I can avoid prolixity.
Historical anomaly this House may be but, like other historical anomalies such as the Church and the stage, and, dare I say, the monarchy, it has moved with the times and does a credibly decent job. Our national life would be infinitely poorer without it, as it would be without them. Much as I enjoy the writings of W S Gilbert as both farceur and librettist, I do not share in 2003 his perspective at the end of the century before last that the House of Lords does nothing in particular. I might want to associate myself though with the second part of his comment that what the House of Lords does, it does very well.
Should, regrettably, the desire for radical change trump the desire for continuity—a desire for "festina lente", if I am to continue quoting from "Iolanthe"—I have a set of detailed proposals for a hybrid House, including indirect election, retirement, semi-retirement, appointment etcetera, etcetera, in which the figures and the logic both seem to add up. I find myself regularly fine tuning them when I cannot sleep, which is often, and if the dread day arises when change becomes inevitable, I hope to share my proposals with the Joint Committee. For the moment, though, I am mindful that at the other end of Whitehall I used to raise many a laugh by losing my pants on stage. A lengthy dissertation from me at this stage of the afternoon would, no doubt, reverse that process and I have no desire to bore the pants off your Lordships, especially in view of the mixed company present.
For the nonce, I want to do no more than suggest some principles—principles tinged with assertion, but I hope not wholly unpalatable, and, I am sure, already clear and voiced by the majority of noble Lords. First, while it helps no one to have a second Chamber which is guaranteed to be at odds with the other Chamber, it also helps no one to have a second Chamber which is merely a pale reflection of that other Chamber.
Secondly, while some federal legislatures have a very proper base for two elected chambers elected by different constituencies, I doubt that in this country, at this time, knowing our electoral record, we do. Thirdly, it is a great attraction of this House that it has Members who know what they are talking about rather more than they know what they ought to be talking about. With all due respect to the Whips, that can be no bad thing. If I may give an example, on disability related matters Members of this House without, or irrespective of, party allegiance have done great things with education, civil rights, social services—recently securing an annual report to Parliament on implementing the White Paper, Valuing People—and a wealth of other crucial issues. I want to avoid Mrs Malaprop's "invidious caparisons", but we have sometimes had the edge on another place in this respect.
745 Fourthly, I suggest that we need a phased approach to change. In the 17th century the portly gentleman whose statue stands, for some rather obscure reason, outside the Palace of Westminster reckoned that driving everyone out instanter was the best approach to reform. That seems unwise. We would do ourselves no favours if, in a determination to modernise, we both lost the distinctive array of talents that we have in this House and created something so modern that 10 years later it had become old-fashioned. Therefore, at this stage of the debate I find myself attracted to what the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, proposed as his Option 1A; that is, a fully appointed House including, where appropriate, those hereditary Peers who still serve your Lordships' House so loyally and so effectively.
It was the American comedian, George Burns—whose retention of wit and verbal ability well beyond their allotted span must greatly encourage the older ones among us—who said: "Too bad all the people who know how to run the country are busy driving cabs or cutting hair". I suspect that there are those among us who have done either or both of these things. There are certainly ladies and gentlemen among us who have succeeded in most branches of human endeavour. It would be sad, indeed, if only their nearest and dearest benefited from their accumulated wisdom and experience.
This dear, anachronistic, cumbersome, awkward, good humoured and often very wise old House still has a great deal to offer to the business of government. Of course, like all ancient institutions it could do with a bit of tidying up and spring cleaning, but it would be a tragedy if, in pursuing change for change's sake, all that was to disappear from the Mother of Parliaments. What a Pyrrhic victory that would be for political dogma and the Fourth Estate.
§ 5.50 p.m.
§ Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank
My Lords, I too welcome the report, which has justified the appointment of the Joint Committee even if that commit tee dragged its feet for two rather wasted years. The committee could be accused of ducking or glossing over too many difficult issues, and it would be wholly unsatisfactory if the committee effectively abandoned the rest of its agenda once the composition of the House had been chosen, whatever that may be.
There is a danger about a momentum of complacency, if I can adapt that familiar aphorism of the late Lord Whitelaw. If noble Lords can allow me to say so, I thought that there was a whiff of smugness about some of yesterday's debate as time moved on. Perhaps I put it rather more gently than did my noble friend Lord McNally who was more robust.
The role of secondary legislation, whether the judicial function of the Lords should be in or out, and the spread of regional experience are important matters, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon, reminded us. Then there are the bishops, who have been attractively vigorous in this debate, and the place for representatives of other faiths. I have 746 some doubts about that if there are to be delegates with a mandate. There is also a case for a wholly secular House, and that should be examined.
The committee was right, however, to put forward as soon as possible a series of options, and these seven are as good as any. At first, I was puzzled about the future of the residual hereditary principle, after the Weatherill amendments. I could not find any explicit statement in the report, but I assume that paragraph 34, which refers to,the departure of the 92 excepted hereditary peers",is the answer. I take it for granted that the hereditary principle, by common consent, is coming to an end, whatever may be agreed about the existing Members. I hope that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor will say so in as many words.
It is difficult for Members of the House of Commons to have a rounded perspective about the second Chamber. I can make no personal claim about virtue during my 20 years in the House of Commons. I barely listened to a debate in the Lords, and seldom read the Official Report. In Cabinet, the Leader of the Lords—this was in the 1970s—was seen sitting round the table but seldom heard, except when the Lords defeated the government in a Division, which would cause surprise and anger, especially on the part of the losing Minister. I found the existence of the hereditary Peers offensive within a parliamentary system. The dominance of the Conservative Party was wholly unfair.
Time is moving on. The hereditary principle is coming to an end and, as I understand it, there is agreement about a proper balance between parties on the lines of Command Paper 4183 of four years ago, Modernising Parliament. There are already many more outstanding life Peers on the Labour and Liberal Benches, even if too few additional Peers have been appointed to be my noble friends yet.
We are sometimes rather too pleased to show that the quality of debate is high—so much higher than in the Commons—and to point to the experts and specialists whose knowledge is outstanding. We are proud of our Select Committees, impressed by the Cross Benches and glad that party loyalties are relaxed. We boast that, for the most part, we reach decisions through consensus and without needless rhetoric. All that is good, and I wholly share the enjoyment of that record of achievement and its character.
Sometimes we overplay our hand, however, and mislead our colleagues in the House of Commons. Yes, the House of Lords is a rather good place, but the essence of the House—its core, its real justification—is its legislative role. That important role is advisory and persuasive—not less, but no more than that.
As we have frequently been reminded, the Government have been defeated in 165 Divisions since 1997, but on only two occasions have the Parliament Acts been invoked. In a rough way, there is a successful dialogue between the two Houses about legislation. Either one side hacks down or they reach a compromise. However, the final word is the 747 Commons, which is absolutely right. The House of Lords is very influential, but it does not finally decide.
I find it hard to set aside my long-standing instinct for an elected House. I like the campaign, the vote, the ballot box and the choice. I am still attracted by a radical, far-reaching constitutional settlement stretching through both Houses, regional government and very much besides. I have no song in my heart about an appointed second Chamber, but I now think that that fits best into an advisory and persuasive legislative role.
I have tried hard to believe that an intermediate, halfway, hybrid House would work better than the House today. However, having two classes—elected and appointed—could do more harm than good, at least until the natural growth of regional opinion demands a place in a second Chamber.
I am uncomfortable about my conclusion, but I shall vote for Option 1, abstain on Option 2 and vote against the others.
§ 5.58 p.m.
§ The Lord Bishop of Portsmouth
My Lords, let me begin on an apparently facetious note. The other night I had a dream in which I was in the audience at a production of "The Mikado"; I am glad to come so swiftly on the heels of the noble Lord, Lord Rix. The cast kept coming up on stage and disappearing. Unusually, there seemed to be some kind of interchange between stage and audience, and as we all applauded at the end I kept seeing fellow Members of this House. I saw the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, even though the play was not "Iolanthe". Then the noble Lords, Lord Ampthill and Lord Goodhart, and the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, appeared. Finally, I saw the noble and learned Lord the Lord Privy Seal, who walked past me but then suddenly had a beard. Was I confusing one Welsh Williams with another, the new Archbishop of Canterbury?
I do not offer that dream for psychological analysis, still less for the counselling expertise of my colleagues, which in some cases would be as uninviting as it would be underwhelming. Perhaps it was the dream of a bishop who had enjoyed watching "Topsy-Turvy" on television after Christmas, who was already deep into his three-month sabbatical but who was getting ready for a two-day exeat from it in order to take part in this debate. However, the significance of the dream is clear. As we sit here, we are participants, players and spectators in the evolution of our national life and the development of our democracy, with a libretto that, like the demise of the D'Oyly Carte copyright many years ago, can now vary. That brings me to the focus of the debate: how to change that libretto and narrative in the context of an evolving democracy.
In thanking the members of the Joint Committee for expediting their thankless task so well, particularly in relation to role and functions, I want to look at this changing narrative libretto from my perspectives as a working bishop, a theologian and an historian.
748 As a bishop, I want to underscore what my colleague the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford said yesterday: we on these Benches would like to take part in a subsequent discussion of the development of the Lords Spiritual. I agree very much with what the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, said about mandated Members from this place; we have given thought to that. No one can tell me how to vote; certainly not the General Synod and least of all God Almighty, the noble Earl, Lord Onslow!
More generally, I want to explain why the debate about our democracy is so important to us. It is because hardly a day goes by in the working life of a bishop without questions of representativeness and participation being raised in one form or another, whether that involves appointing a new vicar or negotiating SRB funding. That is the case at a time when the "democratic deficit" is a more pressing and harsher reality for our political life than in relation to many other aspects of our life together. The Churches are deeply committed to working alongside local networks and partnerships in the burgeoning new styles of democracy, about which the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford spoke yesterday. It was interesting to note last year at mayor-making that the Lord Mayor of Portsmouth, who is Jewish, began her formal speech of thanks by singling out the work of the Churches and faith communities in helping to create community in a city that is very far from the sociological and settled character of Barchester.
The Churches and faith communities may not always speak with one voice or always get things right but we take very seriously the political and social structures around us and we want to be seen to be trying to help to revitalise them in the way in which it is agreed in a modern democracy. We are not clinging, for example, to our position here but we want the discussion to be serious and the right things to be done for the best reasons. Sometimes, hard things need to be said. What is now Portsmouth Anglican Cathedral began life within two decades of Thomas à Becket's death in the 1180s as a dockyard chapel dedicated to the martyred saint, who was, in the words of T. S. Eliot, a "troublesome priest". Sometimes we do our job properly only when we are being awkward; and, for some of us, that comes rather naturally.
In the context of democracy, accountability is at a premium, whoever we are. It is just as important that we are seen to deliver and to keep delivering as it is to know and to be comfortable collectively with how and why we got here. In that regard, I echo the words of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Worcester last night.
Secondly, as a theologian, I refer briefly, if I may, to Richard Hooker and his Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, written in the closing years of the 16th century. He developed a dynamic view of order as an evolving libretto—a narrative—based on natural law conceived in terms of the heavenly, the cosmic, the earthly and the domestic. I know that many in this place may not view these things as heeded and that others, more confident than myself, would want to limit them solely to the earthly and the domestic—or, in the parlance of 749 today, to the central and the local. However, in order to help a symbiosis between them, a key part of the equipment for the theologian is institutional self-criticism, which is mighty difficult, either because we swing between flagellation and complacency or because historic institutions are being publicly deconstructed by the day in an overreaction to the time of deference, which was referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, yesterday. It seems that I am called My Lord" only in the House of Lords or by an awkward church warden on the Isle of Wight who wants to be difficult with me.
Institutional and conceptual self-criticism are about debunking the bogus and stripping away layers of tertiary and secondary importance to first-order issues. That leads me to my third observation. As an historian, I say how unhelpful I find both the use of the term "hybrid"—this House has been a mixture from its very inception, and these Benches were hybrid in the Middle Ages, when two quite different groups of people, bishops and abbots, sat here—and the apparent polarisation. which is a real gift to the media, between elected and appointed Members. Here I draw attention to the excellent speech of the noble Lord, Lord Lea of Crondall, yesterday, which I found ground-breaking as well as debunking. Much more work needs to be done on the many methods of election, which can veer towards appointments, and methods of appointment, which can likewise veer in practice towards election. I do not want to get into a legal tangle with some noble Lords but in practice bishops are elected—not by the Crown but by the Crown Appointments Commission.
The subtleties of these kinds of distinctions have yet to be explored sufficiently for a final decision to be made about the future composition of this House, including the many ways of reforming the appointments process, which was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, yesterday, and the different kinds of electoral colleges, which were referred to so eloquently yesterday by the noble Lord, Lord Parekh.
I am not opposed to election to this House; nor do I believe that that is the only form of legitimacy. I hope, by the way, that if there is a mixture, we are all paid. The bishops would have that docked off their stipends—that is how the Church Commissioners treat us—but other noble Lords would benefit. I am aware of having offered some rather agnostic comments; perhaps they are even "Eeyore-esque", in the style, if not entirely the substance, of the noble Lord, Lord McNally, who spoke earlier.
This whole debate needs to be widened and deepened. It also needs to include the other end of the Corridor in terms of its work and composition. We are not the only part of the problem. I refer to some of the things said in the recent Dimbleby Lecture by the new Archbishop of Canterbury, who, I can assure noble Lords— because he said this to me—is looking forward to coming here. He is also, I point out to the noble Lord, Lord Rix, a keen Gilbert and Sullivan buff. I am sure that he will make a valuable contribution. We need to think wider and deeper if we are to avoid going 750 around on what feels like a rather self-regarding merry-go-round which, with the best of intentions, can give way to slogans and ideological trench warfare, disguised, at this stage, as a series of mathematical options.
§ 6.7 p.m.
§ Lord Archer of Sandwell
My Lords, when the 64th contributor to a debate rises to speak, noble Lords may not be anticipating a startlingly original contribution. I can confirm that expectation.
Unlike the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth, my dreams are of the future and of undergoing a rather searching television interview. When future historians write about the process in which we are now participating, they may wonder how we came to hold this debate. Usually, those who discuss constitutions identify a specific function that requires to be addressed. Then they ask themselves what kind of institution would best perform it and what kind of people should compose that institution. Then they proceed to ask themselves: what process of selection would best identify the people with the qualities that are needed?
We have reversed that process. We already have an institution. We then proceeded to ask ourselves what its function should be; but that is not all. We might at least have tried to define the functions before we discussed how to select those best able to perform them, as the committee did. However, as the noble Lord, Lord MacGregor, pointed out, we are discussing what the selection process should be before we are necessarily agreed on the functions—"Decide the route first and choose the destination afterwards". That may be because we are a country that mistrusts blueprints and prefers to build where it can on what is there already.
The report of our committee—pace my noble friend Lord Desai—was constrained by our terms of reference. Those who formulated them were the prisoners—or the beneficiaries, depending on one's point of view—of past history. Perhaps the major lesson which emerged in the committee, as my noble friend Lady Jay pointed out, was the wide spectrum of propositions on which there was broad agreement. The first was the need for a second Chamber—pace my noble friend Lord Elder. That is a thread which runs through virtually all the debates that have taken place about reform of this House.
Historically, of course, the House of Commons exists because there was a clear need for a second Chamber. This House was there first and the House of Commons was the second Chamber. The need for that second Chamber was that this House could not meet the requirements for a first Chamber. It has never been suggested that it might or that it should. As the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, pointed out yesterday, we are not here to duplicate another place. Your Lordships' House is here in its own right and it would be a mistake to redesign it as a poor relation of another place.
751 I went back to what Sir John Marriott wrote in 1910 in his classic on second Chambers. He discussed the experiment, following the Civil War, of the Barebones Parliament—a model for unicameral government. The conclusion of the portly gentleman, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Rix, was:By the proceedings of this Parliament you see they stand in need of a check or balancing power".That is us.
What compelled us to undertake this exercise was the clear demonstration that the House, as formally constituted, lacked legitimacy. That is why, when in Part 3 of our report we listed the qualities which the composition process would need to deliver, the very first was legitimacy.
As important as legality is the need to be widely recognised as worthy of being taken seriously. The reason why the House lacked legitimacy in that sense was the total absence of political balance. Any reform had to address that, and that—certainly now, I believe—is a further area of unanimity.
But legitimacy is not synonymous with what we called "representativeness", and certainly not necessarily with an electoral process. General recognition of being worthy to be taken seriously may arise from a whole spectrum of qualities: expertise; integrity; common sense; transparency; and a rapport with our contemporary world. Those are all part of the recipe. If any of them is lacking, legitimacy will be endangered, and it will not necessarily be restored by introducing elections.
One quality that will contribute to legitimacy is representativeness, and that was the next quality that we listed. A major reason that the House had previously lacked legitimacy was that it was perceived as—and clearly was—unrepresentative. It came as a surprise to me when I checked and found that the word "representativeness" was in the Oxford dictionary, although I doubt whether it would earn us the Nobel Prize for Literature. But it is a useful word, provided we recognise that it is easier to detect its absence than to agree on a remedy.
I remember a lady urging upon me that we need a third House in our Parliament because the two existing Houses consist of politicians and we need a House to represent ordinary people, who are not politicians. When I objected that Members of the existing Houses had become politicians in the process of representing ordinary people and that Members of a third House would become politicians in their process of representing ordinary people, she gave up the argument as too complicated.
That experience impressed upon me that there is more than one pattern of representation, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford reminded us yesterday. Another place—our first Chamber—consists to an increasing degree of those whose careers have progressed through a hierarchy of elections from local councils and party committees. As some of your Lordships have said, they have made electoral politics their careers. I mean no disrespect; we could not do without them, but, like figgy pudding, they need an element of diluting.
752 Representations for some interests—particularly minority interests—are more likely to be achieved, and to be seen to be achieved, not by replicating general elections but by a process of selection. As we emphasise in our report, that process should be undertaken not in obscurity—pace my noble friend Lord Brooke—but by a balanced and objective appointments commission.
It may be found that the concerns to which many people attach greatest importance, and in respect of which they would most wish to be represented, are not necessarily where they live but are apparent from the causes—the societies, the clubs and the NGOs—which they support. Those are more likely to be reflected by a system of appointment than in direct elections.
Of course, it does not follow that appointments should account for 100 per cent of the membership. Perhaps I may do a deal with my noble friend. I am proposing to vote for a degree of hybridity, but perhaps he and I can settle on a formula. However, the appointed sector will need to be large enough to make provision for representing the interests which do not necessarily emerge from an electoral process. In Mr Balfour's Poodle, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead quoted a well-known hymn:There is room for new creationsIn that upper place of bliss".The third requirement is that the House should not be dominated by one party. That, again, I imagine, is unanimously accepted, and I comment only that an electoral process cannot guarantee that outcome. That, again, can be achieved only by a substantial proportion of appointed Members.
The fourth quality which we list is independence. Since time is against me, I say only that this House should be able to afford, and could afford, that a substantial number of Members are not dependent on party affiliation in order to pursue a career of elections and certainly should not be dependent on political appointments, which is why we recommended the commission.
The final item on our list is expertise. Those of us who came to your Lordships' Chamber after a period in the other place are probably agreed that noble Lords who participate in this Chamber bring a spectrum of experience and expertise which is not likely to be achieved by an electoral process. I do not wish to be misunderstood. I am not saying that elections never produce someone with expertise—there are those in this Chamber whose biographies prove otherwise—but no electoral process can ensure that any particular expertise is present among its composition.
Before our work is completed, we shall need to address a whole number of other issues. We shall have to ensure that the qualities which your Lordships' House already contributes do not go out with the bath water. Therefore, we shall need to leave room to build on existing practices and conventions, where they serve a purpose. Free elections are a vitally important way of choosing governments but, at this moment, I do not believe that I detect a very wide demand for even more elections.
§ 6.18 p.m.
§ Viscount Goschen
My Lords, if one were looking for an example of clear public policy decision-making, one probably would not choose the recent history of House of Lords reform. But no one can argue that the House of Lords itself has not been extremely diligent in considering the minutiae of all the arguments for and against an elected Chamber and for and against nominated Peers.
We have made limited progress. To my mind, that progress is primarily in that the previous option put forward by the Government in their White Paper for a minority elected element in your Lordships' House has received very little support during this debate. It was seen fairly quickly as being unworkable and as using the veil of democracy to conceal the truth—that is, that it would still be a nominated House. Like many noble Lords who have spoken this afternoon, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor has himself said that the arguments have become further polarised.
The first thing that struck me, not only in listening to the debate today and yesterday but in reading the beauty of the written word in Hansard, was how many Members of this House who are former Ministers, Secretaries of State, Chief Whips and other office holders in another place have almost to a man criticised the current operation of the House of Commons as a mechanism to hold the executive to account. I do not believe that I have heard one defend the Commons as it is now. The noble Lord, Lord McNally, certainly defended the quality of the people there, but I am not sure that he was making a case that the House of Commons is necessarily an effective Chamber at present for scrutinising legislation.
Surely, only one conclusion can be drawn from that; that is. that neither House can be considered in isolation and that by far the greatest priority that we face as a Parliament in looking at our procedures must be to look at how to improve the effectiveness of the House of Commons.
That Chamber has been modernised—a word totally hijacked by the Government as code for an attack on any potentially challenging organisation—to the point where it no longer functions realistically as a body for scrutinising legislation. I really do not believe that the implication of the guillotine Motion has been fully explained and understood outside the Westminster village. If the public discovered, for example, that safety inspectors were invited to have only a quick look around an untested and highly criticised new type of nuclear reactor before being pulled off the job by power company bosses, they might be somewhat alarmed. But that is how legislation is handled in another place. Surely, that is not sustainable. That is not the fault of democracy and an electoral system but of weak or non-existent constitutional safeguards, ruthlessly exploited by a Government with little value for Parliament.
When this process was embarked on we were assured that the 1999 Act would be merely the precursor to more decisive change. There has been a feeling by many noble Lords who spoke in the debate today and yesterday towards the acceptance of a 754 nominated Chamber. I believe that that is reflected in an acceptance of the quality of the work that this House currently undertakes. By implication, that acceptance must also be of the work that was carried out by the House before the 1999 changes. Few Peers who have spoken today have stressed any change in effectiveness following the removal of the bulk of the hereditaries. Many have stressed that the House has a different image and perhaps some different practices, but essentially it performs the same job.
Strong arguments have been put forward for an appointed House. I would be the first to agree that the strongest possible argument that could be deployed today is that the current House works. It is effective at scrutinising legislation and, indeed, in holding the Government to account. Similarly, the degree of independence is highly unusual, as is the breadth of expertise. I listened carefully to the remarks of my noble and learned friend Lord Howe when he referred to a recent debate on human cloning and the degree of expertise that probably, or incontrovertibly, would not be replicated within an elected House.
There is a further argument: to whom are the arguments put forward in your Lordships' House addressed? When there is a confrontation between the two Houses of Parliament, we do not here ask the public to think again about their choice of Government or Home Secretary; we ask the Commons to think again about its decision. As long as the Government, and, indeed, Members of the House of Commons, can point to this Chamber and say, "They are merely nominees", our view is weakened, no matter how great the expertise here.
We saw that perfectly illustrated during the debate on the anti-terrorism Bill. No matter that this House as currently constituted is the model of the Government—we are made in the Government's image at present; this is what they wanted to see: the 1999 Act was their piece of legislation and the House as currently constituted is the Government's responsibility—when the House disagreed with the Government, fingers were wagged at us. There are only nominated people here; we are not elected; therefore our views should be discounted.
Surely, at least as important as the question of who is sent here is what arrangements exist to govern numbers. I find that the greatest shock to my guests who visit the House of Lords and want to know about how people arrive here and what is the constitution of your Lordships' House is that, if they feel they are losing votes, the Government are perfectly capable of introducing a few more people to pull on their side of the rope until they overcome the Opposition. I simply do not understand how a nominated House with no check on numbers or structure can be sustainable. Surely, if there was to be a move to settle a nominated House, the issue of constraint on numbers and therefore on patronage would have to be at the top of the agenda.
None the less, I have a feeling that the arguments about the quality of work undertaken in your Lordships' House and about the undoubted fact that nomination brings to your Lordships' House people of 755 unrivalled expertise run better in Westminster than outside. Explaining publicly to the electorate that elections are great and a magnificent institution on which our country is based, but that the public cannot be trusted to elect the right kind of people to your Lordships' House, would certainly be a tough sell and not one which I would want to have to put forward.
Therefore, my belief is that we are moving inexorably towards a majority elected House. Such a Chamber, with electoral arrangements, as described by many Peers, of long single terms need not be a clone of another place. There has been much said that such a House would be a challenge to the House of Commons. But I do not see why it should not be enshrined in a constitutional settlement that the two Houses have different roles, with the House of Lords acting as it does currently as a revising Chamber. Members would be elected to this place on that basis and not on the basis that they would be able to challenge the pre-eminence of the House of Commons. The same goes for the procedures. It cannot be that the weakness of the House of Commons, as currently constituted, is a damning indictment of democracy as a whole.
Although this must be the most trodden ground on the political lawn, this debate has been helpful in telling us that our positions are as far apart as they ever have been and that the ground for compromise is extremely slim. I do not envy the work of the Joint Committee.
§ 6.27 p.m.
§ Lord Dubs
My Lords, if one talks to people outside, the ordinary people of this country who we are here to serve, it is hard to find many who do not want a significant elected element in this House. We would have to be careful before claiming to know better than the people we serve in that respect.
Perhaps I may both congratulate the Joint Committee and be critical of it. It seems to me that seven options is an unmanageable number. As my noble friend Lord Desai said earlier, there is no easy way in which we can sensibly decide and give a pointer to the Select Committee as to what are our views. It will take a genius to interpret the votes on seven options. I wish that the Joint Committee had given us fewer and more manageable options.
Having said that, I suppose that it is impossible, because we are too conservative an institution, to suggest that we should vote on paper and put down our preferences. That is the only common sense way to do it. However, I suppose that years of tradition will prevent us from moving in that direction.
Every solution for reform of this place, including doing nothing, has significant disadvantages. We have to consider a solution which minimises the disadvantages and reflects the mood of the present century. There is no disagreement that by and large our present functions are sensible as a revising Chamber. At the margins we might want to change 756 those, but on the whole they reflect what we do well, and is accepted that we do well. The argument should be about who is to carry out those functions.
In the end the Commons will decide the composition of this House. I hope that we do not enter into a conflict with the Commons. It would not do this House any good if we thought that we knew better than the elected Chamber.
I think that we should have a smaller House. When the Commons debate the matter that will probably be their view. If we are to have a significant elected element in this House, any move towards reducing the size of the House will take time. So we must accept that it might take a number of years before we get to a size that would probably be desirable.
I want to put the case for elections. I do not think that we shall move to an all-elected House, but that we shall have a significant elected element. The case is one of accountability. If elected, we need to be answerable to the people about whose lives we make decisions. Even as a revising Chamber, we are making decisions about the lives of people in this country. It is right that we should be answerable to them for decisions that we make on their behalf that affect their lives. In a nutshell, that is the argument for election. It is also why it is not enough to say that they are elected for 15 years and then that is it, because the need to face people and to stand for election again is surely salutary in terms of what we would call a democratic process.
Paradoxically, I believe that being elected gives one strength and, up to a point, independence, because one can claim to one's party Whips and so on, "I am departing from the party line because I represent the views of my constituency" and/or perhaps "my local political party" as well. That is why I think that the Government are wrong in that respect. It is a point of strength, not of weakness, and it is a way of showing one's independence.
Noble Lords laugh, but anyone who has been in the Commons knows that to be the case and that that is how it works. I am reluctant to give way because of time, but I shall this once.
§ Lord Forsyth of Drumlean
My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, but could he say a little about reselection by constituency committees that have been telephoned by party headquarters?
§ Lord Dubs
My Lords, there are different methods in different parties. I am happy to debate the matter with the noble Lord outside the House. I do not have time now.
In the debate yesterday we heard a great deal about the experience and expertise in this House. We do have that, but we also have significant gaps. There are some occupations that are well represented; we have some kinds of experience in abundance. That is good and positive. But there are many aspects of life in this country which are not represented at all. I do not 757 suppose that there is anyone in the House with experience of special needs education or who knows much about cleaning—
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord. There are four members on the Cross Benches to my particular knowledge and two on the Labour Benches, and probably more, who know a tremendous amount about special education.
§ Lord Dubs
My Lords, I said, "special needs education", which is more limited. My proposition is still that there are many occupations in this country that are not represented in the Chamber. Before we talk about the experience and expertise in the House, I think we should be aware that there are significant gaps.
My other proposition about elections is that individuals who are elected—and we are all politicians, whether or not we like it—become different kinds of politicians from those who are appointed. One's mindset as a politician is different; the way that one responds to issues; and the input of knowledge one gets from one's constituency makes one a different kind of person and, in some respects, a more informed person. There are some issues that arise in this country that take a long time to percolate through the system, but if one holds a constituency surgery on a Friday evening one has that information. I simply point that gap out because we ought to be aware of it.
For the reasons that I have given, I do not like indirect elections. If there is going to be an elected element it should be directly accountable to ordinary people. An indirect election blurs the accountability question.
I do not believe in unicameralism because no one in the Commons has yet suggested how it should be reformed in order to deal with our functions and to make us unnecessary.
It is important that if there is a conflict between the two Houses the Commons should always win. There are anxieties about that in another place. But, it is important that we make clear that, even with an elected element, in cases of dispute the Commons would win. Having said that, there is nothing unhealthy in a democracy where there is some tension between two Houses. After all, we are here to protect the rights of individuals in this country, and sometimes those rights are not that well protected. If the two Houses have a little argument with each other about how best to work on behalf of ordinary people that is no bad thing, provided there is no impasse and that there is a way to resolve it. However, in the end I believe it is right that the Commons should win.
758 We tend to be a little monolithic in our attitude that we should not challenge another place, that devolved assemblies should not challenge the Government, that local government should not challenge the Government and so on. That is not healthy. It is right that there should be some conflicts and arguments provided they can be properly resolved.
I think that this House has an enormous contribution to make. Changing its composition would not lessen that contribution. If anything, it would enhance it and give us more legitimacy than we now have.
§ 6.36 p.m.
§ Earl Peel
My Lords, in welcoming the report of the Joint Committee, it is fair to say that there are only two clear messages that have evolved from the discussions, both of today and yesterday. First, there is a wide and differing range of opinion as to 'what form your Lordships' House is likely to take; and, secondly, that the need for a second Chamber is compelling. I am certain that that view can only have been enhanced recently by the deeply unsatisfactory way in which the Scottish Parliament has developed.
Whereas the primary role of this House has been as a debating and revising Chamber, it seems to me that this position has been increasingly challenged in recent times, largely because of the lack of proper legislative scrutiny in another place. I have noticed during my time in this House that this situation has increased. I believe it is not helped by what I can only describe as the increasingly slapdash habit of government introducing important amendments to Bills, often long after the legislative process is under way. That has resulted in your Lordships' House having to take on a greater mantle of responsibility for the whole legislative process.
I regret that. I regret it because it puts additional responsibilities on this House, which are over and above its principal purposes. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, it undermines the role of the elected Chamber. My noble friend Lady Blatch was absolutely right when she said that we cannot look at reform of this House without looking at another place as well.
It would be quite wrong for the second Chamber to try to usurp the supremacy of another place, and so the role of your Lordships' House should remain secondary, but, at the same time, it should play a full and integral part in the whole process of democratic government.
I appreciate that to many the term "democratic government" can only be interpreted in one way—and that is through the ballot box—and the very idea of a legislative Chamber made up of members who have not been subjected to the electoral process is anathema. The noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, yesterday implied that if Members of this House are not elected they are not respected. I do not take that view, and in recent years when your Lordships' House has fought on issues that have had public support the respect for this House has grown enormously.
759 I would argue that there are two crucial elements to the democratic process. One is clearly to ensure that the final legislative decisions rest firmly with the democratically elected representatives of the electorate—another place. But also, in coming to such decisions, there has been a full, diverse and honest debate in which all arguments have been explored and all interests thoroughly examined, which helps to ensure that another place can come to a better informed judgment. It is because I attach so much importance to that latter point that I remain fully committed to a wholly appointed House of Lords.
I do not propose to discuss in detail how such a House should be appointed—that is a difficult question, as many noble Lords have already pointed out—for I regard that as being of secondary importance to the principle. However, in addition to having as wide a representation of interests as possible, there should always be a percentage of political appointees—especially of those with experience from another place, whose political wisdom and skills have been so invaluable not just in helping legislation through your Lordships' House but in advising another place on decisions. I am sure that their role will continue to be important.
I cannot for a moment imagine that my noble friends Lord Brittan or Lord Jopling, having already been through the electoral process, would want to do so again. So we must bear in mind that their position in this House could arise only by the method that has been decided on until now. However, I wholeheartedly agree with my noble friend Lord Selborne, who said that equal importance will be attached to the make-up as to the remit of the appointments commission.
My reasons for believing that the whole process of debate and legislative scrutiny is enhanced by this House being appointed are intrinsically simple. As many noble Lords have already pointed out, the existence of two elected Houses would almost certainly lead to conflict, with elected representatives from both Houses seeking supremacy on behalf of their constituents. I feel sure that that would lead to the conventions of this House, which have served your Lordships so well for so long, being undermined—a point acutely noted by the Joint Committee.
I remain convinced that the revising Chamber is best served by the independent spirit brought about by Members who are not encumbered by either constituency responsibilities or, more importantly, constituency commitments. I note that the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, was amused by the fact that many Conservative Members were taking a different view from our leader, but that simply illustrates my point. In this House, we have a greater degree of independence, and a free spirit flows accordingly.
Only the other day, I was discussing an especially controversial issue with a Member of another place. Out of curiosity, I asked him why he had taken the view that he did on the subject. He looked at me and said, "It is quite simple: if I took a contrary view, when I went back to my constituents, I would be lynched". I suppose 760 that such an attitude is inevitable in the democratically elected House of Commons, but the unelected second Chamber can and does act as a healthy antidote to such a position. As such, it adds to the democratic process.
The two Houses of Parliament have two distinct roles. As such, there is nothing wrong with the fact that they have a different type of membership. Apart from anything else—this point has been made by several noble Lords—this country is sick of elections. We have parliamentary elections, European elections, local elections and—heaven forbid—there is now a prospect of regional government elections. The fact that the second Chamber is not subjected to an electoral process is a real positive towards enhancing informed debate, enacting better legislation and, therefore, enhancing the whole process of democratic responsibility.
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ Baroness Darcy de Knayth
My Lords, the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, now has a new horse to add to his crazy carousel, because this is the first time I have taken part in any debate on Lords reform. However, it seems the right time now that we are debating the Joint Committee report so brilliantly introduced by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe.
I welcome many things in the report, such as its recommendation that the reformed House should retain its existing conventions and constitutional long-stops. I agree with the five desirable qualities listed—legitimacy, representativess, no domination by any political party, independence and expertise. I follow the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, and others who would add experience to expertise. I hope that with experience comes common sense, of which this House is not short either.
I am delighted that the committee recognised that we have the latter three qualities, that it wants not only to preserve but to increase our independence and non-domination by one political party and that it considers that it may be possible to achieve legitimacy through increased representativeness. What the House does is fine; the question is who does it and, just as important, how do we decide on that "who"—which is almost exactly how I heard the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, express it when I entered the Chamber. However, he will not be surprised to hear that from that point on, we depart.
I should like to speak briefly about the importance of Cross Benchers and how best we can preserve the independence, expertise and experience that they—and some members of political parties—bring. It will be an individual view, because almost everything has been said by now and the case has been well made by many noble Lords—notably my noble friend Lord Bledisloe, but by others, and not only Cross Benchers.
I came to this place by chance of birth 33 years ago having, again by chance, acquired an interest: disability. Like many members of the public, I am totally uninterested in party politics. Unlike them, I did not have to join a party or pressure group, because this is, I believe, the only chamber of government in the 761 world in which one can survive and operate effectively without the backing of a political party. That is precious and must be preserved.
My noble friend Lady Mar for 10 years conducted a campaign against organophosphates and finally got the Government to admit to having used OPs in the Gulf. She was brave and persistent in her campaign, but perhaps she was also more successful because she had no political axe to grind. I know from experience that that freedom is a definite plus when negotiating with a Minister about an amendment or helping an outside organisation. You build up trust over the years. I glimpse here a parallel with what the report states at paragraph 43 about a new legitimacy developing naturally if the existing qualities, bolstered by greater representativeness, can be transferred to the reformed House.
I shall say a little about representativeness. Yes, this House is seen as too male, too old and too much from the south-east of England, with insufficient ethnic diversity. Here, I mention disability, to which my noble friend Lord Rix also referred. It is important to mention it as a marker, because when discussing balance of ethnicity, age and so on, none of the reports mentions disability.
Contrary to what the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, said, special needs and special educational needs are well represented at present, but some of us will go with reform and we are all getting older. I am glad that my noble friend Lady Masham and the noble Baroness, Lady Wilkins, seem to be in fine form, but issues of equality and discrimination will be with us for many years to come. There is no doubt that the experience of noble Lords with disabilities or disabled families has had a marked influence on legislation directly connected with disability and, to some extent, on connected issues with which this House deals so well, such as embryology, genetics and so on. It would be a pity to lose that expertise.
As an ardent Cross-Bencher, I started by being against an all-elected. House, because independents would not stand. The report recognises that fact, which is also true of many with specialist knowledge who belong to parties. Furthermore, it recognises that an appointments commission would be the easier way to ensure representativeness. I find myself increasingly favouring an all-appointed Chamber. It has been said many times that it is essential that the appointments commission should be independent and respected to counteract the view that unless someone is elected they are not legitimate. As the noble Earls, Lord Peel and Lord Selborne, said, the membership of the commission is important, and it is vital that it includes members who have first-hand experience of this House and others who really understand what we do here.
An elected House would be more political and have less expertise and experience. It would be less easy to ensure that it was representative; it would be more challenging to another place; and it would be more expensive. Paragraph 59 of the report says that it is,essential that some detailed work be done on the costing options".762 Why are we voting on the options before we know the cost implications? Will we know them before 4th February? I understand that elected Members would expect better facilities and financial support, but, unlike the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, I have problems with the idea of having two groups of differently remunerated Members.
At the weekend, I conducted a mini straw poll after Mass. The potential voters were not exactly representative: they were white, middle-class, young to middle-aged and Catholic to boot. However, I guess that the result was not untypical. Two were for an all-appointed House; two were for 20 per cent elected; and two were for 50 per cent elected. 'There was also a totally uninterested 15 year-old. More interesting than the percentage of votes was the fact that the two who had visited the Lords were the two who went for all-appointed. The two for 20 per cent elected would accept an all-appointed House if they could have confidence in the appointments committee. None of them, including those in favour of a 50 per cent elected House, wanted to vote for it in a general election. They wanted some group of voters to vote for whoever was to be voted in.
We have been our own worst publicists. People outside Parliament do not know what we do; those who do tend to approve. The report has confirmed that what we do is good, as is how we do it. We must get across the idea that legitimacy can be secured by greater representativeness and that that can be achieved by having a respected, independent, knowledgeable statutory appointments commission and that that will mean a more independent, less political, less whipped second Chamber. That would appeal to the public, and they would have confidence in it. Not only are many people disenchanted with the thought of more elections; I think they are, at heart, Cross-Benchers. I shall vote for an all-appointed House and against all other options.
§ 6.53 p.m.
§ Lord Selsdon
My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble and learned friend Lord Howe of Aberavon for the courtesy that he has shown in sitting in his place listening to all the speeches on the boring subjects that, from time to time, are raised. As a tribute to him, I remind your Lordships that he and I were at the same school—I was a lot younger—and I learnt many things there.
The Greeks and Romans always drank their wine mixed with water. Your Lordships will recall the lines:A little learning is a dangerous thing;Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring:There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,And drinking largely sobers us again.".Homer and Horace were good alcoholics and messengers of the gods, but Bacchus was a minor god. I once thought that philosophy meant "love of knowledge"; later in life, I was reminded that it meant "love of wisdom". I never understood what 763 PPE was, so I did not do it. However, I realise that we are having a PPE debate today—philosophy, politics and economics have all been raised.
Enough of that. Let us talk about cricket. I would like to go back to 1958, when I first met the noble Baroness in the house of the Flag Office, Malta, where we played charades. She will have forgotten that, but she was always a wise and witty lady, and I was pleased to remind her today that she is the 23rd longest-serving Member of your Lordships' House. Back to 1958 and cricket: in 1958, I was proud to be elected, at a young age, a full member of the MCC. I regret the subsequent decline in cricket and our record in the Ashes. Strangely, I always wanted to be good at cricket, but I never was. Occasionally, I was sent in to knock the fast bowling off its length. Usually, I was soon out, but, occasionally, I stayed in, and those of your Lordships who sit to the right of me may have noticed that my nose is not as straight as it should be.
Back to 1958. What a remarkable year that was. We had the first reform of the House of Lords—long, long overdue—and the introduction of life Peers, who breathed new life into the House. Was not that a remarkable achievement? I think that only one of them is still alive. I was not here then; I came to the House five years later, never having been invited to play cricket for the MCC. Some of your Lordships will recall that I did not really want to come here. I did not like politics. Now, I find that I am No. 11 in the batting order in that, after 40 years, I am the 11th longest-serving Member of your Lordships' House. That disturbs me.
I was told that I had to come here. In fact, I was severely leant on by the father of my noble friend Lord Goschen. I was told that I had a duty to be here and that I should speak only when spoken to. I was told that I should not say anything until I felt that I knew something about the subject. I was told that one was not allowed to speak with notes or read a speech because that demonstrated that one did not know one's subject. I was told that, when one asked a question or spoke at Question Time, one was allowed one and a half lines in Hansard, not the 10 or 20 lines that the Liberal Party has, from time to time. I was told that one had a certain time to speak. I intend to speak for approximately 12 seconds for each of the years that I have been in your Lordships' House.
After 1958 came 1968 and a wonderful opportunity for reform. The Labour Party's proposals were voted through this House with a majority of 190 or so, and through the Commons with a majority of 116. They were then rejected. I thought that the Labour Party's proposals were rather good, so, in 1999, I proposed them as an amendment to a Bill. The only person to spot that was Lord Longford, who asked me what on earth I was doing promoting Labour Party policy. The proposals were that life Peers would be here for life and 764 hereditary Peers would remain here for life, because value was given to their knowledge and background, but not be allowed to vote. I do not know why, but the current proposals for reform make me think of that wonderful chap Tommy Cooper. He once said:I backed a horse at 20 to 1. It didn't come in until a quarter to six".We have not got anywhere.
We must go back to the "Pierian spring" and ask ourselves, "Do we know who we are?". Today, I look around and see the PCs' Bench. When I read the list, I thought that "PCs" was something to do with the number of people who had portable computers, but there are only three. How many Privy Counsellors are there in your Lordships' House? There are 191. That is too many. How many former Members of Parliament are there in your Lordships' House? There are 178. That is too many. How many QCs do we have, on top of the PCs and all the rest? There are 46. That is too many. How many "bees' knees" do we have? Your Lordships will know that "bees' knees" are CBEs, MBEs and so on. There are 147. A "bee's knee" must have done something outside for that award. We can go on and ask, "How many Conservatives are there?" or "How many different nationalities?".
The other day, I found, to my horror—or, perhaps, to my pleasure—that I am an "IUP"—an "Independent Unionist Peer". When I first joined the House, I signed up and wrote out a banker's order for £25 for life membership. Then, I found out that I was not allowed to vote for our leader because, technically, I am not a Conservative. Many of your Lordships on these Benches might want to look at that again. I always wanted to be independent, and I thought that I could speak with an independent voice.
I do not want to throw a spanner in the works, but I believe that this House should be fully elected. I said that in the early days. In 1968, I was involved with a research company that was employed to look at House of Lords reform on behalf of the Labour Party. I have kept that information up to date. I put together a report which had a rather good title, but nothing else. It was called Towards A Peerless Future. I have updated it constantly. I can tell you who was born when and who lives where.
I should have liked to have been genuinely elected. It would be rather fun to take on the Commons, and this House can be democratic only if it is fully elected. But, what are the alternatives? There are not many. There can only be two—either/or. Either we are democratic or we are representative. If your Lordships were to scratch the surface, we would find how extraordinarily representative we are. As one gets older, one becomes more and more representative. I speak at No. 70 in the batting order of the speakers' list—back to cricket. I find that I am still way below the average age. I would so like to be in your Lordships' House when I reach the average age, although I know that I am desperately below average.
I turn to the bishops. Who are the most representative people in your Lordships' House? The bishops. There are 25 bishops who represent, directly 765 or indirectly, 34 million people with 8,000 parishes and 10,000 churches. I ask your Lordships to think of the parish council; think of that route. Can those Benches genuinely say that they represent the parish council from the bottom up to this House?
How regional are we? I tried to obtain that information from the accountant's department, but there was a reluctance to tell me who claimed expenses from their principal place of residence. However, we know that most Members claim expenses at the address furthest from your Lordships' House. That would be natural because more time is spent there at weekends.
Are your Lordships aware that there are 72 DLs in this House? I thought they were D.Lits at first, but these are deputy lieutenants. How many counties are there in the United Kingdom at present? The deputy lieutenants do not double-up, but they are regional. When looking at Members' addresses, we can see that we are, indeed, regionally representative.
Perhaps we may return to who we are. I believe that I know. We are an amazing collection of people, who do not yet know who they are and do not know who they represent. It would be nice if we could issue a mandate to ourselves, advising each of us who we represent. I am not sure that we represent anyone at present. Certainly, when anyone writes to me, I write back. However, I am told that that is not the correct procedure if one is a Member of Parliament. Let us not forget that the Labour Party has got rid of one-third of all Members of Parliament in the past two years, and that a Member of Parliament cannot write to the constituent of another Member.
We have strange rules. I suggest that if we want to be representative, we must be all appointed. If we want to be democratic, we must be all elected. However, if we are to be representative, let us work out who we are meant to represent.
§ 7.3 p.m.
§ Lord Gordon of Strathblane
My Lords, I join with virtually everyone who has spoken in congratulating the Joint Committee on the report, which I have read with interest. There are some significant gaps—issues which, perhaps rightly, have been parked for the moment. In particular, I pay tribute to the introduction to the debate by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, and to all other members of the committee who spoke. For those of us who have just had a chance to read the report, it was interesting to obtain the flavour of the discussions and some of the between-the lines discussions.
I do not want reform of the House of Lords to be hijacked as a term by those who think that the only way forward is election. I believe passionately in the reform of Parliament; it is a mess at the moment. I may alienate some in the House by saying that, if an idea were put forward to bring this House into the same time zone as the rest of the country so that we no longer greeted each other in the afternoon with "Good morning", I would not regard that as the end of civilisation as we know it.
766 More importantly, it is vital that we reform the way we work in this House. The pre-legislative days could be put together to permit more people to accept a peerage other than barristers, those who are fully retired or those who live within the M25. Members have paid tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Winston, who in the debate yesterday alluded to the fact that he had to leave in order to perform surgery. That is fine because he is here in this House. But would the noble Lord be here if he were in a Scottish university or in a university remote from London? That is a serious drawback. We must be more representative, not in an egalitarian sense but simply making it more possible for people to play a part in the House.
However, more important is the issue of how we interact with the House of Commons. There have been reports on reforming the House of Commons and reports on reforming the House of Lords. I am amazed that no one is looking at Parliament as a whole. The way that we interact with each other affects the quality of our legislation and the way in which the public are served. To that extent, I echo some of the more iconoclastic remarks of my noble friend Lord Elder. I, too, think that there is a wide disparity between the appearance and the reality of Parliament. Having the State Opening of Parliament once every five years in Westminster Hall has much to commend it.
To be honest, it looks as though we are the Upper House. Even the Prime Minister and others are summoned as though second-class citizens to the Bar of the House to hear the Queen's Speech. That is wrong. I do not think that anyone has taken drastic offence so far, but it is only a matter of time before someone does. Let us change such practices.
However, the reality is that the House of Commons virtually ignores the House of Lords. I read with distress as much as I could of yesterday's debate in the Commons. That was one of my reasons for speaking today rather than yesterday. Some good points were made, but generally there was an appalling ignorance of how this place works. It is amazing that—with the exception of noble Lords who are former Members of the House of Commons, who, interestingly, are almost universally in favour of an appointed House—very few Members of this House know exactly how another place works. We need to learn how it works and we need to work together a lot more. I wish that a committee would be set up to look at that issue, instead of tinkering about with composition.
There was a given to the committee that the House of Commons remains supreme. I am open to the concept of election. If the House of Lords is changed dramatically and it is given more power than the House of Commons—there is no reason why it should not be—election must be considered. For the exercise of power, a democratic mandate is needed. However, if it is a given that the House of Commons will remain supreme—realistically, there is no way that this issue will pass through the House of Commons unless that is true—there is no case for election whatever.
If the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, will forgive me, I shall raise another PC—parliamentary conflict. I believe the committee recommended that elections 767 should be carried out at a different time from the general election. Arguably the franchise on which Peers would be elected would be more up to date, giving them greater democratic legitimacy than the House of Commons. A different system of election could be introduced, with perhaps proportional representation. In that case, it could be argued that there would be greater legitimacy than the House of Commons.
Another misleading concept appears in the report, which is otherwise very good. People are talking about election and accountability. Election does not give accountability. As my noble friend Lord Dubs pointed out, only re-election and seeking re-election give accountability. If Members are to be elected for long periods, or there is no obligation to seek re-election, there is no accountability. The job may be carried out well, and I believe that the report refers to greater independence of thought. But do not pretend that there will be accountability, because the electorate are not being asked to renew the mandate. The same would be true of any system other than one that virtually replicates the House of Commons, and, as my noble friend Lord Dubs said, seeking re-election on a regular basis.
The problem is that if we take up that system, there will be exactly the same outcome as in the House of Commons. I hope that we are all humble enough in this House to admit that if we were representing a constituency in the same manner as an MP, as well as looking after their best interests as best we could, we would also be ensuring that we should receive a re-endorsement at the next election. We would be just as distracted from the business of parliamentary scrutiny as they are. As a whole, the public would be much less well served.
It is also a recipe for yet another PC—public confusion. My noble friend Lord Elder referred to the different electoral systems that we would have in Scotland, which is one form of confusion. However, there is also the confusion surrounding who does what. Noble Lords who have been MPs know that half their post bag related to local government matters. They are brought to MPs because a letter from an MP on House of Commons notepaper is more likely to receive a reply than a letter from a constituent. People do not know who is responsible for, say, housing; what Westminster is responsible for; or what Brussels is increasingly responsible for. There is considerable confusion.
In opening, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, suggested that the committee did not greatly address hybridity. That is true. It could be said that we are a hybrid House because we have two genders or because Members come from different parts of the country, but none of us believes that that is hybridity. I hope that I cause no offence to hereditary Peers in expressing the belief that we are not a hybrid House just because we have hereditary and appointed Peers. After all, hereditary Peers are simply people who were appointed ante-natally—in some cases with the removal of several generations.
768 The noble Lord, Lord Higgins, made an important point. If there is a partially elected House and the government of the day win the vote among the elected Peers but lose it overall, the government of whatever political persuasion will do exactly what this side of the House did in the run-up to the hereditary vote and say, "We would have won the vote had the hereditaries not voted". The recipe will be clear—to create more Peers.
The report states that elected Peers would probably demand more office accommodation than we have ever demanded. It is not that we have never demanded more; it is just that no one has ever given it to us! Furthermore, although there was no definite decision from the committee, it recognised that paying Members might be important. Even so, no one has said how much. And shall we really attract the best people by saying to them, "We want you to stand for election to this House. You are clearly inferior to us as MPs and we don't want you to defy us. We are not terribly certain about your pay and conditions, and as to the business of a title which these guys used to get, we are not sure. We will call you something, like Member of the Lords"? That will bring people out in droves to stand for election, will it not?
Moreover, what legitimacy is conferred by election? Would the Joint Committee have been more legitimate had it been elected by each House, with members having a rock-solid mandate from one House to abolish the House of Lords, or at least make it wholly elected, and Members from this House having a mandate to make it all appointed, with no one having an opportunity to change one's mind and listen to arguments? I suggest not. At what point is legitimacy created in the institution rather than in the individual? Does one elected Member make the whole House legitimate? I am reminded of the negotiations of God with Abraham over whether he would spare Sodom and Gomorrah if 40 good men could be found. Perhaps we will not get 40—perhaps we will get only 30—but at what point will we get legitimacy?
If 20 per cent elected Members gives some legitimacy, undoubtedly 40 per cent gives more. The truth is that the only thing that will give full legitimacy in some people's eyes is 100 per cent elected Members. Therefore, do not let us pretend that any half-way House will stop short of that. It will inevitably lead to election.
My objection is that there are things which need to be done in Parliament and the composition of the Lords is an unwelcome distraction from the important and neglected task of reforming Parliament as a whole.
§ 7.14 p.m.
Lord Butler of Brockwell
My Lords, I follow the noble Lord, Lord Gordon, by starting from a feeling of unease, as I suspect most people do, about any House of Parliament being constituted by a means other than election. I spent my Civil Service career feeling that Members of the House of Commons had a particular authority precisely because they were elected. Some of the Ministers I served may be surprised to learn that I felt like that, but I did. So my 769 starting point is that if we are to depart from the principle of election, the case must be made for doing so.
I can also understand it if a feeling exists among Members of another place, in particularly the younger ones, that those of us in your Lordships' House have it pretty easy. Members of another place have first to be selected, then to win and to keep on winning their place in Parliament. It is evident that those in your Lordships' House who have been through that experience are not anxious to repeat it. As the noble Lords, Lord Higgins and Lord Rodgers, said, Members of another place may not know much about this House but they know that. They know that we are given a place in Parliament without having to fight elections and are appointed for life. It is understandable that they should not feel very warm about that aspect.
Thus far, I go along with those who argue that, as a matter of principle, places in Parliament should be gained only by election. But I then follow the noble Lord, Lord Gordon, and many others in saying that a fully elected House would so closely replicate the House of Commons that the question would have to be answered why we need a second Chamber at all.
If the House of Commons worked effectively in holding the executive to account and scrutinising its legislation, there would be a very real question whether Britain needs a second House. I could easily be a unicameralist. But on this question, I was very struck by the evidence which the Royal Commission received as we travelled up and down the country.
That evidence was overwhelmingly that Britain needs a second Chamber because the House of Commons' control over the executive is inadequate. It was not argued that the second House should usurp the supremacy of the elected Chamber, but it was argued that it should provide a means of subjecting the executive to additional scrutiny.
I believe that this House does serve the nation well in this respect. I also believe that the task needs a greater degree of independence than could be achieved if the House were fully elected. No one has suggested any plausible means of having a fully elected House which would avoid the domination of the existing political parties.
There are those who argue for a large element of election, not just on the argument of principle but, as the noble Lord, Lord Richard, in this House and Fiona Mactaggart in another place did yesterday, also on the proposition that opinion polls show that the overwhelming majority of people want a wholly or mainly elected second Chamber. I suggest it is not very surprising that if you stop someone in the street and ask him which he prefers between election or appointment by politicians he already mistrusts, he will choose the former. Even if the question is asked in the form which the noble Lord, Lord Norton, had it—whether they would prefer an expert or someone elected—he is likely to choose someone elected. If, however, he were to be asked whether he wanted a second Chamber which is similar to the House of Commons, what then do we think his answer would be? I suggest that it would be very different.
770 I am struck by the fact that many of those who have argued for election in this debate have said or implied that they would like to retain an independent element and have recognised that the independent element could be achieved only by appointment. The noble Lord, Lord Richard, said that explicitly and it has been implicit in the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, the noble Lord. Lord McNally, and many others.
A part-elected/part-appointed House must be hybrid, and many have talked about the difficulties of that. But the point I want to make—and it has also been made by others—is that the greater the elected element, the greater the difficulties for the non-elected minority. To take just one illustration, let us envisage that on a controversial issue the government of the day and the opposition parties are in conflict, but one side has a small majority which is overturned by the votes of the minority of appointed Members. If we have accepted election as a necessary condition for legitimacy, where is legitimacy then? I do not believe that such a situation would be allowed to survive for long.
So if a degree of independence is needed, to say nothing of the other qualities correctly identified by the Joint Committee, and a hybrid House is difficult and unstable, the logic points ineluctably to an appointed House. The noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, has already followed that route on the way to Damascus—or, perhaps more correctly, on the way from Damascus—but the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, spoke of compromise, as did the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham.
Human animals—and perhaps particularly political animals—have a tendency to split differences. Sometimes it is right to do so and sometimes it is wrong. One of the tasks given to the Central Policy Review Staff in 1971— perhaps on the proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Howell—was to advise the Cabinet in situations where one department, one Cabinet Minister, was right and another was wrong that the issue should not be settled by splitting differences.
In this case I believe it would be wrong simply to split differences. If there is to be a compromise, it must be a compromise which has a rational justification and which, most importantly, would not destabilise the subsequent operation of this House in the way I have described. I supported—I still support—the compromise reached by the Royal Commission that an element of the House, with the function of injecting regional opinion into our debates, should be elected. I liked the phrase of the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, yesterday, "appointed by the people". But to avoid the problems I have described, I was, and remain, in favour of that being a small proportion of the House—that is, not more than 87 Members, or roughly 15 per cent of a reconstituted House, Model B in the Royal Commission report. So when it comes to the votes on 4th February, I shall not support an option with a higher proportion of elected Members than 20 per cent.
771 One final word. Although Cross-Benchers are never whipped, or even concerted, I am attracted by the suggestion in the speech of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, that those remaining hereditaries who have served this House with such distinction should stay on in the new House for the remainder of their lives. So I would like the noble and gallant Lord to put me down as a supporter of his Option 1A, or possibly 3A.
§ 7.23 p.m.
§ Lord Rees
My Lords, I congratulate the Joint Committee on the admirable work it has done and on the way it has refined the options open to us. I also congratulate my noble and learned friend Lord Howe for his comprehensive and powerful introduction of the debate on the basis of the Joint Committee report.
At this stage of the debate there have been so many penetrating and illuminating speeches that I felt it only remained for me to mark my card in regard to the votes in February and sit down. But that would be perhaps a slightly too perfunctory discharge of what I perceive to be my duty, so perhaps I may be allowed to offer a few general observations.
As to the question of legitimacy, like many noble Lords I have perhaps slid from legitimacy as an elected representative of the people to illegitimacy. I was not over conscious of a difference in the discharge of my duties—except perhaps for a slight reduction in my labours and the burdens that I carried in my first role—and it is slightly misleading to suggest that, because in our roles as Members of this House we do not commune with the electorate from time to time, we are in some sense illegitimate and therefore not properly equipped to pontificate on the important political issues of the day.
I shall disclose my hand on Option 2 in a moment but, if there is any merit in that distinction, it follows that the moment this House has a large, predominantly elected membership—and therefore, presumably, moves to legitimacy— the possibility, indeed the probability, of friction between the two Houses, both at Westminster and, perhaps more importantly, in the constituencies, becomes much more acute and cannot be disregarded.
A slightly unfortunate phrase crops up in the Joint Committee report and in the White Paper about the "pre-eminence of the elected Chamber". I am the first to concede that historically it is a long time since this House provided the forum for the Prime Minister of the day or, indeed, the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Of course one recognises that there has been a gradual drift in power, in many regards, down the Corridor to another place. But, that said, I do not like to think that another place is pre-eminent. Predominant maybe, but not pre-eminent.
The truth is that both Houses have slightly different roles which call for different qualities, different experience and different expertise. The position of both Houses should be respected in that regard if one supports a bicameral constitution. Interestingly, the only noble Lord who has touched faintly on the possibility of a unicameral constitution 772 is the noble Lord, Lord Elder. I take it therefore that it is common ground in this House—I have not studied the debates in the House of Commons so far—that, up to this point of time, we all believe in a bicameral system. It follows therefore that each House has an important role to play, which must be respected. This calls for different kinds of people, with different qualities and different experience.
Against that very broad opening, may I turn to the options before us. I could not vote for Option 2 for various reasons, some of which have been touched on most ably and, most recently, by the noble Lord, Lord Butler. His training must have been quite different to mine, enabling him to view the political process with a different eye, although quite as closely as I was able to do even sitting alongside him. We have to recognise what are and should be our functions; we have to recognise that we do not want to put ourselves in a position where there is likely to be constant disharmony and friction with another place.
There is also the practical question of what kind of person would be attracted to a position in this House if we went for a totally elected Chamber or a Chamber with a majority of elected Members? If noble Lords were to reflect on their circles of acquaintances and friends, could they identify anyone who would be drawn into coming here for 12 or 15 years, with no possibility of re-election, and self-evidently being dominated by another place? We can discuss what they should be paid and other vulgar practical details, but I wonder whether we would end up with anything little better than a rather limp, aldermanic bench. I do not intend any offence to my friends in local government, but I do not see the kind of quality, drive and stamina that we expect in this Chamber being reproduced against that kind of background.
The point was touched on by many speakers, including the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy de Knayth, that that would reintroduce into this Chamber a much stronger partisan approach than we are used to. Of course, we have our party differences in this House; but on the whole we debate problems with a much greater degree of detachment than we experienced at the other end of the corridor. Therefore, as I said, I could not vote for Option 2. I should vote for Option 1.
There are difficulties, and many practical problems, on which the Joint Committee has not touched. I do not blame the committee; it had sufficient responsibilities. We can reflect on an appointments commission as one solution. But who will draw its parameters? Who will recruit for it? How would such a commission carry out its duties?
It has been said that these matters can easily be resolved. Before we take this matter much further—depending on the outcome of the votes in February—we must reflect to some extent on these points and reassure the country as a whole that, if that were the preferred option, there would not be a strong element of political patronage. That said, there is a strong element of political patronage even in most electoral processes. It would be naive to imagine that politics will not play a considerable part. But we must devote a considerable amount of thought to the matter.
773 I now turn to the question of hybridity. My noble and learned friend Lord Howe said that it was a critical issue. I am not certain that as the debate has developed it has turned out to be such a critical issue. Some noble Lords have drawn attention to it and have produced their own solutions. I suppose that we could survive with a very small elected proportion of Members. But, like many noble Lords, I feel that that would merely add a further element of complication to what might well be a delicately balanced solution. I rather doubt whether it would add very much. If the elected proportion were to be 80 per cent, a great deal of what I and other noble Lords have said about the virtues of a nominated Chamber would go by the board—because the nominated element would be insignificant and would, I suspect, carry little weight in debates.
If the figure for elected Members were 50 per cent or 40 per cent, all kinds of extremely delicate political issues could arise. I do not believe that at the end of the day the country as a whole would be greatly impressed by a hybrid solution. People attracted by the argument about legitimacy would say that we were not legitimate—half of our Members might have an element of legitimacy, having communed with the electorate from time to time, but on what basis would remain to be determined. At the end of the day, I doubt whether we should achieve very much in terms of our own status and political power.
My conclusion—depending on how the debate goes, and there may be some further dimensions before the matter comes to a vote—is that I am disposed to vote for Option 1. That said, I was extremely attracted by the cogent and practical arguments of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig. He impressed on me the number of questions that have to be resolved before we can conceivably put this into operation. I refer to such matters as the number of Members—by whatever route they are brought to this Chamber. One is inclined to say 600, because, give or take a few, that is the number at present and, practically speaking, a certain number is necessary. My instinct is to say that, if possible, it would be better to have fewer. At the risk of offending our colleagues in another place, I believe that the House of Commons is dramatically overstaffed at present. It could well consider a reduction in numbers—and I venture this observation. To think that one can determine the future of this place without a very serious look at the composition and powers of the House of Commons is ridiculous. We interlock. Therefore, I hope that the Commons, too, will reflect on this point. Matters of tenure arise and all kinds of delicate questions, such as what people should be paid. We have to devote much more thought to these kinds of questions before reaching any firm conclusion.
At the end of the day, I strongly believe—as I hope do most noble Lords—in a bicameral system. On that basis, the position and role of both Houses have to be carefully analysed and respected.
§ 7.36 p.m.
§ Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate
My Lords, I came to this House in July 1998 with a completely open mind as to its effectiveness and its modus operandi.I am 774 appointed for life, and as I have heard nothing during the discussions on constitutional change to lead me to believe that whatever is eventually agreed life Peers will be forced to stand down, I believe that I come to the debate from a completely independent position, without the slightest vestige of personal interest or indeed the baggage of having been in another place. To hear my noble friend Lord Dubs say that unless you are elected you do not know the problems of ordinary people is, at the very least, surprising.
In life, I think that I have been a pragmatist over the years and, in a sense, a do-it-yourself practitioner. I am a firm believer in the philosophy: "If it ain't broke, don't fix it". So does the House of Lords work?
My experience since coming to this House is that it works extremely well and does the job that it is designed to do of scrutinising, revising and improving legislation sent to this House from another place.
The House is also in my view an effective check and balance on what has been described by others as an "elective dictatorship". With a massive majority, a government of any persuasion can have their way, and there is little incentive to win by good argument something that can be won by the simple expedient of the application of a strong Whip.
That is what happens in the "democratic" Chamber, and we see some pretty awful Bills being passed through to this House for remedial treatment. That is not a criticism of another place. Its Members are busy, and that is the nature of democracy. But you can have too rich a mix of democracy. Quite often, opposites attract. Something sweet goes well with something a little sour. I return to my point—it seems to work.
I do not suggest that there should have been no change. Obviously it was difficult to justify the hereditary principle for people involved in legislating—although I tend to believe that their demise could have been arranged with a little more tender loving care. There were, and indeed are, some excellent parliamentarians among our hereditary colleagues, and I pay tribute to them. But they had to go; and of course there is the mechanism, which has been used, of bringing back as life Peers those felt to be indispensable to this House. I hope that it will be used where appropriate.
On a further, not insignificant point, the public have an interest in all this. Politicians, like journalists and estate agents, are not held in very high public esteem. The noble Lord, Lord MacGregor of Pulham Market, and other speakers have referred to that lack of respect. But when I go to public meetings and make after-dinner speeches, or even when I make speeches in this House, people do not seem to see me as a politician but still as a policeman. The same applies to many noble Lords who come to the House after 35, 40 or 45 years of distinguished service in other professions such as the military, medicine, the Church, business or even, dare I say, the law.
I realised the depths to which I had plummeted in people's esteem by getting mixed up in politics only when someone asked me the difference between a party politician and a supermarket trolley. When I said 775 I did not know, he replied that a supermarket trolley has a mind of its own. He added that you can get more food and drink into a party politician! Although humorous, such comments made me think that we could raise the ante in earning respect for what we do.
The tabloids continually exploit the concept of "Tony's cronies" and patronage by all or any parties. It is essential to have an independent appointments body that selects, not for partisan reasons, but according to merit, service and commitment to the job. It should be divorced from the honours system and patronage. Whenever I put the point to the public, at meetings or in speeches, it is invariably met with unqualified agreement, which surprised me at first.
So, by all means, let us change, but without throwing out the baby with the bath water. That way lies constitutional disaster.
§ 7.41 p.m.
§ Lord Armstrong of Ilminster
My Lords, I pay tribute to the hard work of the Joint Committee. I do not know whether it has kick-started the process, as some noble Lords have suggested, but at least it has cleared the way with its analysis of the reform issues.
I have always taken the view that one should not address the composition of the House of Lords unless and until one addresses its functions and powers. Since it appears, no doubt realistically, that we are not to look for any significant increase in the powers and functions of the House of Lords, we can proceed to the discussion of composition on that basis.
I share the view of the Joint Committee that, if the existing qualities of the House—namely, lack of domination by one party, independence and expertise—can be bolstered by a greater representativeness, a reformed House can and will develop a new legitimacy.
So the question is: how to arrive at this greater representativeness? It is tempting to suppose that that can best be achieved by having a fully or partly elected House. But there are other ways of achieving greater representativeness than by direct elections. There are two objections of principle to a fully elected second Chamber. First, such a Chamber would be less likely to have any of the three qualities in the present House that the Joint Committee favours—at any rate, in the same measure. Secondly, a fully or even partly elected House would challenge, to a greater or lesser degree, the democratic supremacy of the House of Commons. By supremacy, I mean that the will of the House of Commons must prevail. In our system that would be a serious disadvantage.
The arguments of principle are buttressed by practical considerations. First, will men and women of the quality and calibre we seek be willing to submit to the effort, trouble and expense of standing for election to a House with powers as limited as those of the present House, particularly if it were only partly elected? Secondly, I suspect that British voters already suffer from election fatigue, as the noble Earl, Lord Peel, said. They are already called to vote in elections for this Parliament, local government, sometimes 776 mayors, perhaps the Scottish Parliament or the National Assembly for Wales and the European Parliament. I doubt whether there would be great public interest in elections to the House of Lords, even for a fully elected House, and still less for a partly elected one. We could end up with a House elected on a turn-out so small as to call in to question its representativeness.
So, on 4th February, my vote will be for a fully appointed House and against any of the other options. In that respect, as Chancellor of the University of Hull, I am delighted to line up with the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, my colleague at that great university. I like to think that what the University of Hull thinks today, the rest of the world will think tomorrow.
That leaves us with the problem of achieving greater representativeness. Our present constitutional arrangements require the Sovereign to act on the advice of his or her Ministers, so, ultimately, the Prime Minister should remain responsible for all appointments to membership of the House of Lords. Apart from any other consideration, we should reflect on the possibility of what the noble Lord, Lord Carter, referred to yesterday as gridlock. The Prime Minister may need, even in the 21st century, to reserve the right to recommend, or to threaten to recommend, new creations if there is no other way of ensuring that the will of the House of Commons prevails in the last analysis.
There are probably other circumstances in which it is appropriate for a Prime Minister to make recommendations on his or her own motion. For instance, the Prime Minister should be able to recommend a peerage for someone whom he wishes to appoint to a ministerial post. It will also continue to be advantageous for the leaders of the main political parties to be able to submit to the Prime Minister nominations for a limited number of representatives of their parties in this House. And can we be confident that, in its wisdom, an independent commission without guidance from Number 10 would ensure the continuance of the apostolic succession of former Cabinet Secretaries elevated to the House of Lords?
If greater representativeness is to be achieved, and to be seen to be achieved, there will have to be a system that ensures that, for most recommendations to the Sovereign, the Prime Minister gives effect to a nomination from an external body. There will be a great role, therefore, for an independent commission that puts forward nominations upon which the Prime Minister will in no circumstances be expected to act. That commission will be charged with the duty of making nominations that produce greater representativeness.
We already have an independent commission to provide the Prime Minister with nominations of independent non-political candidates for membership of the House of Lords. Some such arrangement should continue. It would not be difficult to devise a system whereby that commission or the "new" commission also received nominations from other bodies for the appointment of representatives of various groups and 777 interests. It would be for those groups and interests to decide how to arrive at their nominations. It could be by indirect election or by the choice of the governing body of a professional association or institution. In that way, there could be nominations for representatives of teachers, doctors, nurses, industry, trade unions, financial services, universities, consumers, the Churches—not only the Church of England—and so on.
It would be the duty of the independent commission in submitting its nominations to ensure a suitable regional balance in membership of the House. The Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly for Wales and the Northern Ireland Assembly could have the right to nominate representatives through the commission. So could local authorities and regional assemblies in England if, or when, we have them. Time does not permit me to go into greater detail now. Much work and discussion would be required to set out such a system in detail. But it is not beyond the wit of man to devise workable arrangements on these lines to ensure greater social, economic and geographical representativeness. Complicated legislation would not be required if there were general agreement in principle on a system along the lines that I have tried to adumbrate.
When one is 75th in the batting order of speakers, to return to the cricket metaphor, it is difficult to suggest something new. I have another modest proposal which has not been suggested in this debate before. It has long seemed to me that it would be advantageous for the Standing Orders in this House to be amended so that a Cabinet Minister or Minister in charge of a department who is a Member of another place could be permitted, by leave of both Houses, to attend and speak but not to vote in this House when business warranted it; for instance, the Second Reading of an important Bill. By the same token, the Standing Orders in another place could be amended so that a Cabinet Minister or a Minister in charge of a department who is a Member of this House could be permitted, by leave of both Houses, to attend and speak but not to vote in another place if business warranted it.
I take the view that the system which I have suggested would produce a House which, while not very different in practice from the existing House, would retain the undoubted virtues and benefits of this House to which reference has been made and would have whatever additional legitimacy is conferred by a more assured system of greater representativeness.
§ 7.50 p.m.
§ Lord Renton of Mount Harry
My Lords, I find this an extraordinarily interesting and even momentous debate. I hope it will go down in history. Even speaking at No. 76, following the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, one is constantly hearing interesting solutions and thoughts about constitutional change. I certainly join in the congratulations that everyone has offered my noble and learned friend Lord Howe of Aberavon and all members of the committee on the excellent House of Lords reform first report that it produced, which has got us all thinking again.
778 This debate is full of surprises. I really did not know which way the noble Lord, Lord Butler, would go until halfway through his speech. That makes for a very interesting debate. That said, I have to declare that I do not think that Option 1 for a fully appointed House is a practical alternative. It will not give this House the legitimacy that it needs to exercise fully its checking and revising capacity. Moreover—and I have not heard this point mentioned much—I do not think that there is any possibility of it being adopted by the Commons.
I have read a great deal of the Hansard report of the House of Commons debate yesterday. Although there is talk in another place of a move towards appointments—that is the fashionable phrase—the clear tenor of the remarks in yesterday's debate is that the Commons will vote for elected Members. They will vote for them either at the 60 per cent, 40 per cent or 20 per cent mark, probably around 60 per cent.
I remind your Lordships of two remarks made by Robin Cook, Leader of the House of Commons. He said first:Personally, I am very keen that we achieve a commanding majority for one of those seven options".He said of the Joint Committee:I hope that we will give it a clear mandate and a clear steer on what it should work on".In the next column, he said:we must establish which one of the seven is most likely to reflect the settled will of this Chamber".—[Official Report, Commons, 21/1/03; cols. 202–03.]By this, he meant the Commons. I think that the words "commanding majority" were used on purpose.
It is important that we are not too air away from the Commons on this issue. We do not want a situation in which, as in 1911, the Commons expects its will simply to prevail. We do not want to be in conflict on this issue if we can avoid it. For that reason, I see no possibility of Option 1 being accepted, and, I have to say to noble friends on both sides of the House that this does not worry me. Since 1997, I have been in favour of a percentage of elected Members. I think that we would do our job better, with more authority and conviction, if we had elected Members, and we would be more democratic. We are having a problem with the use of the word "democratic". I notice that my noble friend Lord Higgins thought we were democratic enough already. But another noble friend whose name I shall not mention said to me very firmly earlier this afternoon, "We do not want to be destroyed by democracy".
§ Lord Higgins
My Lords, on my noble friend's initial point, has he not realised that it is gradually dawning on Members of another House that there will be a 779 serious problem in their constituencies in having a competitive elected Member of the House of Lords who may be of a different party?
§ Lord Renton of Mount Harry
My Lords, I hope that I can chalk up another minute for giving way to an intervention.
§ Lord Renton of Mount Harry
Half a minute, certainly.
I do not accept my noble friend's point. This is one of the fears to have emerged from the debate that I do not share. We should be optimistic about what we are considering. The same applies to hybridity. Many have said that they think, as my noble friend Lord Rees said, that the country would not be impressed by a hybrid solution. I do not take that view. The mixture of appointed and elected is perfectly acceptable. Again, I note that in yesterday's debate in the Commons the Leader of the Commons, Mr. Robin Cook, said:About one third of all second Chambers around the world have a mixed membership of elected and appointed members".—[Official Report, Commons, 21/1/03; col. 204.]
§ Lord Renton of Mount Harry
My noble friend will have to develop that theme himself.
We have all travelled and met a lot of parliamentarians in different parts of the world. I have never, in 35 years in politics, heard a complaint about a mixed upper Chamber that was partly elected and partly appointed.
Two problems worry me considerably; the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, raised both and I agree with her on them. The first is the method of the election of elected Members. It is extremely important that they should be well known in the area in which they stand. Speaking in another place yesterday, William Hague suggested that tagging a vote for the European elections on to elections for the upper Chamber was likely to lead to a lower rather than a higher turnout. There is probably a good deal of justice in that view.
We must ask the committee to think carefully about the method of elections and the method of choosing the appointed Members to the upper House. The noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, spoke on that with great attention to detail. How members of the independent commission are chosen is important. We cannot all be cronies of leaders of political parties.
One area in which the report is slightly vague is in paragraph 52, which states:Only the Prime Minister would have the right to have nominations confirmed".That is at the heart of patronage, is it not? I would like a clear limit put on what percentage of nominated Members could be put forward by the Prime Minister. That should be clearly stated in the final report from the House of Lords Joint Committee. We certainly do 780 not want a 1911 situation in which Asquith and Elibank firmly threatened Tory Peers with the election of anything from 200 to 600 new Peers if they did not get the Parliament Bill through.
There should be one term only for the elected Members, possibly for 12 to 15 years. The same should apply to nominated Members. If some are paid, all should be paid. I hope that a high proportion of appointments would go to Cross-Benchers with no political allegiance and committed not to take the Whip, thus keeping a continuity of independence.
It is clear that once we have elected Members, our relationship with the Commons will change. Indeed, the effects of the change will be more substantial for the Commons than for us. I agree with the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Gordon of Strathblane, that we need to look carefully at our powers and the powers of the two Houses. It is arguable that the Parliament Act 1911 is totally out of date. Why, after all, should this House have the power to delay money Bills for one month? It is irrelevant, it has no meaning, yet it is in the Parliament Act. If we are to have extremely rapid changes of a constitutional nature—if we are, for example, to have a Bill to set up directly elected assemblies in England, which would mean a substantial removal of power from this House and another House to elected Assemblies—is it adequate to be able to delay such a Bill for only one Session rather than two? Is this not an area that requires deeper consideration?
The whole question of powers has been skated over far too lightly. Why? Because we assume that the Commons will not be willing to give us any enhanced powers. Surely, however, this is the moment to consider that carefully. If we do not do it now, we will not do so at any other moment in our lifetime. Powers moved from the upper Chamber throughout the last century because it was essentially hereditary. If it is not to be hereditary but to be largely or partly elected, it is surely the moment to reconsider the balance of powers between the two Houses.
I personally will vote for the 50:50 option at the start. I would accept that we should move towards Option 6 at the time of the second election in 12 or 15 years, during which time a number of life Peers will literally have ceased to be life Peers. But, and this is a big "but", associated with this I hope that there will be a review of the powers of both Houses to ensure that they are appropriate to the problems and challenges of today, which were non-existent in 1911 or 1949.
I agree with the point that this House needs to get to know the other House better, and the other way round. One way of tackling that would be to have many more joint Select Committees on foreign affairs, home affairs and perhaps on terrorism. In that way, we might all understand and appreciate each other better. We might stop thinking of the Commons as impotent tools of the executive and they might stop thinking of us as old codgers who unnecessarily delay their legislation. Twelve years ago, when I was the Government Chief Whip in the Commons, that was precisely the view that I had of the Lords. We must hope for a much better 781 understanding of what each House can offer the other, and that should come out of this new and important constitutional settlement.
§ 8.2 p.m.
§ Viscount Tenby
My Lords, to continue the numbers theme of the last two speeches, speaking at No. 77 in the speakers' list, at the back end of the day, I feel like a member of the chorus of "Guys and Dolls" in the third year of its run. I shall try not to stray into repetition—but if I do, I remind noble Lords that good tunes bear repetition.
I begin by declaring a non-interest, in that whatever solution is reached in the final reform of the House will not affect me. Although after my contribution, I may be charged with the offence of boring for Britain, I cannot be charged with the offence of self-interest. I am innocent of that charge. Paradoxically, there is, and has been for a long time, an acute family interest in the composition of this House, to which over the years I have inevitably succumbed.
I begin by congratulating the Joint Committee on producing a judicious and balanced report. I am sure that noble Lords will agree that it could not have been presented more skilfully and sympathetically than it was by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberayon.
On occasions such as these in the old days, speakers were invariably tempted towards the pages of Bagehot. I notice that no one has tried that in this debate—although your Lordships' may have sinking hearts when you hear that it is a temptation to which I am going to succumb, but here goes.
Noble Lords will recall that, much to Bagehot's disgust, the House of Lords turned down Palmerston's proposal for the creation of life Peers. He observes:The Life Peers who would have been introduced would have been among the first men in the country…thirty or forty such men, added judiciously and sparingly as the years went on would have given to the House of Lords the very element, as a criticising chamber, it needs so much".He goes on to say that unless the error is put right in future years,the intellectual capacity can never be what it would have been, will never be what it ought to be, will never be sufficient for its work".That is a great parliamentary and constitutional authority, writing some 131 years ago. In my submission, what was true then remains as true today, and it is that which prompts me into being an uncompromising supporter of an all-appointed House.
I was interested to hear of the experience of the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, at a public meeting in Suffolk yesterday. When I first started promoting this proposition nearly a year ago, I feared for my safety, so novel appeared to be my view. However, I have to report that at no meeting of the public, nor at any of the courses that I addressed, did I encounter outright opposition to the suggestion of an all-appointed second Chamber. Indeed, I received much support.
782 We have all heard about legitimacy. I am sorry to have to use the word again, but here goes. In a democratic system of government, the principal legitimacy is surely that of the ballot box. On that basic fact, everyone can and has agreed. However, there are other legitimacies: the legitimacy of expertise, of experience and—how can I say otherwise in a House such as this?—even the legitimacy of age. All these are not only useful in an amending and examining Chamber but essential if the role assigned to it is to be discharged effectively.
In a "take note" debate as large as this, with so many speakers, I am not going to dwell, as others already have or will do, on the arguments against an all-elected House. They include the threat that it would pose to another place; the poaching and struggle for territory that would ensue over the body of some poor constituent, equally represented by an M P and an elected senator, or whatever we choose to call him or her; the almost certain elimination of any independent element in such a House; and perhaps the extension of party machine control in the selection of candidates from closed lists. What an overwhelming depression and sadness there is in such a prospect.
If an elected element were agreed for the new House, it would impose another electoral responsibility on an electorate that has already shown, in unmistakable terms, that it needs to be reminded of that responsibility. It is surely an interesting paradox that the more that we as a society talk up inclusivity and the need for ever more citizen empowerment, the more election turn-out figures drop.
Perhaps noble Lords will allow me to remind them of some of the statistics; they bear repetition. The turn-out in the United Kingdom in the last three general elections has been: 1992, 77.7 per cent; 1997, 71.4 per cent; 2001, 59.4 per cent. In the European parliamentary elections, it has been: 1994, 36.5 per cent; 1999, 24 per cent. The turn-out for the referendum on the Scottish Parliament, in 1997, was 60.2 per cent. For the Welsh Assembly, it was 50.4 per cent. It was estimated that the turn-out for last year's local elections leapt to 34 per cent. Some eruption of democratic fervour there! "Drinks all round", as Private Eye would say. Yet here we are, some of us at any rate, in uncompromising pursuit of some unattainable ideal which will add not one iota to what this House requires for its specialised task.
Is it not the case that what we should be directing our attention towards is ensuring that there is a better turn-out for the only election which really matters in a democracy like ours—the one every four or five years for another place? That is where the power rightly lies. It is for those elections that we must somehow get the electors to realise their responsibilities and the special gift they have, which is alas denied to so many on this planet.
In the good old British "compromise is king" way, some would seek to create a hybrid House, perhaps 50:50 to ensure that everything is absolutely fair and everyone is absolutely satisfied, or any other combination of 100. I have to say that I am not attracted 783 to the creation of two classes of Member in the same House or, if you like, to a "them and us" culture. They will all, of course, be senators (or whatever we decide), but some will be more "senatorish" than others, if you get my drift. Just picture the fun that political analysts and columnists will have in studying the voting list after an important Division to establish whether the wishes of the "real" Members had been thwarted by unelected cliques—indeed, quite like old times, I am tempted to observe.
I have tried to fathom the reluctance in some quarters even to embrace the concept of appointment to this House, and I have come to the conclusion that it rests entirely on an incipient defeatism—namely, the refusal to accept the fact that an appointments system that can succeed in picking the right mix of talent, that acknowledges regional and ethnic quotas, and that celebrates, by representation, the myriad strands of our national life can be fashioned successfully. We can send people into space and conjure up hitherto unimaginable technical wizardry, but we cannot, it seems, choose the right and the appropriate people to serve in an amending Chamber for fear, presumably, that the media will label such choice as the selection of cronies of this or that politician or say that they owe their preferment to favours given in the past. What an appalling admission of defeat at the outset, but it is an admission that I for one—and I hope many others—am not prepared to accept when it comes to voting on the options.
It will not have escaped noble Lords' attention that I have not talked about size—600 should be near enough; the importance of maintaining a strong independent element—the admirable Wakeham report was right, I think, to set it at 20 per cent; the admission of other faiths, which I strongly support; or age limitation, retirement and the like. However, those have all been covered in this debate and will no doubt be covered in any future discussions.
I have been in this place for some 20 years, not long by the standards of many here, but I have an immense affection for it and respect for the work it carries out. It is an essential part of the constitution and it is an exceptional contributor to the good governance of this country. I would wish to see this role enhanced and not diminished by our action, which is why, when noble Lords record their vote in a fortnight's time, I hope that they will keep this objective in mind and vote accordingly for the first option, for to vote for other options, no doubt for the best of intentions, would irreparably damage a system which, despite all logic, has served this country well over the centuries.
§ 8.12 p.m.
§ Lord Harrison
My Lords, may I observe that it is never too late for number 78? The role, powers and functions of the House of Lords are by now well-defined and accepted. It is its future composition that is in dispute. I believe that I have a practical solution to this conundrum which favours a fully appointed House but which also puts its voting arrangements on a democratic basis and avoids the pitfalls of hybridity 784 while acknowledging the current genius of the House—namely, its combination of working and part-time Peers—and ensuring that all Members of the House retain equal speaking and voting rights. Does that seem too good to be true? Let me try my scheme on you, my Lords. I dub it the "team system", having been dissuaded from calling it the "Manchester United squad system", although I have to say that, when I so described it to one former Cabinet Secretary who has spoken this evening, he heart-warmingly told me that he had got it in one.
The team system builds on the Wakeham commission's suggestion that the composition of the Lords should reflect in its political proportions the results of the most recent general election. This is how it works. Each party is given a team of Peers from which it will draw its voting strength. The numbers in each party's team will be decided by an appropriate independent body such as the appointments commission, which will meet regularly to take account of changing political patterns and strengths. Each Peer will serve 10 years, unrenewable.
Assuming a House of some 650 Peers—although the system allows this number to be drastically reduced, if required, without creating turmoil—a current formula might result in the following sizes of teams: Labour, 200; Conservative, 200; Liberal Democrats/others, 150; Cross Benches, 100. With the exception of the Cross Benches, who would always have a total of 100 votes for their team of 100 Peers, each of the other political groups would have their voting strength calculated as a proportion of the popular vote cast at the most recent general election. Thus, say, for argument's sake, Labour's 40 per cent of the popular vote would provide 120 votes out of a team of 200; the Conservatives' 35 per cent would provide 105 votes out of a team of 200; the Liberal Democrats and others' 25 per cent would provide 75 votes out of a team of 150 and the Cross Benches would wield 100 votes out of a team of 100. Thus, the total votes available in the House at any one Division would be 400, made up of Labour, 120, Tory, 105, Liberal Democrats and others, 75 and Cross Benches, 100.
Peers would be appointed to the teams by the individual political parties and vetted by the appointments committee. Like the noble Lord, Lord McNally, I decry the current vogue of undermining political parties. Nominating Peers under the team system is analogous to the selection of MP candidates by political parties as the means of gaining election to another place. Nomination is at the heart of the British polity.
The voting position of each member of the group within their own team is determined annually by an internal ballot. Each Peer, for example, would therefore be given a position for the year from one to 200 within their political team. Thus, at each Division in the House using this system, Labour's vote may be made up of Labour Peers numbers one, three, four, eight, 14, 23 and so on up to 198, 200. The Tory vote may be numbers three, six, 11, 14, concluding at 195, 199. And so on. All votes should be recorded and published, as they are at the moment. But, of course, the result of an individual 785 Division on a Bill's passage through the House will be determined by adding up only the quota vote. The team system in this pure form wholly preserves the voting privileges of individual Peers, including party dissidents who cannot, for instance, be demoted to the bottom of the party list by the Whips because of the annual party list ballot preventing that. One derogation, however, is, I think, sensible. I believe that the first, say, 20 positions on the team list should be allotted to the parties' Front Bench teams to avoid the anomaly of a Front-Bencher having his or her vote not count towards the final tally.
In the final composition of the House under my system I retain the Cross-Benchers but exclude the Law Lords and the bishops. The team system, however, is infinitely adaptable and can retain one or both of those groups if that is the will of the House. What, then, are the advantages of the team system? First, the system is democratic. Its outcomes—the votes—are directly based on the recognisable voting strengths derived from the most recent general election. Unpopular, additional elections to the Lords are avoided. Secondly, the Lords' democratic legitimacy is concurrent with that of the Commons but in no way undermines it.
Thirdly, the Cross-Benchers are retained, continuing the tradition of independent thinking which marks out the Lords as a unique second Chamber. Fourthly, the team system can be enacted immediately after a general election and can be effective from the start of a parliament. It avoids the wholesale ejection of Peers at the turn of each new mandate. Fifthly, it avoids a hybrid House of directly elected and appointed Peers. It does, however, accommodate both working and part-time Peers on an equal basis as part of the unique contribution of the current House. Sixthly, it provides an easy bridge from the current House to any new reformed House. Again, there is no requirement for wholesale changes in the current political teams. It allows further changes in the size of the House, because the size of the teams can be reduced without affecting their voting strengths. Of course, it also permits new appointments to be made to provide the House with new blood.
Seventhly, the system would allow all Peers to have the same speaking, voting and other rights in common. Eighthly, my idea allows parties to retain and honour senior party supporters without requiring them to be permanently on call as voting fodder. Peers who were unwell, absent on business or otherwise unavailable would not be found to be letting their party down.
Ninthly, the votes in the House will directly reflect voters' intentions at the previous general election. Moreover, the Whips will be able to field their established voting strengths, and the system will also give Ministers greater flexibility to perform their duties outside the House.
Tenthly, my proposal permits political parties and the appointments commission that chooses the Cross Bench team to reflect modern Britain in all its celebrated diversity, in terms of representation by sex, religion. ethnicity, nations and regions, and so on.
786 The team system would enact and extend the elements of this current reformed House, which has so successfully demonstrated that, in the best of British traditions, what does not work in theory may nevertheless supremely work in practice. Today's House can become tomorrow's House using the team system, and I commend it.
§ 8.21 p.m.
§ Baroness Miller of Hendon
My Lords, I shall be very brief. Many others who also value and would prefer an all-appointed House have given their important reasons for having come to that view. My reason for speaking tonight is simply to add my name to those voices. I also want to highlight one of the many important reasons which I think is central to the whole issue.
What this House does best is to be a revising Chamber, to scrutinise impartially, to revise, to amend and, in many cases, to give another place an opportunity to think again. Most noble Lords would agree that that is a very important function in this day and age, given that so many Bills and so much legislation comes to this House hardly debated, let alone scrutinised.
For this House to continue to do that work in the way in which it has done, it must be able to use its experience and, in many cases, its specialised expertise. I believe that it does not need elected Members who, by the very nature of having stood for election, will want more power. More than that, they will have to dance to the tune of the party Whips.
When my noble and learned friend introduced the Motion with excellence yesterday, he referred to the expertise and experience of the many Peers who spoke on what was then the Human Reproductive Cloning Bill. If their experience and expertise were to be lost—indeed, if that of other noble Lords were lost—it would be a great tragedy for this House. I very much hope that that never comes to be.
I agree with other noble Lords who feel that if the House has to be tinkered with in some way, it should only be to improve it—if somehow or other that could be achieved. The House should never be tinkered with to turn it into a rubber stamp for the government of the day.
§ 8.24 p.m.
§ Lord Plant of Highfield
My Lords, I want to deploy an argument that I believe is very unpopular in the House; namely, that ideally the House should be replaced by a small, wholly elected Chamber that is elected regionally using a form of proportional representation.
The size of such a full-time House—say, half the size of the House of Commons—the difference in its representative base and the difference in the electoral system would increase the legitimacy of the second Chamber compared with any alternative. At the same time, that would not increase its legitimacy so much that it would be a rival to the House of Commons. The size of the Commons and its constituency basis would 787 ensure its primacy. At the same time, however, the degree of proportionality of the electoral system for a second Chamber would mean that it would be most unlikely that one party would have an overall majority in the House. Also, if the PR system had a low threshold, that would mean that a wide range of parties would be able to have a voice in the House.
Of course, a wholly elected House would mean that there would be no independent Members unless they could get in via the low threshold. However, the PR system would mean that all the time the government would have to seek a wider basis of consent for their proposals than just from their own supporters. It would also mean that there would be no ex officio experts, as it were, in the House, other than those who got elected. I believe that that defect—if such it is—could be overcome, in the Lords at least, by opening up the legislative process and taking evidence from a wide range of expert witnesses; for example, at pre-legislative hearings on Bills. That wider range of experts might be more valuable than the smaller number of resident experts in the current House.
It would also mean that the Law Lords would have to be turned into a supreme court and sit outside the Parliament. I fully recognise the implications of that. I point out, however, that there are pressures for that to happen anyway, not least because of the passage of the Human Rights Act, irrespective of any pressures coming from the reform process in the Lords.
A wholly elected House would also mean no ex officio religious representation. I am personally opposed to that—I say this rather deferentially, because my diocesan is on the Bishops' Bench—although I am a life-long member of the Church of England. It is difficult to defend its current narrowness and difficult to widen it to other faith groups without intense controversy and possible discrimination against perfectly legitimate religious groups. It would be interesting to have the first Rastafarian here, for example; I see no reason why, if one was extending religious representation, a Rastafarian should not be here as much as anyone else. But I am not in favour of religious representation ex officio.
In his speech yesterday, the noble Lord, Lord Richard, was kind enough to draw attention to the report of the commission that I chaired for the Labour Party on various aspects of constitutional change, which reported in 1993 and which unanimously endorsed the proposals about which I have just spoken, although they were argued about in much greater detail in that report. My great friend, the noble Lord, Lord Hattersley—who was then my right honourable friend in another place—along with Mr Kinnock, appointed me to do that job for the Labour Party. When the report was published, Roy Hattersley pointed out in the New Statesman that I was a political innocent; and I do not believe that he meant that as a compliment.
There were, however, heavyweight people on the commission who certainly could not be regarded as such innocents, including, for example, my right honourable friends in another place Mr Geoff Hoon, Mr Alistair Darling, Mrs Margaret Beckett and Hilary 788 Armstrong, who is now the Chief Whip in another place—and my noble friend Lord Rooker, who was then the right honourable Member of another place. Also involved on the commission at various points were the noble Lords, Lord Burlison, Lord Elder, Lord Whitty, the noble Baronesses, Lady Gould and Lady Hollis, and the current First Minister in Scotland. They would have been in a position to have countered the wide-eyed innocence of this academic, who, it was alleged, was leading them astray. The proposal, along with many others in the report, went to constituency Labour Party groups and received overwhelming support.
However, I am sufficiently realist to accept that the proposal stands absolutely no chance of acceptance. I want to argue the case for a House in which 60 per cent would be elected and 40 per cent appointed. My fundamental guiding idea is that political power and authority in a free society can be legitimately exercised only with the consent of those over whom power is exercised.
In passing, one or two noble Lords have emphasised the concept of respect. It seems to me that, while it would be nice if people respected politicians, that has nothing to do with the issue. What is important is whether one can support politicians in their bid to enter Parliament and whether one can kick them out, and not whether one respects them.
Elections are the primary basis for testing and securing consent. I realise that many people in the House believe that consent and, therefore, legitimacy can rest not only on election but also on a recognition of expertise and appropriate experience, as the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, has just said. That issue goes back to Plato's arguments in the Republic.
I am willing to accept that it is true that expertise can secure consent in certain circumstances. I may consent to have an operation because I trust the expertise of the doctor in diagnosis and prescription. But there the expertise is instrumental; it is a means to an end. I want to be healthy and here is an expert who will tell me the best way to achieve that. The expertise is about means and not about ends.
However, most political questions are ultimately about ends. Do we want a more equal or less equal society, more liberty and less equality, more freedom and less security, and more rights and fewer responsibilities, or the other way round, and so on. Those are questions about ends and, because of that, they are not subject to expertise. There are no experts in questions of ends. In a free society, questions of ends and ultimate values are for citizens—at least, in the political context—to judge and to choose.
Obviously there is a role for experts in determining the appropriate means to achieve ends. For those reasons, I am prepared to accept that there is a case for nominating Members of the House who would have appropriate expertise to enable us to match means to ends more efficiently in the details of legislation. I can see that legitimacy and, indeed, consent can derive from that.
789 However, I do not see how the legitimacy of the whole Chamber can come from expertise because, as I said, some of the most intractable political problems are about ends, goals, purposes and values and not about means, and there are no experts in those things. There would be no point in saying that, as a revising Chamber, the House never really deals with ends, goals or purposes because, of course, it does. If it did not do that, there would be no point in having Second Reading debates, because those debates are about the principles and values that lie behind Bills. Therefore, we have debates about ends as well as means. It seems to me that those ends are a matter that people should stand for and be given democratic sanction to in an election. I accept that there are experts on means, and that might be the case for having nominated people in the House.
I want to mention two or three reasons why I believe that a wholly nominated House would be wrong. First, I very much agree with my noble friend Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe, who pointed out that there might be a danger in the independent appointments commission being perceived as the great and the good choosing the great and the good. I believe that problems arise regarding the perception of that type of role.
Furthermore, it would be wrong for nominated Members to draw a salary as opposed to allowances. That would be like being nominated for a private income. But the consequence of not having a salary is bound to skew a nominated Chamber in favour of those in the South East or those who have a short commuting distance to London so that they are able to have another job. Alternatively, it will skew nomination towards those who have a private income or those who are elderly and have a pension of some kind. I believe that there would be a geographical skew.
I also believe that a wholly nominated House would have to involve political appointees as nominated people. Parties are absolutely essential in a representative democracy. Without their capacity to aggregate interests into reasonably coherent programmes, it is exceptionally difficult to see how representative democracy can work. Parties do that and are indispensable. It seems to me inconceivable that a whole House of Parliament will be exempt from the kind of representation that makes representative government possible. Party Members should be a substantial part of a wholly-nominated House, if we were to go to that.
I also believe that in a wholly-nominated Chamber it would become impossible to resist the demands of groups of people for functional representation from the professions, business, the unions, the voluntary sector, universities and so forth. It seems to me that the House would become a kind of repository of vested interests seeking very often to defend such vested interests. Without wanting to be offensive to the many lawyers in the House, we need only to think about how over the 11 years that I have been here lawyers have been able to manage to defend their interests pretty well. A dynamic society in a global world facing challenges which we can hardly begin to appreciate 790 will always have to change pretty constantly. A Chamber of vested interests would run entirely counter to what we need a modern Parliament to do.
If we accept the principle of elections, as I think we should, it would be eccentric not to have more than 50 per cent elected. So, I would support 60 per cent. If one accept the political legitimacy of expertise, even in a limited way as I do, it would be important for the experts not to be just a rump. Therefore I would support 40 per cent nominated and 60 per cent elected. That would be a fair compromise between two contending principles of legitimacy.
§ 8.36 p.m.
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
My Lords, it is in every sense a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Plant. In this well-tempered debate I take a wholly divergent approach to what is called "legitimacy", which is referred to by some noble Lords as weasel words and buzz words. It is a term in context with democracy which means nothing unless one can define both, and no one can do that. It is a question of one's individual approach. There is no use looking in a dictionary. One can define it any way to suit one's purpose.
At the age of 86 I have a somewhat tenuous interest which may be ended all too soon, and not only by the grace of God. None the less, I care very much about this place and I am concerned with the retention of its constitutional role. I pay tribute to my noble and learned friend Lord Howe and all members of the Joint Committee. I shall vote for Option 1. I shall oppose all elective options. It is assumed that these elections will be conducted on a closed party list system, as I understand operates in the Scottish Parliament but I seek confirmation, which to my mind is a far less democratic approach than appointment by a non-political appointments commission.
This is where one starts again. What are we talking about? What do the terms mean? I see the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester in his place. We have disagreed on many things, but he would agree with me that if one does not define terms at the start of a theological discussion, one will get nowhere. I see that the noble Lord agrees.
No one has yet produced any convincing approach to a definition of anything that we are dealing with. The noble Lord, Lord Plant, said that he does not want to offend lawyers. We are so used to being offended that it does not matter at all. But, as a lawyer, I ask where on earth are we going? It is purely a reflection of our individual attitudes.
The noble Lord, Lord Renton of Mount Harry, has left his place, which is unfortunate because I was going to criticise his speech. He is a close neighbour of mine in Sussex. I would have done it in amity. I shall still say something about it.
The first thing is that the noble Lord has not yet gone native. That is the trouble. There is this question of the House of Commons. Of course it is very important. We understand our relationships under the constitution and, my word, we observe them by our conventions. But we will not get anywhere if we start 791 from the most astonishing proposition made by a former government Chief Whip. I had better watch it because he is not in his place, but a former government Chief Whip says that the Parliament Act is outdated. That is wonderful. We have not defined any terms. If the Parliament Act, which is our bulwark and the basis on which we operate is outdated, where do we go from there?
It is a dangerous concept because the report concludes that the balance of powers between this House and another place should remain much as it is. So why on earth are we talking about changing the Parliament Act? It is incredible, but there it is. We debate in amity. All I can say is that it appears to me—and I hope my noble friend reads Hansard tomorrow— that his approach is wholly irrelevant to any constructive resolution of reform of both Houses.
I have something else that I want to say. The debate has got a bit scrappy. One cannot make a speech at this hour of night; everyone has said everything. It seems to me that, having listened to quite a bit of this debate, we should go to the crux of the matter. I regard the crux—this is a purely personal approach—of this debate, which polarises around Options 1 and 2, as being that composition should flow from the constitutional role as exercised with our powers, functions and conventions and not the other way round. The noble Lord, Lord Carter, said that early on in the debate yesterday, and it was confirmed again today by my noble friend Lord MacGregor and by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer of Sandwell. That is where one starts. If one has no definitions, one should start there with the argument and see where it leads.
What are these options? They are proposals as to composition. They may not be resolved before a decision has been taken on the constitutional role. That may not be forestalled or pre-empted. The report finds that the constitutional role should remain much as it is—I have all the dreary references, if anyone wants to ask me for them. But that is what it finds; that is how it is.
So, for a start, what on earth is the need to tinker with composition? That is a simple approach, but I should like someone to give me an answer, because in this whole debate, as yet no one has dealt with that or given a cogent answer. Without that justification, change—the burden of which is on those who those who propose it—cannot be accepted by a reasoned House. One's political party does not matter, or if one is not of a political party. It is a question of reason and of the constitution under the Queen and Parliament. For heaven's sake, let us not upset that.
Time goes on. Ten minutes is really quite enough, but there were other things that I wanted to say. I was going to argue against the propositions advanced by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, and the approach of my noble friend Lord Wakeham, and say that his approach was one of compromise.
The business of this Chamber today is not the business of compromise. There is nothing yet to fix. What did my noble friend say? In effect, he said that he 792 supported an appointed Chamber—I checked this; I made notes at the time; he said it—provided that it was an elected Chamber. That makes total nonsense of Options 1 and 2, serves only to confuse and leaves us absolutely nowhere. The difficulty was that that led the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, to run their arguments on the reports of the Royal Commission, not on the report of the Joint Committee.
I have one more point, if I may make it, and then I promise to sit down. This is the kind of subject on which, frankly, you change your mind. Several Members of the House who have spoken have changed their minds. My noble friend Lady Thatcher set up a committee under Lord Home of the Hirsel to report on it. It reported in favour of a partially elected, partially appointed Chamber. My noble friend set up another committee of the Society of Conservative Lawyers; we reported in favour of a wholly elected Chamber. Times have changed. When, by chance, Lord Home of the Hirsel and I met here years later, over a wee dram we both said: "You know, we both got it wrong".
§ 8.50 p.m.
§ Lord Graham of Edmonton
My Lords, I pause for effect.
I want to report some progress. When the reform issue came before the House in 1998, I had the pleasure of speaking 183rd on a list of 192 speakers. Today, I speak 83rd out of 99. That is progress. The greatest thing is that the speech that I made then was made at twenty minutes to three in the morning of the second day.
I acknowledge that it has been a valuable debate. It has been informed by experience, reaction and crystal ball-gazing. I have been amazed by the number of people who can tell us precisely what will happen if a certain event takes place. I confess that I do not know. Whatever option is finally accepted, we must wait and see. I speak with a little experience, having been Opposition Chief Whip in this House and having served in the Whips' Office on both sides in another place. Mostly, I am informed, as many people are, by my roots and by my gut reaction.
In my pocket, I have something that I have used more than once before. It is a postcard of a poster that was produced by the Labour Party in 1910. The poster shows the doors of the House of Lords being battered down by the workers. On the back, it says:Labour clears the way. Labour poster of 1910 challenging the House of Lords' rejection the year before of Lloyd George's 'People's Budget"'.It has taken us almost a hundred years to get to this stage in the process of change.
I do not complain. We are having the debate because of the return of a Labour government in 1997. Otherwise, nothing would have happened. For 18 years before that, another party was in power. It had the opportunity to do something about change, and the fact that it did not indicates to me that it did not wish any change from the kind of House that we had then. I shall not get personal, nor shall I make 793 malicious points. Most of my remarks—all, in fact—are benign. I recognise that this is a very important personal issue for everyone in the House. I shall not dress the matter up as constitutional, although I recognise that it is an important debate on the constitution of the House.
We have heard a lot of detail, and I could give the same. However, in essence, we are invited to consider— however long it takes and whatever form it takes—whether the House should remain an appointed House or should have an elected element. We can choose from 100 per cent down to 50 per cent elected. I am in favour of the principle of democracy, and I equate democracy with election. Other people see it differently, but, as far as I am concerned, the difference between appointment and election is that one is democratic and the other is not.
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
My Lords, I do not question the noble Lord's personal views, but the report says that legitimacy can and would be achieved by widening representation. That is the committee's finding. Does he accept that?
§ Lord Graham of Edmonton
My Lords, there is certainly something in that. I am not making the case for a wholly elected second Chamber. Having been in the House, I recognise the enormous contribution that has been made by people who have not come, as I have, from a political background.
Ultimately, we are looking at whether this House should be peopled by those who are put here as the result of an independent appointments commission or by election. One does not have to look into a crystal ball, because we already have the first tranche of "people's Peers" appointments by an independent appointments commission. I do not wish to cause offence to any of those Members, but I think that those appointments went down like a lead balloon from the point of view of what the public expected from the commission. Therefore, let us not put all our eggs in one basket and believe that the alternative to election is an independent appointments commission—far from it.
As a member of the Labour Party and a socialist, and proud of it, I rest on what I was led to believe was the policy of the Labour Party over the years. My noble friend Lord Richard gave us the run-down on that. In 1992, the Labour Party was in favour of reforms leading to a new elected second Chamber. I say, three cheers for that! My noble friend Lord Plant gave us the gravamen of his report. In 1996, at the John Smith Memorial Lecture, which I attended along with many others in the Queen Elizabeth Conference Centre—Tony Blair said that the Labour Party has always favoured an elected second Chamber. That was news to me, but I accepted it. I was certainly in favour of an elected second Chamber. Finally, we fought the last election on wanting a representative and democratic second Chamber.
I know there is an argument, "You can't have both". Frankly, we are in a position to have both. But the elected element is missing. Churchill used a phrase, 794 "Trust the people". He won an election on that phrase. I think that, to a greater rather than a smaller extent, we should trust the people. Instead of pretending that we know what the public want, let us give them the chance to put into this place the people they want. The simplest, unadorned way of doing that is to devise some means of election to this House. People may be sick, tired and fed up with elections, but it would be unthinkable for the Labour Party collectively to walk away from this debate. After waiting 100 years, and with the opportunity to do something dramatic, that would effectively be saying that all the Labour Party is going to do is simply tinker at the edges.
I welcome the noble Lord, Lord Renton, to the debate.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for giving way. He may well remember, but perhaps I may also remind him, that Churchill, as well as saying, "Trust the people", also said on one occasion—and I heard him say it—"Democracy works badly but we cannot have any other system".
§ Lord Graham of Edmonton
My Lords, I take that as a "yes" to the arguments. I am grateful.
I note that the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, is in his place. As always, I listened to his speech with interest. He said that it appeared to him that colleagues from the Commons who sit on these Benches are in favour of appointment rather than election. That may well be true, but from all Benches I have heard former Members of the Commons speak in support of election rather than appointment. I refer, for example, to the noble Lords, Lord Renton and Lord Wakeham, on the Conservative Benches; the noble Lord, Lord McNally and the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, on the Liberal Democrat Benches; and my noble friends Lord Dubs and Lord Richard from these Benches, as well as myself. Let us not kid ourselves that there has been a sea change.
The question which must be addressed is whether hybridity is acceptable. As has been said, miraculously, all over the world Chambers are peopled by Members some of whom are appointed and some of whom are elected. We do not want necessarily to copy what happens in other countries, but if they can do it and if it is our wish, so can we.
The issue is clear. We either complete the job which the Labour Party has attempted to do for almost 100 years—not alone but with the support of the Liberals and the Liberal Democrats—or we do not. We have an opportunity now to do so and I will vote for as high a percentage of elected membership as can be achieved. Certainly, I hope that that will be at least 50 per cent. I rest my case.
§ 9 p.m.
§ Lord Mayhew of Twysden
My Lords, it is a great privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, whom I have for many years both admired and disagreed with. Today, I find myself doing both in equal measure. I might have called him "the noble and 795 unreconstructed Lord" because his policies and those of the Labour Party of 100 years ago he advocates with undiminished enthusiasm.
I share the anxieties expressed by my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway at the beginning of his speech; that at this time of night one cannot make a speech because everything has been said. I shall probably demonstrate the truth of that. However, perhaps I may presume to suggest that it is just worthwhile drawing attention to one feature that has emerged in the debate. It is that a surprising number of noble Lords who have spoken have experienced a conversion of their views; that is, away from an initial espousal of an elected, wholly or in-part, Chamber and towards a wholly nominated Chamber.
Typical of them, though he is anything but typical as he is unique in his experience of both Houses, is the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill. Yesterday, he explained that he had been initially attracted to a partially elected House, but then he began to think of the practical implications. He listed them. First and foremost among them was the fact that there is an ennui in the country when it comes to elections, leading to low turn-out—one might call it "election fatigue"—with unimpressive results when looking at the people who win.
Secondly, the noble Lord spoke with feeling about the prospects of electoral mayhem in the constituencies, with invidious conflicts taking place between elected Members of the second Chamber and the sitting Westminster MPs, leading, most importantly, to instability if the proposed reform towards an elected component takes place. Others have spoken of that and of other differences, too, and those implications weighed with other noble Lords who have experienced the "conversion". The difficulties will be seen; there will be pressure for further change; and we shall be back where we started.
Perhaps, above all, there weighed on the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, the absence of any need for further representation. The House may remember the way in which he listed the number and scale of representative organisations for which people are invited to vote—invited all too often in vain already. He looked, in contrast to that, at the way in which a statutory and new appointments system could be tasked specifically with the widening of the representation of nominees to this House.
Other noble Lords reported similar conversions— not damascene but gradual and occurring after much thought on their part. They include my noble friend Lord Forsyth, the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, and the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy de Knayth, among many others.
Equally as interesting is the fact that I have heard of no conversion in the opposite direction. This suggests to me that when the issues surrounding the character and composition of a second Chamber are studied, the immediate and seductive attractions of an elected composition are seen to wane. That answer has been 796 persuasively given by those noble Lords who have challenged the reliability of various opinion polls on this issue. I shall not recite the arguments that we have heard about them because time is getting on and I do not wish to repeat myself and delay the House unduly.
It is enormously helpful that the Joint Committee has established so much common ground on the continuing need for a second Chamber; on what I may call its job description; on the need to enhance its present legitimacy or acceptability; and, lastly, on the need for its present composition to become more representative. I believe that the Joint Committee is right on all of those matters. It is also right to say to each House, "We have come this far. Now it is over to you to express your own views".
That justifies my setting out—very briefly, I hope—the centrepiece, and no more, of my own views. The composition of the second Chamber is the critical question that the Joint Committee asks us. To elect or to appoint? In either case, how and in what relative proportion?
When we consider the election options, we do so in fairly sombre circumstances. I have alluded already to the effect that they have had upon the opinion of the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill. We are seeing in this country an indifference to political elections which seems to be growing. It is not necessary to go into the reasons, but, whatever they may be, it is not a trend that will be reversed speedily.
Surely, we can agree that we must do nothing to exacerbate the situation. If we try to make the second Chamber more representative by resorting to elections—even for the whole of its membership, not only for part—can we be confident that we will not find a seriously low turn-out? I do not think we can be confident on current form. Even in elections for legislatures with a primary legislative jurisdiction we are seeing this decline in electoral interest.
My noble friend Lady Blatch reminded us of the grim recent record. It would be much worse surely if people were invited to vote for representatives in a House which was only partly elected and had only an advisory role. I do not believe that exhilarating candidates would come forward, and we might find that the electorate would give their support, on a tiny poll, to fringe candidates. So in this House your Lordships might shortly be welcoming the noble, as well as screaming, Lord Sutch in a latter day form. There might be many more such candidates who would make equal contributions to your Lordships' proceedings.
In its wisdom, the Joint Committee alluded to this risk. I shall not take up the time of the House by citing the page. It referred to the situation and said that it might happen. The Joint Committee rehearsed various means by which people could be encouraged—others might say dragooned—into going to vote so as to overcome that risk. I do not believe that that is a sufficient safeguard against the dangers that exist; it is my principal reason for supporting Option 1.
797 There are other reasons on which I respectfully adopt, ill may use a lawyerism, the arguments put by a number of noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Carter; my noble friends Lord Norton, Lord Higgins and Lord Forsyth; the noble Lord, Lord Butler, and the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, this afternoon; and the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, very recently. I adopt all their arguments.
But my vote—for the central reason, first among many, of the declining vote which on that definition will lead to a no less illegitimate House—will go against any form of selected composition. I want to secure a new, statutory appointments commission and a less haphazardly representative second Chamber than we have at present, wholly appointed by it and on a basis to be further considered by the admirable Joint Committee.
§ 9.10 p.m.
§ Lord Faulkner of Worcester
My Lords, this is the first occasion on which I have spoken on the subject of House of Lords reform, and I hesitate to do so given that 83 of your Lordships have already spoken, many of whom in all parts of the House have deployed arguments which I should have wished to put forward myself.
I hope the House will forgive me if I approach this issue from a personal standpoint. My introduction to this House was in July 1999. All 740 hereditary Peers were still Members, although they were clearly going to depart at the end of that Session, save for the 92.
I remember that there were many fears expressed, some in the Chamber and many privately—mainly on the Conservative Benches—that the House would change irrevocably for the worse after the passage of the 1999 Act. We were told that the old-fashioned courtesies would disappear; our debates would become stridently party-political; we should no longer hear speeches of quality from colleagues who bring a lifetime of experience and distinction from outside to our affairs; and our effectiveness as a revising Chamber and our ability to ask the Government to think again about an aspect of their legislation would cease. Concern on the Labour side centred on the fact that, as the Conservatives remained the largest party and Labour strength was still under 30 per cent of the total membership, the Government would be frustrated from getting their legislation, with Bills endlessly delayed by filibustering.
None of those fears has been realised—not one. Certainly there have been Bills where the Government have lost votes. My noble friend Lord Carter reminded us yesterday that the Government suffered 56 defeats in the previous Session alone. There have also been Bills on matters of social conscience where the outcome has not been to the Government's liking—but often that has been because a number of their own supporters has declined to follow the line, and cross-party coalitions have been formed.
When I describe to friends in another place how these matters are settled in this House, I am greeted with incredulity, particularly when I add that from 798 time to time votes are won and lost here on the basis of what has been said during the debate itself. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon, and other speakers referred to the debate on stem cell research. That is a particularly good example, but there have been many others. It is also interesting how often one hears comments from people outside the immediate political process about the high quality of speeches in this Chamber.
So I would say to my friends who are proposing further radical reform of this House: can we be sure that these qualities which the present House possesses will still exist in any future House, particularly if it is one that is wholly or partly elected? I am not arguing that so far as this House is concerned "This is for the best, in the best of all possible worlds". I am sure that there are many people in the country who could do the job as well as, or better than, we do. But what has not been proved, either in this debate or in the deliberations of the Joint Committee, is that there are people of quality who would only be interested in coming here if they were elected.
There may be a case for a 100 per cent elected House; but we have not heard it in this debate. It is not contained in the Royal Commission report, it is net in the Government's White Paper, and it is not in the report of the Joint Committee. They have not begun to think about the implications of that in another place. It is inconceivable that you could have a bicameral system where both Houses are elected but one has complete control over supply and the unquestioned and undisputed final word on everything else as well. Other noble Lords have spoken about the drawbacks attached to each of the hybrid solutions involving a partially-elected House. I shall not repeat them.
Some of my noble friends have implied that a proportion of the House must be elected to fulfil the Labour Party's manifesto commitments. With respect, that is not so in the case of the 1997 or 2001 manifestos. My noble friend Lord Richard used as his text the 1992 manifesto, which contains a commitment. I gently remind him that the Labour Party lost the 1992 election, whereas it won the 1997 and 2001 elections.
The Labour Party's commitment in I 997 was to end,the right of hereditary peers to sit and vote in the House of Lords … This will be the first stage in a process to make the House of Lords more democratic and representative".I shall read verbatim because I do not want to be accused of misquoting. In 2001 the party said:We are committed to completing House of Lords reform, including the removal of the remaining hereditary peers, to make it more representative and democratic, while maintaining the House of Commons' traditional primacy. We have given our support to the report and conclusions of the Wakeham Commission, and will seek to implement them in the most effective way possible".For a party that has usually been skilful in claiming success, particularly in pursuit of policies it promised voters at election time, it is surprising that the Government have not made more of the profound constitutional change they achieved in passing the House of Lords Act 1999. Lloyd-George, Asquith and Wilson would all have regarded the ending of heredity 799 as a basis for membership of the House of Lords as a great political prize. They sought to achieve it and failed to do so. Furthermore, as is clear from the debate today and yesterday, it is an irreversible change. It is inconceivable that the party opposite, if it were returned to power, would invite the hereditary Peers back.
There remains the issue of the 92 excepted Peers, which has come to the fore because of the need to hold a by-election following the death of the noble Viscount, Lord Oxfuird. I have re-read the Hansard reports of the debates on the Weatherill amendment during the passage of the House of Lords Act 1999. My noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor made clear that,Clause 2 of the Bill is not about keeping open the principle of hereditary membership of your Lordships' House".—[Official Report, 22/6/99; col. 795.]I do not believe that I would misrepresent his view in saying that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor envisaged completing stage two of House of Lords reform within the first Session of this new Parliament, thus obviating the need for by-elections. But I wonder whether he agrees that, if we abolished the provision for by-elections and perhaps regarded the 92 excepted Peers as de facto life Peers, the Government would regard that as having substantially implemented their manifesto commitments?
I am aware that the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, whom I am delighted to see in his place, would object to that. He made clear on 26th October 1999 that he regarded the Government's acceptance of the by-election arrangements as "notable and important" because,the Government thereby accept the principle of a continuing representative hereditary peerage".—[Official Report, 26/10/99; col. 170.]Quite so, my Lords. That is the problem. Until heredity is no longer a criterion for membership of this House, the central manifesto commitment will not have been fulfilled. I appreciate that fulfilling Labour's manifesto programme may not be high on the agenda of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, but it should be for noble Lords on this side of the House.
I shall be voting for Option 1 and against the remaining options, provided that I get an assurance that the hereditary by-election procedure will be abolished and a more transparent, inclusive appointment will be implemented to avoid the accusations of patronage that would result from an open system.
§ 9.19 p.m.
My Lords, I add my thanks to the many that have already been offered to the Joint Committee and to my noble and learned friend Lord Howe of Aberavon for his introduction of the debate. Of the options that will be before the House in February, I shall support the appointed option, although I am bound to say that, given the general acceptance of the existing role and powers of this 800 House, I understand why my noble friend Lord Ferrers asked why it is necessary to change the existing arrangements.
On the assumption that change will come, I hope that the plea of the noble and gallant Lord the Convenor of the Cross Benches will be heard in regard to the 92 hereditary Peers and that the same consideration will be extended to them as I understand the report suggests may be offered to life Peers.
Whether one supports the continuation of the existing House or the creation of a new House constituted by appointment, there must be a change in the method of appointment. It is incumbent on those of us who support an appointed House, whether for life—which I favour—or for a non-renewable term, of whatever length, to show that this can be achieved in a modern and open way.
Like other noble Lords, I support the concept of the statutory appointments commissions. However, it is insufficient merely to say that. It is important to put some flesh on those bones to show that it would not merely be a continuation of the old ways.
The noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, has already done some of that work this evening. Perhaps I may be allowed briefly to pursue the point. All appointments to the second Chamber should be approved by a statutory appointments commission, which itself would be appointed by a resolution of both Houses of Parliament. In approving all recommendations for appointment, the commission ought to have regard to guidelines which would be established by Parliament and not varied other than by a resolution of both Houses.
Those guidelines should ensure that this second Chamber would be balanced politically as to expertise and interests as between the different parts of the United Kingdom and as between men and women. It should be representative of the population of the United Kingdom as a whole. There should be no overall majority for any party. The independent element of not less than 20 per cent—or whatever is thought to be the right percentage—of the active membership of the second Chamber should be maintained. The commission should have a responsibility to maintain the total number of approximately 700—or whatever is decided is the right number of active Members of the second Chamber.
Proposals for new Members should be made to the commission in three ways. The commission, acting on its own behalf, would make recommendations for the independent element. It could also make recommendations on nominations made by the leader of any registered political party and on recommendations made by the Prime Minister acting as Prime Minster, but not as leader of his party.
In making submissions for recommendations for appointment, party leaders should submit a list of names from which the commission could select, having regard to the guidelines, but the commission should not be obliged to give reasons for rejection. Rejections would not necessarily be absolute. The lists put 801 forward by party leaders should contain more names than the party leader might wish or be entitled to have recommended for appointment.
The Prime Minister should have a separate entitlement to submit names of Members to be appointed Ministers to serve in the second Chamber and to recommend individuals who have rendered distinguished service in particular offices, including former Chiefs of the Defence Staffs, former archbishops and, of course, former Cabinet Secretaries—and I am sure there are others. The commission should approve those recommendations of the Prime Minister unless, unusually, there were any reasons of probity or if the numbers, if appointed, would compromise the guidelines of the commission.
The case for an appointed House can be made. I do not accept that the public overwhelmingly support the elected option, despite the figures that have been quoted. These matters cannot be decided by a simple yes or no. If it is explained to people that we do not have and do not seek a House with power to challenge another place, that we do not claim superiority, but merely difference, that we accept a revising, advising, scrutinising and limited delaying power and that we are complementary to, not in competition with, the House o f Commons, a different view will be expressed.
I share the surprise of the noble Lord, Lord Mackenzie, at the idea that only those who have been elected can know what people think. I like to believe that working in the outside world as well as attending your Lordships' House gives me at least some real view of what people think—maybe as real as those who go to the surgeries of Members of Parliament.
Occupying the place that I do in the speakers' list, I considered withdrawing my name. My only justification for not doing so is that I feel sufficiently strongly about this House and its place in the Parliament of the United Kingdom and consider myself fortunate to be here. However, I do not presume to delay your Lordships with my version of the desirability of an appointed House and the consequences of moving from that position, especially when the House has heard speeches from many other distinguished noble Lords who have put the case more fully and persuasively than I ever could.
Accordingly, I trust that the House will forgive me if I, like the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, adopt the arguments of my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth from my Benches and the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, from the Labour Benches, who advanced the same reasons and will in due course vote for the appointed option and against the others.
§ 9.26 p.m.
§ The Earl of Onslow
My Lords, when I first came here in 1971, my eyes were opened and I thought, just because my forebear received the title from Pitt or Walpole, why should I have any right to boss my fellow subjects about? However, lo and behold, that is what the constitution said at the time. However, my legitimacy now comes, not from Pitt or Walpole but from the right honourable Anthony Blair who passed 802 an Act in 1999 that said that most of us should go but some of us should be elected Peers. The joy of saying to the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, "We elected Peers", which is an experience that the noble Baroness has never undergone, is something that I relish even five years after I invented the phrase.
I have always been a reformer. I wrote to Mrs Thatcher in 1979 and said, "For heaven's sake, we must reform the Lords". I got the brush-off. My great-grandfather discussed the matter with Lord Salisbury in the 1880s. Lords reform has been about even longer than that—the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, quoted Bagehot, for example.
I have read the Commons and Lords debates from yesterday, and it is interesting that everyone is all over the place. The Cabinet is split, the Labour Party is split, the Liberals and Tories are split—everybody is split. Nobody knows or can agree what to do. One would not normally want to put the noble Lords, Lord Renton of Mount Harry, Lord Graham and Lord Onslow in the same dinghy at the same lime, but at the moment we are all paddling the same canoes—if your Lordships will excuse the mixed boats.
It may be worth going back over the origins of this House and another place and how they verged. This House started by representing the interests of the powerful and the Commons by representing the interests of the knights of the shire and the burgesses of boroughs. The Commons was regional and we were powerful. We had our powers taken away from us in 1911 because we had ceased to represent power. The moment we ceased to represent power we had to think of a new reason for being here, because it was essential—as everyone accepts, except the noble Lord, Lord Elder—that we should have a bicameral system.
People have been saying that if we gave this House more legitimacy, it would challenge the Commons. But our powers are laid down in black and white. We have immense powers, and if this House started to behave as the Irish nationalists did in the 1880s, it could bring the government of the country to a halt in about 20 minutes. All it has to do is automatically chuck out any statutory instrument or, every time the Lord Chancellor puts a Question, force a Division. We would not have to vote; we would only have to ensure that people hung around for about 20 minutes.
It is quite possible for this House to make things quite unpleasant. However, we have a "written constitution"—I use the phrase advisedly; it is not all in the same book, but it is written—and, above all, we accept the principle and spirit of that constitution. Yesterday in the House of Commons, someone said that the Government must govern with authority, but it should not necessarily legislate with impunity. I thought, "God, those are wise words; I wish I had thought of them". As I said, I think that that is what Parliament should be doing.
The executive of the Crown is far, far too powerful. As was said yesterday in this place, I think, of all the whipped votes in the Commons none was lost. I am not suggesting that the Commons should go back to the days when, writing from the peninsula, the Duke of 803 Wellington asked how we could expect a government to have any authority when it was defeated two or three times a week on major issues. No one is asking for that. However, sometimes governments should lose Bills because they are rotten Bills. Sometimes Orders in Council and regulations should be thrown out because they are rotten legislation. That does not mean that the Government's authority is wrong; it just means that we should have the power to do that.
When my noble friend Lord Cranborne did his cobbled up deal with the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, the object of the exercise was to keep people like me here to stop it being a totally appointed House and to force some form of further reform and change. Now, people are saying, "Just get rid of us or give us a life peerage or whatever it may be and we'll stick with a totally appointed House". I suggest that the idea that we cannot trust voters to turn out—and the idea that appointment is more democratic than election, which I have heard—is not exactly the truth.
If we give this House more authority, which can only come from an element of election, then this House can use more of the powers that it has to argue with this Government and with any government. The moment that happens, the Commons will start saying, "Actually, we do not want to be told our business by the Lords the whole time. Perhaps we should start paying attention to what Ministers say and try to make them change their minds and be more sensible on legislation". I am not making any party political point. All governments behave like that. All governments want to get away with murder and experience no argument over what they want to do. It is in the nature of human beings and of the bossy classes.
I hope therefore that your Lordships will go with at least 50 per cent, and preferably 60 per cent, elected. But it must not be on a closed-list system. That is too illiberal. Lots of systems are not too illiberal, but that is a bad one. Retaining 40 per cent appointed would allow the House to say, "Yes, we will have certain people who represent certain interests". It would allow Churchill to bring in Lord Walton to be Minister of Food and Mr Anthony Blair to bring in the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine, to be Lord Chancellor. That is what we should actually have.
What is wrong with a mixture of appointment and election? What is wrong with hybridity? It has worked in most other places. This House has been hybrid since 1380-something or other. We had the abbots and the bishops. The Scots were elected by one system, at the beginning of every parliament. I believe that it was around the time of the last election that one Peer was cheering and said, "It is so and so's turn. He was a bit thick at Eton, but he will do this time round". The Irish were elected for life. We have always had hybridity. What is wrong with it?
I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, made a valid point. As I look around this House, I do not notice any difference in the manners, appreciation or behaviour compared with the days when I first arrived 804 at Westminster. Anthony Eden was still on the Front Bench and from the steps of the Throne, I saw, aged 14, the likes of Lord Samuel and Lord Stansgate.
Let us get this matter right. Let us give this House more authority so that it can be beastly to the Government or to any government. That, in turn, would make the House of Commons do its job better.
I conclude on a warning. I quote from my noble friend Lord Cranborne. He said to me, "Michael, I can well foresee the following circumstances when your grandson and my grandson are both elected hereditary Peers and some new scheme for Lords reform will come about and their speeches will be more or less along the lines, 'My Lords, no one in their right mind would have invented this system. However, I suggest to your Lordships that it has stood the test of time, so why change it?" But I want to change it. I want this House to have authority; I want Parliament to recontrol the executive. By properly reforming this House we shall enable the Commons to do its job better.
§ 9.36 p.m.
§ Lord Monson
My Lords, on the previous occasion we debated this subject, I supported the idea of an elected element of about 66⅔ per cent—the proportion originally advocated some years ago by the noble Lord, Lord Richard—for a combination of reasons. Like my noble friends Lord Ampthill and Lady Saltoun, the noble Lord, Lord Gray of Contin, and others, I have changed my mind. I now think that a totally nominated House is the least bad option.
Four new, and mainly unforeseeable, factors have prompted my about-turn. The first is that the Government have now made it totally clear that, in line with the Joint Committee's recommendations, existing life Peers, whenever appointed, will retain tenure for life. So that rules out a totally elected Chamber for a start. Indeed, it is hard to understand why Option 2 has been put forward at all. It would require both Houses of Parliament to agree to a Bill to expel immediately every single life Peer, every single bishop and every single Law Lord. But it also makes a mainly elected Chamber well nigh impossible. At the moment—or, anyway, two or three days ago—there were 564 life Peers. It is reasonable to suppose that there will be about 540 by the date stage two comes into force: inexorable actuarial probabilities being counter-balanced by the need to grant life peerages to at least some hereditaries on the two opposition Front Benches if the House is to continue functioning properly.
So if 80 per cent were to be elected, the House would contain 2,700 Members; 60 per cent would give us half that figure, 1,350; a 50:50 split would result in 1,080 Peers. A 40 per cent elected element would produce 900 noble Lords and noble Baronesses in all. A 20 per cent elected element would give one a House of 675, rather more manageable, and comparable in effective size—as opposed to theoretical size—to the pre-stage-one House, and comparable, of course, to the present House. The noble and learned Lord, Lord 805 Howe of Aberavon, hinted diplomatically that that was a feasible option. However, as has been asked by a number of other noble Lords: how many people of calibre would stand for election on such a basis? What would be the turn-out for such elections? Some 28 to 35 per cent, at a guess.
The second factor is that public expectations of what an elected, or largely elected, House would do for them are being boosted to unrealistically high levels. It is clear that the public have little idea what this House actually does on a day-by-day or hour-by-hour basis. Who can blame them when most Members of the House of Commons have little idea either, as the noble Lords, Lord Gordon of Strathblane and Lord Higgins, and others have reminded us? I am not talking just about those honourable Members who have been elected in the past six years or so.
But there will be a more important reason for almost certain disillusion on the part of the public. They are being told that at long last they will have democratic input into the Lords, and their expectations will be aroused accordingly. The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, argued that we have power over people's lives—I think that that was what I heard him say—and that the general public therefore want in some way to control our powers. However, we do not have power over people's lives. We have the power of delay, which is a very minimal power. Nothing that we do in this House gets anywhere at all unless the House of Commons endorses what we do. That is right and proper and as it should be.
Furthermore, what the public will not realise is that men and women elected for a single term of 10, 12 or 15 years with no chance of re-election would have the power to become de facto independents the moment that they were elected. They could go even further. Someone elected as a Left-wing Labour Peer could cross the Floor and become a Right-wing Conservative the following week, or the other way around. They might do so not out of cynical calculation, but from sincere conviction. Threats of deselection or a massive impending electoral swing against an incumbent could be laughed off, as the incumbent would face neither reselection nor re-election.
Those who believe that the main function of parliamentarians these days is to attend to their constituents' inadequate street lighting or refuse collection, as my noble friend Lord Weatherill has reminded us on many occasions, will feel doubly cheated.
The third new factor is the evident determination of the Government to use—or misuse, as many of us would argue—the Parliament Act to the full. It used to be assumed that the Parliament Act would be employed only in exceptional circumstances. No longer is that the case, alas. However, that means that the Government will always be able to get their business through. The sole difference will be that they may have to wait a few months rather than only a few weeks, as used to happen before stage one.
806 As it happens, the Government are doing pretty well at the moment without recourse to the Parliament Act. Two days ago, at about 8 p.m. on Monday in a Division on the Courts Bill, they defeated by a very comfortable majority the massed ranks of the opposition—the Conservatives., the Liberal Democrats, the independents and a Welsh nationalist—gaining more than 57 per cent of the total vote. That being so, there is no longer the necessity to achieve a precise or roughly precise party balance in the membership of the House.
As my noble friend Lord Cobbold pointed out in an excellent letter published in the Daily Telegraph on 2nd January, to which my noble friend Lord Palmer drew attention yesterday evening, the present House works extremely well. A year ago, one could not be certain. Things were still in a state of flux, with people still finding their feet. Now everything seems to be working out much better than one could ever have predicted.
At the risk of giving the noble Lord, Lord McNally, a heart attack—I see that he is not in his place, so that risk does not exist—I join my noble friend Lord Weatherill in submitting that the current House "ain't broke"' and should not therefore be fixed, unless one could be absolutely certain that the patched-up version would be an improvement on what we have now. I do not think that we could be given any such guarantee.
§ 9.43 p.m.
§ Lord Marlesford
My Lords, I found a particular remark made by my noble and learned friend Lord Howe quite sinister. It was when he quoted from the committee's conclusions and said that the reason for the widespread disillusionment throughout our political system was the,virtually untrammelled control of the House of Common; by the executive".That matters more than almost anything else that we have been discussing. If the people of Britain do not feel that Parliament will defend their rights and interests, they will turn to the mob to do so. That is already happening in France.
I fear that part of the reason for the disillusion must lie at the hands of the Government, who have been unable to resist the temptation to disarm Parliament by a steady process. The obvious—the major—example is the way in which nearly every Bill is guillotined and shamelessly sent to us with no consideration. Even yesterday, there they were, debating the same subject as we were debating—presumably it is as important to them as it is to us—but they had only 28 speakers and allowed only five 807 hours and 20 minutes before the shutters came down. The Commons is becoming a House of clock-watchers and that is not good for fulfilling their role.
§ Lord Goodhart
My Lords, does the noble Lord agree, having read the Commons debate, that, possibly because it was time-limited to five hours, it was a much better debate than we have had in this House?
§ Lord Marlesford
My Lords, I am so glad that the noble Lord made that point; I was about to give two examples to show what a deeply disappointing debate it was.
Let me first point out—I firmly believe this—that there is no great public demand for reform of this House. When Bernard Ingham ran the lobby, of which I was a member for many years, and someone produced something and said, "What are the government doing about that?", he would often say, "All I can tell you is that that is not what they are talking about in The Three Ferrets at Hebdon Bridge". That was often a very relevant answer. We learned from the brilliant speech of the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, that if the minds of the people in The Three Ferrets are focused on these issues, they may well—it is only a small poll—come to recognise the value of an appointed House. I believe that he said that the figures are four to one in favour of an appointed House. That was without him trying to bend their ear, other than by chairing the meeting.
Let us return to the House of Commons debate and the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart. I shall give only two examples. Mr Hague said that he hoped that an elected House would add to the boisterousness and effectiveness of the upper House. What a strange idea. I remember when I came here after 16 years in the Commons Press Gallery being warned by one of my colleagues who knew both Houses much better than I did, "Don't be misled by the absence of `Yah boo' politics in the Lords. You will find that a sharp intake of breath when you say something silly can be just as devastating".
My second example involves a very senior Liberal, Mr Paul Tyler, who I believe is in the shadow Cabinet, or whatever the Liberal Party calls it. I have a lot of time for him—I have known him for years—but do you know what he said? He said:If the Senate of the United States of America can manage with 100 members, I see no reason why we should not have 100".— [Official Report, Commons, 21/1/03; col. 211.]The Senate is in no way comparable; Mr Tyler seems to have forgotten that one of the main functions of this House is to scrutinise the shoals of Brussels proposals. More than 70 Members are needed merely to staff the six sub-committees and the European committee. That is extremely depressing, and the fact that Mr Tyler can take such a simpliste and superficial view does not give me great confidence.
I hope that Members of the House of Commons realise that we are on their side and that we are there to reinforce them and to do the job that they are no longer allowed to do. If we can persuade them of that, they may well see the virtue of this House.
808 Besides the detailed scrutiny of legislation and the European issue, there is also a role for the gadfly in this House—or perhaps, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth said, for the "troublesome priest". Sadly, that is an increasingly rare species in the Commons today. Of course some remain: Dennis Skinner, Teddy Taylor and Tam Dalyell, to name but three. But many of the names in the roll-call of honour of those who harry the government when they get things wrong are from long ago—from almost my childhood. I refer to Sydney Silverman, Bessie Braddock, Enoch Powell, Geoffrey Dickens and Leo Abse, and, more recently, Michael Cox and Peter Shore, who also performed a brilliant job in this House. I am very glad that we still have people such as that, and I do not believe that the method by which the House of Commons is selected will increase that number. It is diminishing.
Politics is not the battle that it was in the days of the doctrinal divide. That means that life in the Commons is probably less exciting than it was when there was a great battle between socialism and capitalism. I believe that that may well have an influence on the quality of the people who want to go to the House of Commons. Having a Conservative government in power certainly causes certain problems for my party.
I do not believe that we can have a House in which people are treated differently. I was interested to hear the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, say that there would be no difference between 300 elected and 300 non-elected Members. He said that they would be exactly the same. I doubt that. But when he went on to say that the elected Members would be paid salaries and allowances but that all Members would be the same, I considered that to be quite Orwellian:All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others".I warn your Lordships against the idea of representatives of interest groups. The kind of people who want to represent interest groups are not normally the high-flyers. It is not a top doctor who heads the BMA, and so on. I do not like the idea because I associate it with corporate government from the fascist days of the past or, if you like, the mandated delegates so beloved of the Trotskyites in the days of Militant. Such representatives would be required to put forward the view of those that sent them and there would be pressure to recall them instantly if they did not do what they were told to do. That would be the opposite of independence and it would probably be boring, too.
There is one precedent on which I should like to build. The convention is that the House of Commons nominates the retiring Speaker to come to the House of Lords. That is entirely free from prime ministerial patronage. I believe that that system could be extended, with Members of the House of Commons nominating and, if necessary, electing a limited number of distinguished parliamentarians for membership of the House of Lords. Some would never want to come here by patronage of a Prime Minister or a government-appointed quango. One obvious example is Tony Benn.
809 But I believe that he might well accept a peerage if he were given it by the House of Commons. Personally, I believe that he would add greatly to our proceedings.
I see the problem of topping up the hereditary peerage as a real one. That is why I support Option 1A, as proposed by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig.
Proposals for Lords reform have once again raised more problems than they solve. I supported the last major reform, which was far simpler to implement and had a far clearer justification than this so-called "stage two". In practical terms, stage one never did need stage two. It is political baggage of outdated emotion and a profound and widespread misunderstanding of how this House operates. There is need for much more time for reflection, digestion and education. That point was made very tellingly by my noble friend Lord Forsyth of Drumlean.
§ 9.53 p.m.
§ Lord Howell of Guildford
My Lords, it is a particular pleasure for me to follow my noble friend Lord Marlesford. Decades ago, he and I worked very closely together to develop and introduce a range of Whitehall reforms, with some success, as the noble Lord, Lord Butler, was kind enough to mention in his speech. We also urged the introduction of departmental Select Committees in another place which would focus on the expenditure and activities of those departments—a scheme eventually introduced, also with great success, by my noble friend Lord St John of Fawsley. Perhaps in those days we should also have turned our attention to the form of your Lordships' House, but I have to confess that, at that time, that did not seem very important to us.
As this debate winds to an end, I want to spend my few minutes on one central purpose; namely, to seek to refute yet again, as others have done, the over-simplified idea that doubling up on elected Chambers—that is, having two instead of one—would in any way strengthen our Parliament or enlarge our democracy.
I accept that a stronger Parliament must, indeed, be the aim of all democrats. But I believe that to try to achieve it by creating a second elected Chamber is utterly misguided. Many other noble Lords made that point. However, what seems to have been missed—I have listened carefully—by the protagonists for elected Members, as the noble Lord, Lord Norton, reminded us yesterday in a devastating speech, is that the function of the House of Lords is different from, although complementary to, the function of the House of Commons, which is the elected Chamber. It is not only different but an essential prop to the workings of the whole democratic structure.
Although I have listened carefully, the election enthusiasts seem not to have grasped that a better democracy does not come from multiplying elected Chambers, votes, simple party choices and all the things that go with them. An elected Chamber must be the very heart of our democratic system, but round it must be the cladding of independent advice and restraint as well as, naturally, the rule of law, freedom 810 of speech, a free press and a dozen other things besides. Without those buttresses, democracy is a sham. In many countries it is called democracy but we know that it does not add up to much.
I am not an engineer, and there are probably expert engineers in your Lordships' House—there are experts here in just about everything—but I understand that the internal combustion engine must have a governor mechanism to prevent it going awry. I learnt at school that James Watt, in a moment of genius as he was walking across College Green in Glasgow, suddenly understood that a steam engine needed a condenser. In the same way, I believe that our democratic House of Commons, another place, must have a filtering, revising, improving, second-thoughts prompting Chamber attached to it if it is not to overheat and break down.
Incidentally, I do not take the same long-term pessimistic view as several noble Lords about another place. First, let it never be forgotten that it has changed enormously over the past 30 or 40 years. As I have mentioned, the Select Committees really have worked as we hoped. To begin with, people said that they would not; that they would be merely for idle hands and to keep people out of mischief, but they have been far more effective in calling our gigantic, sprawling executive to account. Many people in your Lordships' House would confirm that.
Secondly, we are supposed to be thinking a few years ahead, and yet everyone seems to assume that huge majorities of the present kind in the Commons are here for good. That is not so. We on this side know that huge majorities suddenly melt away. They do not last. The arithmetic changes. When that happens and suddenly the executive no longer has such certain control over the party and therefore over Parliament, and suddenly the majority can be in doubt, the whole atmosphere changes and makes the Commons far less of a rubber stamp and a much more exciting place.
We know that once party elections come roaring into this House, on their heels, inevitably, come increased party political control, tighter party lines, more opposition for the sake of opposition and all the other features which spell the bane of independence, the death knell of careful consultation and true accountability, and greatly increased subordination to the executive.
The case for elections has been made by several noble Lords on the grounds that, among other things, it will increase the territorial representative nature of the House of Lords; there will be not so many from the South and South East, bringing in the more robust views of northern England and the more distant regions. However, there is then the question of independence. We are told, "That is all right. The independence will be preserved by electing the Peers for so long that they can immediately disengage from the groups and interests which elected them freely in the first place". In other words, we are asked to swallow the absurd proposition that more representation means less, that everything will be for the best if the supposed representatives ignore those who elected them. They 811 would not have to look over their shoulder after all. That would come well from Edward Lear. It really belongs more to the land of the Jumblies than to the real world.
There is then a worry about cronies and a packed Chamber. Certainly, we must have a more powerful independent commission, which would have much more say in who comes here. Many different formulae have been put forward today. I suspect that party elections would be far more prone to producing those who toe the party line and yes-men and women than an appointed House. That is especially so if they were elected through closed party lists.
Personally, I believe the cronies argument to be much exaggerated, and that my noble and learned friend Lord Howe, who introduced the debate so excellently, is right about that. The truth is that people who for years have served well a party or government often make the most effective and candid critics the moment they come here, or at least after a while. I can think of many excellent examples of noble Lords opposite and on this side whom I salute and who confirm that.
If we must have an elected element, then I hope that it will be as free from party organisations and machines as possible and that the elections will be indirect or—as the Joint Committee report calls them—"various", which is a very important word, and as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth rightly suggested in his excellent speech. There are many ways to approach this problem other than through the traditional patterns of election.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford is completely right to say that there are better ways of bringing better people into this Chamber. He was right, too, to say that the whole argument about an elected versus an appointed House is really rather an immature argument, which is out-of-date, misguided and even blinkered. It does not address the possibilities that now open out in a modern society.
Actually, the common sense route would be to recycle the 92 hereditary Peers, who are largely the worker bees here, as we know, as life Peers, as in Option 1A of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, which I would support. However, I expect that that is far too sensible a solution to be adopted. At least that way the stamp of party machines and executive domination will be held at bay and the authority of this House in performing its moderating and checking role will be preserved.
I read somewhere the frankly naïve view that there would be more authority flowing to us and our activities if this House was,largely chosen by the people".In other words, let the voters decide and so on. What that means, if we are honest, is not chosen by the people but by the whole paraphernalia and apparatus of political parties and their machines, by media pressure and the hysteria which seems to guide them all too often.
812 I recognise that for the Commons party elections are the necessary way. But they are not sufficient. James Watt was right: the engine cylinder of elected Commons Members needs the cooling condenser of second thoughts if it is to work. That is how our job has evolved, and most objective and informed people agree that your Lordships do it fairly well. I do not think it is smug to say that; it is merely objective and true. Furthermore, we do it within existing powers and with the invaluable participation of professional leaders, scientists, military leaders, bishops and other spiritual leaders—perhaps we need more of those—and those with deep legislative experience.
Undermine all that, sweep these experienced minds into a corner, or away altogether and you end up not with more representation of the British people but much less; not with a stronger and more durable democracy but with a weaker one; not with a more respected Parliament but with a more derided one.
Years ago in another place when we were debating the case for setting up the Select Committees, I rather arrogantly and presumptuously described myself as "a Parliament man". I still am, which is why I do not want to see this Parliament of ours weakened by tabloid theories and shallow understanding of what democracy is really about and how it truly works in this nation.
§ 10.4 p.m.
§ Lord Dean of Harptree
My Lords, I am delighted to follow my noble friend and entirely agree with the points that he made. I also agree with the points made by my noble and learned friend Lord Mayhew, who spoke of conversions. It has clearly emerged during the debate that several noble Lords who were attracted to the idea of elections have changed their minds.
There are three good reasons for opposing any elected Peers. I shall endeavour to avoid using arguments that have already been advanced. The first and obvious point is the possibility of conflict between the two Houses. At present, as the Joint Committee emphasised in its first report, your Lordships exercise self-restraint. In our revising role we frequently introduce amendments that we send to another place, asking another place—which usually means the government of the day—to think again. But if another place insists on its original view, we usually accept that the elected House should prevail.
I doubt whether that self-restraint would operate with elected Peers, especially if they had been elected more recently than the Members of the House of Commons. Instead of harmony and self-restraint, we would have discord. That would not be good for Parliament and would weaken Parliament's authority in holding the Government to account. So an elected element would alter the character of your Lordships' House—and not for the better.
The second point, to which reference has also been made, is that with elected Peers almost inevitably the party machines would take over. In those circumstances, the best people would not be sent here; nor would the electors be fired with enthusiasm to 813 vote. We all recognise that many men and women outside with knowledge and experience that would be valuable to your Lordships' House would not be prepared to stand for election. That is not because they are too grand but because that is not their style.
So, almost inevitably, with election we would find that this Chamber would be less representative of the nation than it is at present. Furthermore, the independence on which we all pride ourselves, even those who take party Whips, would thereby be diminished. So again, the character of your Lordships' House would alter—and not for the better.
The third point, which I do not think has been mentioned so far, is that the concept of self-regulation, on which we pride ourselves, would be fatally undermined. We govern ourselves. We do not have a Speaker; we do not need a Speaker. On the rare occasions when advice is required, the Leader of the House or the Government Whip on duty gives advice, which is immediately obeyed. If we had elected Members, I do not believe for a moment that they would be prepared to accept such self-discipline. Who can blame them? They would want to speak out for their constituents. So, almost inevitably, if we have elected Members we shall have to give power to keep order to the occupant of the Woolsack and the Chair.
Anyone who has served, as I have, as a Deputy Speaker in another place knows how difficult that job is. One has to balance allowing the Member to speak, sometimes vigorously, on behalf of his constituents on the one hand, with on the other ensuring that the rules of order and conventions of the House are observed. That is a difficult balance to strike. Once we abandoned sell-regulation in the House, we would be in uncharted territory. That would be unfortunate.
Where are we going with all this? The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor said that it would need a genius to resolve the issue. Given the enormous variety of views that has been expressed—not only between parties but within them—I doubt whether consensus is likely to emerge. History may well repeat itself. If it does, I can suggest a simple solution: we should offer life peerages to the hereditary Peers sitting in the House at the moment. There is a good precedent: we already have in our midst hereditary Peers who have accepted life peerages. I am not suggesting anything revolutionary or new; I merely suggest that there is a good recent precedent that we could follow. It is possible to say, without being in any way patronising, that our hereditary colleagues, in all parts of the House, have done a good job. They have added enormously to the functions of this place.
If that suggestion were to be followed, the Government could say that they had fulfilled their election commitment to get rid of the hereditary Peers. The rest of us could say that we had preserved continuity in a House that, in practice, works effectively. In such a complicated situation, a simple solution may be the best.
§ 10.12 p.m.
§ The Lord Bishop of Southwark
My Lords, as the last of four Bishops to speak in the debate, I suppose that my task is to summarise the position of these Benches. That is no easy task. Organising bishops—or even their corporate mind—is like trying to herd cats. Nevertheless, there are common features in our approach to this important debate.
We speak with some diffidence, although bishops have participated in Parliament from the beginning, and perhaps even earlier. Indeed, one bishop helped form the thought patterns within which western democracies still operate: in the fourth century, Augustine of Hippo marked the use of the structures of the state in the advancement of the kingdom of Heaven. Eight hundred years later, Aquinas, influenced by classical ideas—interestingly, carried into the new Europe through Islamic culture—took Augustinian thinking forward. He developed a Christian idea of governance as being for the common good and bringing about a just public realm for all.
Aquinas's thinking is well illustrated in the prayer that the bishops are privileged to use in your Lordships' House every working day. The prayer reminds us of the core business of the House. I shall quote a phrase or two for the benefit of those who may not have heard it for some while:grant that, we having thy fear always before our eyes, and laying aside all private interests, prejudices and partial affections, the result of all our counsels may be … the publick wealth, peace and tranquillity of the Realm, and the uniting and knitting together of the hearts of all persons and estates within the same".That prayer daily touches our conscience. Conscience has not always won the argument against expediency, but that is why it is there. It was there when the bishops ordered the Magna Carta to be displayed in their cathedrals so that its contents could be disseminated. It has been there since 1081, when the Members of Parliament list begins with the name of the Archbishop of Canterbury.
But that was then and this is now, and although the bishops on this Bench would wish to continue to play a constructive part in the governance of our country, we hesitate to speak in a way which might seem like defensiveness or special pleading. I was therefore greatly touched by yesterday's speech by the noble Lord, Lord Winston. He said that the Prelates on the Spiritual Bench have lent an important element to the workings of our democracy—in its moderation, its liberality, its espousal of true human values and its notion of ethics.
We are warned to beware when all speak well of us. But there is usually little danger of that. It is rather nice in today's world when occasionally someone speaks well of the presence of the Church. I am grateful for those words. The noble Lord, Lord Winston, said that it would be good to see some Muslim, Catholic and perhaps Jewish representation on the Spiritual Bench. Certainly in our earlier submissions we ourselves argued for a broadening of religious representation.
In his opening speech the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon, stated that there are many questions not before the House at this time, including 815 the future of the Law Lords and the presence or composition of these Lords Spiritual Benches. These questions are not before the House because the Joint Committee, perhaps rightly, judged them to be second order questions once the primary matter of whether the House is to be made up of appointed or elected Members is decided. One sees the logic of that but there is a flaw in the argument. Were it to be decided that the House be totally elected, by definition, Law Lords, bishops and others would disappear and there would not ever have been the opportunity of debating their worth or otherwise. In other words, if these matters are not raised now in this round of debate, the opportunity might not arise again.
Because of this, I feel that the earlier contribution of my noble friend the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford was significant. As we take part in this significant debate concerning the future of our own democratic institutions, the world is involved in issues of war and rumours of war, the struggle of ideologies for the mind and soul of humanity, issues of life and death, justice and peace. Religion, for good or ill, is at the heart of many of these struggles. It is just not possible to get inside the mindset of many of those locked in dispute without understanding something of the religious ideas and ideals which drive them. I believe that to risk removing such understanding from your Lordships' House would weaken and narrow this focus of governance.
My noble friend the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth pointed to the same dynamic in his local community. I have the privilege of being a co-chair of the Interfaith Network for Britain and Ireland. I know how in city after city councils of faiths have been formed during the past decade, which are now vital for community cohesion, particularly in times when international disputes could easily create rifts between people of faith in Britain. I believe that it is imperative for such a faith presence to be developed and strengthened in your Lordships' House. A Bench of bishops is not necessarily the only model, but to give attention to an appropriate parliamentary faith presence is no second order question.
Because we see the need for specialist representation from the world of religious faith and other disciplines, we have earlier argued for a largely appointed second Chamber. My noble friend the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Worcester, in his powerful speech yesterday, argued strongly for indirect elections from local government. Service in local government has often been the path along which eminent and influential Members of your Lordships' House have earlier travelled. Were the bishops' advice to be followed, that traditional path would be given formal shape and content.
I started my speech by indicating that harnessing bishops was like herding cats. I suspect that this bevy of Episcopal cats will find themselves heading for different options when they are finally put before us. But that, to its credit, has been the long tradition of the Bench of Bishops.
§ 10.20 p.m.
§ Lord Moran
My Lords, the report we have been debating seems to me clear, concise and sensible, and was introduced yesterday in an admirable speech by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon. The old House, which I entered in 1984, worked well but had one quite unacceptable defect: the overwhelming potential majority of one party. I am afraid that that party—the Conservatives—were foolish enough to use it in a shameful way on 14th July 1993 when they bussed in scores of backwoodsmen and defeated the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Blake, proposing a referendum on the Maastricht Treaty, by 445 votes to 176.
That made early change inevitable. The position was rectified by the purge of most hereditary Peers in 1999. The political balance became much more reasonable and, essentially, this House was reformed. It is not now dominated by any party.
Most people agree that, while not seeking to be a law-making body, this House has an indispensable role in scrutinising and revising legislation, with its average of 2,000 amendments per Session nearly all accepted by the Commons. But in order to be effective with its limited powers, it must have, as the report stresses, strong elements of independence and expertise, as it has at present. There is, I believe, a need to keep the party-political aspects of the House to a minimum. The less political, the more useful is the work of the House. I have taken part in many Select Committees, and in all of them party prejudices were laid aside at the door. Peers took part as individuals, not party spokesmen, making the work far more effective.
It is important to preserve the present, specifically independent element in the House's composition; the Cross Benches. Apart from these, there are, happily, at present, very few Peers who blindly follow their party line—those of whom W S Gilbert wrote:I always voted at my Party's callAnd I never thought of thinking for myself at all".There are, however, independent-minded Peers in other parts of the House to whom the House listens and who it respects. One has only to think of the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, and a number of others. If we had a fully elected House, or a substantially elected element, that would increase party-political influence and diminish or eliminate the independent element.
Moreover, most people wishing to stand would surely aim at the House of Commons, where power lies; or the European Parliament, where the pay is best; or the Scottish Parliament; or the Welsh Assembly. We might be landed with fourth-rate politicians. Paragraph 68 of the report states that domination of the House by elected party politicians would irrevocably change the nature of the House. It would do so for the worse.
817 I believe that the present House is effective, cheap—one-tenth of the cost of the Commons—with a valuable independent outlook and a legitimacy as defined very sensibly in paragraph 43 of the report. To my mind, the best course is to keep things as they are.
Speaking as one of the doomed 92 residual hereditaries, I support what was said yesterday by my noble and gallant friend Lord Craig of Radley and my noble friend Lord Weatherill and I welcome the generous remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, at col. 652 in yesterday's Hansard. I believe that the House would be a much weaker place if it were to lose Members such as the noble Earls, Lord Ferrers, Lord Peel and Lord Selborne, the noble Countess, Lady Mar, the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, and the noble Lords, Lord Denham, Lord Willoughby de Broke, Lord Freyberg, Lord Bridges, Lord Elton and Lord Ampthill, to name only a few.
I believe that the arguments against a hybrid House are strong, and those against a wholly or partially elected House very strong indeed. Consequently, I propose to vote for Option 1, a wholly appointed House, with the safeguards proposed by the report, and for the option proposed by my noble and gallant friend Lord Craig, Option 1A, if that is possible, and against the other options.
§ 10.25 p.m.
§ Lord Gilbert
My Lords, like one or two other noble Lords who have spoken, I was very ignorant of this place when I came here. I regret to say that I probably carried some caricatures in my mind—of which, I am glad to say, I was fairly swiftly disabused. As a consequence, although I came here somewhat reluctantly in the first instance, I have found my time here extremely agreeable. The longer I have been here, the more impressed I have been by the way in which this House orders its affairs.
That does not mean to say that I believe that everything we do is perfect. There are a number of changes I would like to see made in our procedures. However, having said that, I have no wish whatever to repeat arguments that have been made much more cogently than I could have made them myself. Therefore, for the purposes of reference, I should like to say merely that I have been most impressed with the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, and with that of the noble Lord, Lord MacGregor of Pulham Market—at least until the last 90 seconds when he seemed to suffer a mental breakdown in the middle of his remarks. But we can forgive him that. I would not have said it if he were not in his place, but I suggest that he reads his remarks tomorrow in Hansard.
As to this side of the House, I was extremely impressed yesterday by the remarks of my noble friend Lord Sewell and, today, by those of my noble friend Lord Elder, who is not in his place. I was glad to be present for the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, who I have known for more than 50 years. I was delighted to see that, for once, there were some Liberal Democrats who did not follow the party line of inbred political correctness.
818 Although I am speaking at No. 93 in the debate I have some things to say that have not been said before, but they are probably not for sensitive ears. I shall concentrate merely on attacking the proposals for an elected element of any kind. It will be no secret that I shall be voting for Option 1 and fervently against all the others. I believe firmly that the introduction of any elected element would be dangerous for this House, dangerous for the House of Commons, and extremely bad for the country.
As to all this talk about having a representative upper Chamber—heavens to Betsy—go and look at the other lot! If you ever thought that the current House of Commons is representative of the country as a whole, just go and study their CVs. I ask you. Representative? Well! The noble Lord knows who I am talking about anyway.
It is quite possible to achieve representativeness without elections. It is the fiat of every Prime Minister that he gets representativeness in his Cabinet without having elections to the Cabinet—although one great mistake that the present Prime Minister has made is that he did not abandon the elected membership of his shadow Cabinet but took them as one into his present Cabinet, from which various consequences have flowed.
As to this House, it has been said that there is nothing wrong with hybridity; that we have had hybridity before. But what we are now contemplating is a hybridity of a kind different from any that has ever been seen before. It is inconceivable that elected Members of this place would not be granted pay, if not allowances, on a par with Members of another place. I do not know what that is currently—£60,000 or £70,000 a year, or something of that order—but, human nature being what it is, I do not believe that there would not be considerable resentment from those who are being paid nothing but an attendance allowance of £100 a day towards those who are doing the same work and being paid £60,000 or £70,000 a year. It would be extremely divisive and bad for morale in this place.
Resentment would also run in the other direction. If the elected Members formed less than 100 per cent of the membership, they would resent the appointed Members for diluting their claims to legitimacy. You would have nothing but continued resentment between the elected and the appointed Members.
My second point as regards the implications for this House is that, if the term is not limited—I understand the proposal of the Joint Committee—and Members can seek re-election, we shall be back to the tyranny of the Whips and the party machine.
I cannot see that an elected element of less than 100 per cent would produce a static situation. There would be constant pressure for the elected element to be increased to 100 per cent. What is more, there would be constant pressure to change the powers of this House. There was an interesting exchange yesterday between my noble friend Lord Sewel and the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, whom I am glad to see in her place. I thought that my noble friend got the better of 819 the argument in explaining the origins of the authority of the House of Commons. But in one respect, the noble Baroness was right: technically, legally, the present authority of the House of Commons rests on the Parliament Act and the right of supply. The first thing that any Members elected to this place would seek to do would be to change the Parliament Act and end the monopoly on supply. They would not be worth their salt if they did not. They would do so from day one; and they would go on and on doing so. There would be a constant battle, and of course the House of Commons would resist that.
I do not know what the end would be, but as has been stated vividly this House has huge powers. All we have to do is table amendments to every line of a Bill, or call a Division on every government amendment—on hundreds of government amendments on Bill after Bill. You would soon have the Chief Whip on his knees beside you asking you what you wanted. A message would go down to the other end of the corridor very quickly indeed. I frankly do not see what arguments the House of Commons could advance to sustain its monopoly of power over supply once this House had elected Members; and I do not see that the country could object to such a change.
Furthermore, if Members were elected to this place on the basis of identity with the method by which people are elected to the House of Commons—in other words, if only 300 Members were elected to this place, they would presumably be representative of the whole country—they could say to every Member of the House of Commons, "I represent twice as many people as you do. Who the devil are you, Mr Jones, or Miss Smith? Thank you very much". The other place will not like that argument very much. Unless the elections are held on precisely the same day, in which case they will be otiose, as everyone can see, Members elected to this place will say to Members of the House of Commons, "Oh, you were elected two years ago. I was elected last Thursday. My public mandate is much more valid than yours". The House of Commons is not going to like that either.
There is a further unmentionable matter. If Members of this place are to serve for only one term, I can tell noble Lords how they will spend it—they will spend it undermining the lot down the corridor in order to get their seats when their term comes to an end; will they not? I know that I would—but then, I am not a very civilised individual!
All elections involve party—inexorably, inevitably. If we moved to a system of election by party, we should lose, among other things, the most distinguished Members on the Cross Benches. It was interesting to hear the noble Lord, Lord McNally, citing some of the expertise in certain areas to be found at the other end of the corridor. There was one area that he did not mention—one that I know a little bit about; namely, 820 defence. He ran out of names—in fact, he had none to mention. I am very willing to give way to the noble Lord.
§ Lord McNally
I would say that Menzies Campbell knows a lot more about defence than the noble Lord does.
§ Lord Gilbert
I do not doubt that a lot of people know more about defence than I do. I was not talking about myself. I was talking about the chiefs of the defence staff.
§ Lord Gilbert
Oh no! You have had your go. You can only have one bite of the cherry.
We would lose the Permanent Secretaries. I doubt whether even a dozen Members of this House would stand for election to the House of Lords. I am certain that fewer than a dozen Members would get elected. The former trade union leaders, captains of industry and Permanent Secretaries would not offer themselves to the British electoral process by party at such a late stage in their careers. That would be nothing but a loss to the country.
Who would we get? Either people who have never stood for election or failed candidates in elections for another place, the European Parliament, the Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly for Wales and probably the GLA. We would have an elected House of failures. Is that what the country wants? Go on! Does the noble Lord, Lord McNally, have a response?
That is all I have to say. I have fallen in love with this place and I do not want to see it changed by the introduction of elected Members. I agree entirely with what the noble Lord, Lord Dean of Harptree, said about how to deal with the remaining hereditary Peers. They do a first-rate job, and the solution he proposed is exactly right.
§ 10.36 p.m.
§ Lord Elton
My Lords, the list of speakers says that I am 95. I feel as if I were 95, having listened to 87 of the 93 speeches in this debate. This is a great occasion. Although it is too late for oratory, whatever is decided I hope that the Joint Committee will consider the idea of the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong. The idea he proposed also occurred to me when I was a Minister biting my nails in the Lords' Gallery of another place, listening to my reputation being defended by a colleague who I knew had not read his brief. Ministers of either House could be called to the Bar of another place to account for their actions rather than rely on others to do so. In the same vein, I hope that the committee pays attention to the suggestion of my noble friend Lord Renton of Mount Harry that there should be much more use of Joint Committees so that the Houses get to know each other.
At the end of the remarkable speech by the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, I could see that not only had he fallen in love with the House but that it was in danger 821 of falling in love with him. That would embarrass him greatly. What he said was dangerous because, I fear, our speeches will be read in that light outside the House. We have been awfully self-congratulatory. We have said constantly how well we do our job. Even if it is true, it should not be said, certainly not with satisfaction.
This House does not belong to us; it belongs to the country. We sit neither as representatives nor directors but as trustees. As such, we have an interest not only in this House but in the whole Parliament, because it is a single institution originally created to make it possible to govern this country, and, thereafter, to make it impossible to govern the country without its consent. The principal function of Parliament was, and remains, to monitor and control the executive. Originally, the executive was the King. One could see him and his followers outside Parliament. In Oxford, two streets—North Parade and South Parade— standing about 300 yards apart, mark the lines where the armies of the executive and Parliament faced each other fairly regularly while the court sat there during the Civil War. Now the executive is inside Parliament and you cannot tell them apart. They are sitting opposite us, very attentive and decorative. I am flattered that they should be here at this moment, because it does not always happen. They are sitting in far greater numbers—if they are still at work, which I doubt—at the other end of the Corridor. Indeed, more than 80 members of the executive sit as Members of the House of Commons, which is supposed to control the executive. The House of Commons therefore has a conflict of interest when it comes to discharging its duty under the constitution. That has not arisen because we have suddenly had a spring tide of an election. It is incremental over many years, and it flows from a change in the country's economic and social conditions.
A hundred years ago, it was possible, indeed expected, that anyone who wished to have the honour of sitting in the House of Commons should pay for the privilege. Having paid to get here, he did not expect to receive any financial reward. All that has changed. There is a substantial reward for being here and it is only possible to get into the House of Commons with the support of a national political party. Since belonging to the House of Commons is, quite properly and honourably, a job upon which one's livelihood and family depend, quite apart from any ambition one may have, it is natural to try and stay there, and one can do so only with the consent and support of one's party at the next election. That gives the Whips inordinate power over the behaviour of the Members of another place.
All that flows from the electoral system. That, coupled with our social and economic organisation, has undermined the efficiency of the democratic process in defending the public from the operation of an over-mighty executive. We are being asked to introduce the same system here to protect the public by having more elected people and, perhaps, a wholly elected House. That really is to stand logic on its head. That is my main point.
822 I do not expect my view to prevail. I am comforted that it is the view of so many of your Lordships, but the words of the Leader of another place, quoted by my noble friend Lord Renton of Mount Harry, suggest that the views of this House may not prevail. I look, with some hope, towards my noble and learned friend Lord Howe of Aberavon. I apologise for not thanking him with due courtesy at the beginning of my speech for the gracious way in which he introduced the debate and the sterling work that he and his committee have done. I regret that they said that this House must be representative. For the reasons that I have given, I do not think that it should be. But if that is the majority view of this House, I hope that it will be given due attention in the committee which will still be asked to try and find a consensus between the Houses.
I hope, thereafter, that there will be consultation by the committee on the detail of whatever is eventually proposed. If it is to be an appointments commission, there should be consultation and discussion on how it is to be composed and what its terms of reference should be. If it is to be an electoral college, I hope that before it sets to work it reads the speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford.
§ Lord Elton
My Lords, I am sorry, I meant the Bishop of Worcester. The two are entirely different in approach and appearance.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Worcester lit a sparkler at the party to which we should pay attention. There is something wrong with the electoral process; it has damaged how this place works. If there is another way of making it work electorally, and if we cannot have the sort of House that I think we should have, let us have a House that re-engages with the electorate and then, if the two Houses lock horns, perhaps this House will come out on top.
I am rather like a baby hoping that the bath water will be thrown out with it or a turkey hoping for Christmas. If we are to be recycled, to repeat the unpleasant term used by my noble friend Lord Howell of Guildford—and I have visions, as a turkey, of the shelves of Sainsbury's—I think that the day will come when I have done enough here. I came here under a completely different regime, in which I was obliged to nobody but my father and Ramsay MacDonald and could come and go as I wished with a clear conscience. I am now here as a result of the votes of a majority of all your Lordships to do a job. I find that it has extraordinarily cramped my declining years and diminished the chances of writing even one of the two books that I would like to do or painting 50 of the 100 pictures to which I would like to put my paint brush. I may have reached the point when I should go anyway, because I am worn out and not contributing. There will be other people in that position who ought to be able to get out, but there is no escape hatch for us, and there should be.
823 That is rather a sad note on which to end. Like the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, I fell out of love with this House and then in love with it again after all the changes. Long may the upper House remain the second House, and long may it survive.
§ 10.45 p.m.
§ Lord Goodhart
My Lords, it is usual to start a wind-up speech by saying that it has been an excellent debate, but tonight I feel unable to say that. On the contrary, in more than five years of membership of your Lordships' House, I have never listened to a debate that has been so deeply depressing. The debate has been riddled with complacency and self-congratulation. Time after time, I have heard the voice of Dr Pangloss—now Lord Pangloss—saying, "All is for the best in the best of all possible Houses".
Of course, there are legitimate arguments for a wholly appointed House—which have been expressed clearly and forcefully by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon, and the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth. However, those arguments need to be challenged, and far too many speakers in this debate have swallowed them whole.
We in this House overestimate our own virtues. I agree that what we do, we do well. We have good debates. We have contributions to those debates from Members of great expertise, some of them sitting on the Cross Benches, some of them on the party Benches. But who listens? What coverage do we get in the media? We produce excellent reports, many of which actually get read, and spend a lot of time on the boring but necessary job of revising the detail of legislation. Occasionally, we persuade the Government to think again. As many speakers said, we had some success with the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Bill 15 months ago. But is that all that we are expected to do?
What is the greatest problem of the British constitution today and what has been the greatest problem for many years past? Only three speakers—the noble Lords, Lord Desai, Lord Onslow and Lord Elton—have referred to it. When the Government have a large majority in the House of Commons, as it has for 19 of the last 24 years, there are no effective checks on the abuse of executive powers. It is the absence of those checks that gave us the poll tax and that may, in the next few weeks, lead us into a war in Iraq when that war is opposed by a large majority of the people of this country.
A reformed second Chamber could offer the chance of a more effective challenge to the executive—to the executive, not to the House of Commons. Many noble Lords have said that greater legitimacy must be avoided because it would increase the risk of deadlock with the House of Commons. Has anyone stopped to think why, if elections to your Lordships' House are such a threat to the primacy of the House of Commons, so much support exists in the House of Commons for elections to your Lordships' House? Why is it that the Public Administration Committee, in a unanimous report, proposed a 60 per cent elected membership of your Lordships' House?
824 I will tell you why. In the House of Commons, they see what is actually going on. They see the Government crushing the challenges from their own Back Benches. On both sides of that House, among Government Back Benches as well as among the opposition parties, they want a House of Lords that can challenge the abuse of executive power. That was made clear in a brilliant speech made yesterday in the House of Commons by Mr William Hague. Let me quote at a little length from it. He said:The powers and ability of this House and of Parliament as a whole—this House and the other House—are inadequate to bring proper balance to our constitution. It is possible to govern with authority without being able to legislate with impunity. Today, however, Governments expect to be able to do both. That is why Parliament as a whole should be strengthened, and that includes the strengthening of the upper House. It also includes the strengthening of both Houses vis-à-vis the Government of the day. This is not a zero sum game. More authority and legitimacy for the upper House will not necessarily reduce the authority, legitimacy or power of the lower House, if we conduct our own affairs by giving proper scrutiny to Government actions and legislation. That is what we should be doing".After an intervening paragraph, Mr Hague continued:That is the case for electing a large part of the upper House".—[Official Report, Commons, 21/1/03; col. 195.]Noble Lords on the Conservative Benches should read not only the speech of their former leader but the speech of Ken Clarke, their leader in waiting, and of Sir George Young, before they finally commit themselves to voting against elected Members. I have to say that speeches from the Conservative Benches have been much as I expected. I welcome the four or five gallant souls who resisted the Gadarene rush to oppose all elections.
What I found more disappointing was the reaction from speakers on the Labour Benches. More than half of them have announced their intention of voting against any elected element, in clear breach of what has in fact been their party's policy of many years.
Among the speeches from the Labour Benches in this debate, there is one that is notable for not having been made—the speech of the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House. He is a man who is enormously respected in your Lordships' House. He has made his views in support of reform clear on many previous occasions. A speech from him would, I believe, have been valuable and persuasive. I regret that he has been silenced or has silenced himself. But if Labour Peers cannot hear a speech from the noble and learned Lord, they can read the speeches of Robin Cook, his opposite number in the House of Commons, and of Tony Wright, the chairman of the Public Administration Committee. They should do that before deciding how they are going to vote.
If, as seems all too likely, your Lordships' House supports no option other than an all-appointed one, noble Lords will have opted for a quiet life. I have to say that I understand that that is a very seductive option indeed. It is a wonderful privilege to be a Member of your Lordships' House. I, too, love this place. If I was thinking of myself alone, I would be happy if your Lordships' House continued unchanged until kingdom come. A House which included elected 825 Members might be a less pleasant place in which to work. Perhaps elected and appointed Members will not get on as well with each other as Members of the House do now. However, that does not seem to me to be at the heart of the question. The question, I think, is whether that House will work better than the present one. I believe that it will.
I have to say also that the idea that all appointments can be made by an independent commission is completely misguided. The commission can indeed appoint Members who sit as Independents. However, this House is a political House; it is and it always has been. In fact, some 70 per cent of its present Members take a party Whip. The House could not operate without party structure, party leaders, the Whips' offices, the usual channels. A non-political House, however high-minded, however intelligent, however wise its Members, would be totally chaotic.
There is of course a role for Independents here. I very much want them to remain. However, they are indeed the icing on our cake. Cake is, of course, much nicer with icing oil it; and it is a better House with the Independents here. But without the cake there can be no icing, and most of us, I am afraid, have to be the cake. I simply do not see how the commission can choose those who come here to play a political role.
The commission can and should exercise a veto over political appointments. It should be able to reject nominees who have, for example, spent years living abroad as tax exiles, or who have been offered a place in your Lordships' House as a reward for making their seat in the House of Commons available for someone else. The commission cannot, I believe, tell a party, "We are going to choose X, Y and Z as your representatives in the second Chamber". Indeed, if it could, that would mean one House of Parliament being elected by an electorate of eight, nine or 10 people. That I regard as a totally incredible idea. No commission can or should have that power. It is the quango to end all quangos, as the Speaker said yesterday. So, without elections, we shall end up with a House most of whose members will continue to be appointed through the patronage of party leaders. I believe that that will not do.
Nor do I support some of the other proposals raised in debate. I totally reject the idea of appointment through election by professional or other interest groups. That is, I believe, a travesty of democracy. The British Government in fact created such a system in Hong Kong some years ago—the functional constituencies. Mr Patten tried to democratise it. The Chinese Government, however, liked it and restored it. So now one has the functional constituencies, the bankers, with the votes cast by the directors of the banks and not by the employees.
Indirect election is perhaps less objectionable but it leads to the election of people to represent the interests of the members of the local or regional councils which elected them rather than of the people who live there. I believe that in a non-federal country such as ours it is far better to have direct than indirect elections.
The arguments about the cost of an elected House are greatly exaggerated. For one thing membership could and should be much less than the suggested 826 figure of 600. On a 50:50 or a 60:40 split, a House of 300 would leave plenty of room for both independent and political members. It is absurd, frankly, to suggest that elected members of the second Chamber should get the same office allowances as MPs when it is quite clear that their office responsibilities would be far less.
We have been offered an historic chance to—
§ Baroness Blatch
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way, but will he just take a moment to explain to the House how their responsibilities would be far less? My understanding is that if we had only 150 elected members they would have hundreds of thousands of constituents whom they would represent here and that their workload to cover the work that we do in this place would be very considerable indeed.
§ Lord Goodhart
My Lords, it is in my view perfectly clear that the great amount of social work that Members of Parliament now do in their local bases will continue to be done by them. Members of the second Chamber would be required to deal with constituency work only if someone in their constituency brought up a matter that was a direct responsibility of the second Chamber. I think that it is entirely clear that there would be nothing like the workload for Members of a second Chamber that there is for constituency MPs who are known to their constituents as a channel through which to make complaints or ask for assistance.
We have been offered an historic chance to play a constitutional role which I believe is truly needed. That role is to check abuse of executive powers. We cannot do that if, whenever we challenge the Government, they reply, "They do not count. They are not elected". If noble Lords do not think that the Government will make that reply, I suggest that they read the speech made yesterday in the Commons by Tony Wright.
We cannot do the job that needs to be done unless at least half the Members of the House are elected. That means elected by a system under which the seats are broadly proportional to the votes, and in which voters have the chance to choose between members of a party rather than simply voting for a single party list.
For all too obvious reasons, the Government do not want to see greater legitimacy for the House. If we reject the chance of democratic elections, the Government will use that as an excuse for going no further. Many noble Lords plainly would like that. However, if we are seen to reject democracy, we will end up increasingly as an irrelevant and ineffective body. My Lords, the choice is yours.
§ 11 p.m.
§ Lord Strathclyde
My Lords, when I was last outside the Chamber, I overheard two Peers looking forward to the wind-ups this evening: they called it the Tom and Derry show.
I do not know about the rest of the House, but my heart sank when I looked at the list of speakers yesterday afternoon. For me, rather like other anoraks 827 in this House, the veterans of such debates such as the noble Lords, Lord Desai and Lord Richard, the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, and many others, it felt like "Groundhog Day"—again and again, another debate on the House of Lords. The noble Lord, Lord McNally, said that it was like a Roman orgy. That is the only time that I have ever wanted to be more like the noble Lord.
My noble friend Lord Higgins, among others, remarked on the huge gulf that exists between this House and another place. The noble Lord, Lord Gordon of Strathblane, who had carefully read the debate in another place yesterday, as I had, also remarked on the differences. Sometimes it appeared as though they were talking Serbo-Croat, we were speaking Mandarin and there were no interpreters in sight.
For all that, the debate has been far better and more interesting than I had feared. There have been some rich comic moments. It has largely been devoid of sentiment and rancour, although not without some passion. The debate had just a hint of a personal interest in the subject from almost all noble Lords.
I have two impressions of the debate. First, it is clear to me from the past two days that this House is going to vote overwhelmingly for an appointed House. Secondly, I have something to say to the noble Lord the Government Chief Whip as a word of advice and perhaps even a warning, based on what I have heard of the view of most Members of this House about the general awfulness of elections. His regional assemblies Bill? No chance. He can forget about that right now. It might do better if it were on appointed assemblies.
It has also been notable that many Peers have changed their minds over the course of the debate during the past few years. Everyone in the debate has rightly praised the interim report from the Joint Committee, and I too join the congratulations to my noble and learned friend Lord Howe of Aberavon, all other noble Lords involved and those who spoke.
Reform of the House of Lords is a good soundbite. But it is not all quite so easy as it seemed on that glad confident morning in the lost world of the 1990s, when the Labour Party conference roared its approval and Mr Blair derided this House as an "affront to democracy". Then we were promised a more modern, more representative, more democratic House. It has not quite worked out that way, has it? Perhaps the Government never really wanted democracy in the first place.
Of course, in 1999 there was a short-term political aim, which was to cull the numbers of independent and opposition Peers. I suspect that there was a hope on the side of getting away with creating something almost unique in the world, a fully appointed Chamber, at the mercy of executive patronage. In 1999, both Houses, if they wished to, could have voted for that. We could have voted for what many in this debate now say they want: we could have created an appointed House by supporting the Bill of the noble Baroness, Lady Jay of Paddington. But neither House did that. They did not do so because those of us who were here then, while 828 willing to see the passing of an hereditary peerage that had served Parliament well for more than seven centuries, wanted something better in its place than a weakened House that was in hock to prime ministerial patronage.
I still hope for something better, but we will not get there by piecemeal solutions, minor tinkering and simply hoping that we can go on as we are. Unless further reform comes in a Bill which runs far beyond composition and which entrenches the role and powers of this House, enhances its authority and puts safeguards on the misuse of patronage, I fear that the role and authority that so many here want for this House will never come.
Let us face it: the Prime Minister has no interest in a stronger Parliament. The question that we all have to ask ourselves was implicit in the powerful speech of the noble Lord, Lord Richard: do we ourselves want a stronger Parliament? The noble Lord spoke of the moral highground that this House won in 1969 when it voted for reform and another place rejected it. He said how ironic and damaging it would be if the reverse were to happen now. The noble Lord, Lord Sheldon, among many others, told us, in a striking speech, how far another place was now abased before the power of the executive. Parliament, I fear, will find no salvation in another place.
So where do we go now? First, I believe that we should hold firm to principles to which most of us in this House agree, whatever our differences about composition. They came up time and again in our debate and bear repeating. The executive is too strong and Parliament is too weak. We need a stronger Parliament and a stronger House that is able to exercise its authority and work with another place in holding the executive to account. We should accept no reduction in the powers of this House. We should seek more influence over secondary legislation. We will abide no manipulation of our working procedures for the convenience of any government. We want forms of membership that provide a significant degree of independence from party Whips, an independent element that is strong enough to place its stamp on the House, iron safeguards against abuse of government patronage and, of course, no domination by any one party. There is a consensus in this House and outside it for those objectives.
Of course there are differences about the nature of what some call "legitimacy" and others "authority" and how they are conferred. That debate has marked discussions on this House since before Mr Asquith's government laid out their aspirations for democracy in the preamble to the 1911 Act. "Aspirations for democracy"—do noble Lords remember that?
I share the view of a number of noble Lords who have spoken. In the 21st century, authority flows from election in a way that it can from no other source. That is why I believe that it should be part of any further reform; that is not because I do not care for this place but because I do.
If we vote against reform involving election and Members of another place lean towards it, we need not imagine what will be said by them on the question of 829 authority. We will hear it soon enough—the next time that we exercise our judgment and vote against a Bill of Mr Blunkett's, which I hope we will do in the next few months. He will not just denounce us as unelected; he will rail against us as a House which is not only unelected but which has shown that it has no intention of ever being elected or shifted at all.
For all that, as I said earlier, it is clear to me that this House is going to vote for appointment, and that view must be respected. It is a serious view and that course has been recommended by many noble Lords—so many that I shall not mention them all, although we know who they are. There are a lot of them, and they are serious people. That list should be treated with respect.
Whatever the verdict of another place, I hope that the Joint Committee will pursue that option. However, I do not agree with those who say that election is dangerous and may lead this House to challenge the primacy of another place. That argument was dealt with magisterially by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams. She said that the authority of another place rests with the other place—with how it behaves, what it does and how well it does it. That is true for them and it is true for us. Authority has ebbed and flowed between the Houses across the centuries, and it may well do so again.
With reform, our authority and performance may put another place increasingly on its mettle. But is that not the point? Is that not a reason to advocate reform and not to slink away? Let us listen to my noble friends Lord Crickhowell and Lord Forsyth of Drumlean. My noble friend Lord Crickhowell said that he would be more militant if elected. My noble friend Lord Forsyth said that he behaved differently now as an appointed Member of this House. I preferred the old Forsyth. There are of course examples of unelected second chambers around the world that work; there are also examples of elected second chambers that work—and work without provoking constitutional catastrophe. Almost every argument in this debate can be turned the other way.
However, appointment is not without its technical problems. In 1998–99, my noble friend Lord Kingsland and I worked out proposals for how an independent appointments commission might work in practice. It was not easy. I am not at all certain that we overcame all the problems; nor has all the ingenuity of the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson of Coddenham, been able to resolve them.
I was much taken by the argument of the noble Baroness, Lady Jay. But what would appointment for terms mean for those here now? Would new Members come in for 12 or 15 years, while existing Members would remain here for the rest of their lives? Would the noble Lord, Lord Alli—I choose him simply because he is a relatively young Member in this House—watch generation after generation of newly appointed MLs march to the Dispatch Box to take the oath and leave after their terms? That would be the ultimate definition of "grandfather's rights".
830 There are also those who want every Member of this House to be elected. That, too, is a fair position. For myself, I fear that the House would lose much if it lost the independent voices on the Cross Benches; nor do I believe that we could dispense lightly with the interventions of the right reverend Prelates. And I do not salivate, as does the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, at the prospect of a supreme court outside Parliament. All that needs careful study. Therefore, I welcome the fact that the Joint Committee intends to proceed to study the place of the judiciary and the faiths.
But the committee should look at an all-elected option, too, as, like it or not, it is a view widely held outside this House. It should work out what such a House would look like. Again, the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, said that we know what an appointed House looks like but few of us know what an elected House looks like—the constituencies, modes of election, forms of representation, terms of office and the like. That is one problem that could arise when we conic to a vote on 4th February.
Over 12 months ago, a few weeks after the Government's White Paper was published, the Shadow Cabinet came out with its proposal. We saw great merit in preserving a significant element of non-party voices—the noble and gallant Lords, diplomats, academics, civil servants and so on. But we concluded that if we were to have elected Peers at all, then all Members of the political House should be elected. Those Members should be buttressed by long terms— perhaps 15 years rather than the 12 years suggested by the Joint Committee—possibly with no re-election.
I also believe, unlike the Joint Committee, that we could function with a House with far fewer politicians than is the case today. Even if we numbered 300, we would still be one of the largest second Chambers in the world. However, largely for the reasons given by the noble Lord, Lord Gordon of Strathblane, and others, we uncompromisingly rejected a hybrid model in which some political Peers would be elected and some not.
Turning to the other options in the Joint Committee report, I wholly reject Option 3—in effect, Mr Blair's 80/20 hybrid idea. Even the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, with that blunt candour that the House appreciates so well, has now publicly accepted that that plan is seen as "nonsense".
I also find it hard to understand the case made by Mr Robin Cook and others for a hybrid House — Options 5, 6 or 7 of the Joint Committee report—in which the public are allowed to elect some of our political Members but, presumably because it is all rather grubby and difficult, others must be appointed. If election is so good, why should the public not elect all our political Members? If it is bad, why elect any at all? On the other hand, perhaps Mr Robin Cook hopes for a nice appointment on the red leather Benches when he retires. Perhaps, like the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, he will fall in love with the place as well.
Some say people would not turn out to vote. I think they would if they believed that this House counted. Some say election would deter men and women of 831 distinction, people such as the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, who in his amusing speech wanted root and branch reform of everything except himself. Last Thursday the noble Lord wrote a piece in The Times modestly entitled, "You could not elect someone better than me". I worry about that. The noble Lord, Lord McNally, was harsher today than I would be, but the qualities that we see in ourselves, the superiority that some have claimed over those tainted with the stain of the ballot box, and the perfection of the system of appointment are not always so apparent to others, particularly outside this House.
In the past few years many new Members have come into the House, some very different from those who were here before 1999. We have even received a self-selected cadre of people's Peers. Many feared that would mean change and decline, but in a remarkable way all have become assimilated to the place. They have joined in our work in the same spirit as those we lost. In all humility, are we so sure that no elected Peer could absorb the spirit of the place and do our job just as the new Members since 1999 have done? The assumption that runs through the vast majority of speeches made in the debate is that they could not. I am not so sure.
No doubt many of us wish that all this uncertainty would go away. I think I am right in saying that all of us believe that another place is crying out for radical reform. It needs an infusion of the independence of mind and the ability to legislate of this House. Perhaps that is the way it was once, to quote countless former Members of another place who rose and spoke to criticise the House of Commons as it is currently.
Here, the Government have succeeded in ending the automatic right of hereditary Peers to sit in this place. That was a giant step. From their perspective the Government can take pride in that. However, as I said in 1998, once constitutional boundary stones are uprooted none of us can know where they will settle again. Is not this debate proof of that?
After the vote on 4th February, we must consider what follows next. I expect that the Joint Committee will want to press on with its work. I believe that it should consider more than one option, including elections. I wonder whether the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor might agree with that. If so, I promise him that we on this side will work with the noble and learned Lord and his colleagues in the search for an achievable consensus. That may not be achieved in the next few months. I think we should be realistic about that; it will take time. But it is surely worth working for. Otherwise, as the caravan moves on we risk subsiding again into relative obscurity, just as we were in the past. That is no fate for this House. Surely, none of us wants that. In the past 10 years, this House has moved forward while another place has continued to subside. We must not allow that situation to be reversed.
§ 11.18 p.m.
§ The Lord Chancellor (Lord Irvine of Lairg)
My Lords, I join all noble Lords who have expressed their thanks to the Joint Committee, which is chaired by the right honourable Jack Cunningham, and of which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon, is the vice-chairman. The time occupied by the Joint Committee's deliberations has been well spent. A period for reflection concentrates minds wonderfully, not only in the committee but elsewhere in both Houses.
In a debate of over two days with close to 100 speakers, I cannot refer to every contribution, but shall concentrate on the main themes. Plainly, the dominant view of this House expressed over the past two days is in favour of an all-appointed House. However, within each of the parties, there is no common view. Free votes reflect that reality. For example, it has been well noted that on the Liberal Democrat Benches, Members as distinguished as the noble Lords, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, and Lord Phillips of Sudbury, favour an all appointed House, contrary to their own Front Bench.
I say to the noble Lord, Lord McNally, that I have never seen myself as Darth Vader. In fact, some of my noble friends on these Benches have said to me—and the noble Lords, Lord Rodgers and Lord Phillips, might well agree—that, on the contrary, they see me rather as Obi-Wan Kenobi and feel the "force" of my mission in this debate to save us from the parliamentary disaster of hybridity, about which their Front Bench is so extraordinarily sanguine. It is not of course for me to claim any of these associations; nor do I.
Despite disagreement within the parties, however, there is a consensus that the House's main role should continue to be as a revising, scrutinising and deliberative assembly with the power to delay, but not to seek to veto, legislation; that the House of Commons should retain its role as the pre-eminent Chamber; and that the test for any Government should continue to be whether it commands the support of the majority in another place. The Government's ultimate objective is to secure a second Chamber that is broadly representative of the Britain of today, a Chamber which will complement the other place by reinforcing Parliament's ability to conduct scrutiny and hold the executive to account; that has a composition distinctive from the House of Commons, neither as a rival nor a pale imitation of it, that is not dominated by the political parties either collectively or singly; that brings to its deliberations distinctive expertise and experience; and which will increase the respect of the public for Parliament because of the distinctive value that it adds.
All the options for composition put forward in the Joint Committee's report need to be judged against those objectives. As has been mentioned, I said in a radio interview a couple of weeks ago that I thought that opinion on this question was polarising around the wholly appointed and the wholly elected options. The debate of the past two days has tended to reinforce that view.
833 The option that has gained most support among your Lordships is to continue with a wholly appointed House.
Some noble Lords rightly made short shrift of the argument that part elected, part appointed does not matter because this House has always been hybrid; that is, appointed and hereditary Peers are not the same. This argument was not well taken. Although appointed and hereditary Peers are not the same, they have one characteristic in common: they are not elected by the people. Therefore, they provide no basis for justifying a hybrid House of a wholly different character, one divided between appointed and elected.
The dynamics of a House divided among appointed and elected Peers has to be considered distinctly. But, I first summarise the arguments made against a wholly or substantially elected House. Such a House would change the character of this House for ever. It would be a House of equal legitimacy to the House of Commons, since it would be elected. The rationale for the conventions by which this House came to accept that it is subordinate to the House of Commons, as the sole elected Chamber, would be gone for ever. The arguments go further: to assert that this House would remain content with its present powers unchanged after acquiring elective legitimacy equal to the House of Commons is simply to deny the inevitable dynamics of two elected Chambers whose interaction is conditioned by conventions.
As a matter of history, it was the Royal Commission of the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, which allowed the electoral genie out of his lamp. So, unsurprisingly, the noble Lord yesterday declared that he continued to favour the compromise of a hybrid House. Once out of the lamp, however, the electoral genie could not immediately be pushed back in. The Government, I acknowledge, in their White Paper saw a necessity to concede to the genie a 20 per cent lease of life. That was an attempted compromise that failed and can now be put aside. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord MacGregor, can now also put that option aside. Apart from that, I agreed with the whole of his devastating speech.
We have since had time for reflection, but once the genie was out of his lamp, there were those who wanted him to fly high. They claimed that a 50/50 outcome around an imaginary centre of gravity could take the trick. But they must acknowledge that 50/50 would be only a staging post in what my noble friend Lord Hughes of Woodside yesterday called an "inexorable dynamic", leading, as I would say, towards a wholly elected House.
So the true issue for today is: all appointed or all elected? As the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth of Drumlean, tellingly declared, "Let us not compromise our Parliament". The noble Lord, Lord Butler, said that we should not split differences on an issue of this kind. I agree with both of them, adding that we must now proceed to make the true choice.
Another place should presumably also observe that if this House becomes wholly elected, there will be no reason why a Prime Minister should choose the 834 Cabinet from the House of Commons alone—leaving aside the appointments that can only be made here, of course, the Lord Chancellor and the Leader. A Prime Minister would be as free to choose his Cabinet from this House as from another place.
§ The Lord Chancellor
No, my Lords, I shall not. I have a long way to go and a long debate to which to reply.
Elected Peers would be as representative of the electorate as today's MPs and would claim the same prominence and representative entitlements in their constituencies as MPs enjoy today, not to mention equal pay, financial benefits and support services. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, that all that would be highly divisive.
On the other hand, the arguments for a wholly appointed House were that it would enable this House to retain its attractiveness to those who were expert and distinguished across the broadest range of experience outside politics. The composition of this House does bring a unique mix of expertise to bear on the critical evaluation of legislation—businessmen, farmers, lawyers, academics, scientists, faith leaders, doctors, nurses, journalists, trade unionists, former civil servants and Cabinet Ministers, local government leaders and heads of the Armed Services, to name but some.
A number of noble Lords asserted that more and more MPs appear to be drawn from a single class—a class of professional politicians, it was said, without a deep hinterland of employment experience behind them. If I may say so, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Worcester cautioned us wisely to abstain from being overly self-regarding and unduly critical of the qualities of another place. That was a feature of some of yesterday's speeches. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Elton, on that.
In my view, the elected Chamber is the heart of our democracy, the politically supreme Chamber, and is in touch with the people in a direct way that we are not. MPs know intimately, in a way that we do not, the daily problems of their constituents as victims of crime, antisocial behaviour, intimidation, discrimination, debt or family breakdown. They know about social exclusion in a direct way that we do not.
So the two Houses complement one another. An appointed House, chosen in accordance with criteria that will make it more representative of the nation as a whole, can add real value to the high value that the House of Commons itself brings. So I see nothing illegitimate about an appointed second Chamber, subordinate to the elected Chamber, bringing huge collective experience, to the benefit of Parliament as a whole, but not seeking to rival the House of Commons by being equally representative of the electorate. It is a working servant, not a rival, of the other elected place, to which by convention it defers.
835 Above all, an appointed House would not threaten the pre-eminence of the House of Commons. Arguments about whether a more recently elected second Chamber should have the power to defy the first or whether a proportionally elected chamber would be more legitimate than one elected on a first-past-the-post system simply would not arise. The House would be free, and able, to make its views known and would have the authority deriving from the quality of its composition to command attention, but it would not have the power to challenge the elected Chamber. The conventions under which we presently operate would continue to work. There would be no need to think about putting the relationship between the Houses on to a statutory footing. There would be no danger of gridlock.
Those arguments address properly the question of what the second Chamber is for and how best its composition should serve that purpose. The only question mark against it is legitimacy. But we do not, in this country, maintain that the only legitimate route to public office is election. We do not, for example, elect our judges. It is generally agreed that their independence would be hopelessly compromised, if they were to be elected and subject to continuous populist pressure. The noble Lord, Lord Winston, yesterday listed a broad range of appointments that are legitimate, though not elected, not least among them those in government, in the Civil Service. In this country, we are pragmatic about our constitutional arrangements. We support what works. This House works because, through its unique composition, it adds value that another place does not replicate.
All the options between all-appointed and all-elected have been more or less criticised for producing a hybrid House. Such a House has been described in earlier debates as a "nonsense". The critical question is whether, in a hybrid House, we could continue as a House of Peers, in which we would regard each other as equals, when those who were elected could and inevitably would claim in debate greater legitimacy for their views and, equally inevitably, would have dramatically better terms and conditions than those appointed. In her splendid contribution yesterday, the noble Baroness, Lady Knight of Collingtree, characteristically denounced the unworkability of,a fish-and-fowl, half-and-half House".—[Official Report, 21/1/03; col. 667.]Each of the hybridity options is an attempt to mix a pragmatic and a theoretical basis for the House, a mix that does not work in practice because hybridity cannot work. For pragmatic reasons, there is a wish to retain a significant appointed element. That is seen as the best way of ensuring that the House retains a large number of expert and independent Members, rooted in their outside interests and free of the party machines. At the same time, there is unease about the status of the House if it contained no elected Members, even though those who came through the elected route would be less well suited to the role that they would like the House to continue to fulfil. My own opinion is that any of those options would prove itself to be a 836 transitional option, leading eventually to a wholly elected House. So, I repeat the real question: wholly appointed or wholly elected?
If it was the purpose of the debate to come up with a consensual solution, it was doomed from the outset to fail. But it was not. The purpose was for all who wished to speak to set out their views on the best way forward in the light of the Joint Committee's report. In the past two days, we have given the issues a thorough airing. I am sure that all your Lordships, many of whom have listened attentively to the whole—or almost the whole—debate, will now depart and consider carefully which option or options—only one, I hope—they might be able to support, when we come to our votes next month.
I have not sought to conceal that I believe the true choice to be between an all-appointed and an all-elected House. I personally on this free vote will be voting alongside those who have declared that they will vote for all-appointed and against every other option.
We pride ourselves in this House on listening to the arguments and then making up our minds. On this subject, par excellence, this is our historic duty. What is needed is not a fudged centre of gravity around a half-way house, around a hybrid House, an unstable evanescent compromise, but a long-lasting settlement for the future of this House which will preserve, not prejudice, the enduring stability of our long-lived Parliament.
§ 11.36 p.m.
§ Lord Howe of Aberavon
My Lords, the debate which we have enjoyed during the past two days has been fascinating and revealing beyond my wildest expectations. It is customary for Members making such speeches at this stage in the debate to pay tribute to the extraordinary quality of everything that has been said. I refrain from doing that because I take account of the warning given by my noble friend Lord Selborne against repeating the litany of our strengths. None the less, it has been fascinating to hear the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor making such a forceful and persuasive presentation of a view that is wholly out of line with that presented by his colleagues in the Cabinet and in another place. That in itself is a remarkable tribute to the splendid eccentricity of this House.
To hear my noble friend Lord Strathclyde making an elegant presentation of a case with which he knows the bulk of his supporters lack sympathy or enthusiasm was another striking insight.
Finally, I say with regret that to hear the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, who was one of my colleagues on the Joint Committee, describing this debate as "profoundly depressing" and making, if I may say so, a rather graceless and hectoring speech, made me wonder whether he might not be seeking re-selection in an elected House. There was something alien about its tone.
I refrain from further comment. I thank all noble Lords who have participated in the debate. I thank them for their tribute to the Joint Committee, of which 837 I am no more than a spokesman. I thank the Government for having made the debates in both Houses, and the votes that are to come, possible in response to our recommendations. I am sure that all members of the Joint Committee in this House will join me in expressing our appreciation of the illuminating, if not unanimous, advice we have received to guide us in our further deliberations.
The advice that we have received on the questions has been outstanding, particularly that from the noble Lord, Lord Desai. However, it does not diminish the need for us to find real genius to answer the questions. Perhaps I may be allowed to comment on one question. It is that which we considered least of all—indeed, scarcely at all—and which we took as part of the acquis communautaire of this establishment—the agreed common ground—as to the fate of the remaining hereditary Peers.
In what I said in my opening remarks, and in what others detected in the Joint Committee's report, almost nothing was said about the future of the surviving hereditary Peers because we had taken it as part of the "done deal" of the Weatherill/Cranborne transaction. Events have moved on since then and the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe, drew the attention of the House to a passage in the speech by the Convenor of the Cross-Bench Peers, the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley. I hope I may be forgiven for repeating it: 838As Convenor, I am extremely dependent on—indeed, I could not function without—the willing and totally voluntary assistance of a number of Cross-Bench hereditary Peers in discharging my responsibilities … Departure of all the remaining hereditaries in one go would leave a very, very considerable gap indeed—a gap that could affect for some time the ability of the new House to perform as well as does the present one. It would be perverse if stage two were to end in a debasement of the present capability of the House to carry out its roles and functions".—[Official Report, 21/1/03; col. 589.]The same point was referred to by our noble friend Lord Elton. I hope that in one way or another the Joint Committee and both Houses may be able to handle that issue in such a way as to be able to reassure my noble friend Lord Elton and others that there may be some considerable time before they have to begin contemplating their demobilisation leave. That emerges—to my surprise, I hope—as something like common ground from a debate which has illuminated the issues but has not found much other common ground. On that basis, I commend the Motion to the House.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.