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10 Nov 1999 : Column 1209

New Clause

Lords amendment: No. 2, after clause 1, to insert the following new clause--Appointments Commission--

".--(1) There shall be an Appointments Commission ("the Commission") which shall make proposals to the Prime Minister for recommendations to Her Majesty for the conferment of life peerages in accordance with the Life Peerages Act 1958.
(2) The Commission shall be an advisory non-departmental public body and shall--
(a) be appointed in accordance with the rules of the Commissioner for Public Appointments and may seek his advice about best practice in attracting and assessing potential nominees;
(b) operate an open and transparent nominations system for peers not belonging to, or recommended by, any political party ("the Cross Bench peers");
(c) actively invite nominations by the general public and encourage nominations from professional associations, charities and other public bodies that it judges appropriate;
(d) publish criteria under which it will determine a candidate's suitability for nomination;
(e) reinforce the present function of the Political Honours Scrutiny Committee in vetting the suitability of all nominations to life peerages by the political parties; and
(f) scrutinise all candidates for life peerages on the grounds of propriety in relation to political donations, as proposed in the 5th Report of the Committee on Standards in Public Life.
(3) The Commission shall appoint its own Chairman.
(4) It shall, at most every 6 months, and at least every year, make proposals to the Prime Minister for nomination as Cross Bench peers, sufficient at least to fill any vacancies among Cross Bench peers that may occur through death, disqualification or a decision to join a political party represented in the House of Lords.
(5) The Prime Minister may not refuse to submit to Her Majesty the names of those recommended as Cross Bench peers by the Commission, and shall not seek to influence such nominations, save in exceptional circumstances, such as those endangering the security of the realm.
(6) The Commission, in considering nominations as Cross Bench peers, shall not give any additional weight to recommendations from the Prime Minister or the Leaders of other political parties.
(7) Following the passing of this Act the Commission shall make a report annually to Parliament on the recommendations made to Her Majesty by the Prime Minister for the conferment of life peerages, in which it will declare if the following criteria are being observed, namely that--
(a) no one political party commands a majority in the House of Lords;
(b) the Government has broad parity of numbers with the main opposition party;
(c) the proportion of the Cross Bench peers to the total number of peers in the House remains the same as the proportion of the Cross Bench life peers to the total number of life peers in the House on the day before the passing of this Act; and
(d) more than half of the total membership of the House of Lords is composed of peers who in the opinion of the Commission have experience of, and expertise in, fields other than (or in addition to) politics.
(8) The Commission shall consist of eight members of the Privy Council, of whom four shall be appointed by a special Commission of the Prime Minister, the Speaker of the House of Commons, and the Lord Chairman of Committees of the House of Lords.

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(9) One Commissioner shall be appointed from each of the three largest parties in the House of Commons on the nomination of the Leader of each such party, and one shall be appointed from the Cross Bench peers on the nomination of the Convenor of the Cross Bench Peers."

Mr. Tipping: I beg to move, That this House disagrees with the Lords in the said amendment.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: With this, it will be convenient to take Lords amendment No. 13 and the motion to disagree.

Mr. Tipping: The amendment places the appointments commission on a statutory basis. I remind the House of the Government's commitment to an independent appointments commission set up in accordance with guidelines issued by the Commissioner for Public Appointments and that the commission will be responsible for identifying Cross-Bench peers. The Prime Ministeris the first to relinquish his powers of patronage. [Interruption.] It would be interesting to know if any future Tory Prime Minister would do the same; certainly none has done so in the past.

Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West): Following that assertion, will the Minister say how many peers the Prime Minister, who is supposedly relinquishing that power of patronage, has created?

Mr. Tipping: It is clear that our proposal is to move towards broad parity with the other parties. We believe that no party should have overall control of the House of Lords. I contrast that with the history of the hon. Gentleman's party.

Mr. Maclennan: The White Paper went beyond broad parity between the parties. It also referred to the principle of proportionality, reflecting the strength of the parties in the House. Can the Minister confirm that that remains the position?

Mr. Tipping: I can confirm that and I shall speak about it at greater length later. The Government have been consistent in their commitment to reducing their powers over the House of Lords. We do not intend the transitional House to be under the control of the Government. It would have been absurd to suggest that because 500 life peers havebeen nominated by eight Prime Ministers, mostly Conservatives, over the past 40 years. Our manifesto was explicit on that point: we said that no one party should seek a majority in the House of Lords and that the system of appointment of life peers would be reviewed, and we committed ourselves to maintaining an independent Cross-Bench presence of life peers. We also said that, over time, party appointments should more accurately reflect the votes cast at the preceding general election.

8.30 pm

We have been absolutely clear about the fact that we intend to deliver quickly on our commitments. That is important. Our proposals have three elements. First, there is the principle that will determine the numbers in the transitional House; secondly, there is the introduction of an independent appointments commission to nominate

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Cross-Bench peers; thirdly, there is the undertaking to forward to Her Majesty the Queen, without interference, the recommendation of other party leaders and the commission.

Mr. Fisher: Will my hon. Friend explain how peers who are not Cross Benchers will be appointed?

Mr. Tipping: That will be a matter for the party leaders, which contrasts with the present arrangement. The Prime Minister has made that clear, and, indeed,has already started to forward recommendations for appointment without any interference.

Let me explain the principles of our approach. We have publicly committed ourselves not to seek more than broad parity between the Government and the main opposition party. As our manifesto stated, our objective was that, over time, party appointees as life peers should reflect more accurately the proportion of votes cast at the last general election. We gained 48 per cent. of the votes cast for the three major parties, while the Conservatives gained 34 per cent. When the House of Lords returned after the recess, we composed only 41 per cent. of the membership, while the Conservatives composed 45 per cent.

On the basis of our manifesto, we would have been entitled to an increase of 40 per cent.--roughly 240 more if we start with the Conservatives' 172 life peers. Instead, we have said that we are seeking about the same number that they have. We have gone much further in restraining our ambitions than we needed to, maintaining our manifesto commitment. We are also committed--this answers a point made earlier--to proportionate creations from the other parties.

The White Paper spelled out our commitment to a continuing independent Cross-Bench element. That not only involves a commitment to maintain the relative strength of that element, but distances my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister from the process of selection.

That brings me to the question of the appointments commission, which has two important aspects. The first is the concept that the commission is an indication of the Government's continuing commitment to the idea of independent Members of the House of Lords, which also highlights our commitment to the idea that they should be working Members. The second is the reduction in patronage that will clearly ensue.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham): I assume that the Minister is serious about the concept of a commission, so why would he not include it in the Bill? If the terms of the amendment are not currently acceptable to the Government, the Minister can easily cure that by tabling his own amendment.

Mr. Tipping: Of course that is true, and that is what this decision is about. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman will wait a little while, I shall explain why we do not intend to include it in the Bill.

As has been explained many times, we intend the appointments commission to be an advisory non- departmental public body. It will include members of the three main parties, and a majority of independent members. The appointment of the independent members

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will be in accordance with the guidelines for the Commissioner for Public Appointments. Those guidelines include a number of principles: that appointments should be on merit, that all appointments should be subject to independent scrutiny, and that there should be an open and transparent selection process.

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