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I want to concentrate for a moment not on the role of the House of Lords, but on that of Parliament. What is its job and how can we make it more effective? I was interested that in his evidence to the Select Committee on Public Administration this morning, Lord Wakeham admitted that his remit did not permit him to consider the reform of the House of Lords in the context of that of Parliament as a whole which, he said, was above his pay grade. That was unfortunate but perhaps inevitable, because a royal commission has to concentrate on certain things, which is another good reason for a Joint Committee of both Houses to look at the issues in the round.
It is a happy coincidence that we are discussing reform of the House of Commons in parallel with the proposals. It is an even happier coincidence that the right hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook), who has a long record as a parliamentary reformer, is at present Leader of the House. I remind him that he was the joint author of an agreement with the Liberal Democrats before the 1997 general electionthe so-called Cook-Maclennan agreementin which he committed himself to
A holistic approach to the reform of Parliament, reviving and strengthening both Houses to enable us to hold the Executive to account, is the context in which we should be operating and is in the interests of the whole electorate. This is not necessarily an esoteric issue of interest only to the chattering classes. Every single citizen of this country should be interested in making Parliament a more effective vehicle for their concerns. Until now, I fear, the reform of the House of Lords has been of personal interest to the chattering classes, their friends and relativesermine-fringed anoraks, as it wereas it has concerned their own expectations. It should not be so; we should go much further.
Before dealing with recruitment to that body, I wish to look at Parliament's job. What is this whole place about? First, it is to represent the people, constituency by constituency, by having free and open elections. That is our principal job in this House. Secondly, it is effectively to scrutinise and influence legislation and policy proposed by the Government; both Houses should be involved in that. Thirdly, it is to hold the Executive to account for all their actions. Fourthly, it is to protect the rights and liberties of citizens and, in parallel, encourage other countries embarking on parliamentary democracy. Finally, it is to provide a reservoir of able men and women from which Ministers may be recruited.
Mr. Forth: Should not the hon. Gentleman have put providing the Government first on his list? Does he not agree that a genuine difficulty that we face in the reform of Parliament is how to deal with the fact that this House or legislature creates and sustains the Government at the same time that it has to hold them to account and
Mr. Tyler: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman; I was just coming to that point. Democracies in other parts of the world have approached the separation of powers in a very different way, but in this country we have dodged the issue for years. There is a good case for examining it in the round in both Houses; I accept the point that he made.
The reform of the second Chamber, proceeding in parallel with the reinvigoration of this Chamber, must achieve greater democratic legitimacysurely, we all share that common groundso that its work is complementary to that of the Commons: together we can hold the Government to account more effectively. The creative tension is not between the two Houses; that is a new Labour pink herring. The creative tension is between both Houses and Whitehall. That is what it is all about, and what it should be all about. It was extraordinary that the Leader of the House again paraded the issue of the supremacy of the Commons; nobody is questioning that. What we are saying is that the supremacy of Parliament over the Executive is critical in a parliamentary democracy.
Given that he is a great internationalist, it was not good enough for the Leader of the House to say that other bicameral systems in other parts of the world had somehow got it wrong. We in this country have a great deal to learn from other countries in that respect.
We should be seeking to complement the work that is done in each House rather than to compete. Good government and effective scrutiny go together, as the Leader of the House has said on several occasions. That means the whole of this building will be involved if we are to achieve better government.
Judged against those objectives, we found the royal commission recommendations woefully timid and desperately disappointing. However, in our worst nightmares we could not have believed that the Government would water down Wakeham. It was bad enough at the start, but to find that the White Paper is even worse is extraordinary.
Surely, if greater legitimacy is given to a democratic assembly, the right of that part of the democratic system to do more work rather than less and to have more responsibility must at least be considered. For example, the Government are currently suggesting that the reserve power to vetoit is only a reserve powershould be taken away on secondary legislation. We need some checks and balances in the system, especially on European legislation. At the moment, that is an important part of the second Chamber's function. We should not be weakening an arm of Parliament in relation to its responsibilities to consider what the Government are up to, but seeking to strengthen it. We should again look at
Mr. Tyler: The veto has been used in the recent past, although I admit that it has happened only once. Hon. Members may recall that it was used very effectively and achieved a major change in respect of the government of London. As the power was rarely used and the Lords showed that they felt so strongly about the matter that it had the maximum effect, I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman.
There are a number of areas where Parliament is currently failing but where the second Chamber could have an important role. It could have such a role with regard to increased use of pre-legislative scrutiny, perhaps through Joint Committees in some cases. Cross-party business planning would ensure that we did not have some of the absurdities mentioned by the Leader of the House in the context of the modernisation of this House. There could be a Select Committee on treaties. As my right hon. Friend Baroness Williams of Crosby has pointed out on a number of occasions, it is ludicrous that we have no right to examine treaties in either House. A Joint Committee may be the answer, but it is outrageous to have nobody in that role. Treaties as important as those relating to the World Trade Organisation are of great interest to our constituents, but we cannot deal with them. Perhaps there is no room on our agenda here, but there might be room in the other place.
The royal prerogative is a huge area in which Parliament is not doing its job. Gradually and incrementally, successive Governments have expanded the royal prerogative in a completely undemocratic way. There is no answerability or accountability to us. The House of Lords, especially in the sort of format that we are considering, would have a very important role in that regard. For example, it would have a role in relation to public appointments and to providing effective questioning of what quangos are doing in the name of the Government.
Finally, there is a role with regard to protection of some of the fundamental principles of our constitution. We are edging towards a constitutional settlement, with devolution to different parts of the United Kingdom. There must be some quasi-constitutional court to ensure that, in the process, our civil liberties are not severely diminished.
My colleagues and I are not suggesting a huge increase in powers, but we will certainly resist any attempt to dilute the powers that the House has at the moment and we will look for ways to improve the situation.
I deal now with the democratic legitimacy of the second Chamber. I was interested in the reference to 1911. I do not recall it, but I think that I am right in saying that it was my colleagues in the Liberal Government who had the great problem with the House of Lords at the time. I think that they were right to say that the contrast and choice were between a popular Parliament and a hereditary one. We cannot go on dodging the issue. In
It was extraordinary this morning to hear Lord Wakeham referring to this situation. At one stage, he spoke about rejecting the idea of an appointments commission for those coming from the regions and nations of the United Kingdom. He said that the people should be the appointments commission, but then backtracked again. If the people are to constitute the appointments commission, that will reflect the logic for the majority of Members of the House to be elected. I do not deny that there is a casealthough I think that it is limitedfor allowing a minority of independent Members of the House to sit as Cross Benchers. Incidentally, I see that Charter 88 estimates that only 10 per cent. of current life peers in the other place have any expertise that is not already available to the House, so I think that the role is limited.
I accept that there is a problem in terms of transition. Getting rid of peers at speedlet us put it mildlywill not be easy. I understand that somebody at the parliamentary Labour party meeting who was asked how many peers there should be referred to the number of lamp posts in the United Kingdom, as if stringing them up would be the quickest way to achieve attrition. I must warn the House that, even if that is thought to be too dramatic and drastic, leaving the matter to the attrition of the grim reaper will take a long time. The actuarial assessment of one of my noble colleagues in the other placehe may be slightly morbid, as well as mathematically expertis that it will be well into the middle of this century before we get down to a sensible number. The average age of peers before they eventually decide to go not just to another place but another world