Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80
THURSDAY 10 JANUARY 2002
80. Could I ask George Young, I am sure you
have made some interesting points about trying to achieve a different
balance between the Commons and the Lords because there is an
issue in balancing Parliament with the Executive. Have you reached
any view as to how that might be done and if you think it is desirable?
(Sir George Young) I am slightly cautious about the
proposition that because we are fully occupied in our House, the
House of Lords might look at issues like constitutional reform
and devolution. I would be slightly worried about sub-contracting
some very important central issues to the second chamber. I do
not mind doing it jointly but I am slightly cautious about subcontracting
those particular issues to the Upper House. Shirley Williams mentioned
treaties. I think if there was a joint discussion between the
two Houses about the key issues and then an agreement as to who
might do which and what level of co-operation would be, that would
be fine. I would be very cautious about setting out in statute
that these jobs are going to be done only by the Upper House and
that the Lower House cannot do it. I hope I have indicated where
my views lie on that one.
81. If you have an Upper Chamber which is two
thirds elected, it does have a new legitimacy and can reasonably
expect to have a different share of responsibilities.
(Sir George Young) By agreement. I think the main
impact on its legitimacy would actually not be on the House of
Commons, I hope it would be on the Government. They would find
it less easy to disregard it because there would be a more legitimate,
more authoritative, more valid chamber. So I see the impact on
their validity not so much hitting us as hitting the Government.
82. This is where in a sense we ran into the
buffers with Lord Wakeham because while he said that he was a
total democrat, he said also that the exercise that he had conducted,
and by implication the legislation which has now come forward,
was an exercise in the art of the possible and therefore we had
to make the settlement within the parameters agreed by the Government.
Surely that is an unsatisfactory position?
(Sir George Young) I think he was saying that if you
want to get the legislation through the Upper House there has
to be something about the existing life Peers that has to be acceptable
to them. I think that is a slightly different, in a sense, man
management issue than the more serious constitutional issues that
you are putting forward. I think he was answering as a Chief Whip:
"How do you get this piece of legislation through if you
are proposing involuntary euthanasia for a lot of elderly life
Peers, political euthanasia?"
83. Yes. Could I ask Lady Williams then, surely
then the ball is in the Lords' court in this one?
(Baroness Williams of Crosby) Do you know, the reason
that I keep reiterating, and I very much hope this Committee might
reach a similar conclusion, that there really have to be some
meetings between the two Houses before this matter is put in stone
is because, I think, a great many life Peers would actually take
seriously a view of an authoritative Commons Committee if that
view was that there should be joint discussions and also the views
of the Commons in such joint discussions. There is no question
but that the House of Lords, almost without exception now, accepts
that the House of Commons is the senior House and will listen
closely to what it has to say. I agree with what Sir George Young
has said about having to get it through the House but actually
I think also that there are the lines of a probable compromise
between elected and appointed Peers with some substantial increase
in the share of elected Peers but it will not happen unless the
Commons is seen to be taking seriously House of Lords reform as
part of the whole structure of Parliament vis a vis the
Executive on its own. If the House of Lords is, as it were, closed
within its own interests and not open to the views of the Commons,
which is the present situation, you will get very great resistance
in the House of Lords, at the end of the day it will be hard to
get any reforms through at all.
84. The House of Lords will take an initiative
in this and suggest that a Joint Committee be established.
(Baroness Williams of Crosby) We have taken it over
and over and over again and got absolutely nowhere.
85. That is because the Government will not
agree to it.
(Baroness Williams of Crosby) The Government have
three times said formally and actually from the Despatch Box that
they were committed to the concept of, not only the concept, committed
to a Joint Committee and committed to consultation under that
Joint Committee between the Commons and the Lords and between
the Leaders of parties in both. For some reason we do not fully
understand, and if colleagues are interested you will see it all
in questions in Hansard in the Lords towards the end of
the last session in December, what happened was the Government
seems to have made a decision that it regarded the Wakeham Commission
as meeting the demands of the consultation and, therefore, there
was no need for any further consultation with the Lords or between
the Houses. We pressed then very hard for yesterday and today's
debate, and got a commitment to a two day debate and a debate
in the Commons but frankly that is not the same thing and I believe
it is a useful additional way of discussing our relationships
but it is not the same thing as a serious Joint Committee between
the two Houses.
(Sir George Young) My understanding was that there
was disagreement on the agenda for the Joint Committee and the
Government were not prepared to discuss compositional issues.
(Baroness Williams of Crosby) That is correct.
(Sir George Young) On that basis there was no agreement
for a Joint Committee to go ahead in that the other parties wanted
a Joint Committee but they wanted composition to be part of the
agenda. That was why there was deadlock.
(Baroness Williams of Crosby) That is absolutely correct.
Chairman: I suspect we shall not want to be
detained by the history of this.
Mr Trend: I find it fascinating.
86. I thought a dimension too was that it was
very difficult to find out what the Conservative Party was in
the business of doing or wanting and, therefore, there were not
even the beginnings of an agreement that could be used to get
a committee up and running.
(Sir George Young) The Conservative Party was perfectly
happy to sit on the Joint Committee as long as it was able to
talk about composition. That would then have raised the question
what the Conservative Party have said. I think the best thing
for all parties to do on this, quite frankly, is to have a free
vote. I can think of nothing worse than the two major parties
dragooning their members to vote for something which we all know
they do not agree with. I do not mind the Government having a
view or the Conservative Party front bench having a view; I think
it should be very lightly whipped otherwise we are simply going
to increase disillusionment with the political process and institutions.
The more one talks to colleagues the more it is that very firm
views are held, they are different. I think the only way that
you will get a settlement that sticks is if the House of Commons
approaches it on the basis of a free vote.
(Baroness Williams of Crosby) Can I just say one word.
I just very slightly disagree with what George has said on that
one. You have got a whole new set of people now: a new Leader
of the House of Lords, a new Leader in the House of Commons, new
party leaders and so forth, my impression is that there is much
more room for reaching some broad compromise on composition but
there have not been any discussions since these new figures came
on the scene. The only other thing I would say is that Lord Williams
and Robin Cook have both agreed to some link between the Modernisation
Committee of this House and the so-called Working Practices Committee
in the Lords. What is missing in thatand they have agreed
to such a linkis, as it were, the constitutional relationship
between functions between the two Houses. That little bit is obviously
a crucial little bit.
87. On the Joint Committee, just clearing this
up, I raised this issue with the Parliamentary Secretary in the
Lord Chancellor's Department last year, I wanted to know why the
Joint Committee had not been set up. I was told that the Government
hadand I quote"made strenuous efforts to set
up such a Committee, however it was not possible to reach agreement
with the other main political parties as to terms of reference
of the Joint Committee". So I am right in thinking the Government
wanted the Joint Committee to look at how Wakeham could be implemented
but did not want the Committee to look at composition and yet
Wakeham makes recommendations, does it not, about composition?
That seems very strange indeed but that is the position. There
could be a Joint Committee set up but it could not consider composition.
Can I move on to this question of the consensus because I am very
interested in this. The Prime Minister says repeatedly that we
are where we are because there is no discernable consensus out
there. Sir George has mentioned a free vote as a way of testing
opinion. Are there other ways in which we could try to find this
consensus, perhaps by bringing in MORI to poll Members of Parliament
(Baroness Williams of Crosby) Mr Prentice, can I just
repeat what I said, and I knew the part that you played though
frankly when you talk about functions without considering composition
it does not make an awful lot of sense in my view. The Liberal
Democrat position is the same as the Conservative, composition
has to be part of the discussion. I would only repeat that my
view is that it is going to be impossible to find a broad consensus.
I think it needs a certain amount of negotiation to get there.
I take a much more optimistic view than George does about that
possibility. I think there is beginning to be a shift, at least
among party leaders, towards the consent of some greater element
of election than is in the Wakeham Commission. It may be that
the Government simply does not want that matter to be raised.
88. One other point about appointment in election.
Can I ask Lady Williams, you told us the Liberal Democrats are
in favour of a largely elected Upper House, why do we need appointed
people at all if Select Committees in the Upper House are looking
at a difficult issue? Why do they not just call on experts to
come and give evidence?
(Baroness Williams of Crosby) First of all, I should
make it plain that we would have no further political appointments
at all, at you probably know. We would replace all those elected
Members. The reason we think that there is a case for 15 to 20
per cent is because what you get in the House of Lords, and it
is an extremely useful part of the total, is what Sir George Young
mentioned, some people who institutionally would be highly unlikely
to run for an election. An example of that is leaders from the
military forces, significant scientists, people of that kind.
Robert Winston would not run for election but he has been a crucial
Member of our House in terms of the whole discussion of stem cell
research. If you had him simply as an expert, as somebody on tap
for a Select Committee, the House of Lords as a whole, which then
votes on a free vote on the stem cell issues, would not hear what
he had to say. As things stand he actually is, in a sense, an
expert witness to the House as a whole but as part of it he is
listened to with possibly greater attention and concern than he
otherwise would be. In other words, it is not only the expertise,
it is also the nature of the man or woman who offers that expertise
in terms of their own commitment to that subject, to civic society,
whatever. We all understand that and, therefore, rate one expert
in a rather different way from another.
89. Can I put the same question to Sir George
because you gave us a list of scientists, doctors, generals, academics,
what about train drivers and, dare I say it, what about hairdressers?
Why should people in those kinds of occupations be excluded from
the appointed element of the Upper House?
(Sir George Young) That is up to the Appointments
90. No room for hairdressers.
(Sir George Young) If they felt that the quality of
debate and the role of the House of Lords would be added to by
different members than the ones they appoint at the moment they
are perfectly free to do that. I subscribe to the view that if
you are discussingas the House of Lords often doesmedico-legal
issues to do with stem cell research, what you want are some doctors,
some scientists, some academics, perhaps some philosophers to
shed light on that. If that is the role of the second chamber
you would expect the Appointments Commission to appoint people
who could add value to that debate.
(Baroness Williams of Crosby) Can I add they really
must. I agree with you 100 per cent. I remember appointing a woman
on welfare with four children to the National Consumer Council
and everybody said "She cannot offer anything". She
was an extraordinarily good member of that particular National
Consumer Council. I think we need much more to look at representative
people who have a different experience of life, of where the shoe
pinches, in order to get a real picture of policy and the impact
91. Gordon I will bring you back in later. Just
before we lose this particular area, we have had a letter from
Lord Owen, not entirely unconnected to you historically.
(Baroness Williams of Crosby) Historically, even currently.
92. He makes a distinction between voting and
a voice, as he calls it. He thinks there should be elected and
appointed members but only the elected people should vote. Is
this an avenue that is fruitful?
(Baroness Williams of Crosby) It is a perfectly rational
argument. The reason I think I would not agree with it is because
it would introduce the concept of two categories of Members of
the Lords and I think that would be a mistake rather the way I
think that treating part-time people and full-time people quite
differently is a mistake. There is certainly an argument for it.
I think it would make all the appointed people, as it were, a
lesser breed and I think there is a strong argument for saying
very often they are going to be extremely knowledgeable about
the issues on which we have heard so, no, I would not be in favour
of that but I do see it as another route.
93. We should have the elected people and appointed
people anyway so there would be two classes on your model.
(Baroness Williams of Crosby) It would make them more
like that if you also distinguish between who could vote and who
could not vote. It would tend to suggest the appointed people
were, in a sense, second class members.
(Sir George Young) You end up, also, with one political
party perhaps dominating the votes in the second chamber which
you do not have if you have the independent people, the appointed
94. To follow up on that point. I apologise,
Chairman, as usual I had a clash of Committees which was why I
was late. We will have two categories of Members under the mixed
Member system. Would you not envisage problems if it were the
unelected Members who tipped the balance of the vote on a crucial
issue over the wishes of the elected Members of the Lords? Would
there not be questions about the legitimacy of such a decision?
(Baroness Williams of Crosby) I think, Mr Brennan,
I would answer that by saying that it is part of the whole issue
of how far the Whips control the Upper House as well as this one.
Let us be quite honest, if you look at the votes in the House
of Lords, you will see that on many, many occasions Members of
parties will either abstain or in some casesrare casesactually
vote against their party, but deliberate abstention is not uncommon.
For people to get up and speak against their party or even move
amendments against their party is not uncommon either. I think,
if I may say so, you are taking, in a sense, too closely party
loyal a position than actually obtains in our House. I think,
in fact, the presence of the experts would be such that you get
less inclination to create solid party blocks than you get in
the Commons. I do not see any move towards solid party blocks
of that kind. To give an example, yesterday Lord Dahrendorf spoke
openly against the policy of my party but it would be considered
very odd in the House of Lords if I disciplined him for doing
that. That is quite a common situation. It is a much looser and
less disciplinary structure there and I think where Sir George
Young is absolutely right, I agree with him, is that people do
in fact behave rather differently after they get there and they
are there for six months or so. They do not rely on party Whipping
to bring about results to anything like the same extent.
(Sir George Young) Historically, it is a House that
has had two sorts of members, life Peers and hereditary Peers,
and those two co-existed. I would regard it as ideal for those
who were independent to have the final voice in the second chamber
in resolving an issue where the two parties are in disagreement
where, having listened to the debate without any political prejudices,
they voted the way they thought the argument had been won. I would
regard that as a virtue rather than a vice.
Kevin Brennan: It seems to me in terms of the
practicalities which we were discussing earlier on of getting
the House of Lords reformed that there are at least three clear
blockages of self interest. One is that there is a large number
of MPs who are worried about a dilution in their power and influence
if there were to be a large elected element in the second chamber.
Secondly, there is the Government itself which is worried about
the process of Lords' reform becoming bogged down and blocking
its legislative programme, and there being a more effective, more
legitimate House of Lords which could challenge the executive's
authority in the longer term. Thirdly, there are the Lords themselves
who are voting for their own redundancy. Do you think that it
would be possible to overcome some of those blockages by developing
a proposal which would produce essentially a pretty overwhelmingly
elected House of Lords, but not necessarily from day one so that
you could put off the fears of MPs by saying if it ever becomes
that it will not be for some considerable time, and overcome the
Government's worries by the fact that there will not be such a
blockage in the proposal, and then the Lords would be facing either
a more distant redundancy, if you like, or the turkeys would be
offered a large amount of "cranberry sauce" to vote
for Christmas, or "Cranborne" sauce as it has been called?
In other words, is it not possible that there could be a more
organic solution that does not produce what we want on day one
but naturally grows into that without the need for further legislation?
95. Organic turkeys!
(Baroness Williams of Crosby) Let me make one comment
on your two further points and then the third one. On the issue
of Members of Parliament being concerned about the House of Lords,
forgive me for repeating this but I really think that is to look
in the wrong direction. You have the power to determine whether
the Government has your confidence or not, you have the power
over money Bills, you have the power over public expenditure Bills.
There is only one area where the House of Lords has any power
to override the Commons which is that there cannot be more than
a five-year term between parliaments.
96. On that very point, do you think there is
any need to define that further in statute or is the existing
requirement, the Parliament Act etcetera, sufficient to overcome
(Baroness Williams of Crosby) As part of the constitutional
settlement I would like to see a very limited number of things,
one of them being human rights where both chambers will have to
agree to any change. That is the only change I would make to the
structures we have at the present time. If you have a constitutional
settlement, obviously the five-year limit would come into it as
part of that settlement. Going back to your questions very briefly,
on the first one I really think that MPs have nothing to fear
from the House of Lords and I think they have a great deal to
fear from the power of the executive, and that is reflected in
public attitudes towards our respective chambers which tend to
be rather dismissive of both of us. I will not go into the second
question but I will go into the third one. You are absolutely
right, and we believe the way to bring about an elected majority
is in tranches. We would not have the whole lot in 2004. We would
have a tranche in 2004 and then another tranche in 2009, with
at least four-year periods between, and that would mean, first,
that death removes about 90 Peers between parliaments, the rate
of attrition is about 80 a year among life Peers, so that 90 go.
We have got the 92 Weatherill Peers and we are not quarrelling
with them going. Some may come back but they will be gone as Weatherill
Peers so, in fact, you do not get a very big increase in numbers
and if you do associate it with not too much cranberry sauce but
simply some re-settlement grants for people who retire after the
age of 70, then I think you come back to 600 falling to 500 falling
to 400 by about 2013, so it is a fairly slow process but it is
one that I think both Houses could adapt to.
97. One major concern that the Government has,
as I understand it at least, is that you cannot have a great number
of elected Peers because the size of the House of Lords, at least
in the interim (and we are talking about a process of attrition)
would be absurdly large. In what you have just described what
would be the size at the beginning of that period?
(Baroness Williams of Crosby) It is 700 now. On this
proposal there would be a very slight increase of about 25, just
at the first period when you have not got life Peers dying. You
have got the increase between 92, which is the Weatherill Peers,
and 20 which is the tranche of elected members suggested by Wakehamthey
suggest 120, we suggest two tranches, not oneand you then
can see a quite rapid fall as life Peers (plus some encouragement
to retire for those over 70) begin to drop off. You do not have
any more political appointments and that is the key to it. Could
I mention what you said about the Government being concerned that
legislation was being held up. Again let me be very blunt about
thiswe see and you see Bills coming back year after year
from departments who have already got one Act and they then come
back with another Bill. Education is a perfect example. We have
had 11 Education Bills in as many years. I must say, having been
interested in education, that a lot of those Bills could have
been put together in one important Act if they had been properly
thought through, properly drafted, and had a proper pre-legislative
process. We have got far too much bad legislationand that
is addressed as much to the Conservatives as Labourand
it is not doing anybody any good.
(Sir George Young) Can I just said a word on your
first blockage which is Members' self interest. The way Wakeham
addressed this gave members quite a lot of confidence and I think
this proposal has removed much of that confidence. Wakeham was
very anxious that the elected members to the upper chamber should
not use that as a springboard to a career in our House. He proposed
one 15-year term and then you could not come down to our House.
The Government has not accepted those recommendations and has
suggested five or ten-year terms for the upper House and you can
get re-elected. I think the Wakeham proposals are a better answer
to your first question than the Government's. I would be worried
if in the House of Lords people were having to be re-elected.
At the moment you have not got that, under Wakeham you would not
get that, under the Government you would have that, and I think
that would change the tone of the debates or the nature of some
of the speeches in the House of Lords, if for the first time they
were pitched at a prospective electorate. On the second point,
if I were the government business manager, I would be quite worried
about all of this because there has been some slippage in the
programme because of the terrorism legislation, and the prospect
of Lords' reform on an unagreed basis going backwards and forwards
and dogging this session and the next would terrify the business
managers, and I think those who want no change at all use will
use the argument that you have just deployed for staying where
we are with the 91 hereditary Peers, which are the grit in the
oyster but not producing the pearl.
98. On a final point if I may chair, have either
of you got any concern about the method of election to, Sir George,
you called it the "upper" House and you also said the
"senior" House at one pointand I am not sure
how this fits in with this idea that the Commons remains the primacy
in all of this so perhaps we have to think about the terminology?
Have you got any concern, as some MPs have expressed to me, that
if you elect the House of Lords (or whatever we are going to call
it) by, for example, STV that you will get some of the problems
that have emerged in the devolved Assembly in Wales and the Scottish
Parliament of having people acting as second constituency type
of politicians? In that case it is because they have list members
who range over small, sub-regional areas. If you had STV constituencies
electing a number of the members of the House of Lords would they
not then have this terrible urge to dabble in constituency issues
when really that is not role of a strategic second chamber?
(Sir George Young) If you do this you need open lists
and not closed lists and you need large constituencies to avoid
them treading on the same patches as the members and as you move
into larger constituencies so it becomes more difficult to get
the sort of conflict you mention because the constituencies are
so big. Also, if they are not having to go to the electorate they
do not need to build that bond with the electorate that the rest
of us have to do. If you make it quite clear what the function
of the second chamber is and that these are not constituency MPs
dealing with the day-to-day issues we all deal with, you will
overcome those particular sensitivities which are inevitable with
the Welsh Assembly and Scottish Parliament because both members
are dealing with the bread and butter issues and they have got
to get re-elected again and they have got smaller constituencies.
99. Can I follow on from what Kevin was saying
about elections because what you are suggesting is 75 per cent
elected, is it, Lady Williams?
(Baroness Williams of Crosby) I said 80 per cent.