Select Committee on Public Administration Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

Evidence to the Royal Commission on the Reform of the House of Lords


  I come from two parliamentary families. The Jolliffes represented Petersfield (Hants) in the House of Commons almost continuously from 1730 to 1830, and later in Victorian times, and were made peers under Disraeli. The Asquiths produced a Prime Minister and subsequent generations served in both Houses of Parliament.

  I was a scholar of Eton and received an Honours Degree in History at Oxford; I also qualified as an Associate of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors. Later I was awarded an Honorary Doctorate in Social Sciences by Southampton University. For two years I worked in the private office of the Governor-General of Canada. In local government, I have been elected to a Parish Council and a Rural District Council. Over the past 37 years I have had much experience of founding and managing voluntary organisations, including the Chairmanship of the National Federation of Housing Associations, and the Presidency of the Northern Ireland Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders. I am a practising farmer, forester and land-owner.

  In the House of Lords, I sat on the Conservative Benches from 1971 to 1981, and on the Cross-Benches from 1982 to now. My interests were originally in housing and Northern Ireland. I am a member of All-Party Parliamentary Groups on Penal Affairs, and Human Rights, as well as of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and Inter Parliamentary Union. I have made many visits to areas of conflict, eg Northern Ireland, Israel and the Middle East, Albania, Turkey and the former Soviet Union, particularly Moldova and Armenia.

  In addition to routine parliamentary work, I have piloted Private Members Bills through the House of Lords. These led to Government legislation on extra-territorial jurisdiction re child-abuse overseas, and to major administrative changes regarding domestic workers coming to this country from overseas.


  I agree with the general outline given in the Royal Commission's Consultation Paper of March 1999 and with the report by the Lords MacKay of Clashfern and Hurd of Westwell (April 1999). The House of Commons expresses the will of the people and provides the source of authority for the government of the day. It is directly representative and has acquired exclusive powers over taxation and public spending. The reformed second chamber should be complementary, democratic, respected, but in no way a rival body. Its purpose is primarily advisory, on major policy issues, minority interests and also on the detail and form of legislation. It should help hold the Executive accountable for its actions. I would like the reformed Chamber to be called the Senate and its members, Senators of Parliament—(SP as an abbreviation); title-holders should be free to describe themselves as they wish.


  The role of the Senate would be broadly similar to that of the present House of Lords. There should be full scope for private members bills, (and thought should be given, especially in the context of devolution, to limiting the possibilities for obstructing and killing private members bills in the House of Commons). The Senate should have freedom to decide and to amend its own procedures.

  Secondary legislation should continue to be scrutinised by the Joint Committee and the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee, and on the floor of the Senate, with the possibility of making amendments.

  Experiments should be made with Special Public Bill Committee procedures, and with the "Inter leaving" of the Commons and Senate stages of particular bills. In the event of major disagreement between the two Houses, there should be procedures available for resolving differences and disputes, eg a Joint Committee of both Houses, in which the Commons might have a majority, but would have to argue its case.

  Another role of the Senate could be to examine the consistency of central and devolved legislation, within the United Kingdom, and to make recommendations concerning devolution and subsidiarity throughout the country. I see no reason why the Senate should not also have roles both in scrutinising Draft Bills, and hearing evidence on them and in reviewing the effectiveness of legislation once enacted. Input from the Law Commission might be helpful here.


  The present combination of Oral, Written and Debated Questions, taken together with Questions on Statements, general debates and second reading debates, seems to me to provide good scrutiny of the policies and practices of the Executive.

  I am in favour of greater separation between the Executive and Legislature than now exists. I would like to see Ministers, whether they have seats in the Commons or not, obliged to come to the Senate to answer questions and to reply to (and possibly initiate) debates in the reformed Upper House. They should not have votes there, and I think that the long-established practice of Ministers in the Lords having to vote (and not being paired) should be ended. It must surely reduce their effectiveness as members of the Executive.


  On grounds of separation of powers, I favour the establishment of a Supreme Court of Justice, separate from Parliament. I would therefore like to see the active Law Lords (Lords of Appeal in Ordinary) removed from the Senate. Retired Law Lords, on the other hand, are extremely helpful to the work of the House. They should be voting members of the Senate, either as of right, or by automatic appointment. My suggestion already operates to some extent de facto, as a result of the convention that active Law Lords seldom vote in divisions.

  I would also like to see a resolution of the historic anomaly of the position of Lord Chancellor, as Head of Judiciary, Cabinet Minister, and at the same time, symbolic president of the House of Lords. There should be a Minister for Justice, who would be clearly seen as a normal member of the Executive.

  In my view neither the position of the Law Lords, nor that of the Lord Chancellor, (on which many people hold strong views) should be allowed to delay the emergence of the fully reformed upper chamber or Senate.


  The present House of Lords has great expertise and experience in handling scientific and ethical subjects, together with European Union policies and draft-legislation. It also deals effectively with a wide range of minority issues, both internal and external, for example, human rights issues, and problems arising from violent conflicts and from world-wide poverty. It is absolutely essential to preserve, and if possible, enhance these skills in the fully reformed Senate. I will return to this point under the heading of its composition, since I believe that a very broad pool of experience is vitally important.

  Links between the UK Parliament and Europe are already important and are likely to become more so with EU enlargement and the common currency. One way to improve them would be for all MEPs to attend and speak in the Senate, but not to vote. (As there are only some 80, I do not think this should be too difficult to accommodate.) Another method would be to authorise UK MEPs to elect say 15 or 20 persons (not themselves MEPs) to act as a permanent liaison group between the two Parliaments. (Both the above methods are mentioned in the Consultation paper.) Such indirectly elected Senators should have the same rights as all other Senators. The appointment of former MEPs and European Commissioners to the Senate would also help to strengthen links.


  I agree with those who have proposed a Chamber of about 450 members (or slightly more). As already mentioned in paragraph 2 above, it should be designed to be complementary to the House of Commons and not to resemble the US Senate, with its superior prestige and influence. It must, in my view, have its own democratic legitimacy and ability to command respect. I therefore agree with the Fabian Society (and disagree with the Labour Party) that a significant majority should be indirectly elected. I would like to see two-thirds, or approximately 300 Senators, chosen by this method. I propose that the electing bodies should be the devolved Parliaments or Assemblies in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, together with county councils, cities, metropolitan and unitary authorities in England, (until such time as there are elected English regional authorities). As mentioned in paragraph 6 above, the UK MEPs might be enabled to elect a small number of Senators, to act as permanent links between Westminster and the European Parliament.

No Dual Mandates

  I am totally opposed to dual mandates. For this reason I propose that the indirectly elected senators should not be allowed to sit in the various bodies which elected them. It should be an instruction to the electing bodies to seek for persons of independent mind, not tied too closely to political parties, who are capable of considering and advising upon the common good of the entire United Kingdom. Electing bodies should also be asked to take account of balance between genders, age groups, and minorities. Those elected should be seen as general representatives, and not as the delegates of particular regions.

Term of Office

  All Senators should serve for terms of 15 years, or, if preferred, for three Parliaments. This will buttress their independence and make possible changes of party affiliation, without fear of deselection (or other penalties). After resigning or completing their mandate, Senators should be eligible to stand for the House of Commons or the European Parliament. I would like to see one-third of the elected Senators chosen every five years, or in each parliament. This would ensure continuity and diminish the likelihood of sudden swings and changes. I commend the transitional arrangements between the present House of Lords and the future Senate, detailed in the Report by Lords MacKay and Hurd.

Nominated Senators

  One-third, or approximately 150 Senators, would be nominated by an Independent Commission (whether or not the same Commission charged with over-seeing Honours and other Government Appointments). Such a Commission might be composed of one-third MPs, one-third Senators, and one-third other independent persons. It should be an instruction to the Commission to analyse the experiences, political backgrounds, professional qualifications etc of the elected and other continuing Senators, with a view to filling discernable gaps, and, in particular, to achieving a balance of experience, genders, and age groups, while not overlooking minority interests. The Commission should ensure that religious and ethnic groups are adequately represented.

Representation of Religious Groups

  I agree that this is important even in a largely secular society. If the Church of England wishes, at any rate for the time being, to continue to be represented by Bishops, I am content to accept this. In principle, however, I suggest that the major faiths and denominations should be represented by lay-people, rather than by clergy or other official leaders of organised religions. On this point, I concur with the Roman Catholic Bishops of England and Wales, who have pointed out that the world-wide canon-law of their church forbids ordained persons to stand for public office or to become members of legislative bodies.

General Considerations as to Composition

  I agree with the Consultation Paper that all 11 of the points listed under the heading of "composition" are desirable. So is the point about the need for a "sizeable proportion of independent members". I do not think it is necessary in an essentially advisory and revising chamber, for the Government of the day to have an absolute majority over all other parties and groups. To do so would tend to make the Senate a mere rubber stamp. In the present House of Lords, former ministers and cabinet ministers have somewhat too prominent positions. They can be very useful, but their numbers should be limited.

  It seems to me that the proposed balance of indirect election and nomination, will, of its nature, work towards the achievement, over time, of the combination of desirable characteristics mentioned above. The experience and ability of existing hereditary and life peers should indeed be helpful, especially in the first five or 10 years of the new Senate. This could be secured by transitional arrangement, and by the combination of indirect election and independent nominations already described.


  I return to the general theme that the two Houses of Parliament should be designed to work together in harmony. The House of Commons should remain the principal source of legitimate authority. I would like to see a smaller House of Commons (after comprehensive devolution), and one more able to concentrate on essential national business, including our relations with Europe and the world.

  I suggest that the mainly indirectly elected Senate, balanced by independent nomination, would be seen as democratic and representative. It would be capable of giving well-considered advice, not too party-politically oriented, and based on the public common good, seen in long-term perspective.

  In my view our country needs comprehensive constitutional reform for the challenges of the coming century. After the Second World War we helped design new institutions for Western Germany: a decentralised constitution, with a new education system and reformed company and trades union law, all subject to new legal norms. We failed then to recognise our own need for appropriate contemporary institutions. We have since appreciated how such a constitution can be a positive asset for the social and economic life of a country.

  Reform of the House of Lords is an essential part of comprehensive constitutional revision and I would, therefore, like to offer maximum encouragement to the members of the Royal Commission in their urgent task. I trust that the ideas expressed above, based on 28 years of parliamentary life and work, will be found helpful.

The Lord Hylton

May 1999

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