Select Committee on Public Administration Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum by The Rt Hon Lord Howe of Aberavon (LR 24)

  I was very glad to receive your letter and enclosures of 21 November—and am sorry that I have not replied more promptly (as always, or so one feels, because of pressure of other commitments).

  For much the same reason, I hope I may now be forgiven for not having prepared a separate and up-to-date presentation of my views. I offer the same alibi for my inertia in that respect. What I am doing instead is to enclose three documents, which reveal this particular pilgrim's progress on this fascinating topic:

    (1)  The evidence which I gave to the Wakeham Royal Commission, dated 4 May 1999.

    (2)  My Times article of 2 August in the same year[5].

    (3)  My (unforgivably populist) piece in the House Magazine of 26 November this year[6].

  The first, long document, contains my fullest and most lucid analysis of the problem—and I remain content with the reasoning, save that I have now withdrawn my initial acceptance of the case for an elected element. The second was written after I had been persuaded of the case against any elected membership. And the third is a summary, which barely does justice to the case but is in line with the article by Rolf Dahrendorf on the following page.

  It may be worth mentioning two reasons for the shift in my position.

  The first is my reaction to our actual experience of closed lists. In my judgment, experience of the European Parliament election shows how numbingly this procedure seems to compel would-be candidates to compete for what they see as their Party's centre of gravity—however narrowly based; the process tended, perhaps predictably, to work heavily against independence and candour.

  My second reason is based upon the manifest success of the Upper House that has emerged from the Cranborne compromise—which has allowed just enough continuity to secure the benefits of incremental (rather than fundamental) change. The arrival of Life Peers had been a similar move of even greater importance. This whole process of benign transition was well discussed by Conrad Russell, in his piece in the Sunday Times colour supplement of 11 November 2000.

  And I have two further comments to make.

  If the future Upper Chamber is to depend (as in my view it should) very largely upon a process of nomination, then the independence of the whole procedure is, of course, absolutely fundamental—and the role of the "Stephenson Commission" (or whatever) requires clearer definition and robust independence. It was a pity that they (or their unsolicited advance publicity?) raised expectations of a patronisingly gimmick-laden, populist list—which exposed their final choice to some ridicule. Yet even so, it was perhaps disappointing that they were not able to find a more broadly representative (or at least a little less predictable) set of nominees (as the spouse of one, I must, of course, declare an interest).

  My final point rests upon the fourth modest document enclosed, a recent letter to the Financial Times. This is an interesting echo of the first book I ever reviewed for the public prints (Swansea Evening Post, circa 1948), "Can Parliament Survive?" by Christopher Hollis. His principal prescription, itself derived from Winston Churchill's Romanes Lecture of about 1932, involved the establishment of a third chamber, called, I seem to recollect, "the House of Industry". When one comes to think about it the House of Lords, as at present constituted, comes pretty close to meeting that particular case, as well as having all its other virtues.

  I renew my apologies for such discursiveness and hope that some at least of this material may of some use.

5   Ev not printed. Back

6   Ev not printed. Back

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