Select Committee on Public Administration Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum by Dr Doug Naysmith MP (LR 53)


  I welcome the first stage of the reform to the House of Lords, but believe the process of reform will not be completed satisfactorily until the second chamber is wholly or substantially made up of elected members.

  I do not believe a second chamber with a large proportion of appointees would have sufficient authority to operate effectively. The public would believe, possibly with good reason, that appointees were there through the patronage of the Prime Minister and Government of the day, despite denials and explanations of the role of an independent commission. Already, the appointment of so-called People's Peers has been greeted with disappointment and even derision. However, worthy these individuals may be, they are not what the public believe they were led to expect and they are regarded as being very similar to many others already sitting in the House of Lords. A number of opinion polls show that public opinion is strongly supportive of a substantial proportion of the new Second Chamber being democratically elected. However low people's opinion may be of their elected representatives, the thought of a second chamber filled with appointees is even less attractive. If nothing else the public puts a high value on its ability to get rid of us and it wants to be able to do the same with the members of the second chamber.

  Speaking as a Labour Party member, I recognise that most of my fellow members, including current members of the Cabinet, have long believed that a Labour Government would either abolish the second chamber completely or deliver an elected chamber. I realise, of course, that changes have sometimes to be made to long-established policies, but I believe many party members would find it hard to forgive a Labour Party which, when in Government, went back on its long-established plans for what appear to be reasons for temporary expedience rather than principle.

  Several arguments have been made in favour of a House of Appointees, none of which I find convincing. The arguments are:


  Those who favour a substantially appointed second chamber make much of the argument about challenges to the primacy of the House of Commons. I, too, believe that it is important that the House of Commons should remain the primary chamber, but I consider it is possible to achieve this by means other than by appointing the majority of the second chamber.

    (i)  The remit of the second chamber should be set out clearly, emphasising its secondary role, allowing it to revise and delay legislation but not reject it. The argument that this would entail having a written constitution which would take years and involve wholesale change is a red herring. The secondary role of the current House of Lords is known and understood and this could be true and also of the new second chamber.

    (ii)  The second chamber should be much smaller than has been proposed, containing between 250 and 350 members.


  It is true that it is useful to be able to call on the expertise and experience of people from different walks of life, including, perhaps, those who would not normally be expected to stand for Parliament. As has been mentioned, however, the experience of appointing the first "People's Peers" has not been a happy one and, by excluding those who would not fit in, has not made the House of Lords more representative. There appears to be no plans to ensure that the appropriate proportions of scientists and students or directors and dinners ladies will be appointed to the new second chamber. Also, it should be remembered that members of the second chamber will be expected to consider legislation on a wide range of subjects, not just their own particular area of expertise. The experience of a bishop may be of use when the topic of debate is a religious or moral one but on the matter, of say, the siting of a National Sports Stadium it is of no more (or less) use than that of the butcher or baker. It should be possible to arrange for members of both chambers to invite people with the necessary expertise to assist them in their deliberations without making them members of the second chamber. The Government's use of outside experience (eg the Literacy and Numeracy Task Forces) shows that this can be done.


  Defenders of the proposal to elect only 20 per cent of the members of the second chamber have argued that there is no consensus of opinion amongst their opponents. It is true that while some would be prepared to live with an elected element of 51 per cent, others would stick out for 80 per cent or even 100 per cent. It seems perverse, however, to argue that because there is not yet unanimity about whether fifty, sixty or 90 per cent should be elected, that the figure should, therefore be 20 per cent. What is widely agreed is that the second chamber should be wholly or substantially elected and that, therefore, 20 per cent is completely unacceptable. The discussion should not be based, not on the question "What is the minimum percentage of elected members we can get away with?" but on finding ways of electing a second chamber which ensure that it is representative of the country and regions and of drawing up its remit so that the primacy of the House of Commons is maintained.

  In conclusion I wish to make the following points:

    1.  That if Ministers are appointed from the second chamber they should come from the elected element, and should be required, when appropriate, to answer questions on the floor of the House of Commons.

    2.  That, when drawing up plans for a reformed second chamber, we should not be constrained by concerns about the fate of current hereditary and life peers. Of course, if they do not subsequently become members of the reformed second chamber, they should receive appropriate recompense reflecting their years of service. It would be ridiculous, however, to attempt to design a chamber for the 21st century and perhaps beyond while being held back by thoughts of "we can't lose Old So-and-so"!

    3.  Electing members of the second chamber for period of 15 years would mean they could remain in power long after public opinion had changed and they were no longer wanted. It might ensure that the legitimacy of the House of Commons had been more recently established, but would damage the credibility of the members of the second chamber.

    4.  Elections could take place at the same time as either the General or European elections and might boost interest in the latter.

    5.  Religious leaders should be entitled to stand for election or put themselves forward to be part of the appointed minority if one exists, but they should have no privileged right of entry to the second chamber.

    6.  Members of the second chamber should not be entitled to `lords' or `ladies'. They could be called MS (Member of Senate) or senators or Member or whatever the second chamber is to be called.

Doug Naysmith

January 2002

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