Lord Cormack and Rt Hon Paul Murphy MP (QQ 591-611)
Q591 The Chairman:
Thank you very much for coming, Lord Cormack. You know what we
are about. If you would like to make a brief opening statement,
we would be delighted, otherwise we can launch straight into questions.
Thank you, Lord Chairman. On behalf of Mr Murphy and myself, I
thank the Committee for inviting us. We would like to make a very
brief opening statement and then to take any questions that you
and your colleagues might have.
Before you do so, perhaps I may call on Lord Norton.
Lord Norton of Louth:
I declare an interest as a co-chair of the Campaign for an Effective
I am very glad that he has done that because I was just about
to explain to the Committee that the Campaign for an Effective
Second Chamber was founded by Lord Norton and me some 10 years
ago. It consists of around 200 Members of both Houses drawn from
all political parties and with a sizeable contingent from the
Cross Benches in the House of Lords and with Bishop affiliates.
We believe that we are a fairly representative group. We stand
for the reform but not for the abolition of the House of Lords
or for its replacement by something different. We are committed
to the primacy of the Commons and to its unambiguous democratic
mandate. We recognise that serious issues need to be addressed
by those troubled by the dominant power of the Executive. We acknowledge
that there is a strong case for a thorough review of the distribution
of power in a bicameral systemwhich House does what and
how, and how it should be composedand for an examination
of the separation of powers. However, this draft Bill does not
address these issues at all. It tampers with the delicate mechanism
of our unwritten constitution in potentially disastrous ways and
creates an agenda for confusion.
I should like to make two specific points, if I may.
If we have a 100 per cent elected second Chamber, Senate or whatever
it is called, there will not be many independents in it. It will
be elected mainly on party-political lines and the Cross-Bench
element will virtually disappear. If, on the other hand, we have
an 80 per cent elected Chamber with 20 per cent appointed, we
would create a situation where the will of the elected could be
frustrated by the non-elected. Last week we had a series of votes
in the House of Lords which were effectively carried by the Cross-Bench
votes. Had this been an elected House, there would have been the
makings of some sort of constitutional crisis in that. I believe
that, because of the conventions which were referred to in the
previous session, we have a situation in the House of Lords where
there is a recognition of the supremacy of the House of Commons.
The other point that I should like to make at this
stage is that in a Bill which seeks to claim democracy as its
hallmark, why is there no provision for the people to pronounce
in a referendum? We are going to have a referendum in virtually
every town and city in the country where there is a suggestion
of an elected mayor. We are going to have a referendum if any
changes are made to the European treaties. Last year we had one
on AV, yet there is no provision for a referendum here.
I shall leave my opening comments at that. I know
that Mr Murphy, who is a very distinguished Member of the House
of Commons, has one or two points that he would like to make.
I do not want to repeat what Lord Cormack has said, but I shall
raise two things for discussion. The first is that I have always
been opposed to an elected House of Lords on the basis that it
would be a rival to the House of which I have been a Member for
a quarter of a century. I have not changed my views after what
I have read of the Government's proposals. Ultimately, democratic
legitimacy must lie with the lower House and the proposals set
out here will threaten that.
The second point, which is more specific and was
touched on in the previous evidence session, is the relationship
between those who are elected to the Senate and those who are
elected as Members of Parliament in the United Kingdom. I know
from my experiences on two occasions as Secretary of State for
Wales and as a Welsh Member of Parliament about the relationship
between Assembly Members and Members of Parliament, particularly
with those Members of the Assembly who have been elected by a
different system. In Scotland and Wales, although I will confine
my remarks to Wales, Members of the national Assemblies are elected
either like we are in the House of Commons under the first past
the post system or by a top-up PR system. I think that that has
not worked. Having two categories of Member in the Assemblies
means that they can claim different legitimacies. On the relationship
between Senators and MPs, I point to the constituency aspect.
From what we heard earlier, I know that the idea is that Senators
will not have constituency matters to deal with and will not do
the same sort of thing as Members of Parliament. Pigs will fly,
because the reality is that, when they are elected, Senators will
be overwhelmingly party political. They would have been selected
by their parties and, as a consequence, they will be representing
the people. Moreover, as far as they are concerned, they would
have been returned by a different method of election which they
might well regard as more legitimate. I just cannot see a situation
where there are high-flying Senators without any constituency
work and whose job is simply to revise legislation. That is not
going to happen; they will be party politicians the same as we
are. I rather suspect that that is not the idea behind this reform
of the House of Lords, but it simply will not work.
The final point I want to make by way of introduction
is that we are not short of democratically elected people in this
country. In my own constituency I can vote for my community councillor,
my borough councillor, my Assembly Member under first past the
post and my Assembly Member elected under the PR system. I can
vote for myself, possibly for a Senator and for the Member of
the European Parliament. I cannot be persuaded that we are not
democratically represented in my part of the world.
Thank you. I should like to ask a fairly basic question. Do you
think that an increasingly assertive House of Lords is a good
thing or a bad thing? I wonder whether you agree with the proposition
that at least part of the argument that you are putting forward,
as I understand it, is that if it is elected it will become more
assertive rather than less so.
That has been made quite plain in what the Leader of the House
has said on the Floor of the House in answer to Questions: an
elected House would indeed become more assertive. While I think
it is right that our present House should use its powers to advise,
to caution and to send things back and say "Think again",
I believe that, in the end, in all but supreme constitutional
matters, which are of course excluded from the Parliament Act,
it should not have the power to override the House of Commons.
If you had an elected Second Chamber, it would flex its muscles
in a very real way and you would have the seeds for all manner
of constitutional problems. Although the previous witness talked
about codifying conventions and having laws, the fact is that
no Parliament can bind its successor. Indeed, as a number of the
questioners pointed out, this would be an agreement concocted
between the present two Houses and it could not be binding on
a Chamber that has not yet been elected.
That may be, but I am asking a question about assertiveness. As
I understand it, you are saying that, if it is unelected, it is
good if it is assertive but, if it is elected, it is dangerous
if it becomes assertive. I do not understand the distinction because
it seems to me that, if you have a more assertive House of Lords,
you will then have a more restive House of Commons. The chances
are that that would make it more difficult for the Government
and in a sense that would be good for Parliament, not bad for
There are more forms of assertion than this world dreams of. The
fact is that you can have assertion which ultimately leads to
a constitutional stalemate because the House continues to send
things back. You can have the sort of assertion that we are used
to in the present House where the Members say "Think again"
and perhaps "Think a second time" and maybe even a third
time. But at the end of the day, the will of the elected House
on matters such as welfare reform and health does prevail.
I suppose what would influence me as a Member of Parliament in
the lower House in terms of changing my mind, if I am going to
take part in a debate and vote as a result of amendments coming
from the House of Lords or a Senate, I rather suspect that amendments
sent back to the House of Commons which have been agreed by the
sort of people who are currently in the House of Lords will have
more weight on my decision-making than if they are sent back by
a mirror image of the House of Commons simply because it happens
to be elected.
Baroness Shephard of
Northwold: I should
like to refer to a point made by Mr Murphy. He said that an elected
House would be a rival to the House of Commons. Our last witnesses
and indeed other witnesses have asserted that there would be no
rivalry between the two Houses on the basis of the proposals in
the Bill. That is because if people were elected to the House
of Lords, they would serve for 15 years and would have been elected
under a different electoral system. I shall quote the last witness;
he said that the public would come to understand that elected
Senators basically can do nothing for them. I do not want to misinterpret
the last witness and I am possibly out of order, but given that
both Lord Cormack and Mr Murphy have been elected, as have a lot
of people in the House of Lords, I would like to hear Mr Murphy's
comments on the proposition that the Bill should suggest that
there are two sorts of elected Members but that they would deal
with the same issues. Therefore the European Parliament analogy,
which is often made, does not apply. Does Mr Murphy or Lord Cormack
think that the public would come to understand that it was worth
voting for someone who said that he could not do anything for
Not at all. However, first I shall deal with the 15-year term.
If it ended now, it would have taken us back to 1996 or 1995.
Huge political changes have taken place over that period, and
it would mean that people in the Senate, not necessarily from
the same party but from totally different parties, at the end
of the day would be party people. The general publicif
they think about these things at all, and I have to say that in
25 years in the House of Commons I have not had one letter or
e-mail about the House of Lords; no doubt others have, but I have
notwill want to go back to the fundamental reasons of why
there is a second Chamber. I taught government and politics for
a long time before I came into the House of Commons. I said that
the second Chamber was deliberative, constitutional and a revising
bodyin those days it was judicial as well. Those functions
are best performed by people with wisdom and experience, and who
in my view are not elected, but nevertheless could have an influence
on an elected Chamber by virtue of who they are. I rather suspect
that people outside would actually welcome the idea that there
is a careful, close and in some sensesnot always, but then
it should not always benon-political look at legislation.
But if a House of Lords or a Senate was overwhelmingly elected,
it is almost inevitable that it would look at issues from a party-political
point of view. What is the point of having 300 extra politicians
doing the same thing as the 600 in the House of Commons? I think
that most people would agree with that.
The argument is absolutely right. You would have people who had
been elected for 15 years who were not eligible to stand again.
Where does the accountability go and how could they answer to
their constituents? What mischief could they make in the individual
Member of Parliament's patch if they chose to do so? Just think
of the changes that have taken place if a group of Senators had
been elected in 1992. There was a change of government and of
ethos. This really is an extremely rash proposal, and one that
should not see the light of parliamentary day.
Q595 Baroness Young of
Hornsey: You argue in
your written submission that democracy is not only manifested
through elections and I think that that is right. My first question
is this. Can you clarify whether the issue of legitimacy is better
achieved through appointment or election? My second question is
this. In the House as it is currently constituted, and as far
as I can see in some of the suggestions that have been made for
reform, do you agree that there is a strong bias in favour of
older people in the House? That comes out through people having
to be at the top of their profession and to be seen as eminent
and as having achieved a certain amount. Do you think that is
desirable and, if you do not, do you have any remedies for achieving
a better age balance in the Chamber?
To answer your first question, we have an entirely legitimate
system. In this country we have a constitutional monarchy where
the head of state is not elected and we have an independent judiciary
where the judges are not electedwe refer to both of these
points in our paper. We have a House of Commons which has what
I have called the unambiguous democratic mandate and we have an
assembly of those who, for all manner of reasonstheir various
degrees of expertise and experience and from a whole range of
walks of liferepresent many interests that are not always
represented in the House of Commons. I think that we have a better
ethnic mix in the upper House. Although what you say about the
older Members has a degree of truth in it, you yourself, Baroness
Young, are an example of the younger Members.
Baroness Young of Hornsey:
It is a little bit sad if I am seen as an example of the younger
Members, but thank you for the compliment. I am a pensioner.
As we all know, we have people in the House of Lords who are there
for all manner of reasons and they are not all in their dotage.
It is entirely proper to look at how one appoints people to the
House of Lords. The Campaign for an Effective Second Chamber has
always said that and has always stood for reform. It recognises
that we have to face up to issues such as whether there should
be a retirement age and what it should be. It recognises that
we have to look at all these issues because if we are going to
maintain, as I hope we will, an appointed second Chamber and continue
to call it the House of Lords, it is important that there should
be an even better recognition of the various elements in our society
than there is at the moment. I believe that it is not too bad
at the moment, but of course it is capable of considerable improvement.
Q596 Dr Poulter:
I want to pick up on the point that you made about the politicising
of potential Lords or Senators in the regions. That seems to be
a very difficult argument to make since the regions involved would
be extremely large and there would be very few representatives.
Baroness Shephard said that this could not be equated to the role
of MEPs, but as Members of Parliament we rarely see any activity
on the part of our European representatives at the constituency
level because they have such big regions to represent. I fail
to see the logic in the proposal that Senators are in any way
going to take on a constituency role, because they would have
to represent massive regions, often comprising 50 or 60 constituencies.
Perhaps I could try to answer that question. First, the remit
of a European Member is wholly different from the remit of a Member
of Parliament. Secondly, a Senator would be a Member of the United
Kingdom Parliament and would be dealing with precisely the same
legislation and precisely the same things as the Member of Parliament.
You have been a Member of Parliament for not too long, Dr Poulter,
and I hope that you will be here for many years. I was in the
other place for 40 years and Mr Murphy has been there for 25 years,
and we know that it is impossible to please every constituent
or deal with every issue to the satisfaction of constituents all
the time. There would be an inevitable tendency to turn to the
Senator and there would be an inevitable temptation, so far as
the Senator was concerned, to get involved and put his or her
name on the issue. I am sure that Mr Murphy would be happy to
The Senators are going to be elected on a party-political platform.
As soon as you have an elected body of any sort, whether it is
the Welsh Assembly, the House of Commons or an elected Senate
here in Parliament, the candidates will be selected by the political
parties and they will be elected on a party platform. Presumably
they will then work, as the Assembly Members in Wales work with
us as Members of Parliament, in a party-political way. I am not
saying that that is bad because I belong to a political party;
I am simply saying that the difference in an elected Senate would
be that the platform on which they would stand would be virtually
identical to that of Members of the House of Commons.
Q597 Dr Poulter:
I should like to make two points on that because there are clear
distinctions. First, I think that you are slightly at odds with
each other. At the moment, many Members of Parliament do not have
an effective working relationship with MEPs because they represent
such large regions. If Senators are going to represent the same
regions, why would it be the case that we would have a working
relationship with them? The second point is that it is a difficult
case to argue. If you define clearly what someone is standing
for the Lords for as opposed to what a Member of Parliament is
standing for, it is clear that the more scrutiny-based role of
a Member of the House of Lords would mean that they would not
have a constituency-based role in the same way as a Member of
Parliament. That would be accepted when they stood for election.
Well, Dr Poulter, you and the Senator for, say, Suffolk would
be occupying the same building. You would be dealing with the
same pieces of legislation. You would be representing to a degree
the same people. He may represent all the people of Suffolk and
you would represent just one constituency in that county. But
it is inevitable that there would be a degree of tension between
you. I am absolutely certain that that would happen. In the early
days, before they moved on to the list system, MEPs had constituencies.
I happened to be a Member of Parliament in Staffordshire and the
MEP represented most of Staffordshire and Shropshire. Although
we were dealing with different Parliaments and different issues,
there were clashes, some of which were well documented. But I
believe that that would be as nothing to what would happen if
we had two elected bodies in this building.
Q598 Dr Poulter:
Is there not a clear distinction in that in those days Members
of the European Parliament represented perhaps only eight constituencies,
but here we will have regions of constituencies where a Senator
from one party would potentially have to represent 60 constituencies.
Unlike a Member of Parliament, that would be an impossible job
to do on a constituency basis. We are talking about someone representing
many millions of people.
Until you have finished with this Bill, we do not know precisely
what their responsibilities would be. However, what we do know
is that there are parts of the country now where the MEPs divide
the territory up between them. I had one MEP who saw himself as
looking after the interests of South Staffordshire when I was
the Member of Parliament there. We had one very big clash over
whether an airport should be built. I did not want it and he did.
Just imagine how that could be writ large if, as I say, both of
the elected people are in this building and both are claiming
a mandateand perhaps, as Mr Murphy has said, with the Senators
claiming a more legitimate PR mandate. Mr Farron, the President
of the Liberal Democrats at the time of the AV vote, made a public
statement to the effect that he was desperately sad that it had
gone down the spout. Of course he was, and it could well be that
the most legitimate bodyI quote him more or less verbatimwould
be an elected second Chamber. Given where he was coming from,
it was an entirely legitimate comment, but it makes one think.
I think that in some ways there would be a certain remoteness
about a Senator. I shall take my own country of Wales where we
would be likely to have 10 or a dozen Senators. I do not know
how they would be regionally distributed, but what is absolutely
clear is that the political parties in Wales, whichever one it
might be, would ensure that the Members of Parliament and Senators
were elected on the same basis. They would be the same sort of
people and would be selected from the same sort of selectorate.
There is nothing wrong with any of that, but it is not necessarily
what a second Chamber is all about. In my view, that is the difference.
Q599 Baroness Symons
of Vernham Dean: Lord
Cormack, you said in your introductory remarks that you were committed
to the primacy of the Commons. This is the fundamental issue that
we are struggling with. Were there to be an elected second Chamber,
can you think of any way that you would regard as legitimate of
safeguarding the primacy of the House of Commons?
No. I cannot think of any way you can guarantee that. The campaign
to which I have referred, and which has now been meeting for 10
years, has often wrestled with this very issue. We do not believe
that it is possible to ring-fence the primacy of the House of
Commons if you have an elected second Chamber.
Q600 Lord Trefgarne:
Would you not agree that primacy is a moveable feast? For example,
even today there is equal primacy over secondary legislation,
in that the House of Lords can reject statutory instruments in
the same way as the House of Commons. If the House of Lords in
its new senatorial guise became largely or wholly elected, it
would certainly seek, and no doubt progressively achieve, more
primacy or less subservience.
I am sure that it would. Indeed, you make my case for me when
you talk about secondary legislation, on which at the moment the
House of Lords generally practises a self-denying ordinancealthough
there was a case three years ago, before I entered the House,
when a measure on casinos was rejected by the House of Lords.
A few weeks ago there was a suggestion that a Motion moved by
Baroness O'Cathain might result in a similar defeat, but she did
not press her Motion to a vote because it was clear that the general
opinion of the House was that she should not do so. However, if
you had an elected second Chamber with the same powers as the
present second Chamber, there would be a very real temptation
on the part of elected Senators to fight such legislation, particularly
if they felt that an issue was not going to play well in their
own territoriesbe those counties or regions or whatever.
You would have an adjustment of the relationship between the Houses.
As I said in my opening statement, there is a case for looking
at all these things in the round, but you should first decide
what each Chamber is going to do. You have to get form and function
in the right order, as we point out in our paper. That is not
the case with this Bill, which takes certain things for granted.
Baroness Andrews asked about Clause 2, which states the matter
as if it would be absolutely fine and dandy. However, I honestly
do not think that it would be. Another point is that one of the
Bill's more bizarre proposals is that the ministerial Members,
whom the Prime Minister of the day would have the opportunity
to appoint to the House of Lords or Senate, would be in the second
Chamber for just as long as they were in office. You put them
in and, when he sacks them or they resign, out they will go. There
is no quantifying of how many of those people there will be. It
really is not very well thought out. Even if one wants, as some
do, to have an elected second Chamberand I respect that
viewthis Bill is not the vehicle for achieving an efficient
If you have an elected, or largely elected, second Chamber, will
it not consider itself more legitimate and exercise its existing
powers to the limit and soon be campaigning for more?
Q601 Gavin Barwell:
I thank Lord Cormack for putting the case against reform in perhaps
its purest form. For me, regarding the suggestion that the current
House is entirely legitimate and that party leaders should be
able to put those who fund their political parties into Parliament
or bump an MP up into the House of Lords so that they can put
one of their apparatchiks into that constituency, personally I
do not consider that entirely legitimate. However, I am grateful
for the note that you submitted to the Committee, which challenges
the underlying thinking behind the Government's proposals.
I would like to pick up on point
3 in your note, where you say that one of the premises on which
the Bill is based is that "That those who make the law should
be elected". You then draw the perfectly reasonable distinction
between a Member of the House of Commons, which ultimately makes
the law, and Members of the second Chamber. However, you sort
of suggest that Members of the second Chamber are really only
equivalent to civil servants and parliamentary draftsmen. Obviously,
those people draft legislation at the instruction of Ministers,
whereas there is a big difference, I hope you would agree, between
a Member of the second Chamber and a parliamentary draftsman
Yes, but I think
Let me just very quickly finish the question. It seems to me that
one of the principles of democracy is that people should have
an equal say on the laws of the land, and that is why we are against
things like rotten boroughs. Would you not agree that someone
who is appointed to the second Chamber has a much bigger say in
the laws of this country than the average constituent who voted
Of course Members of the second Chamber have more say than the
average constituentthat is self-evidentbut that
paragraph does not seek to equate them with civil servants, advisers
and lobby groups or anything else. All that it says is that there
are many people who take part in the lawmaking process and the
House of Lords of itself does not have the power to initiate and
enact law. Again, that is self-evident. With great respect, I
do not think there is anything misleading in that paragraph.
Regarding your other comments with which you introduced
your question, I agree with you on many of those points. Of course
neither I nor the Campaign for an Effective Second Chamber is
seeking to suggest that all is for the best in the best of all
possible worlds. Of course we believe that reforms are necessary.
Of course we believe that it is necessary to look at methods of
appointment. If I may voice a particular personal view, I agree
with you very much that somebody should not be in the House of
Lordsif this has happenedpurely on the basis of
giving donations to a political party, although of course it is
perfectly possible for somebody to be both an innovator or thinker
and also a donor. Those things are not mutually incompatible.
Q602 Mr Clarke:
I welcome this discussion, and I believe that Lord Cormack and
Paul Murphy have given us some very interesting insights into
the kinds of things that we are expected to decide on. I hope
that they will forgive me if I say that I know what they are against
but I am not terribly sure what they are for. Do you think that
the situation as it exists at the moment should stay? Are you
really arguing for the status quo?
No, we are not, and I am sorry if that has not come across sufficiently.
In the paper that we submitted, we talk about the attributes of
the present House of Lords and about the things that can be reformed
and improvedI referred in one of my earlier answers to
such things as retirement ages and the number of Members. I cannot
answer for the group by saying that the House of Lords should
have 300, 400 or 500 Members. I believe that 300 is far too small,
and I believe that the argument in the paper that on average 388
Members turn up per day is a fallacious argument, because the
same people do not turn up every daysome people come for
certain things, and some for others. However, I believe that one
should, over a period, aim for a defined number. The group does
not have a view on that, but my personal view is that the total
should be somewhere between 450 and 600probably nearer
the smaller number than the larger onebut that should be
achieved over a period. After all, even with this Bill, we are
talking of a period between now and 2025. It should be very possible,
with proper restraint and sensitivity, having regard for people's
contributions and all the rest of it, to reach a situation whereby
by that time you have a defined number, you have a retirement
age and so on.
There are many things that can and should be done
but, if I may say so, there are also many things that can, should
and indeed must be done in the House of Commons to balance the
position vis-à-vis the Executive. There is a real case
for a Joint Committee of both Houses to look at the balance within
our constitution. This piecemeal approach is not really in the
interests of the House of Commons or in the interests of the country.
At the end of the day, you are dealing with an extremely delicate
mechanism with the British constitution. When you start taking
this bit outas with taking out a piece of a well-constructed
watch or clockall sorts of unforeseen consequences can
follow. The one law that we have been repeatedly successful in
passing in this country is the law of unintended consequences.
I agree with that. I particularly agree with the proposal that
Lord Steel has consistently put forward in the House of Lords
for major changes to the way in which the House operates.
And I would say that the Steel Bill, as Lord Steel would readily
attest, came out of discussions in the Campaign for an Effective
Q603 Lord Tyler:
Lord Cormack, is an example of one of the reforms that you would
support a retirement provision? Given that the Library of the
House of Lords said that, at the last count, four Members were
under the age of 40 and 19 Members were over the age of 90, exactly
how do you think that reform should be implemented?
With determination and sensitivity. One has to recogniseyou
know these people as colleagues, as I dothat there are
people in the House of Lords who are fairly well advanced in years
but who make an outstanding contribution to our deliberations.
There are some in your party, some in mine, some in the Labour
Party and some on the Cross Benches. We both know who they are
and I am not going to mention names any more than you would, but
we know they are there. That is why I said that one thing we could
accept in this Bill is the timescale of 2025 and work towards
a situation where you would indeed have a defined numberthe
number you have been trailing in your recent interviews, or maybe
not. We also have a retirement age, which might be 80 or 85, I
do not know. People are living longer and people are making contributions.
We also have rules about people appearing in the House of Lords
and being able to discharge their parliamentary functions. All
these things are entirely legitimate for us to discuss and we
should be seeking to move towards that situation, as I said earlier,
with determination and sensitivity.
I think that you have illustrated how invidious a piecemeal approach
is. Perhaps I may ask another question, which both of you might
like to answer. You have both put great emphasis on the importance
of preserving the primacy of the House of Commons and, as a former
Member of the Commons, I accept and endorse that. What exactly
do you anticipate if, in the 2012-13 Session, the Government come
forward with an improved Bill as a result of our efforts around
this table? Would your advice to your colleagues be that they
should recognise the primacy of the Commons, should the Commons
support that Bill, and that they should accept it at Second Reading,
seek to improve it and not vote against it at Third Reading?
I shall be very interested to hear what Mr Murphy has to say in
response, and he has a little time to think about his reply. I
will be very clear on this. I made the point earlier that on matters
of supreme constitutional importance the situation is rather different.
I do not believe that the Parliament Acts would be able to apply,
as they do at the moment, to an elected House of Commons and an
elected Senate. That is because the Parliament Acts came into
being to regulate the position between the two Houses that we
havethe House of Commons and the House of Lords. It would
be entirely legitimate for the House of Lords to challenge a Bill
if it did not feel that the constitutional integrity of our system
was being upheld. But you are tempting me into the hypothetical
because it is clear that no one can make a definitive statement
on this without knowing what is before us. In certain circumstances
it would be entirely legitimate to resist, but in other circumstances
it would not. However, we need to know what we are dealing with.
Your Committee will no doubt be telling us in due course, but
we also need to be assured of the unanimity of your Committee,
because that, too, has to be taken into account. If your Committee
comes up with an absolutely unanimous recommendation, that is
one thing, but I think it might not. We will see.
My fear is that, whatever emerges in legislation, if in the end
there is a majority elected House of Lords, it is inevitable that
it will challenge the supremacy and the primacy of the House of
Commons. My experience tells me that new democratically elected
bodies almost inevitably want to increase their powers. It has
happened in Wales and I agreed with that proposal; indeed, the
Lord Chairman of this Committee had a lot to do with it. It is
happening in front of our eyes in Scotland, where there is a huge
debate on independence. I have not the slightest doubt that, if
we had a majority elected Senate, eventually the Senators would
want to flex their muscles. They would argue that their legitimacy
was greater. If there were different parties in the different
Houses, there would be enormous difficulties. Those are the problems
that I think we will face. What I will say, though, is that whatever
happens during the passage of any Bill through both Houses, it
would have to have the legitimacy of public agreement through
That is something on which Mr Murphy and I are absolutely at one.
It is clearly the case that you cannot argue that there is a constitutional
case for a referendum on Much-Binding-in-the-Marsh having an elected
mayor but no case for the people of this country deciding whether
their second Chamber should be elected or not. So if a set of
proposals finally emerges, the ultimate sell should be with those
who used to elect Lord Tyler and me and who currently elect Mr
And then the debate should go to the country.
Can I ask one supplementary question of Mr Murphy? Did you in
any of the elections since 1997, but more specifically in 2010,
tell your electors that you did not agree with your party's policy
on the reform of the House of Lords?
The party's policy changed during the course of those years and
it is quite difficult to remember what the policy was as the years
went by. But I have to say that not a word was said by me or to
me about the House of Lords. It simply was not an issue. That
is the point of a referendum, of course. If we feel that this
is a hugely important issue for the people and if Parliament decides
accordingly, there will be an opportunity for everybody to air
their views and then eventually, just as we have had extra powers
granted in Wales by referendum, that could happen so far as the
powers of the House of Lords are concerned. But you would not
see it in my manifesto.
And of course in any referendum it is important that people are
told about the cost of the new Chamber.
Q606 Ann Coffey:
Members of the House of Commons are under intense scrutiny by
the press, while the House of Lords is less so. Perhaps the reason
for that is that the House of Lords is not seen as central to
making law in the same way as the House of Commons is. One of
the good consequences of that kind of close scrutiny by the press
is accountability and things being transparent. Do you not think
that a good outcome of having a wholly or partially elected House
of Lords would be the scrutiny of the press that would accompany
that development? Do you agree that that would be helpful to the
overall democratic process?
I think that your question is based, if I may say so, on a false
premise. The House of Lords has indeed been scrutinised by the
press over the past couple of years. I do not know whether they
are still there or not but, much to my sadness and that of others,
some Members of the House of Lords have been sentenced to terms
I was not talking about them.
They have been given as much publicity as any of the expenses
scandals in the Commons. I believe that the House of Lords is
just as open and subject to press examination, but the fact that
the press do not always choose to report it as extensively is,
I think, the public's misfortune. I say that because the quality
of debate in the House of Lords is often extremely high. That
is one of the reasons why I am absolutely persuaded that it would
be sad if we got rid of an institution that, by accident of history
and a degree of incremental reform in 1958, 1999 and so on, has
resulted in a House where no party has an overall majority, where
there is more accumulated wisdom and experience than in any other
second Chamber anywhere in the world and where the quality of
the debate, whatever the subject, is exceptionally high. It is
a pity that the press do not look at the House of Lords a little
more closely; I wish that they would.
If you will excuse me, I was not actually talking about the expenses
scandal by way of example. I was talking about normal reporting
and the close scrutiny of what people say and who the people are
who are saying it.
That is what I just said
Yes. You said that it is a pity that the press do not report the
House of Lords. I wanted to suggest that an elected or partially
elected House of Lords would be seen by the press as important
to the legislative process and would bring about those things
that you yourself desire.
May I answer that? In an elected second Chamber, what the press
would not see in a health debate is some of the most eminent physicians
and surgeons in the country taking part in it. In an elected second
Chamber, what the press would not report about a debate on defence
would be the fact that former Chiefs of the General Staff and
so on were able to take part.
Only in a wholly elected House would they not be able to see that.
I am sorry, I do not want to join in the argument too much, but
you have provoked me on this one. I find the idea that the 20
per cent of Cross-Bench Members proposed by the Bill are going
to sit there supine, not taking part in debates on subjects of
which they have intense and detailed knowledge, extraordinary.
Of course they will take part. If the doctors are sitting on the
Cross Benches and the rest of the House is elected, of course
they will participate, and so will the generals.
Lord Chairman, I think that you have jumped in a little too quickly.
In a 100 per cent elected House, what I have said is absolutely
right, but in an 80 per cent elected House, you have the disadvantagethis
is a point that I made earlierthat the 20 per cent appointed
element would be regarded as second-class Members. They would
have the right to vote but they would not have been elected. I
believe that a hybrid House, with all the possibilities of Governments
being defeated by non-elected Members, would be constitutionally
Q608 Oliver Heald:
You have raised the concern about regional Senators interfering
in particular House of Commons parliamentary constituencies. This
is something that was referred to when we had our video link with
Australia, where the Senators who are elected for the state apparently
have allocated to them a number of Representatives' constituencies,
where they actively take part with political purposes. This is
something that Paul Murphy suggested might have happened in Wales
with the list Members interfering or doing work in constituencies
of Assembly Members who were elected for those particular constituencies.
A way of tackling this, which has been suggested to us by the
Campaign for a Democratic Upper Housethe previous witnessesis
to do three things. The first is to have a clear statement of
the roles and functions of the two House backed up by agreed resolutions
in each House; secondly, not to give the Senators any money for
doing constituency work, so no allowances; and, thirdly, to have
a job description for Members of the second Chamber saying that
they are not allowed to do constituency work, or words to that
effect. I just wondered whether you felt that that would work.
No, I think that it is a load of nonsense. It does not reflect
the real world in any respect. When I say "constituency work",
I am not necessarily talking about taking up Mrs Jones's back
kitchen, although that sometimes happened with MEPs taking up
individual issues like that. I am talking more about the politics
of the region or area and the issues of the day. That is fine,
but it is presumably not the role of an elected Senator. The role
of an elected Senator is to revise, deliberate and do all the
things that the House of Lords now does. I cannot see this working.
It is different in Australia, where there is still a problem,
but you can understand how it works in a federal system, where
the Senators have a specific role to represent their states or
provinces in a federal Parliament. Our Parliament is a unitary
one, although I personally think that there is a case for somehow
dealing with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland within the House
of Lords, but that is another issue. Elected, party-political
Senators in any part of our country will be party politicians.
That is what they are there for. The idea that they will keep
their noses out of this or that issue is just absolute tripe.
I could not put it more strongly. The only other point that I
would make, Mr Healdand Mr Murphy is completely correctis
the one that I made earlier. No Parliament can bind its successor,
so I do not think that whatever cosy agreement was arrived at
would stand the test of time.
Lord Hennessy of Nympsfield:
Do you think that a referendum is the only way to solve"solve"
is probably the wrong verbor settle the question of the
Lords for a couple of generations? If there is consensus in the
country, it may well be that we cannot go on like this. It has
absorbed a phenomenal amount of energy and time since 1911 and,
although it is a tremendous diversion for constitutional buffs
like me and my great friend Lord Norton, it surely cannot go on
like this. Do you think that a referendum is a desirable way to
If any Bill emerges from this Committee that commands great support
and goes through both Houses, I think that there has to be a referendum.
My own view is that at the end of the day that probably is the
best way of solving it, but it is difficult to say much at the
moment in that context, because it is a hypothetical situation.
Your Committee has not made a report to either House yet and we
do not know how the Houses will react to whatever report you make.
But at the end of the day I think that, yes, probably a referendum
There is no question about that. In my view, certainly since the
late 1990s, all the major constitutional questions have been resolved
by a referendumobviously Northern Ireland, Scotland, the
recent increased powers in Wales and, of course, the alternative
vote. It seems to me that if those things can have a referendum,
surely the way in which our Parliament is organised should also
be subject to a referendum. To be perfectly honest, I see great
benefit in the public debate that will be held about it. You can
have as many opinion polls as you want; it depends on the questions
that are asked and all the rest of it and there is no debate.
A referendum would generate a proper debate and people in the
country could make their minds up. It would also obviously give
legitimacy to the solution.
This is an issue that the Campaign for an Effective Second Chamber
is addressing. We have not produced a paper on a referendum but
I think that we may well do so at some stage, although I am speaking
very much personally in answering your questions.
Lord Hennessy of Nympsfield:
Do you think that it would be wise to wait until the Scottish
question has been settled? It is a first-order questiona
constitutional question with bells on.
Absolutely, yes. I think that that would be extremely sensible.
To gum up the machine with two major constitutional issues, for
one of which there is great public demand and interest and for
the other there is no public appetite or demand, would be injudicious,
to put it mildly.
Q610 John Stevenson:
The White Paper and draft Bill from the Government are about composition,
not about powers. Effectively, it could be argued that the Government
are saying, "We accept that the new House of Lords will only
have the powers that already exist, which are very extensive.
We also accept that an elected House of Lords is likely to be
more assertive and to use those powers." Would you not agree
that that would be a good thing for parliamentary democracy? It
is a good thing to challenge the Executive more and we should
move away from being an elected dictatorship towards being far
more of a parliamentary democracy. At the end of the day, if there
is a conflict between the two Chambers, as a matter of law the
1911 Parliament Act gives primacy to the House of Commons.
It may give primacy to the House of Commons at the moment, because
it deals with the House of Commons and the House of Lords as they
currently exist and as they have evolved, but there are legal
minds far more eminent than mine who say that they do not think
that the Parliament Act would apply to a wholly different second
May I just interrupt on that? When the 1911 Act was passed, women
did not have the vote and not all men had the vote, so, if you
were to take your point of view, you could argue that the Parliament
Act would not apply now.
No, but the Parliament Act of 1911 was of course superseded by
the Parliament Act of 1949, which is the one that we are really
dealing with. That is the one that reduced the power of delay
to one year, as you well know. There are those who argue, and
this is a legal matter, that the Parliament Act could not and
should not apply to two wholly different assemblies from those
for which it was designed. The very important question that you
asked at the beginning is the one that we all, wherever we sit
in either House, should be addressing: given that we do not have
a separation of powers in this country, how do you maintain a
system where the Executive is drawn from the legislature and at
the same time adequately hold within the elected Chamber the Government
to account? I think that you would only be muddying the waters
if you had a second Chamber also elected with an attempt to curb
its powers in the way that this Bill suggests. That is an issue
that you and your colleagues on the Committee will obviously be
wrestling with as you come to your conclusions.
Incidentally, when the Chamber is as it is, although we both agree
and the campaign agrees that it should be changed, agreements,
conventions and even laws certainly would be followed, but the
whole situation changes when people are elected to it. You can
have all the agreements and conventions in the world, but realpolitik
Q611 Bishop of Leicester:
We can deal with this very briefly. I wonder whether I could invite
you, with your combined 65 years in the House of Commons, to speculate
as to whether there might be a comprehension deficit among some
MPs about the functioning of the House of Lords and, if so, whether
that matters. Also, what could be done about it?
That is an extremely good and pertinent question. I am very conscious
of the fact that, although I had been a regular visitor to the
House of Lords and had many friends in the House, and I knew it
pretty well, I have inevitably got to know it a great deal better
over this last year or more that I have been here. I have been
become increasingly conscious when I talk to friends in the House
of Commonsnot just those who have been recently electedthat
there is not enough interchange between the two Houses. There
is not a sufficient appreciation by each of the other. That is
why I have always been an advocate of Joint Committees. I sat
on one or two myself during my time in the House of Commons and
I am glad that this is a Joint Committee looking at these extremely
important issues. We ought to find more ways of working together
as parliamentarians at the two ends of the Corridor. There is
indeed a lack of appreciation and understanding, although that
is not exclusively the preserve of one House or the other. I would
like to see much more interchange.
I agree entirely with that. I endorse the point that Lord Cormack
made about Joint Committees. I sit on one or two and I think that
they perform a remarkably good function. I also think that there
is a role for Ministers in the Government, too, in dealing with
the House of Lords in an improved way. I certainly made it my
business when I was a Cabinet Minister to ensure that I talked
with many Members of the House of Lords who had an interest in
the subject for which I had responsibility. I am not quite convinced
that that is done enough. The more interchange there is either
between Ministers and Lords or between MPs and Lords, the better.
Thank you very much indeed. I thank you both for coming. It has
been a helpful and revealing session and we are grateful to you.
Thank you very much indeed.