Rt Hon Baroness Hayman (QQ 612-620)
Q612 The Chairman:
Thank you very much for coming, Lady Hayman. I am sorry that we
are a bit delayed, but you have been listening to the proceedings
so you know why. I hope that you will accept my apologies for
keeping you waiting. Would you like to make a brief statement
before we start the questions? Indeed, perhaps it would be a good
idea if you did.
Thank you, Lord Chairman, and I thank the Committee for allowing
me to give evidence and for being understanding about the fact
that I did not feel able to submit written evidence on the timetable
set by the Joint Committee, since I had a period of self-imposed
purdah on talking about House business after leaving my position
as Lord Speaker. I feel that the new year has empowered me to
speak more frankly and I am grateful for the opportunity to give
Could I start with some fundamentals about my own
views? I believe that the House of Lords does an important job
as a revising Chamber well, but that it could do the job better
and needs to change. I believe that the period since 1999 has
seen some stalling in change, partly because of the difficulty
of resolving the sorts of issues that have just been discussed
around election. I also believe that there are ways in which we
could go forward. Picking up on one of the points made earlier,
I do not think that the case against election is automatically
a case against reform. My experience of living through many attempts
at 'reform'this is not a term of art, but perhaps 'all-singing,
all-dancing reform', if I can put it that wayhas been that
trying to do everything often ends up in doing nothing. So I hope
to have the opportunity today to talk about some of the areas
where it is possible to build, if not unanimity, then consensus:
which in a sense would clear away the undergrowth for resolution
of an issue that, as the past hour and a half has clearly demonstrated,
is fundamental and deeply divisive: whether election would destabilise
the relationship between the two Houses in a way that was detrimental
to the performance of Parliament as a whole, and I am committed
to improving the performance of Parliament as a whole.
A huge number of the issues that are dealt with in
the White Paper and the Bill need speedy action. Let me start
with the size of the House. As it is at the moment, the size of
the House is unsustainable; that is a quite a neutral word. The
White Paper cites, as was mentioned earlier, an average daily
attendance of 388. That is not the current figure but one taken
for the 2009-10 Session. The current figure, for which I asked
the Information Office today, is an average daily attendance of
493. There were six votes in the three months up to 31 December
2011 in which more than 450 people voted, the highest total being
592. We are operating with a size of House that does not function
properly and which I think is indefensible. We need to do something
about the size of the House and I believe that we could get agreement
I believe that it would also be possible to get agreement
on the balance between independent Peers and party-political Peers
in terms of the proportion of each in the House. It would be possible,
although as I look around the table I think not easy, to get agreement
on the view that the hereditary principle should not play any
part in the future membership. I also believe that it would be
possible to agree to end the link between the honours system and
membership of the second Chamber. All of this is in the White
I think that it would be possible to deal with the
issue of time limits for appointmentsthat is, time-limited
appointments. It would be possible to deal with the establishment
and remit of the statutory Appointments Commission and with provisions
for retirement and exclusion. If we did those things and cleared
that undergrowth, the issue of whether what you gain in democratic
legitimacy from election outweighs what you lose both in terms
of experience and expertise as well as the current focusing of
democratic accountability in one placethe clarity that
we have at the moment, and the complementarity of the two Houses
could be considered. We have had a lot of conversations about
referendums. That would be an issue which could be put in a referendum.
But at the moment there are so many issues that it would be very
difficult to focus the public debate on how to go forward.
Lord Hennessy said that it cannot go on like this.
My fear is that it can go on like this. My gravest concern,
whatever my views on the proposals in the White Paper and the
Bill, is that out of this will come not an elected House but a
messy debate that ends up with no progress whatever and what I
consider to be a House of Lords that is not improving its performance
as a parliamentary Chamber, because we are not making any incremental
progress. When I look at my own political lifetime, I remember
that I went to secondary school at a time when there was not a
single woman in the House of Lords. If I look at the transformation
during the timeframe of my political lifetime, I can see that
there is an enormous opportunity for continuing that evolution.
I know that many people think that it is some sort of strategy
to avoid any change to talk about a two-stage approach. I honestly
do not believe that that is so, and that it would be easier and
quite possible to focus on the question of whether the party-political
Peers of the Houses of Lords are elected or appointed on the recommendation
of their party leaders as a freestanding issue when you have dealt
with all the other things. Earlier someone asked us to say not
just what we are against but what we are for, so I hope I have
risen to that challenge.
Q613 The Chairman:
Thank you very much. Perhaps I may pursue one of your points,
which is the size of the House. You are clearly of the view that
the House is much too big and I suppose that, if there is going
to be a set of new creations, it will obviously be that much bigger.
You say that we can deal with that, but how would you actually
reduce the size of the House?
We have to do several things. We could start with a moratorium
on new Peers. The second thing would be that in the future we
would have term appointments. The third is that we have to come
to some sort of agreement on the size of House that we want to
see and then see what that size would mean for the party groups
and the Cross Benches. Those groups would then have to take on
the responsibility of reducing their numbers.
I see. For the sake of argument, let us take the figure that has
been in the press recently, that of 450. To reduce the House down
to 450, you would have to get rid of about 400 Peers. How quickly
would you want to see that done?
My preference would be not to do it overnight, but I am not quite
on the same timeframe as the White Paper of waiting until 2025.
You could do it over five to 10 years.
I am advised that it would need legislation in order to do it.
Yes. My shopping list involves legislation.
I wonder whether you could go a little further in your interesting
analysis from your new vantage point of the way in which the House
is currently working. We all accept that the active membership
is between 400 and 500. That of course means that 200 to 300 do
not come regularly, which is quite interesting. Could you comment
on the fact that the majority of those who are activeparticularly
those who do not just vote but are active all day, every dayare,
like me, semi-retired politicians? We are a very political House.
The idea that you may have gathered over the past couple of hours,
that we are somehow totally independent of party and never take
any notice of our Whips, might seem a little rose-tinted from
your vantage point. Is that a fair comment?
It depends on whether you like politicians or not. Let me just
pick up on the point that just under 500 Peers are active. The
average daily attendance is 493, but it is not the same people
every day. A lot more people than that are active, so the scale
of the problem, as the Lord Chairman has pointed out, is substantial.
Lord Tyler is absolutely right to say that there
are a lot of party-political Peers who are active. I am a superannuated
Commons politician from a very long time ago. It is interesting
that the appointments process encourages the appointment not only
of people who have lived their lives in party politics but also
of those who have party affiliations and commitments but who have
not lived their lives in politics. This is the issue of expertise,
if not independence. Whether it is PD James or Melvyn Bragg, people
come in as political appointees, but their lives and the experiences
that they bring to the House are not purely party political. That
is one of the subtleties of the House that I believe would change:
it has been put to me, what is the difference between the Prime
Minister or the party leaders nominating their list and the party
apparatus nominating its list? But I believe that the current
culture encourages a wider range of people to come in as party-political
appointees. We then get to the issue of age and whether being
past ambition frees up most people in the House of Lords in terms
of independence in their political activities.
Perhaps I can take this one step further. I think that you would
also recognise, from your much longer experience in the House
than mine, that the occasions when expertise leads a Member who
has been party appointed or belongs to a party group to vote against
his or her party are relatively limited.
They are limited. I am glad that you asked me that because I want
to take up an issue that was raised earlier. It was asserted that
when there are government defeats in the House of Lords, it is
not because of expertise but because of the numbers. Over the
past five years I made a lot of visits to schools to talk about
the House of Lords. The example that I always gave was the proposal
to abolish the post of Chief Inspector of Prisons. The reason
why it was defeated in the Lords and why the Commons did not attempt
to resurrect it was because it was Lord Ramsbotham, an ex-Chief
Inspector of Prisons, who led a revolt of people who had worked
in the criminal justice system. I believe that it was that which
made the Government change their mind. In many cases I think that
it is more about influence than assertiveness.
Yes, people obey their Whips. However, I am tempted
to say that I led one rebellion in the whole of my political life.
It was on the issue of control orders and a sunset clause for
them. The Parliament Act would not have done a lot of good with
that because of the time lag. The sunset clause would have applied
after a year. We won with an overwhelming majority against some
of theI will not say "blandishments"threats
of my own Whips at the time. It went to the Commons and came back,
and we won again. However, I stepped back the second time. The
role of the House of Lords is to ask the House of Commons to think
again. We asked once, and we asked twice. I then said, "That
is it. I am done here". I have to say to the Committee that
if I had had any sort of electoral mandate in that situation,
I would not have stepped back. So I think that the assertion in
Clause 2 of the Bill is nonsense. You can then have an argument
about whether you want that to happen, and the benefits of it,
but to pretend that it would not happen is, I think, a nonsense.
Q616 Laura Sandys:
You are extremely experienced in the political system and how
the House of Lords works. I welcome the points that you have made
about reform because I am sure we all agree that both Houses should
look at a lot of things in terms of reform in order to be more
effective. However, what is interesting
is the diffidence of those in the House of Lords about being more
assertive and exercising greater power. As we have heard from
people who have presented their views to us, the House of Lords
probably has more extensive powers than any other second Chamber,
but in some ways it self-restricts. It appears that you think
that that is good, which I find fascinating. My position is that
Parliament should be more assertive. We need not necessarily just
greater capacity against the Executive, which is the constant
issue, but much greater assertiveness and capacity against pressure
groups and people running campaigns that we do not have the capacity
to counter. On the basis of being more assertive and taking the
full powers that are offered to the second Chamber, are you inhibited
by the lack of democracy and the lack of election? Because you
are not elected, but regulate and self-restrict, do we have a
weaker second Chamber?
Self-evidently, we have. We have reached an accommodation between
the two Chambers that they should not be rivals; they should be
complementary. I absolutely did not have to stop voting against
the Government the third time around, but I did so because I respect
the sovereignty of the lower House. I am not sure that I see Parliament
coming together in that rose-coloured way: becoming stronger for
having two elected Chamberselected on different mandates
and with different roles. I fear the problem, which has been discussed
already, of clashes between the two Houses. I also fear a blurring
of democratic accountability. At the moment, when a government
proposal is either overturned or goes through, the electorate
can make their judgment in a general election for the lower House.
That is where the democratic accountability and power flow. Who
do you vote against if it was the House of Lords that blocked
a piece of legislation rather than the House of Commons? We have
clarity about where democratic accountability lies. I recognise
that people take this in different ways. I want to see a more
influential House of Lords because it is respected and because
that is more justifiable than it is at the moment, but I do not
want to see a more powerful House as against the House of Commons.
Q617 Laura Sandys:
Perhaps I may pick up on two small things. Each Parliament has
its own nature and characteristics. This House of Commons has
been much more "rebellious" than any other. Do you not
feel that there is a change in the dynamic which also requires
a change in the House of Lords? Parliament is possibly evolving
into something more assertive, and that offers the House of Lords
an opportunity to change. Again, however, is it not inhibited
from doing so by its lack of a democratic mandate? May I quickly
add one other thing? Among all the other terminology that we need
to look at, I am interested in the term "lower House",
which is interesting given that the Commons is meant to have primacy.
When you are communicating externally, I think that that is a
problem. There is also an issue when it is said that there is
only expertise in the House of Lords, but we have a lot of doctors,
medical professionals and people in the judiciary, including lawyers.
We are creating a differentiation that is sometimes not totally
fair on the House of Commons.
No, and I would not like to undermine the expertise and experience
or, indeed, the value of the House of Commons. What I felt when
I was a Member of the House of Commons was the extraordinary thing
that, as a friend of mine used to put it, you have been anointed
by the popular vote. That is very, very special. It trumps expertise
or whether you are a doctor, a scientist or anything else. You
have the enormous privilege and responsibility of representing
your constituents. That is a unique position.
Q618 John Thurso:
I say "Hear, hear" to that. Lady Hayman, in my judgment
you have set out brilliantly why the current House of Lords is
simply insupportable and I thank you for that. You and I will
disagree about election, so I will park that. What you have done
is to set out an alternative, which is for an appointed House,
with our looking at the numbers, terms of 15 years and so onall
the issues on which we may be able to reach consensus. If we are
able to come to a consensus on those things and then the only
question left is whether Members should be elected or appointed,
and if those who believe from the bottom of their hearts, as I
do, that election is the preferable route but they are prepared
to compromise and go with appointment for the time being, why
can we not move to that within 12 months, as we did with the hereditaries?
The 800 of us who were surplus to requirements took our P45s with
a hop and skip and left.
A hop and a skip?
John Thurso: Actually,
I recall that we tottered off with a glass of bubbly wine and
a canapé. Why can we not just get on with it? If we have
500 or 600 people who are absolutely brilliant, as has been the
evidence to date, and we decide that 450 is the right number,
why do we not just make the changes in 12 months and have done
My recall of the hop and the skip is slightly different from yours,
but let us not quarrel about that. I expect that the answer is
that I have become rather sentimental. I can see the argument
for moving more swiftly on reducing the numbers than I have suggested.
It could be done, and I think that we have to make progress on
it. I hope that I have not suggested that the House of Lords is
"insupportable" at the moment, which was the word that
you used. I said that it is unsustainable. The pressure is becoming
overwhelming. As a parliamentarian, I find it offensive that there
is seating in the Chamber from which you cannot speak or make
an intervention. I do not think that that is right. There are
a lot of things that we need to make progress on.
The House is still doing a respectable job within
its current remit. I spent five years talking about second Chambers
and meeting people from other second Chambers. They are bemused
as to how we have got to where we have, but they are very respectful
of the work that the House does. Indeed, I think that the issue
of the legitimacy of the output of the House is one that we should
look at, as well as the legitimacy of how people become Members,
which I think could be improved and made more open by a statutory
Appointments Commission with its remit being made public, and
Q619 John Thurso:
I agree with you and I would never question the quality of the
work of either the House itself or the Members of the House. It
has always been my regret that the Commons does not actually listen
very often, which is the real problem. What
I am driving at here is a different point.
The theory is that, if you elect through tranches, it would act
as a form of indoctrination into the better ways of the House
of Lords. If, on the other hand, you decide to go for appointment,
you will not need that because you already have the people there.
Given that, is there any argument other thannot wishing
to be too brutal to colleaguessaying, "Gone to appointment,
chosen 450, now each party can work it out," as we did with
the hereditaries? Is there any argument other than being quite
brutal and saying, "We have decided to have 450 Members by
appointment. Let's just get it over and done with"? What
is to stop that?
There is nothing to stop it. One of the difficulties, I have to
say, has been created by the appointment of 110 new Peers in the
past 12 months. It means that some people would have a very short
period of time in the House. That is why the reality of where
we are and the people who are here has to be looked at. It makes
it more difficult but not impossible.
Baroness Symons of
Vernham Dean: These
are intriguing possibilities. I am very grateful to you for making
the clear distinction between influence and assertiveness. You
have drawn an important point to our attention. I also agree with
the point that being sustainable is different from what is supportable.
Let me bring you back to your original ideas about how one might
clear away the undergrowth. There may be all sorts of arguments
about the exact size of the House, the balance between independent
Peers and party-political appointments and, indeed, the hereditary
principle, but most of thosesave the difficulties for some
of our colleagueswould not cause too much trouble. However,
I would like to ask you about retirements. We know that 19 Peers
are aged over 90, yet whenever one gets anywhere near a sensible
discussion about a suitable retirement age, naked self-interest
rears its head as usual. I just wonder whether you have given
any thought to what a suitable retirement age for the Lords would
be. One of the things that I feel strongly about is the attendance
record. We may see different Peers on different days, but it seems
to me that if the House sits for only 140 days a year, a minimum
requirement should be that Peers attend for 50 per cent of the
time. That is not a desperately onerous requirement. I wonder
whether you have given any thought to those sorts of limiting
factors which would help in winnowing out what I agree is a House
of Lords that at the moment is just too big and rather unwieldy.
I have thought a lot about it and have had some difficulty in
coming to very clear conclusions. I was taught as a student that
hard cases make bad law, but when you see the contribution made
in the House by a limited number of Peers who are in fact very
elderly, it is difficult simply to set an age limit. I think that
the same is true in the Commons. I would go for the basic situation
of having a term limit of service. One of the issues is about
current expertise and that that may not be the case over time.
But I believe that there needs to be some sensitivity and flexibility
around this issue.
There is a Division in the Commons and I fear that we are about
to become inquorate. Thank you very much, Lady Hayman. I am sorry
that the meeting has been shortened by a Division.