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Lord Mishcon: My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down--all of us are extremely fond of her--she made the point that there is no difference, from the point of view of democracy, in the creation of life Peers and hereditary Peers. Does she really wish to make the point that there is the same democracy when the head of a democratically-elected Government makes an appointment and, from her point of view, when hereditary Peers are created by the Almighty?
Baroness Young: My Lords, I think, perhaps, that I made the point that we are all created by the Almighty, hereditary and life Peers. However, I had not realised that we were in for a theological argument. I should be delighted to have one. The point I made, and I stand by it, is that everyone in your Lordships House, with the notable exceptions of the right reverend Prelates, is here either by heredity or political patronage. Neither group are democrats; none of us has been elected.
Lord Walton of Detchant: My Lords, when I spoke in the two-day debate on the reform of your Lordships' House, I said that the United Kingdom owes an enormous debt of gratitude to the contributions made to national and international life by the hereditary aristocracy of this country over many years and generations. Nevertheless, knowing of the manifesto commitment of the elected government of the day, I had to conclude reluctantly that the Bill before another place to remove the right of hereditary Peers to sit and vote in this House was one which I could not, in all conscience, oppose.
However, having said that, contrary to the views expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, I believe that in the interim House it is crucial to the continuing validity and functioning of this House that the "Weatherill amendment", or something very like it, must be accepted to retain a significant cadre of hereditary Peers in that body.
I turn to stage two of the reform, a matter with which the Royal Commission is expected to deal. The commission has been confronted with an extremely demanding and difficult task and a very short timetable. I am pleased to learn that following the commission's report, a joint committee of the two Houses will be established to recommend means by which the implementation of the commission's recommendations is to be introduced.
In the commission's report, we will be faced with three possible options for the long-term future of this House, one of which is a wholly-elected chamber. I find it remarkable that so many people, whose views I normally respect, have come out strongly in favour of such a chamber. Can it be conceived how introducing a second other chamber, wholly elected, could be established without removing significant powers from
Nevertheless, I wholly accept the strictures upon the idea of a wholly-appointed chamber, set out so clearly by the noble Baroness, Lady Young. It has its attractions, but it could lack validity and constitutional propriety in the longer term. For that reason alone, I much prefer the idea of a hybrid chamber, say, two-thirds appointed, and one-third indirectly elected. I confess to being attracted very much to the idea that the indirectly-elected members might be partly elected on a regional basis but that others might be elected by professional and other occupational groups, not necessarily representative but brought about in such a way.
Having mentioned my reasons for rejecting an elected chamber, I have said on many occasions that the expertise in this House is in many ways absolutely exceptional. In my 10 years of experience I have heard many outstanding contributions from all parts of the House and from all the life Peers. I cannot conceive that more than a tiny percentage of the existing life Peers would ever have dreamt of standing for election to a directly-elected chamber.
My final remarks will deal with a sensitive issue. Being in my 77th year, I shall, without question, be accused of self-interest. I refer to the problem of ageism. The White Paper does not say in terms that a retirement age will be imposed by the Royal Commission but the strong hints--not only in the White Paper, but more particularly in the public press--suggest that a retirement age is likely to be introduced. At a time when consultants in the National Health Service retire at 65 and cannot even hold honorary contracts beyond 70; when heads of houses in Oxford and bishops retire at 70 and Law Lords are no longer able to sit beyond the age of 75, that sounds absolutely logical. Many problems are associated with ageing. As one of my colleagues said,
As we get older, we all suffer from a difficulty in remembering names, quite often those of our close friends and noble friends on these Benches. This is known, happily, as benign senescent forgetfulness. Gladly, it leaves intellect, judgment and wisdom unimpaired. I have been greatly struck by the quality of the contributions made in your Lordships' House by many Peers on all sides in their ninth and tenth decades. They have demonstrated a vast range of accumulated experience and wisdom. To discard that expertise
I believe that the powers of this House are about right. I should hate to see any reduction. This is an effective revising Chamber. To cast aside the repository of sagacity and experience now so evident in the debates in your Lordships' House would, in my view at least, imperil its future as an effective revising Chamber.
Lord Wakeham: My Lords, I am tempted to start by saying that I know of one noble Lord in this House who has done his best to see that there is a mistake in his obituary in one of our national papers. He has left a letter to be sent to the editor the day after his obituary appears saying, "Sir, I may be dead, but ..."
I am deeply honoured to have been asked to become the chairman of the Royal Commission examining the future of this House. Our task is hugely important and the timetable very tight, but it is a task to which I am much looking forward.
I start from this position. I have the greatest respect for the contribution that this House has made to the life of this nation over hundreds of years. I am conscious of the service given by your Lordships, by whatever route we have arrived here. The task of the Royal Commission in the new circumstances of today is to propose a way forward, taking what is good in the present arrangements and to make suggestions for its future.
I am sure that your Lordships will understand why it would be inappropriate for me to make any substantive comment on the issues raised in the White Paper or, indeed, on today's excellent and very useful debate, to which I shall listen carefully and read any speeches that I might miss.
However, I should like to make some more general comments, the first of which is to say how delighted I am to have as colleagues in the task ahead several distinguished members of your Lordships House: first, the right reverent Prelate, the Lord Bishop of Oxford; secondly, the noble Baroness, Lady Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, who is an old colleague of mine from the Press Complaints Commission, and of course, the noble Lord, Lord Butler and my noble friend Lord Hurd, both of whom I have worked with over many years and on many issues.
We shall also benefit from the wise counsel of Sir Michael Wheeler-Booth, a friend of many of us and a friend of this House which he served with distinction for many years, particularly as Clerk of the Parliaments. I got to know him well when I had the honour to lead your Lordships' House.
I am also extremely pleased that the other members of the commission are equally distinguished figures in their own walks of life. I am sure that all of your Lordships can draw considerable reassurance from that. Together the members of the Royal Commission combine experience and wisdom with a wide range of perspectives on the difficult issues with which we shall need to grapple.
Our first formal meeting will take place on 1st March. Obviously, I do not want to pre-empt the collective decisions that we shall need to take then about the way forward. However, I should like to emphasise three points which, again, I hope that your Lordships will find reassuring.
First, I well understand the anxiety of those concerned to ensure that the later stages of proposed reform will follow quickly on from those set out in the House of Lords Bill. Although we have a precise and challenging timetable, I shall do my utmost to ensure that we play our full part in ensuring that that happens.
Secondly, I should like again to set on the record, as I first did during the Statement on the publication of the Government's White Paper, that I believe the commission's terms of reference to be sufficiently wide to enable us to deal comprehensively with all the issues relating to the role, function and composition of this House.
I also believe that the commission will want to seek the widest possible range of views on these matters, both in written and oral evidence, as well as in public hearings. Of course, it is for the commission to decide whether to take evidence in private or in public. However, I want to be as open and as forthcoming as possible. I expect the commission's work to take place in the context of a vigorous public debate.
Many of your Lordships have already taken the opportunity to make your views clear in this House and to me personally. We shall, of course, take all views into account. I stress that it would be enormously helpful if those of your Lordships with particular or deeply held views would submit formal evidence to the commission.
Finally, I know that a number of your Lordships have expressed concern about the concept of "modernising" the House of Lords. I am one of those who believes that modernising anything for the sake of it is a pointless activity, but I make this point: we are currently experiencing a more profound set of constitutional changes than at any time since the start of this century--and perhaps even more fundamental than that. All of those changes will impact on this House. One of the challenges facing the Royal Commission is to find a way for this House to play a distinct and significant role, complementary to that of the other place, within the new constitutional arrangements. This is an exciting
Lord Jopling: My Lords, it is a courtesy of both Houses of Parliament that speakers sit through the speech following their own. Therefore, it is my great good fortune that the chairman of the Royal Commission will have to listen to my views and that that will save me the trouble of explaining them to him!
I have deliberately avoided speaking in your Lordships' House on the subject of Lords reform until now. I had some experience of reforms in another place and have been flattered by having my name attached to those reforms. However, I felt that I should wait until now before trying to express opinions about how your Lordships' House might be reformed.
As a creature of the House of Commons, I have been hugely struck in the almost two years since I became a Member of this House by the better informed and certainly better mannered work of this place. It is sometimes not easy to get used to that after 33 years in the other place.
However, I am less impressed by the way in which the Government have been thinking out their revisions to our constitution and our Parliament, which seem to have cascaded upon us during the past 18 months. I really cannot understand why the Royal Commission could not have been set up 18 months ago. We could then all have had a much better understanding of the possibilities of phase two. Frankly, and with great respect to the noble Baroness the Leader of the House, it is no good her complaining about the number of hours that this House is spending discussing reform. The fact that your Lordships want to spend so much time discussing it is a function of the uncertainty about the future, and must be quite understandable.
The noble Baroness spoke of the need for consensus. I resented the way in which the Government made fundamental changes in another place, particularly with regard to Prime Minister's Question Time. There was no consensus there. I ask the noble Baroness to consider the reforms in another place, which, as I have said, occasionally bear my name. They were proposed in 1992, but until we achieved consensus across the House of Commons the government of the day did not implement them. They could have done so perfectly easily, but felt that there had to be consensus.
My conclusion is that, once the hereditary Peers have left your Lordships' House, this House is destined to become infinitely more political, more party political and more combative. So many experienced colleagues, who have spent all their lives in either another place or in this House, firmly believe that that will happen. I am certain that it will. I shall return to that point later.
Others speak about the need for an age limit. I agree very much with what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant, on that point. Frankly, I think that we would be mad to deprive your Lordships' House of the contributions from Peers such as the noble Earl, Lord Longford, the noble Lords, Lord Callaghan and
In my view--I am afraid that this will be controversial--we would be a good deal wiser to question whether, in the calculations about party strengths and numbers in the future, we should take account of those life Peers who rarely attend your Lordships' House. I have been trying to do some research into this and I have calculated that of those life Peers who were eligible to attend for the whole of the first Session of this Parliament, about 70--that is, about one in seven--attended on fewer than 10 per cent. of the Sitting days. We understand, of course, that many of them may not be well or may be of an age when one should not be surprised by infrequent attendance. I hope that the Royal Commission will give some thought to the possibility of making arrangements to balance out party membership in the way in which the Government require, but, while doing so, perhaps we could consider excluding from party numbers some of those rare attenders and allowing them to speak but not to vote. I believe that very many of them have great wisdom which greatly enhances the reputation of your Lordships' House.
I return to the matter of party numbers. I hope that I shall be forgiven because I am the third former Chief Whip to speak and I hope that I am not seen to be making a plea from the "Chief Whips' Mafia". My old friend and opponent, the noble Lord, Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe, always used to tell me that one must always remember that Parliament (in both Houses) works only because of the unwritten understanding that the government of the day must be allowed to get their business. That is a fundamental facet of our life in this building. If it were not, frankly, the whole business would collapse. If we are to become more party political--and I am convinced that we shall be--as I said earlier, it is essential that we do not make it totally impossible for the government of the day to get their business through in your Lordships' House.
To achieve that parity which the Government speak of in the White Paper will mean an adjustment of numbers after each change of government in order to get to that level of parity. It is quite impossible to expect the whole of the electorate to go and vote again immediately after a general election to top up the Members. Therefore, if we are to have an elected element in your Lordships' House, that is the time to do it, through indirect elections.
However, in achieving the parity which the Government want, we must be careful that we do not find ourselves in a period of frequent changes of government becoming a bigger and bigger House, which is totally unmanageable. When I chaired the Select Committee in another place on this, to my infinite regret I was not allowed to address the matter of the number of Members there. I know how much I would have been delighted to propose a very large reduction. In that context, I am alarmed at the proposal to which the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, referred; namely, to allow 91 hereditary Peers to stay on. My name did appear in a letter to The Times, along with the names of my noble friends Lord Howell of Guildford and Lord Baker of Dorking, which tried to make the point that the proposal is not as clever as it has been made out to be by some of our colleagues. However, time prevents me from explaining that at length.
If, as I expect, the Government insist on topping up their numbers in the transitional House to make up for the deficit caused by the appointment of the 91 temporary hereditary Peers, it is essential that those individuals, too, ought to disappear when the temporary hereditary Peers disappear. Otherwise, we shall be left at the end of the transition with a whole disparity which will have to be corrected all over again. I have said enough; indeed, I have exceeded my time. Nevertheless, I am grateful to the House for listening to me with such patience.
Baroness Strange: My Lords, unaccustomed as I am to such amazing prominence in the list of speakers, I shall have to rewrite most of my speech which was all about bedtime and breakfast. I shall still try to make my speech as brief as possible. There are just two points that I should like to make. The first is about heredity. The idea of hereditary Peers has been dismissed as indefensible by every speaker in the other place. I did not listen to their debates, but I have read both of the relevant Hansard reports. Therefore, like the noble Lord, Lord Denham, the noble Baroness, Lady Young, and I am sure, late tomorrow night, the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, I shall defend it.
We all bring up our children to be good, useful citizens of the world. We want them to be kinder, nicer, cleverer and more successful than we are ourselves. Of all my children's reports, the ones I most cherished were those which said they were kind, thoughtful and considerate of other people. I therefore see nothing to be ashamed of in being an hereditary Peer. It is something marvellous which one has inherited and, as a result, it is one's duty, while one has it, to use this privilege to help others. I also do not believe that to describe hereditary Peers in the ways in which they have been described during the past year is either true or kind; or, indeed, necessary. Personally, considering the difficulties that we have had with our central heating over the past few weeks, I think it would have been much more useful to have been born an hereditary plumber.
This House of your Lordships is a wonderful place. I say that not only because the gold, the crimson, the amazing Pugin features, lions and unicorns and angels are all part of the glorious background; not only because of the marvellous people who actually run it, the Clerks, Black Rod and the Doorkeepers, the refreshment staff and the police, together with all the ladies who keep it so gleaming and polished, many of whom are our dear friends--if I started mentioning names it would indeed be breakfast-time before I had finished--and not only because on whichever Benches we sit, whatever views we represent, we are all a team, dedicated to improving legislation and to defending the interests of the people, though we may not always agree on the best way to do this. All of your Lordships are so kind. I remember when I first came the late Lord Home of the Hirsel sat and had tea with me, the noble Viscount, Lord Whitelaw, told me fascinating stories of his early days in the other place, the late dear Lord Elwyn-Jones talked of the Nazi trials after the war and the late Lord Houghton of Sowerby talked of life in the trenches in the First World War. I even had the reciprocal pleasure of giving tea to Lady Callaghan while her noble kinsman sat through a long list of speakers after he had spoken.
Whether you were a life Peer or an hereditary Peer, whether you were a duke or a baron, a former prime minister or someone very insignificant like me; indeed, whatever Benches you sat on, you were all friends and you were all working together. It was like a Victorian children's story which my grandmother used to read to me called The Angel of Love, in which every person is a house and his eyes are windows out of which looks the little angel of love. Of course there had to be drama in it, and there was. Rosie, the middle sister who was six, was playing one night with the gold sovereign that her grandmother had given her. It fell between a crack
In the past year something very similar has been happening in your Lordships' House, with the bleak and bald announcement that all hereditary Peers are to be got rid of. We have all worked together, as best we could, some of course more successfully than others, and we have all tried. Many of us have become very unsettled, and very unhappy. And all that will be achieved at the end of the day will be something possibly not so good, nor so efficient, and certainly more expensive to the taxpayer.
There is one other very short point I would make. There has also, regrettably, been much talk of an age limit. In this House, we have no age discrimination, no ageism, we revere and admire the wisdom, brilliance and wit of your Lordships who have reached the mature age of 90, and even of the younger 80 year-olds. Perhaps one should bow to the idol of modernity, and fix an age limit, and I would suggest as a temporary measure, 105--at least until some of your Lordships reach that age, when we might have to make the upper limit a little more.
Lord Eden of Winton: My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Strange, and I hope to echo some of her sentiments during the course of my remarks. I begin by taking issue with the title of the White Paper. It is referred to as Reforming the House of Lords. From what I see in the contents of the White Paper there is more of an intention to replace than to reform. What appears to be the preferred solution of the Government--at least that is my interpretation of pages 40, 41, 49 and 50--is that they want an altogether different Chamber, a new second Chamber with fewer powers and a changed composition. Even the Life Peers are only to be Peers for life, apparently, for the time being. In the process they will alter fundamentally the purpose and powers of Parliament as a whole.
I hope very much that the Royal Commission will take into account the impact on Parliament as a whole during the course of its deliberations. It is, if I am fair in my summary, the Government's declared aim to modernise our institutions in such ways as will enable them more accurately to reflect current realities. I have no grounds for protesting about that but I suspect that they have another prize in mind. They have nothing less as their ultimate objective than the diminution of Parliament itself and the concentration of true power in the hands of the Government.
I am a Conservative with both a large and a small "C". I am not against change per se but I am distrustful of changes which are pushed through perhaps because they conform comfortably to some populist slogan and which are promoted with ill-concealed contempt for any opposing point of view. Of course one must always be ready to change and adapt. If one does not do so, as an institution this Chamber will soon lose popular sympathy and support. Ideally such change should be a gradual, evolutionary process preceded by much thought and accompanied by much debate. That is the right way to proceed, in harmony with our national character and contributing greatly to the relative stability of political life. Such an approach should influence any proposals for change in our great national institutions such as Parliament. The White Paper acknowledges this at page 46 where it states,
I have to confess that my suspicions are heightened by the ministerial glee with which the Government set about denigrating hereditary Peers. They found in them an easy target, it is true, because they were not going to resist the changes proposed. I suspect they set about their task all the more robustly in the terms of the Bill before Parliament in the other place now because they did not want the contribution of experienced hereditary Peers to be brought to bear upon the consideration of what should take the place of the present House. Hereditary Peers have in the main served long hours in this place and have demonstrated a tradition of service and a sense of responsibility. Their departure will be a great loss not only to Parliament but also to discerning people throughout this kingdom who have a high regard for their independence and judgment. This is reflected in the White Paper at page 40 which states:
I predict that the new members of the new second Chamber will not be inclined to feel so constrained. They will not have those same traditions bred into them. They will have an altogether different approach and one which is being actively encouraged by the Government to represent special interest groups, to pursue specific objectives and not to think about the position of Parliament as a whole and the constitution of this country. I believe that in this way the Government will find that this House will become a forum for intensive lobbying. There will be push and pressure such as they have not known it so far. That will lead inevitably to conflict with the Commons.
That is perhaps why they are already trailering the reduction in powers as envisaged in paragraphs 25 and 26 on pages 40 and 41. We can now see what kind of picture is unfolding. They are bringing this out gently, line by line, colour by colour, until gradually we see the whole portrayal before us, but they are not telling us openly, in advance, what it is that they are about. Apparently they see the new second Chamber as becoming the hub of a representative institutional network. Frankly I confess that I dislike the prospect of an institutional representative network. It will be a mishmash of assemblies, committees and debating chambers--this House and the other place being just a part of it all. It does not need much imagination to see who will be the beneficiaries of all this. It will be Ministers--Ministers who will become less and less accountable; who because of the proliferation of representative bodies will be able to avoid scrutiny. Executive accountability will be fragmented. Is this what it is really all about?
The Prime Minister--who appears to be Parliament-shy and anything but media-shy--who resents opposition and criticism and is ready to resort to the block vote if it suits him, now seems intent on creating a series of neutered institutions to replace the present Parliament at Westminster. The Government are going completely in the wrong direction. They should be strengthening Parliament, adding to its power. A strong Parliament makes for a strong government; a strong and accountable government is good for Britain. That, not this wobbly jelly fantasy, is what Britain must have as we enter the 21st century.
Lady Kinloss: My Lords, when I first sat in your Lordships' House there was only one other woman Peer sitting with me on the Cross-Benches, my noble friend the late Lady Swanborough. I inherited her very nice coathanger, which I still use and treasure. There has been a great sea change; not only have women Peers become more numerous but Cross-Benchers have more than trebled in number. I shall refer to this change later.
As I understand it, it has long been believed that the hereditary Peers scotched the last attempt at reform. This I regard as incorrect. I find unacceptable the abrupt dismissal of hereditary Peers, many of whom would support a constructive reform. I see no reason for a transitional House of Lords until its future is determined by consensus. I find extraordinary illogicalities in the White Paper.
The change to which I refer has been wholly spontaneous. The White Paper seeks to make the composition of the House completely rigid. Given the fluctuations of public opinion, any attempt to enforce any rigidity is bound to break down. Perhaps the Minister can say what will happen if a Peer or Peers wishes to cross the floor and so change the balance? This they can do at present, and have done so. Peers are subject to the universal law of death--whether hereditary or life Peers of any party or none--which no legislation can repeal. Some 50 Peers, whether hereditary or life, have their peerages extinguished by death every year. How will an independent appointments committee be able to recommend, as the White Paper suggests, non-political appointments and vet all nominations to sit in the House of Lords? Can the Minister say whether I am correct in thinking that non-political appointees will sit on the Cross-Benches?
The terms of reference of the Royal Commission, as set out in Chapter 22, paragraph 23, read very well, but they do not really disclose the Government's intentions. I wonder what they may be. Royal Commissions have been ignored within my memory; can the Minister say why this Royal Commission may not be ignored? If it is, what happens then?
Are future Peers--or whatever they may be called--to be paid, as is the case with Members in the other place? To what extent will they be merely place men? Without remuneration they may not be eager to serve, and may not be financially able to do so. I find some difficulties in giving unreserved support to the White Paper.
Lord Trefgarne: My Lords, I do not believe that the Government have ever fully appreciated the strength of feeling among your Lordships with regard to the reform of the House of Lords. That strength of feeling is clearly demonstrated by the number of noble Lords who have already spoken or intend to do so, and by the fact that the Government have had to extend the time of the debate to two days.
In her opening remarks, the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, made much of the Labour Party manifesto commitment to abolish the speaking and voting rights of hereditary Peers. It is perhaps interesting to reflect that a recent survey suggests that no more than, I think, 2 per cent. of the population understood, accepted, or
This is an important debate. The Government cannot expect us to allow 700 years of history and tradition to be swept away without so much as a by your leave. After all Simon de Montfort's Parliament--the so-called mother of Parliaments--was largely a House of Lords and not a House of Commons.
I have had the privilege of serving in your Lordships' House for more than 35 years; 13 of those years were spent on the Front Bench, two in opposition and 11 in government. I make no claim to be wiser or cleverer than anyone else but, like many of your Lordships, I speak from a position of some experience in this House--of its roles, its customs, its strengths and its weaknesses. I believe that we are a unique House and that we have been able to retain our independence from both the government of the day and the House of Commons and serve as an effective revising Chamber within our parliamentary system.
As a Minister--like many others who have served in Parliament--I soon learnt that it was very unwise to take your Lordships' House for granted. That applies equally to both Conservative and Labour administrations. It will come as no surprise that I have found to my cost when speaking from the government Dispatch Box that I have not always been able to persuade your Lordships of the merits of my proposals or to resist other proposals put forward.
The Government make great play about the so-called in-built Conservative majority among hereditary Peers. Indeed, we know how annoyed the Government are when they have suffered occasional defeats in this House at the hands of combined numbers of Conservatives, Liberal Democrats, their own Members and Cross-Benchers. Of course, they were very swift to praise your Lordships when previous Conservative administrations suffered defeat in this House, as they quite often did.
The truth is that any government who enjoy a large majority in the House of Commons are safe in the knowledge that they can force any controversial legislation through that House, come what may. In the end it must be the view of the House of Commons which prevails, as it always can and should under the provisions of the Parliament Act and the Salisbury-Addison convention, to which my noble friend Lord Denham referred. Without a doubt, the hereditary principle has provided Parliament with an independent, free-thinking and unprejudiced group of people. It is that independence which is, in my view, the most important characteristic of your Lordships' House--independence from the House of Commons, independence from the Government, and independence from any particular sectional view.
Whether an individual Peer decides to take a party Whip or join the Cross Benches is a decision reached by that individual Peer. Even then, hereditary Peers can still--and often do--ignore the voting instructions of the party machine, free from the pressures which might be felt by someone who owed their position to their
Take my own position. Since taking my seat I have always taken the Conservative Whip. But that was my own decision. My father was, first of all, a Liberal Member of the other place; he then became a Labour Member of the other place; and then rejoined the Liberal Party in this House towards the end of his life. My decision to join the Conservative Party and take the Conservative Whip was not an automatic one; it was one which I agonised over and took with great care in the context of all sorts of advice at that time. And, my Lords, it is from that perspective that I view the Government's decision to start the reform of the House of Lords in the way they intend more in sorrow than in anger.
Like many noble Lords on this side of the House and elsewhere have already made clear, I do not oppose reform of this House in itself; far from it. For example, there is, as everyone knows, a perception that my noble friend the Conservative Chief Whip can summon up sufficient noble Lords any day he likes to secure the view of his party. That is, I believe, more a perception than a reality, but perhaps no less real for that. I would therefore not necessarily oppose a restriction on the voting rights of Peers who were very infrequent attenders. I would emphasise that the problem of infrequent attenders is not confined to hereditary noble Lords of ancient lineage. It is regrettable that so many of the recently created life Peers, many of them apparently Labour Party supporters, having taken their seats, then subsequently attend hardly at all. I would also welcome allowing the leaders of all the main religious faiths in this country, and not just those from the Church of England, to be Members of this House and contribute to our debates. I listened with great care to the speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester. I am not sure that I wholly went along with the view that the present Prelates who sit in this House are representative of the whole religious community in this country. I would welcome the leaders of other faiths here as well.
And, if some part of the hereditary system is to be retained, as perhaps it will be under the proposals, I would welcome a reform whereby the first born, and not just the first son, might inherit the title.
Many important functions, such as membership of Select Committees and being Deputy Speakers, are held by hereditary Peers. If hereditary Peers are to lose the right to sit in this House, then it will be for life Peers to fill those positions. I wonder whether life Peers, even those who are regular attenders, are willing to take on all the responsibilities that these extra duties require.
The Government have repeatedly drawn attention to what they see as the shortcomings of the hereditary principle. These arguments, if valid, could apply equally to our hereditary monarchy. Of course, the Government deny that they have any plans in this regard. No doubt that is true for the moment. But the fact is that when and if the forthcoming legislation passes into law, the
Perhaps I may finally refer to the Royal Commission which the Government have announced. With the obvious exception of my noble friend Lord Hurd of Westwell, I wonder as to the knowledge and experience of the proposed members. I confess that their names, when I read them, were not all, although some were, familiar to me. Perhaps I do not move in the right circles. But I hope that the members of the Royal Commission will be ready to consider their evidence openly and freely and not come to their task with any preconceived notions.
We are, in the proposed legislation and in the first phase of the reform, upon which we are about to embark apparently, taking, as my noble friend Lord Strathclyde said, a great leap in the dark. I am reminded of the words of Sir Winston Churchill:
Lord Norton of Louth: My Lords, before I address specifically the White Paper, I should like to take up a point that was made by the noble Baroness the Leader of the House during her speech. She said then that the issue itself had been discussed at great length over many years and there was no need for primary research. She is quite right in her first assertion. It is a topic that has been frequently discussed at great length over many years. But there is a great difference between a topic being discussed at great length and a topic being discussed in great depth. That is what has been absent from the debate about your Lordships' House in recent times. It has not been discussed in depth and I do believe there is still a case for serious primary research, not least into what happens in second chambers elsewhere.
In terms of the White Paper itself, the Motion invites us to "take note" of the White Paper. I find a slight problem in that because I am not sure there is a great deal to take note of. The White Paper raises far more questions than it answers. The White Paper tells us two things about the Government's approach to reform of the upper House. The first is that it does not exist within any intellectually coherent approach to constitutional change. The Government's plans for reform are flawed, because the Government are treating a change in the composition of this House as a cause, rather than a consequence, of wider constitutional change. This is especially important given the Government's other changes to the constitution.
As has already been mentioned in this debate, the starting point of constitutional change should not be the composition of a legislative chamber. The starting point should be the constitution. I have made that point before. What form of constitution do we want? What are the first principles that should determine the role of the legislature? Once we know that, then we know the powers and composition that are appropriate to the two chambers.
The Government have already embarked on a number of constitutional changes. It is the combination of changes that is important. Each has consequences for other changes. Taken together, they alter the constitutional framework of the United Kingdom. What will the end result be? We are not altogether sure. That is not because the Government will not tell us. It is because the Government themselves do not know. They have no cohesive perception of the actual constitution that they are working towards.
The constitution became a topic of political debate in the 1970s. In subsequent years several coherent approaches to constitutional change emerged. In the past decade, two of those approaches have tended to dominate. One is the traditional approach, which is wedded to the Westminster model of government. The structure and relationships of our system have, for the past century, largely adhered to that model. It is a model that delivers a number of benefits: it provides for a form of government that is coherent, responsive, effective, flexible and, above all, accountable. There is one body--the party in government--responsible for public policy; and that body can be swept out of office if electors disapprove of that policy.
The other approach that has made much of the running in debate has been the liberal approach. It presses for a new constitutional settlement--one that is based on a particular view of society and of the individual--and the changes to the constitution that it favours are radical. It wants a new electoral system, a judicially enforceable Bill of Rights, devolution--or, in its pure form, federalism--and an elected second chamber, all embodied within a written constitution. I do not agree with that approach but I recognise that it is intellectually coherent. It has a clear goal and a clear premise for what it wants to achieve.
The problem with the Government's proposals for change is that they fit squarely within neither of those approaches; nor indeed within any of the others that emerged in the 1970s and 1980s. They have not sought to articulate a coherent approach of their own. It appears that they have no clear goal. The absence of a clear goal is demonstrated beyond peradventure by the White Paper. The Government want to get rid of hereditary Peers--that is clear--but beyond that they have no developed views. They know there are several options. They point the Royal Commission in the direction of a mixed composition but otherwise they appear content to leave it to the Royal Commission. In other words, the Government are saying to the commission "We are a radical Government but please tell us what to do; and please do not do anything that will affect the House of Commons". There is a very strong case for maintaining the primacy of the House of Commons--I stress primacy rather than dictatorship--but it is not made in the White Paper. It is not put within any clear, coherent, constitutional framework.
The inadequacies in the White Paper lead me to pose a number of questions to the Government. What exactly is the approach--the intellectual approach--of the Government to constitutional change? How do the Government's proposals, such as they are for the Upper
My fear is that we shall not get such answers--certainly not adequate answers--to those questions. That brings me to the second distinguishing characteristic of the White Paper, already been touched upon by other noble Lords. That is, that the Government's plans are clearly rushed. There has been inadequate preparation. The White Paper adds little knowledge on the subject, relying at times on material that is dated.
More fundamentally, the White Paper is clearly rushed in terms of the Government's thinking. Removing hereditary Peers, it is claimed, will enhance the legitimacy of the House. The White Paper also floats the possibility of a reduction in the powers of the House of Lords. In short, the Government envisage greater legitimacy but fewer powers. They are not committing themselves to fewer powers, but the fact that that possibility is mentioned in the White Paper lends itself to that perception. We must add to that the fact that the Government lean towards a mixed composition--that is, a part elected House. Once you have an elected body, be it wholly or partly elected, it is unlikely to rest content with limited powers.
The Government have not thought through the consequences of removing hereditary Peers. That is clear from the White Paper, from the Explanatory Memorandum to the Bill, and from Answers given to Parliamentary Questions. The assumption is that the House can simply carry on as before. And that is all it is: an assumption. The Government have taken no steps, carried out no study, to determine the consequences. The noble Baroness the Leader of the House made clear in answer to a Written Question from the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, that they have no intention of doing so.
Everything about what the Government have done exudes a sense of panic as well as a sense of disdain. There is an unwillingness to address the issue squarely and in depth. A Royal Commission is being hastily set up. It is to be rushed into producing a report. It is almost certainly not being given enough time to call the kind of witnesses that are crucial to such an inquiry; that is, experts from abroad who can offer authoritative testimony on second chambers. That is the kind of research that is clearly lacking in this whole exercise. Most of the debates over the years have been a repetition at a rather superficial level. There is a case for much more informed scrutiny and research of the role of second chambers.
The Government have had over a year, almost two years in fact--longer than they are giving the Royal Commission--to undertake a proper study in preparation for a White Paper on Lords Reform. The White Paper that we have before us is clearly not the product of such a study. We are entitled to ask why not.
In short, and in conclusion, the Government are rushing headlong into change on the basis of an incoherent approach to constitutional change. It may be too late to stop them getting it wrong, but let us be in no doubt that that is exactly what they are doing.
Lord Judd: My Lords, unlike the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, and others, I believe that the White Paper is to be welcomed. It does not seem to me to mince words. Indeed, it sets out the agenda very clearly. I hope that I shall be forgiven for underlining some of its priorities. If it is arguably rather prescriptive for the work of the Royal Commission, that at least indicates the firm resolve of government rather than a shunting off of the responsibility of leadership.
Clearly the time for fundamental change has come. We cannot go into the 21st Century as we are, especially when so much is being done in other spheres of governance to regenerate the spirit of democracy. However, I do believe that in preparing for change we ought fully and generously to put on record that, whatever the historical origins of their privilege, and these can in some instances bear little scrutiny, there have been and still are hereditary peers in all parts of this House who have used their space and material security to bring a great sense of responsibility, originality, commitment, wisdom and public service to the affairs of Parliament. Some have also coupled those qualities with professional and academic distinction and with experience which have greatly enhanced the quality of our proceedings. It would be mean and dishonest to pretend otherwise. We have all witnessed it, not only in this Chamber but in the work of Select Committees as well. Indeed, the standards set by some hereditary Peers have been a challenge to the rest of us. That should be said without equivocation. I am glad that the White Paper and proposed interim arrangements at least in part acknowledge it.
Noblesse oblige is no bad principle; and whatever the changes that come, history will not smile on us if we underrate character and independence of judgment. We must not replace what we have with a grey, boring place made up of aspiring, over-compliant placemen unduly beholden to their party managers.
That brings me to my first point. We are closing a long and powerful chapter in our history. We are saying that it is no longer appropriate for a genuine democracy to have a second Chamber rooted in the power of wealth and social advantage: and that is what the title House of Lords has been all about. It belonged to a story in which social elitism dominated. Whatever the form and tasks of a new second Chamber, it needs a new name to convey the sense and purpose of a new reality. There should be no lingering doubts or confusions about its nature. Titles like "Lord" or "Lady" should surely no longer apply per se to membership of the new Chamber. I am glad that the wording of the White Paper, as I read it, with its very careful reference to "second Chamber" in the terms of reference for the Royal Commission, does not fall into that trap. However, with the greatest possible respect, it is the amendment before us which does invite us to make just that mistake with its reference to "this Chamber" and with its failure to register a new beginning. We are not, I hope, about substituting a new would-be social elite for the old.
"Think again" and initiation of debate on matters of strategic concern which do not find an adequate place on the agenda of the House of Commons are obvious functions. But there is another. With the accentuation of global interdependence, more and more policy is inevitably considered and decided in international meetings and institutions. It is vital to keep such policy formulation and decision-making--not least treaties, conventions and agreements and the input by the UK to the process--under systematic scrutiny. We currently do this in this House with the European Union. But the arrangements for scrutiny should surely cover the IMF, the World Bank, the UN system, the G7, the World Trade Organisation, environmental conferences, NATO, OSCE, WEU, the Council of Europe and the rest. A second Chamber could well have a key part to play in monitoring globalisation and keeping the principle of accountability alive.
But at all costs the power of final decision-making should rest, and be seen to rest, with the Commons. Any fudging of this could tend to undermine the democratic accountability of the executive. "Divide and rule" could become potentially tempting. Care will therefore be necessary to ensure that nothing is inadvertently done which, over a period of time, whatever the parameters laid down at the beginning, might lead a second Chamber in the name, for example, of electoral legitimacy, to start challenging the supremacy of the Commons. Apart from any continuing specialist legal functions, a second Chamber should be, and should be seen to be, advisory.
As we have all come to understand, sustainable democracy is about more than general elections and adding up votes. It demands an open society with freedom of information; responsible, stimulating and challenging media, and an educational system which prepares the young for citizenship enabling them to become enquiring, analytical, questioning and positive individuals, self-confident and able to challenge authority. Healthy and sustainable democracy depends upon vibrant civil society. It values pluralism. Its political institutions, therefore, need to reflect that pluralism and not be about quantitative representation alone. This is obviously highly relevant to the composition of any new second Chamber. The importance of pluralism is manifested in the realms of religion, ethnicity, profession or occupation, culture, voluntary and non-governmental organisations, recreation and much else besides. As the significance of the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly, the new constitutional arrangements in Northern Ireland, the European Parliament and, indeed, regionalism in England increases, we shall also have to give serious
There has been a tendency for formal political life to become a "closed" community. This is not wholesome. Political institutions, not least Parliament, should be open and transparent and involve the widest possible cross section of society. Any second Chamber should be well serviced, with its members able to give it their proper, effective attention. Eligibility for membership must not be inhibited by the limited means of any potential member.
I make two brief points in conclusion. I hope the Royal Commission will look at the case for a fixed term of service with no question of extension--in other words, nothing to play for. This could well contribute to strengthening the spirit of independent thought and judgment. Similarly, while ageism should be avoided and experience and perspective should be at a premium, nevertheless, while this may well deprive the nation of some still first class minds, I do believe the Royal Commission will need to grasp the nettle of an age limit. Any such limit could, of course, well reflect the evolution of society towards healthy longevity.
Lord Marlesford: My Lords, my quarrel with the Government is not that they wish to reform the House of Lords; it is that they are going about in such a cack-handed way. They started with their manifesto commitment to end the right of hereditary Peers to sit and vote. There is certainly a case for reform along those lines both because the number of hereditary Peers is disproportionate and also because the present system is widely perceived as being politically unsustainable, although as I have argued before, I believe that it is essential to keep the best of the hereditary element. That is why I strongly support the compromise negotiated with the Lord Chancellor and the Prime Minister by my noble friend Lord Cranborne and the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill.
However, I reject as pernicious the proposal that this should be followed at once by a further and final reform. Of course, I recognise that the Government were tempted down that route from many sources, partly by people in another place and partly by my own party. Indeed, having carefully read the speeches made in another place, it does not seem that either theme or great wisdom emerged to assist the Government. Frankly, I am not sure how interested MPs really are in it, or even some Members of the Government. I predict that boredom will quickly erode any support that the Government may have for their measures among the wider public.
But to set up a Royal Commission on this complicated subject with no more than 10 months to report is dangerous nonsense. In a recent Written Answer, the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, kindly listed for me the 39 Royal Commissions set up
The simple fact is that within any constitution, whether written or unwritten, there is a most delicate set of inter-relationships. Perhaps it is rather like a game of spillikins, in which the players try to pick up a spillikin from the heap without moving any others. The Government give the impression of believing that the ideal New Labour Britain can have its constitution worked out on the back of an envelope, probably during a taxi ride.
At the present time there are at least two major changes being imposed upon our constitution. The first is internal: the devolution of power to Scotland and Wales, and perhaps subsequently to the English regions. The other is external; namely the ever-growing role of the European Union in our domestic affairs. There is also, of course, the little matter of the possible change to our electoral system.
Some of us who over the years have had a professional task of observing Parliament, and particularly the House of Commons, at work and at play, may also have noted that the quality of political life has changed. This may already have had a negative effect in attracting the ablest participants.
I would suggest to the Government that before it is possible to come to any view on the long-term functions and structure of the House of Lords it will be essential to see how various major upheavals work out in practice.
In making my case for delay I would like to make a few remarks about the constitutions of two other countries with which we have had the closest links over the centuries, namely, France and the United States. Seldom have so many attempts been made to change a constitution than in France since the French Revolution. I leave aside the period of the revolution itself and the five further years of chaos until the military dictatorship of Napoleon was established. Since then there have been nine different constitutions. The current one, the Fifth Republic, has lasted over 40 years.
But in some ways the most interesting political lesson of the French Revolution is that, for all the drama of those early years and the subsequent changes, France has ended up being run by very much the same sort of people as were running it before 1789--an elite bureaucracy. In the days of Louis XVI, it was the corps headed by the group with the rank of Secretaire du Roi. These high offices, which were often purchased by those who had embarked on successful commercial careers, led to immediate hereditary ennoblement. Lesser posts gave ennoblement for life, although if the post was held for three generations the ennoblement became hereditary.
Today France is run by the Enarches, the products of the Grandes Ecoles or ENA, many of whom are remarkably similar in their elite educational background and proven ability to Members of your Lordships' House.
If one measures the success of a constitution by its durability--it is not a bad test especially in a democracy--the constitution of the United States stands out. It is truly remarkable that in over 200 years there have been only 26 amendments, and the first 10 of those were in 1791--the Bill of Rights.
The American Senate, by the test of any form of proportional representation, can hardly be described as democratic. There are two senators from each state: equal representation for California, the largest state, with a population of 32 million, to Wyoming, the smallest, with fewer than half a million. Originally the Senate was indirectly elected, with senators chosen by the legislature of each state. Direct elections were only introduced under the 17th amendment of 1913. I understand that changes in the present arrangements are not regarded as a priority in the United States.
Earlier this month I had the opportunity to visit a fascinating exhibition entitled "The Great Experiment--George Washington and the American Republic" in the Huntington Library in California. In the scholarly catalogue John Rhodehamel, curator of American history at the Huntington, paraphrases a reply by Washington to an English aristocrat who had inquired as to his ancestry:
As the Government have in the short run--the very short run--handed over responsibility for the future of your Lordships' House to my noble friend Lord Wakeham and his 11 colleagues on the Royal Commission, I suppose that it is to them that my remarks are primarily directed. I hope that it will not be too many months before they return to the Government with a short lesson in the complexities and practicalities of constitutional reform. At present there is a real danger that the White Paper will degenerate into instant and ill-conceived legislation such as that on dangerous dogs and firearms. The difference is that this is all rather more important. It really could affect the lives and wellbeing of all the people of our country. Noble Lords may well be justified in using their powers to ask the Government to think again and again--and if necessary again.
The Government believe that your Lordships' House suffers from a lack of legitimacy because of the presence of hereditary Peers. The White Paper also reveals the Government's belief that the existence of inheritance as one of the qualifications for membership has led your Lordships' House to exercise restraint in the use of its legislative powers. I do not believe that this is so. Rather, most Members of your Lordships' House, life and hereditary Members alike, believe that the extent to which they should challenge the will of the democratically elected House is limited.
The Government believe that the removal of the rights of hereditary Peers will in itself amount to a marked improvement of your Lordships' House, removing much of the cause of its deficit in both effectiveness and balance. It is harder to argue about balance. However, it is not true, although it is sometimes claimed, that the Conservative Party enjoys a large overall majority in your Lordships' House. The White Paper itself states that 476 Peers, or 41 per cent., take the Conservative Whip. It is also clear that most noble Lords are much less driven by their political affiliations and are much more independent than Members of another place. Twenty-seven per cent. of your Lordships have no political affiliation. On the one hand, the White Paper recognises that the voice of independent Peers is one of the great strengths of the House, but removal of the hereditary Peers would reduce the number of Cross-Benchers by nearly 70 per cent. The transitional House will have a much smaller independent element, and it is hard to see how any future House, appointed or elected, could include as strong and independent an element as exists at present.
I do not wish to defend the hereditary principle in democratic terms, which is clearly difficult. Indeed, it is equally difficult to argue that appointed Peers are democratic. However, I do not agree with the comment of the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, in your Lordships' House on 14th October last year that she did not believe she would employ a hereditary plumber. My experience leads me to the opposite view, as expressed today by the noble Baroness, Lady Strange. All other things being equal, I think I would tend to employ a hereditary plumber rather than one whose father had had a completely different occupation. I also would tend to prefer a hereditary accountant, builder,
As a hereditary Peer I feel a little disappointed that the Government think that our removal from your Lordships' House will improve its effectiveness. This suggests that hereditary Peers make a net negative contribution to the effectiveness of the House. To be replaced with nothing is a profoundly depressing thought, whereas most hereditary Peers would happily depart this place if they knew the details of the fully reformed House and they appeared to make sense and commanded a degree of public approval.
Your Lordships' House is obviously not democratically elected but it plays a crucial role in the democratic process in various important ways. Its in-built conservative (with a small "c") majority enables it to act as a restraining influence on the introduction of radical changes to our legislation and our constitution. I believe that even some noble Lords on the Benches opposite would agree with the proposition that constitutional change should be more difficult for a powerful Executive commanding a large majority in another place than a minor legislative change. In many countries constitutional change requires a two-thirds majority in both Houses of Parliament and a referendum. It is relatively easy to change our unwritten constitution here, and I believe it is a good thing that your Lordships' House has been able to act as a brake on too rapid and ill-considered change. Unfortunately, I do not believe that we have been successful enough in this, but, as I have said, we must ultimately submit to the will of the elected Chamber. The transitional House will be much less able to perform this important function. It will also be much less able to hold the Executive to account in a wider sense. It will clearly have fewer Members with current or recent experience in many varied walks of life; it will be much more political, and I expect that the power of the Whips will gradually increase. There will be more pressure for regular attendance, and the membership will include a much larger element of professional politicians, making your Lordships' House more like another place.
The White Paper states that the deliberative function of your Lordships' House is important and valued and expresses the hope that the fully reformed second Chamber will be equipped to continue it and even to expand it. I am surprised that the Government are content to express such a hope rather than acknowledge that a reformed House must be so equipped. It is thus all the more dangerous not to achieve consensus on what a fully reformed House should look like before proceeding with stage one, which will leave a neutered Chamber, with reduced ability to carry out its functions, commanding less respect and held in lower regard than your Lordships' House is today both at home and
I have spent nearly half my working life in Japan and have travelled extensively over 25 years as an investment banker. This Parliament, including your Lordships' House, is regarded as the Mother of Parliaments and is held in great respect by many people around the world, in spite of or, dare I say, partly because of its unique features. There are many reasons why Britain punches above its weight in foreign affairs. One is the excellent quality of our Diplomatic Service and those who represent this country abroad. Another is the high regard in which this country's constitutional arrangements are held.
Like many noble Lords, I, too, was concerned at the Government's suggestion that the powers of your Lordships' House might be reduced. I therefore welcome the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Strathclyde which I shall support, and I urge other noble Lords to do so. If I may, I should like briefly to talk about Japan. The Japanese Diet before the Second World War was modelled closely on our Parliament, with a largely hereditary, partly appointed, House of Peers and an elected House of Representatives. After the war the constitution was changed at the instigation of the American occupation forces and the House of Peers was replaced in 1947 by the House of Councillors, 50 per cent. of whose members are elected for six years every three years partly on a national constituency basis by a closed list proportional representation system and partly on a prefectural constituency basis. Most Japanese believe that the adoption of the closed list system for the national constituency was a mistake.
It was intended that Japan's reformed upper House should be a "Chamber of common sense". It was hoped that its members would not conduct their business in accordance with the dictates of political parties and that its membership should not consist principally of professional politicians. Unfortunately, Japan's citizens have been disappointed. There is general apathy towards the House of Councillors and in recent elections only around 30 per cent. of the eligible electors have bothered to vote. Many of the Members are former Members of the lower House, the House of Representatives; and the business of the House is dominated by party politics. The electoral systems used by the two Houses are fairly similar, following recent electoral reforms, and many Japanese now believe that the upper House is redundant because it offers nothing different from or additional to what the lower House gives the Japanese.
Perhaps if we, rather than the Americans, had been the occupying power in Japan after the war they might have kept their hereditary upper House intact, in which case it might well have survived even until the present day. It is also a fact that Japanese electors appear to believe in the idea of hereditary legislators; some one-third of the seats in the lower House are occupied by sons, grandsons, sons-in-law and, increasingly, daughters of their predecessors.
In conclusion, I should like to return to the challenge that we face in creating a second Chamber which is better than the present one. I know that the Royal Commission under the chairmanship of my noble friend Lord Wakeham will have its work cut out to produce firm recommendations by the end of this year. In order to ensure that the reformed House should have more not less legitimacy and credibility than your Lordships' House has at present, I would hope that the commission will make recommendations which maximise continuity with the present system and preserve a significant and independent element, without which Parliament as a whole will be further diminished rather than strengthened, as it needs to be. I have spoken too long and I thank your Lordships for your patience.
The Marquess of Bath: My Lords, I congratulate the Government on producing a White Paper which answers nearly all our questions with regard to a reformed second Chamber. It lays down encouraging guidelines on the prospects for further modernisation. It is on the latter subject, however, that I wish to speak.
I take the line that the nation will be best served by a second Chamber which stands in complete contrast to the first Chamber. I envisage that its Members will be appointed in part by an all-party committee to select Peers with the broadest possible expertise and the widest possible range of professional qualifications. I should like to see them sitting for a 10-year period of office, with the committee holding the option to renew their peerages for an additional term, or half a term, according to what the committee thinks best, but with an upper age limit of 75 as the threshold for automatic retirement.
While these might account for half of the Peers in the second Chamber, I remain anxious that the additional half of your Lordships' House should accurately reflect the regional diversity of this land. I have been encouraged by the fact that the Government have set up regional development agencies which will probably emerge as the initial nuclei for the future English regions, although the creation of regional assemblies will also be essential before they can possibly feel that each is emerging in control of its particular quality of life.
I sincerely hope that the Government will encourage these regions to appear, each within a territory soon to be defined and of sufficient geographical size to warrant the sense of emergent identity. If they were too small the purpose would not be served. The smallest region should perhaps be the size of Yorkshire, but in most cases a whole group of counties would be involved, until England might finally consist of nine regions of a similar size in terms of their population. This will furnish the map of England which I envisage will find its place at the heart of European political evolution towards a "United Regions of Europe".
However, those regions require cosseting and governmental care in their emergence upon the political scene; and they must surely be given representation within the proposed second Chamber, with each of them
In order to reinforce the idea that those latter are regional nominations, the appointment should be made conjointly by the county councils of each region, with it being a matter for themselves to decide the character of Peers who should form their own delegation. That would constitute a second Chamber appointed by those who have been directly elected: in the first case chosen by our elected Members of Parliament to sit on the all-party committee for selecting Peers on a national basis; and in the second case chosen by the elected county councillors to represent their particular region. So Peers of both varieties will have been indirectly elected to the second Chamber with equal authority and similar duration of office--a unity of purpose and responsibility that should create no psychological division between the two groups, and without any of them having been directly elected.
The two elements that would still be missing from such a second Chamber would be the European and the spiritual dimensions. The appointment of Lords Spiritual could well continue on the existing basis, but in participation perhaps with the all-party committee's quota for appointees. And I would hope that the representatives of all the faiths which are to be found within this nation would find themselves nominated on a basis proportional to the prevalence of each faith within our society.
The European dimension should emerge as the special responsibility of the regional Peers: to establish cultural bonds with regions elsewhere throughout Europe, discovering where in Europe they might be doing things better than we are; and assisting them to learn from us where that might be applicable--for it is largely by these methods that the Europe of regions will finally emerge.
It will be in those particular functions of the second Chamber that we may expect Europe to start coming closer together in harmony, but with cultural diversity. I suggest that that is the legacy which we should be striving to hand down to our children. So while your Lordships' House will remain strictly subordinate to another place, we might well discover that the quality of life, both in terms of our region and our continent, are very much in these hands.
Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, it is a rare privilege to follow the noble Marquess, Lord Bath, and to listen again to the fascinating exposition on regional government and the composition of a second Chamber without physical divisions and so forth. But I am lost--I do not understand what it has to do with the subject of the White Paper.
The concession given by the noble Baroness the Leader of the House is also extremely valuable because the Royal Commission cannot deal with functions until it has dealt with powers. Until it has dealt with both, it cannot devise composition. I suggest that the concession goes to the root of our discussions. It is a very important factor.
I turn to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, and apologise for my intervention. He raised many questions of detailed implementation as regards the arrangement of the transitional House. He was a party to that arrangement and he was not conversant with so many details of implementation. That worried me and it may in due course worry your Lordships. I suggest with great respect that it would have been helpful to your Lordships to have the benefit of the knowledge of the noble Earl, Lord Carnarvon, and the noble Lords, Lord Weatherill and Lord Marsh, which they could put at our disposal to help us in this matter.
The Motion moved by the noble Baroness the Leader of the House enjoins your Lordships to "take note" of a phased strategy of attrition to distress the constitution and debilitate Parliament. It is but a reflection of the policy of Labour since 1910, as the noble Lord, Lord Richard--and I see him in his place--conceded some time ago. In the wake of the landslide election, my noble friend Lord Cranborne, suggested a referendum on options for reform, which was declined; albeit a matter on which resolutions should be sought by consensus, as the noble Baroness the Leader of the House agrees in principle.
However, is it not a meretricious assumption that only the proposals in the White Paper can afford requisite reform; an hubristic dissemblance of the people who, before partial demolition of the structure, wish to know the plans for reconstruction of the edifice? The case for a referendum, as sought by my noble friend Lord Cranborne, remains as valid as when unanswered by reasoned response.
Is it not apparent from the Official Report of the proceedings in another place on the first phase of the strategy that the acknowledged function of your Lordships' House as guardian of the constitution is neither recognised nor understood by another place? My noble friend Lord Denham, in an authoritative speech, made that all too plain as being his opinion.
In the exercise of that function, having taken due note of the Motion, your Lordships may well conclude that the amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Strathclyde is to be supported if only to persuade the Government to preserve some form of an effective bicameral administration under the Queen in Parliament; a proposition which envisages retention of the ethos of
I have notes, but I shall pick at them in order to keep within the time limit. I should like to deal with a transitional House. According to the White Paper, the Government are minded to accept the provisional inchoate arrangement brokered by my noble friend Lord Cranborne, if tabled as a Cross-Bench amendment. That is how I understood the position. However, there is no definitive version of that arrangement and no draft of the amendment is available. No assurance of safe conduct of its passage through either House can be given. However, it may not be assumed that the preconditions as to acceptance, as expressed at Chapter 5 paragraph 11 of the White Paper, or by the noble Baroness the Leader of the House on 20th January, form part of such arrangement as being in deprivation of parliamentary entitlement. None of us was there, none of us would know, and there is no way in which we can know, the details of implementation.
The version of the arrangement given at Chapter 5, paragraph 11, bears no resemblance whatever to Amendments Nos. 2 and 3 moved in Committee in another place. That is certain. Those amendments import disparity as to the implementation of Clauses 1 and 4, which could attract hybridity. The accommodation made to ensure orderly transition was a feat of diplomacy on the part of my noble friend in the interests of the body politic. It is in one way or another worthy of your Lordships' support. I say "one way or another" because it could be by amendment, it could be by an enabling Bill, which could, not attract hybridity, or by some other arrangement. The hope is that the substance may be given effect.
Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: My Lords, on reading the White Paper, my principal worry was that when it was putting forward suggestions and considering the place of a second Chamber in the constitution, it seems to have given little--almost no--consideration to what I conceive to be the major problem of the British constitution; namely, the dominance of the executive over the legislature.
That is not a new phenomenon. It has grown steadily throughout this century and has particularly accelerated over the past 30 or so years. Even the rather feeble check which MPs used to have on the executive--namely, that when an MP was appointed to the Cabinet, he had to stand for re-election--was removed in 1926 with the support of almost all the parties.
In essence, that executive power springs from the very close control which modern political parties exercise over their members who are chosen for the legislature. It is extremely difficult for a modern Member of Parliament to be free and independent. Rebellion can always be punished by deselection. I need hardly say that that power is enhanced enormously by closed lists.
That power of the party machine, strong enough in itself, has been enhanced by the growing professionalism of politics. There are Members of another place from all major parties who have known no other trade than politics. They left university, often with distinguished degrees, joined a think tank, became a political adviser and, lo and behold, they are in Parliament.
What do they do if they are defeated? They find it difficult to obtain jobs. I can tell your Lordships that when I was headmaster, I had four such applicants at one time applying for posts. None was successful. But that gives the party even more power over its members. It says to them, "If you are defeated, there is nothing much for you outside".
That power has been enhanced also by the increase in the number of Ministers and the number of quangos for which appointments can be made. That means strong parties, strong patronage and sticks and carrots--a large stick and a juicy carrot.
We talk about democratic accountability in relation to the reform of this House. However, if we had a totally elected Chamber, that would mean giving the parties greater control than they enjoy at present. We must face the fact, pure and simple, that those who advocate a largely elected upper House are in reality promoting strong executive and party control.
In that regard, I must say to noble Lords who have talked about indirect elections that, again, one faces the path of control by the party. Indirect election is exercised in the French Senate. The senators are chosen by the elected members, local authorities and so on. In fact, in the end, it means control by party and retired and defunct party functionaries being pushed up to the upper chamber. Moreover, we should remember that the parties in France are much weaker than they are in the United Kingdom.
I go further. I suggest that if the Royal Commission advocates a largely elected upper House, then it must also be prepared, if it is not to face total executive control of the legislature, to face the radical step of separation of powers. In the British system, the only way in which to avoid a totally party-controlled legislature, if we had both Houses elected, would be to separate the executive from the legislature, as is the case in the United States.
Therefore, whatever the Royal Commission decides, it must maintain a measure of independence for this House. That must be the essence, the centre, of any reform. Would the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee be as independent as it has been, torturing governments of both parties, if this House were controlled by the party machine? Can your Lordships imagine either the Conservative or Labour Party having its health or education Bill subject to the sort of criticism which has occurred in the past?
Even a fully nominated House of life Peers would, to my mind, be more independent than a fully elected House. My noble friend Lord Peyton often reminded the Whips of his party that there was nothing they had that he wanted and there was nothing that he had which they could take away from him. I share his opinions. But if the present Government reform the constitution by statute, with the support of a large majority, I am no longer so sure.
Unlike the noble Marquess, Lord Bath, I cannot offer a blueprint for the future. It is very, very difficult. However, I suggest, for the third time, that election is no panacea. Recent events have shown that "elective dictatorship" is no cliche. Any reform must refer to independence. Indirect election is not necessarily an answer. I admire the Royal Commission for taking on that task but that will be a massive task if it is to preserve an independent second Chamber which will curb an over-mighty executive. I hope it rises to that.
Lord Lucas: My Lords, I am an hereditary abolitionist of the role of the hereditary peerage in this place. At the beginning of this century, my great uncle argued strongly for an end to it, as did my grandmother and mother and myself in my time.
It is a great sorrow to me that my party took the attitude that it did, and, fundamentally, I am delighted that the Government have chosen at last to make this step, although I believe that had we done it we should have done it a good deal better and in better order. Nevertheless, I am pleased that we find ourselves where we are.
I wish my noble friend the very best of success with the Royal Commission in producing a dynamic, independent and effective second Chamber. I mean dynamic as an opposite to static. For too long in this House we have had a static arrangement. We wanted to change the constitution of this House in 1968 and were prevented from doing so. If you stop the system changing when all around it is changing, all you have at the end of the day is an earthquake, which is what we have at the moment. We have a turning upside down of the system, of which none of us can predict the outcome.
I should prefer to see a dynamic system where changes occur gradually and regularly in a well thought out and well considered fashion. I hope that my noble friend will take that into account when he is following through the work of the Royal Commission. If we try to propose something which is too radical, if the Royal Commission suggests something which is too different from where we are now, the chances of it getting through another place must be very small. I should prefer it to advocate a relatively small change now but with a programme for evolution in the future.
It has been a great strength of this place that we have control over our functions and what we do. We are able to respond to changes in the world and to changes in another place in deciding how best to spend our time so that we complement and do not tread on the toes of another place.
It has also been a great strength that we have many more powers than we use. Again, there is a dynamic balance. We could always go further. We could always defeat the Government more often. We could always push more Bills through to the Parliament Act. But we do not do that because we want to be listened to. And the Government listen to us because we could do so. If we try to fossilise that balance, if we try to have strict rules for what one House can do and the other cannot, we will quickly find ourselves enmeshed in a political stalemate and endless verbal conflict without achieving half as much as we do now.
The second matter on which I differ from the noble Lord, Lord Judd--I have rarely listened to a speech of his and agreed with so much of it--is in the matter of for how long people should be allowed to be Members of this House. "Life" it is and "life" it should remain. I have happy memories of taking a Bill through this House and being out-argued and in the end defeated by three noble Lords whose combined ages were 286. We are told that those being born today and who will one day become Members of this Chamber have a life expectancy of 120. I cannot see why we should not expect them to be active and useful Members of this House well past 100.
In a way this House is self-selecting. Those who can no longer contribute and those who no longer have anything to offer this House do not come. What does it matter? We are left with people like that terror of governments of all colours, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale--the people we should be left with.
The other thing we should look for is independence in Back-Benchers. To be in government and have the noble Lord, Lord Peyton of Yeovil, or my late lamented friend Lucy Faithfull, behind is a great motivation for our Government to change their mind when they are wrong. We not only face difficulties from in front, but we know that behind are people who are powerful in argument and powerful in friends who would, if necessary, defeat us. That makes a great difference. I hope that we see more of them coming from the Government Back Benches.
There are some great minds on the Government Back-Benches who have not yet shaken themselves into open independence. I introduced a Freedom of Information Bill and got not one speaker, nor member of the audience, from the government side, yet that is a subject in which the Government are supposed to believe. That shows an astonishing lack of interest in something that is supposed to be central to their belief and indicates a lack of interest in what is essential to the future of the constitution of this country. This is a great opportunity for Members on the Government Back Benches to put forward their views. I am sad that so few are doing so. We are missing a great deal by their lack of activity and lack of ability to be independent. It will come, I hope, with time in government, but it is a sadness that we have now.
We must have a House which can change the Government's mind; it must be a House which can defeat the Government. There seems to be an abiding lack of understanding of that on the Government Front Bench. They seem to resent the fact that this House can defeat them. This House should defeat them. It must be the essence of this place that this House can defeat the Government as often as it likes but controls that ability because, if it starts to over-use it, it will lose its respect from the Government and its ability to win arguments.
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