Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Waddington: My Lords, what about a future government? It is all very well the noble Lord resting on what is said by this Government, but if he is right--he has just said that he agrees with me that this Bill may not be replaced for some time--what if a future government are not bound by these undertakings?

Lord Barnett: My Lords, even if future governments do not carry out precisely the terms of the present deal, on what basis does the noble Lord say that if we are making major changes in our constitutional set-up we should at least make sure that the new House is as independent as the one it replaces? One would have to go a long way to make the House as independent as it was before this Bill. It is a remarkable argument.

I should like to see some things in the Bill that might be more acceptable to me, although I cannot think of many. It is no use the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, looking at me like that. I am not going to make a long speech again about why I disagree with parts of the Bill, particularly the part that is called the "Weatherill amendment", with which the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, had so much--or even a little bit--to do.

What I am saying is that I agree substantially with what my noble friend Lord Peston said. It is time we on this side of your Lordships' House stopped making yet further concessions and accepted things as they are. We should not accept this amendment. So I hope that my noble friend the Leader of the House, despite the smiles that she is again providing, will not feel tempted to do so. I am delighted to hear that she is not. I look forward to the vote and the possible defeat.

Lord Phillips of Sudbury: My Lords, my noble friend Lord Rodgers has dealt with what we on these Benches regard as the major omission from, or defect of, Amendment No. 25. I should like to refer to another,

22 Jun 1999 : Column 838

concerning subsection (2)(d), which talks of the duty of the proposed appointments commission to,

    "publish criteria under which it will determine a candidate's suitability for nomination". Unlike the noble Lord, Lord Peston, and some others, I think there is considerable point and purpose in this House considering the amendment, whether or not we vote for it, as it deals with important and present issues which will not go away and which, if phase two of the reform does not come about, will be huge. Even if phase two does come about, I suspect that whatever we provide for the interim phase may well carry over into the final reform.

One thing we should not do is to leave the appointments commission with the sole discretion as to what the relevant criteria for appointments of Cross-Bench Peers should be. There can scarcely be anything more important than for us as a House to signal the criteria on the face of the Bill and what importance we attach to them.

The noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, said that he was sympathetic to Amendment No. 27, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley, and the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, which specifies one criterion: that more than half the Members of the House, whether party Peers or Cross-Bench Peers, should have,

    "experience of and expertise in areas other than ... politics". I believe that the criteria need to go much further than that. Frankly, I am not content with the phrase "experience and expertise", since which man and which woman these days does not claim to be an expert in something? I suggest that "distinction" might be a better word.

I should like to put to the House the thought that we are all trying to make the best of the reform. Underlying that is the need to make this House more powerful and more authoritative and enjoying more respect among the public at large. Unless we can increase public identification with the House of Lords as reformed, we shall not achieve that purpose. We shall not enable the public to identify more readily and deeply with us unless we signal to them that we want to see a very different House. I say that with no disrespect to those who are to leave it.

The public may have regard to issues such as the gender, age, region, occupation and ethnicity of the Members of this House. In saying that, I do not seek to suggest that the appointments commission should have politically correct shackles placed around it. However, I am suggesting that those potential criteria would be of interest and importance to a large proportion of the public. If we could satisfy public feeling on how at least Cross-Bench Peers should be selected and appointed, that would go far towards increasing our respect and legitimacy and hence the effectiveness of the reform itself.

I wanted to make that general point. Whatever happens at further stages of the Bill, and whatever the Government may consider in terms of the appointments commission, which, to be fair, the Prime Minister

22 Jun 1999 : Column 839

volunteered, the criteria must be on the face of the Bill, must be broadly based and must reinforce public confidence in us.

Lord Crickhowell: My Lords, I agree with a great deal of what the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, has said. He spoke of giving a signal. It is because a signal is being given that I believe this matter is of such importance. That is my answer to the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, who asked why we were tabling all these troublesome amendments.

We are tabling the amendments because the Government have come forward with proposals. They have stated that they are to set up an appointments commission to appoint Cross-Bench Peers. However, they told us that they are going to use the prerogative and not the statute to do so. That is another way of saying that the Prime Minister will be responsible for setting up the appointments commission which will select Cross-Bench Peers. That is an extraordinary signal to send out to the public. It does not indicate that this is a wholly independent body setting the kind of criteria to which the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, referred.

That is why, as a matter of principle, I tabled an amendment in Committee. I was content not to table an amendment today because I thought it important to try to concentrate on a single amendment which set out the principles on which we could vote. I have a great deal of sympathy with the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Stanley of Alderley, but it is not as good as that tabled by my colleagues on the Front Bench. That is not because I was consulted by them about the wording--it incorporates all the important points contained in my amendment in Committee--but because I have two specific difficulties with my noble friend's amendment. First, he has not adequately covered an important point concerning the prerogative and the relationship between the Prime Minister and the sovereign. Secondly, and more importantly, his reference to "expertise" raises more questions than it answers. I believe that the wording used in my noble friend's amendment gives considerable scope to the appointments commission to meet the points to which he rightly attaches importance.

When my amendment and others were debated in Committee, the noble Baroness the Leader of the House gave a lengthy response. I have reread that response today to discover her reason for rejecting the proposal for a statutory committee. In reality, she gave only one reason; that if the Government had put down a statutory provision, the Opposition would have argued that it showed that the arrangement was not temporary and that it would be permanent and long term. She advanced that argument in col. 1369 of Hansard on 13th May. It is not a powerful argument. That is the real answer to the noble Lord, Lord Peston, who said that the whole business was absurd. Whatever the intentions of the Government, we may be passing legislation that will last for a long time. My noble friend Lord Waddington quoted Mr Robert Sheldon in another place.

22 Jun 1999 : Column 840

I took particular note, as I suspect did the Leader of the House, of the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, on 17th May. In response to an amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Peyton, he spoke of the little evil devils lurking in our midst who do not share our overwhelming view for reform. He warned that unless there was good will among all the parties, we would not get a second stage. The noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, spoke with much experience and a memory that took him back to the last major attempt at reform. He knew exactly what was being said by my noble friend Lord Waddington about the ability to interfere and delay such legislation. So my view is that we should not leave a vacuum on this important point.

I do not believe that the Government have any great objection of principle to putting this matter into statute; or why did the noble Baroness the Leader of the House invite a number of us to discuss with her whether we could not find a form of words which would satisfy? She spoke, as Ministers always do on such occasions, about technical difficulties of drafting and problems for the parliamentary draftsmen. She spoke--I respected her point--about the constitutional proprieties and the ability of Prime Ministers to speak with freedom to the Sovereign. My noble friends have qualified the clause introduced by the Government, because they wrote into their White Paper, paragraph 10, Chapter 6, that

    "The Prime Minister will have no right to refuse a nomination the commission has passed". However, my noble friends have accepted that there may be some security or other reasons which would be perfectly proper for the Prime Minister to refer to the Sovereign. It may be that there is further room for discussion about that issue, but the noble Baroness very fairly, having listened to what we said, told her officials not to go away and reject any idea of an amendment, but to go away and consider whether anything could in practice be put together. That does not suggest to me that there is any great obstacle of principle and so we come back to the detail.

I believe that what my noble friends have sought to do rather successfully--what I attempted rather less successfully in Committee--is simply to incorporate everything the Government said they would do in Chapter 6 of their White Paper. Some aspects were criticised by noble Lords opposite; for instance, they asked why on earth issues were being introduced and drafted in such a fashion. Those points should be addressed to the Government Front Bench because all that my noble friends have done is to incorporate into an amendment declarations and undertakings already given by the Government.

As regards the Liberal Democrat amendment, the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, spoke about the way of the world. Bearing in mind the history of the Liberal Party we always listen to it with attention when it speaks about the way of the world. It seems to me to be a mistake to try to incorporate into a Bill an amendment setting up an appointments commission with a pretty complex set of arrangements relating to the numbers cast in the general election and how they translate into votes. There may be a case for doing that, but it should be done by a separate amendment.

22 Jun 1999 : Column 841

It would confuse the particular issue, although clearly important to the Liberal Democrat Party, with the much more straightforward one as to whether we have a statutory appointments commission instead of an appointments commission simply appointed by the Prime Minister to do what the Government say they intend to do. That is the issue. My noble friends have an amendment that translates that into statute. I can see no grounds for rejecting that principle. I hope that they will press their amendment to a Division.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page