Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Noble Lords: Hear, hear!

Lord Wakeham: My Lords, I turn now to some of the misconceptions that seem to have arisen since the publication of the report. I want to stress that our report is not anti-democratic. Just because the United Kingdom is a major democracy, it does not follow that the reformed Chamber should be largely, if not wholly, elected. Such arguments are, with respect, wrong and dangerous. It is because members of the Royal Commission support parliamentary democracy that we recommended a largely appointed House. The reformed Chamber should not ultimately be able to frustrate the will of the electorate as expressed in general elections. They confirm a government in power, or result in power being transferred to others. They give governments a mandate to govern and put them in a position to implement their manifesto commitments. I simply do not believe that it would be wise to create an institution with a democratic

7 Mar 2000 : Column 935

mandate which could come to rival that conferred on the Government by the results of a general election. Whatever rules of pre-eminence one might write in, the political reality is that such an institution could very easily come into conflict with the Government and with the other place.

A serious second risk is that because elections can in reality only be won by organised political parties, a wholly or largely elected second Chamber would be no more than a clone of the other place. That would be in no one's interest. It would not add value to the parliamentary process. It would risk becoming a rubber stamp for government or an opportunity for the Opposition to engage in spoiling tactics.

Moreover--and this is the key point--by appearing to rely on its democratic mandate to justify its opposition to whatever the Government or Members of the other place want it to do, a wholly or largely elected Chamber would, in my view, be doomed to failure. In any trial of electoral strength, the other place would be bound to win. Even those who argue for a wholly or largely elected Chamber accept and make provision for that.

The Royal Commission's answer to that conundrum is to say that when the reformed second Chamber challenges the Government and the other place, as we believe that it should continue to do, it should do so by strength of argument rather than relying on an electoral mandate. We set out in paragraph 10.6 of our report a list of the alternative sources of authority on which a reformed second Chamber could draw. They are sufficient to ensure that the House will continue to be taken seriously.

A reformed Chamber, constituted in the way that we proposed, would add real value. That is much better than creating a pale and inevitably junior replica of the other place. The second Chamber should be distinct from the other place and operate in a way which is complementary to it, thus improving the ability of Parliament as a whole to hold the Government to account. That trilateral relationship is central to the long-term health of parliamentary democracy in this country.

I turn now to another concern which has been expressed. Our report emphatically does not denigrate the role of the political parties or the increasingly professional politicians who serve those parties in another place. They represent, and are equipped to carry out, the basic political choices of the British electorate. Far from criticising them, our report seeks rather to protect their position. We have gone to some trouble to ensure that the reformed second Chamber could not challenge the decisive political role of the other place and that individual Members of the reformed Chamber could not become electoral rivals to constituency Members of another place. In suggesting that the reformed House should be more broadly representative of British society, we are seeking a complementary basis of representation, not implicitly criticising Members of the other place.

7 Mar 2000 : Column 936

Some have argued that our report represents an acknowledgement of the failings of democracy. That misses the whole point of our report as it deals only with one Chamber of a bicameral Parliament. In considering our recommendations your Lordships need to consider the operation of Parliament as a whole. We are not saying that Parliament should be largely appointed. We are arguing that, given the existing role and composition of the other place, with which we have no quarrel, the second Chamber should be largely appointed so that it can bring a distinctive and complementary perspective to bear on the consideration of proposed legislation and public policy.

There was initially some confusion over the fact that we put forward three possible models of composition for consideration. It was suggested that we were split or that somehow we had let the Government off the hook. The fact is that the commission's broad overall conclusions on composition, as set out in Chapter 11, are unanimous. Most of the specific practical recommendations on composition in Chapter 12 are also unanimous. We all believe that the reformed Chamber should be largely appointed by a totally independent appointments commission and include a fixed minimum proportion of Cross-Benchers; that the overall political balance should be set by reference to general election results; that there should be a significant minority of regional Members chosen in a way which reflects the balance of political opinion within each region; that the choice should be made in the margins of another electoral contest, using a proportional and party-based electoral system; and that directly appointed and regional Members should all serve terms equivalent to three parliamentary cycles, subject to the possibility of reappointment, and should not be eligible to be elected as Members of the other place for 10 years after leaving this House.

The three models were all variations on one aspect of this broad overall conclusion. By offering options we provided an element of flexibility which made it easier for the Government to announce--within hours of the publication of our report and confirmed by the noble Baroness the Leader of the House today--that they had accepted the principle that the reformed Chamber should have a minority of elected regional Members.

However, the real test of our report is whether its recommendations will be implemented. There is a proposal that some of the procedural suggestions--we have heard about that in one or two places and in the debate this afternoon--in the report should be implemented quickly and need not wait for decisions about some of the other recommendations. The establishment of a constitutional committee is a case in point.

I welcome the wide degree of support for the proposal. But I caution against cherry picking. Our recommendations are coherent and interrelated and cannot easily be separated. It would odd for this House to establish a constitutional committee and then find that a reformed House was unlikely to contain Members with the relevant skills, knowledge and

7 Mar 2000 : Column 937

experience. My advice would therefore be to defer action on individual proposals of this kind until there is at least some measure of agreement on the nature of the second stage reform of your Lordships' House. Some such broad measure of agreement is obviously highly desirable in any event before it would be sensible to establish a Joint Committee to consider the parliamentary aspects of whatever is proposed.

I would not expect any party to sign up to all the 132 recommendations in the Royal Commission's report. Many of the detailed issues will, very properly, need to be considered with great care as the necessary legislation is debated. However, we need to offer the Joint Committee a point of departure, especially on the composition of the reformed Chamber.

My proposal is that the House should indicate its readiness as soon as possible to accept in principle the Royal Commission's broad overall conclusions on composition, as expressed in Chapter 11 of the report. This would leave the specific practical points dealt with in Chapter 12, including the choice among the three models of composition, to be resolved as the legislation is debated.

This proposal offers a fair balance between the interests of all concerned. There will be opportunities to revisit all the key judgments in this report and to debate all the detailed points at the time any legislation goes through. I believe that my suggestion would help to maintain the momentum towards a successful long-term reform of your Lordships' House. As we said in our report, one of the major risks is that if the interested parties hold out for what they would ideally like, the opportunity to achieve such reform may pass for another generation, perhaps another century. The prize of an authoritative, reinvigorated second Chamber is so great that, in my view, it would be wrong to delay.

4.51 p.m.

Baroness Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde: My Lords, I, too, was honoured to be a member of the Royal Commission, a sense that I know I share with my fellow members of the commission. I am not sure that we all understood either the enormity or the complexity of the task that faced us in the very short time-scale that we had. We recognised very early on that we had differing views and different approaches to the issues before us. However, we were unanimous in relation to the fact that this was perhaps a once-in-a-generation, or more, opportunity to reform the House of Lords. If reform did not result, then it would be possibly many years before there would be another opportunity for such a review. We did not want a report which would be put on the shelf with so many others, gathering dust and making no real contribution to the reform that this House has called for.

Along with the written submissions that we received, the interviews that took place and the public meetings, there were very many private meetings of the commission members at which the issues were analysed, debated and our own individual views tested

7 Mar 2000 : Column 938

by each other. Many of those exchanges were not easy discussions. I believe it is a credit to my fellow commissioners that we were able to build sufficient respect for the integrity of each other's views and, on occasion, to accept the logic of the opposing argument and, indeed, stand down from our own perhaps very strong view.

With its 132 recommendations, I suggest that it is an overwhelmingly unanimous report. Many of us who served on the commission were indeed pleasantly surprised at the degree of unanimity at the conclusion of the process. That could not have been achieved without the experienced guide of our chairman, the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham. I christened him our "pathfinder". There were many occasions when we witnessed his guile, timing and cunning approach to the issue of getting the business done. I pay credit to him and I know that my colleagues on the commission, many of whom are listening to the debate in this Chamber this afternoon, would wish to join me in giving him that credit.

Many people have said that the report is well written--I believe it is--and that the arguments are well analysed. Much of the credit for that must go to the members of our secretariat, who provided us with the very best traditions of good Civil Service support. They played a major part in the end product that your Lordships have before you.

Of course, the composition of the House was a subject of most interest to most people. It has probably been the topic which has already taken up the most time in our debate this afternoon. The commission's work did not begin there. Previous attempts at reform of the second Chamber had done just that. Instead, we began our work by considering what the role of the second Chamber should be, not merely in the context of the constitutional changes taking place, the full impact of which we have not yet seen, in my view, but also in relation to the remit set out in the White Paper itself. Then we moved on to consider what powers would be necessary to enable that role to be fulfilled. Both of those issues are covered in Chapter 3 and other chapters of the report.

We should not underestimate the role of this House, which is underpinned in the recommendations of this report, in the checks and balances in a democracy, in holding government to account and making government think again no matter how uncomfortable that sometimes is. This House has done that over the years. The report that we are debating today protects that role. Indeed, the uncomfortable decisions of this House with which this Government and previous governments have been faced will in fact not disappear as a result of this report. It will underpin that situation in many respects.

After we looked at the role and powers of the House, we then moved to its composition. Everybody was ready to talk about composition--everyone that we met and talked to at those 21 public meetings and, indeed, in the roughly 1,600 pieces of evidence that we received. The noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, has rightly covered the composition of the House in some detail.

7 Mar 2000 : Column 939

I would like to touch on one or two areas relating to election, because it is true that election of Members and the varying degrees of that election featured in many of the submissions that we received.

Very few supported a wholly elected Chamber. The percentages varied considerably. Equally, there was a widely held view that an independent element within the second Chamber was an important aspect of the role of the second Chamber in complementing democratic government in our country. At the same time, it came across that the public did not want political parties controlling the second Chamber. Quite often, we had a genuinely sincere submission that on the one hand the House should have elected Members within it but, on the other hand, the political parties should not play any particular role in that election process. That is a conundrum.

The White Paper made it clear that the second Chamber must not be a clone or a rival of the House of Commons. That is true. In my view, that would be a recipe for gridlock. Much of the evidence before us supported that view. It was put forward to us at our public meetings and confirmed that the pre-eminence of the House of Commons within our own democracy was one that people expected to remain. I suggest that those who called for a wholly or a substantially elected second Chamber run the risk of creating gridlock.

All my life I have stood for election; that is, until I was made a Member of this House. In an election process, no matter what kind of an election process in which you are involved, you have a platform. You ask people to support you and, when you are elected, you are accountable. If I were elected, I would not accept that someone else elected to a different Chamber would have the right to say that their position was more democratic and more legitimate than mine. Therein lies the recipe for gridlock.

I know, too, that there are colleagues on this side of the House, and in other parts of the House and outside, who say that the report has ducked the real issue; that the real issue is to have a clean, clear policy of either election or appointment. I do not accept that argument and I suggest that many members of the public do not accept it either. It is possible to work within a system as put forward in the report of elected and appointed elements within the House.

Also, we have waited nearly 100 years to reform this Chamber. If one adopts an all-or-nothing approach, I rather suspect that we may end up with nothing. In my view, that would not serve the purpose for which the commission was established.

I turn to the question of present life Peers remaining for the rest of their lives, if they choose to do so. The report provides for retirement for those Members of the House who choose to retire. We tried to tackle every point which was raised. The work that we did in relation to this matter revealed that, if the present life Peers remained for the rest of their lives, by the year 2020 approximately 45 of those life Peers would remain. So with that process of evolution, we should arrive at a completely new Chamber.

7 Mar 2000 : Column 940

I believe in the evolutionary approach. Equally, I believe that we should not underestimate the impact of the recommendations of the report. For example, the appointments commission will be charged with the responsibility of not only keeping the political balance but also the diversity of characteristics of the Members of this House to ensure that they fulfil the role attributed to the House.

The appointments commission will be bound to ensure that 30 per cent of the Members of the second Chamber are women. The appointments commission will have to account for that in its annual report. There should also be representation of ethnic minority groups in the Chamber, which should be at least proportionate to their presence in our community as a whole.

Those are not politically correct recommendations. Although this House has changed, and we can observe around us much of that change, it is still a long way from meeting Recommendation 1 of the Royal Commission's report that it should be broadly representative of the community which forms the United Kingdom today. That would be a major step forward.

I conclude by dealing with the issue of resources. Having worked for the past 10 or 11 months with the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, and having published our unanimous report, I hesitate to enter a voice of dissent on something he said. He talked about cherry-picking. In general terms, I agree with that. But there are some areas which could be dealt with before the work of any Joint Committee or legislation and which does not need legislation. I ask my noble friend the Leader of the House to consider the question of resources for the Members of this House.

In my view, Members are asked to carry out an almost impossible task with very few resources, whether they are Members like myself on the Back-Benches or indeed those on the Front Benches of the opposition parties. That issue cannot wait and it should be looked at immediately. It should be recognised that we are probably the least-resourced House of Parliament anywhere in the world for the work that we do. I am referring not only to individual Members but also to the work of the committees. I was particularly struck by the respect in which the work of those committees--the European committees, the specialist committees, the Science and Technology Committee--is held outside this House and, indeed, in Brussels. Therefore, those committees deserve the resources which are necessary to enable them to do their job to the full.

The noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, said that the real test will be whether the recommendations of the report are implemented. That is absolutely true. If we wait for the ideal to come along, I rather suspect that it never will. I welcome the clear statement made at the beginning of the debate by my noble friend the Leader of the House. None of us wants this report to be kicked into the long grass.

The Royal Commission was conscious of the poor record that we have, as a nation, in carrying forward the reforms which several commissions have suggested

7 Mar 2000 : Column 941

over the past 100 years. The only way in which to make progress is to enable the House to evolve and continually to review where we are. It may well be that although the majority view within the report is that there should be a minority of people elected to this Chamber, that number can grow step by step. But we shall find out whether that is necessary from experience and as our constitutional settlement within our country matures and grows and we see the outcome.

5.5 p.m.

Lord Ezra: My Lords, we are fortunate today in having before us a report which is eminently readable, well argued and logically developed and which contains a number of positive and constructive proposals. However, it is necessary to remind ourselves that it is a report prepared within very severe constraints. The first constraint is the maintenance of the pre-eminence of the other Chamber; the second constraint is the existing constitutional settlement.

I believe that within those constraints the report has gone about as far as it could. But it raises the question of whether this is the end of the road. I feel that it clearly cannot be. The noble Baroness the Leader of the House, the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, and my noble friend Lord Rodgers all referred to the evolutionary process. We should regard this second stage as a step in the evolutionary process but acknowledge that at some future stage we may well wish to look at the whole institution of Parliament, not just one Chamber in a bicameral situation. We may wish to look also at the relationship of the executive with Parliament.

There are many models in the rest of the world, as the report clearly shows, which adopt a different way of doing things. Under the terms of reference of the Royal Commission, its members were unable to let their minds wander too far. But the extent to which their minds have wandered has been most constructive and productive. The best contribution individual speakers such as myself can make is perhaps to ask one or two questions about certain aspects of the report, having put it in the context that this is an evolutionary process.

I agree with the proposal that there should be an extension of the activities of this House in constitutional matters and in human rights matters. However, because of the constraints, the commission has been unable to recommend any extension of powers in that regard. That may well come at a later stage but at least let us start tackling those problems.

It is recommended also that we should review treaties. Again, I presume that we should prepare reports on treaties and that it would then be for the other place and the Government to decide whether to take any notice of our views. Such issues should be considered at a subsequent stage.

The report basically divides itself into consideration of the functions of the House and the composition of the House. As to the functions, I believe that the

7 Mar 2000 : Column 942

emphasis which the commission places on the present main task of this House--to review and scrutinise legislation--is absolutely right. I like its phrase that,

    "it is our main task to make the other place think again".

We must continue to do that with all the vigour at our disposal.

Perhaps the most innovative aspects of the report relate to composition. I believe a consensus exists that there should be a strengthened appointments commission. I say "strengthened" because it is proposed that it should be somewhat stronger than the appointments commission which the Government have in mind in relation to stage one. But I agree with my noble friend Lord Rodgers that there is some doubt about whether the appointments commission should select, as opposed to appoint, the political Members of a reformed House.

It could lead to considerable difficulty if Members selected and appointed by the commission were not acceptable to their party in the House. The members of the Royal Commission were conscious of such a possibility. On page 142, the report states:

    "We recognise that ultimately the parties have the right to offer the party whip to, or withhold it from, individual members of the second chamber".

To my mind, that conjures up an extraordinary situation in which a number of political appointees who would not take the Whip from their parties could join the House. Would we have two kinds of Conservative, Labour or Liberal Democrat Members--those appointed by the appointments commission who were acceptable to the parties in the House and those who were not?

I cannot see that working. The sensible course, once the appointments commission has laid down the criteria, numbers and timing of appointments, would be for the actual proposal to come from the political parties, with the appointments commission of course vetting the personalities put forward.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page