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Lord Waddington: My Lords, can my noble friend help me on this? Is not the 27 per cent a rather artificial percentage? Do we not know from the history of the past two or three years that on the vast majority of occasions the Liberal Democrats supported the Government? It has been on only a rare occasion that the de facto alliance between the Liberal Democrats and the Government has not been demonstrated in the Lobbies.
Lord Jopling: My Lords, my noble friend makes a fair point, although in today's debate the Liberal Democrat Party seems to be split over whether one should have a totally elected or totally appointed House.
Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank: My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Lords, Lord Jopling and Lord Waddington, would put that proposition to the Leader of the House and see whether she takes the same view of the independence of the Liberal Democrats.
The noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, said that the Government reject the views of the House because it is not elected. However, I suggest to him and to your Lordships that the reason is also because they have such a small representation here. I believe that if one wanted the influence of the House to grow--and tonight many speakers have expressed that desire--it is essential that the government of the day have a larger share of the voting power.
We are told that the present Government's 27 per cent of the membership will soon be increased up to parity with the main opposition party, a situation which they foretold in their White Paper published in January last year. However, the Wakeham report proposed that, after taking away 20 per cent of the membership reserved for the Cross Benchers, the remaining 80 per cent should be split in proportion to the popular vote at the previous general election. That will not work, because in two elections I can think of--that in 1951 and the first in 1974--the Opposition had a bigger share of the vote than the Government. It would therefore be total nonsense for the main opposition party in this House to have more members than the government party.
The Wakeham proposals mean that a government elected with 40 per cent of the popular vote would have only 32 per cent of the membership of your Lordships' House. I do not believe that that is sufficient and fair to the government of the day. Of course we do not want a House dominated by the government party, as the Royal Commission says. However, having only about one-third of the Members still gives the Government the excuse of being able to reject the view of the House.
I believe that in future, the government of the day, in what after stage two will be a wholly different House, should have between 35 per cent and 40 per cent of the membership. I should like to see a written understanding that the governing party would have a minimum of 35 per cent of the membership, but I cannot help feeling that 40 per cent would not be unfair. It is right that, after excluding the Cross Benchers, the government of the day should have half the remaining membership. In that situation, they would not dominate the House.
I also find unsatisfactory the Wakeham committee recommendation that the government of the day will not reach their fair share under those proposals until a series of six-monthly appointments are made by the appointments commission. I believe that after a general election the government of the day are entitled to get their membership at once. One must arrange the appointments commission so that the government of the day do not have wait for perhaps three years, if there has been a big swing, before they reach their fair allotment of Members in this House.
The danger is that, if there were a series of electoral results see-sawing from one party to the other, the total membership could rise above the 550 which Wakeham suggests should be the norm. However, one could overcome that by rejecting the recommendation that Life Peers should be appointed for a period of 15 years. In order to avoid that burgeoning total figure, it ought to be possible to make appointments for one Parliament only, but on the understanding that it might be for more.
I am sure that there would be no shortage of people prepared to come here for the period of a Parliament. After all, we all know that people stand in marginal seats knowing that if they win it is likely to be for only one Parliament. If the modern practice in parliamentary constituencies is to reject all candidates over 50--and I know of such cases--many people of great ability who are at the end of their career and are interested in a political life would readily agree to be appointed to this House for the period of one Parliament and on the understanding that they might be able to carry on into the following one.
I want to repeat the point that in this context one must address the problem of the non-attending Life Peers. As the House becomes inevitably more political, it will be essential that Members attend and support their party. As regards those noble Lords who for one reason or another are unable to attend often, but as existing Life Peers have the right to remain Members for life, there should be an arrangement whereby they could be given the right to retire and still to attend and speak, but not to vote. If only 45 of us are to be left here in 2020, such a situation would not last long.
I want to focus on one part of the report; that dealing with the composition of the new House. In particular, I want to focus on the appointed/elected argument which revolves around that. The elections suggested in the report will be very different from any other parliamentary elections we have experienced. The report refers to the elections being marginal to
The report proceeds on the premise that the public want a substantially directly elected component of this House. I am not sure that I agree. All the political parties have signed up to that, the press have made the case and the pressure groups have had their say. However, in my opinion, the case for a radical, open, accountable appointments system has never been properly put. For example, there has never been an alternative to the book produced by my noble friend Lord Richard, which argues for direct elections. We have not really seen the case put forward for an accountable appointed Chamber--although, of course, many Members of this House have argued it--except in the sense that it has now been advanced in the Wakeham report. If that case stands up and if the case for an appointments commission is viable, surely if it is good enough for the majority of Members of this Chamber it is good enough for those members who represent the regions.
However, I put that matter to one side for now and concentrate on the issue that I wished to raise; that is, the question of getting right the elections to this Chamber. It seems inevitable that we shall have such elections. We must ensure that our concept of a democratically elected Chamber is in keeping with the concept of the voters who have spoken to and won the case with the Wakeham Commission. When we made similar democratic changes in the selection and election of candidates to the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and, to some extent, the London mayor, clearly we did not think things through properly and did not get the detail right. On this occasion, we must ensure that we do so. If we say that we will have a partly elected second Chamber, we must give people a real choice; if we promise democratic elections, we must deliver democratic elections.
In that context, I should have liked to see set out in the commission's report some of the tests or principles which it considered as constituting a democratic election. I have my own list. First, the report accepts the role of parties. I believed that it might downplay that role, but it did not. It sees parties as being important in the election process. The second principle is that parties which fight elections must have policies to put to the voters. Thirdly, they must have manifestos or ways of communicating those policies to the voters. Finally, they must have candidates to go out into the field and fight. Those are all genuine and legitimate tests that any electoral system must pass.
The report goes on to mention three models: A, B and C. We have all read about those models in the report. Basically, they provide lists of Peers who are attached either to Westminster or to European elections. Under Models B and C, there will be a separate ballot paper at the same time and on the same day as the European elections. However, it seems that there will be no candidate election addresses or campaigns in the conventional sense of what we understand to occur in elections.
The elections will take place in the margins of other elections and people will not have a personal campaigning or electioneering role. Therefore, in order to fight for a seat as a regional representative in the House of Lords, one would do so in tandem with other candidates who would be fighting different elections for a completely different place, presumably on completely different manifestos. Those are the implications of what I read in paragraph 12.25.
Therefore, will that system pass the test? Will it pass not this House's or the politicians' but the voters' test of democratic elections for their regional representatives? I have very strong doubts about that. The nub of my concern is the grave danger that, if elected under the terms of the Wakeham report, the regional representatives for this Chamber will not be able to come to this Chamber and make a distinctive case based on the elections conducted in the regions. That is the nub of my case and the centre of my concern.
Yet, if one reads on under options B and C, there will be a partially open list in which voters can express their preference for candidates in a certain order. How can a voter rank a candidate who is not engaged in a personal electioneering campaign? By definition, the voter will not have the information, the personal details or the policies of the candidates whom they are being asked to rank. I make those points because, if voters want a substantial elected element, the elections will need to pass a legitimate test of comprehensiveness, accountability and democracy. I cannot see that occurring under the arrangements set out in the report.
I still believe that appointments are credible to a body that is the subordinate as opposed to the primary Chamber. I still believe that there is a case for that argument. As my noble friend Lady Dean, who is not in her place at present, told me, she has spent all her life fighting elections, and so have I. Currently I am standing for election to two primary bodies: one is the board of a building society with 1.3 million voters and the other, primarily, is the executive of my party, with half a million voters. Those are primary elections.
As for elections, I believe that four issues need to be considered for a satisfactory appointments system: first, open application; secondly, independent interviews without patronage; thirdly, clear criteria for candidates; and fourthly, credible applicants. I believe that, if those tests were passed, an appointed Member would have credibility. For the reasons that I set out earlier in my speech, if candidates who stand for election cannot pass the test (again, mentioned earlier), I do not believe that they will have the same credibility as an appointed Member. I hope that these matters will receive appropriate consideration.
Lord St John of Fawsley: My Lords, it is a very great privilege to take part in this crucial constitutional debate, which is the first that we have been able to have on the Wakeham report. I start by congratulating the noble Baroness the Leader of the House on the irenic tone of her opening remarks. No one in their right senses would expect a government to come forward with firm decisions on a Royal Commission before there had been a debate in both Houses of Parliament. That would be quite contrary to the spirit of our constitution and would draw down upon the head of any government that tried it condign punishment. Therefore, I thank her for her statesmanlike--perhaps I should say "stateswomanlike"--approach, for her analysis and for her positive tone.
Even more to be congratulated is my noble friend Lord Wakeham. He has done a quite superlative job and has produced a constitutional equivalent of the Bayeaux Tapestry. Everyone has got in, everything has got in and everyone gets a turn! As I look at the members of that committee--the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford, my noble friend Lord Hurd, Mr Gerald Kaufman and Professor Anthony King--I am amazed that they could agree on anything, except possibly the propriety, present or prospective, of their own ennoblement. It is an amazing achievement of my noble friend that he has produced an agreed report.
I say at once how much I welcome the idea in the report that a peerage should be separated from the right to a seat in this House. One of the greatest weaknesses of the life peerage in recent years has been conferring it on people who never had any intention of coming here; who had no time to come here because it had been turned into an honour. It was not, for them, becoming part of the constitution. It is a brilliant and original idea which we should certainly seek to take further.
The title of the document is A House for the Future. The old House is largely gone. I opposed the changes as strongly as I could, but what is done cannot be undone. The only thing that I regret in the report is that there is no recommendation that perhaps a link with the
A major point that I wish to make is that I rejoice that this report rejects the idea of a wholly elected House. I am delighted to hear that the Minister also shares that view. In the words of my dear and, alas, late friend, Lord Tonypandy, "Alleluia!"--because, as Bagehot pointed out as long ago as 1861 in his great work The English Constitution, that would be a recipe for a constitutional and political disaster. No agreement could possibly be achieved with the other place on such a course. If we were to embark on it, that would be the end of the whole matter and in the long term it would be deadlock and paralysis if anything came about, as they have in the United States.
As regards elected members--this miserable contribution suggested by the report--I reject it utterly. We are left with the fetlocks of the backend of a pantomime horse. They would be merely a complicating factor. They would have no deep significance and by their very presence they would undermine the legitimacy of those appointed here. So I hope that that idea will disappear.
It is not the task of the Opposition to draw up a paper constitution. It is our duty to make comments and to make, I hope, constructive criticisms. Patronage is a very important issue which will be discussed, as also is the question of appointed Peers. There has been a great deal of humbug and hypocrisy in the discussion of the issue even by our national standards. Patronage, power, departs the minute it is exercised. It is a lusus naturae. It is a will-o-the-wisp. As soon as the power is conferred it is gone. So, provided only that Peers remain independent, much of the objection to patronage is lost.
Your Lordships need not be worried about overcrowding, because every life Peer is a dead Peer. In due course we shall all go to our reward, whether it be up there or down there or, if I may say so in the presence of the serried ranks of right reverend Prelates who have subscribed to the 39 Articles, more likely in the middle somewhere. That is where we shall go.
The prime ministerial power of appointment has pertained to every Prime Minister since Walpole. Some have abused it. Lloyd George abused it very seriously; others were models of rectitude. I believe that we can justifiably expect a Prime Minister to behave in an honourable way in this regard. There are restraints, conventions, Cabinet colleagues and the claims of other parties and public opinion. If there is anyone here who believes that they should not be here because they are not worthy of the honour, I ask them to stand up and take a bow. There seems to be no movement.
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