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Lord Wedderburn of Charlton: My Lords, is the noble Lord saying that the job of the commission would be to inquire, in a committee or some such body, into the subjective beliefs of a person who says that he is a Cross-Bencher and that he no longer wishes to receive a party Whip? Would that be challengeable by the commission in what one can only regard as a rather curious investigation into people's personal beliefs?
Lord Craig of Radley: My Lords, I do not dissent from what has been said. I am only drawing on the material that has been made available at this stage, in the White Paper and in the report of the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham.
Also, from time to time, existing Members of your Lordships' House may wish to give up their party affiliations. Previously, they were free to become, and sit as, Cross Benchers. In future it would be better if such individuals were classed as "other" Cross Benchers or "others". Without this additional
Another point in the Bill is the intention that the appointments commission shall nominate individuals under the 1958 Life Peerages Act for life. I welcome that clarity. I do not favour retrospective legislation for those who are, and will be created, life Peers under the present Life Peerages Act. The noble Baroness the Leader of the House did not adopt that position in her reply to a Written Question that I asked. I was disappointed by her response, which seemed to depart from the statement in the White Paper that new Members of the House of Lords will continue to be appointed in accordance with the Life Peerages Act 1958 and that there will be for the time being no changes to the conditions attached to life peerages.
The Bill, where it mentions "broad parity" between the government supporters and those of the main opposition party, raises a number of further questions. What role should the commission have other than reporting on this matter annually? How should it define "broad parity"?
Will the new House of Lords be fixed in number or not? The Bill envisages a fixed number of Cross-Bench Peers--I would prefer them to be classed as "independents"--and expects the commission to make up the shortfall in numbers that may arise through death or disqualification, or through individuals moving to accept a party Whip. But the latter will still be Members of the House, so total membership numbers would have to be flexible to allow for that type of move and still maintain independent numbers.
As noble Lords have mentioned, there could also be realignments the other way. In that case, and in other attempts to spell out the size of the independent element of the new House, there are complexities in the Bill that will need to be resolved if there are not to be continual difficulties over the rules to be applied by an appointments commission.
I welcome the opportunity which the debate gives the House to address some of the interlocking points that will have to be considered to prepare the way for an independent appointments commission. Whatever method of appointing is ultimately agreed, devising it
Lord Weatherill: My Lords, this is a debate in which I can utter with total truth a phrase that I longed to hear when I was Speaker in the other place, "The contribution I had intended to make has been much better made by others and I shall not detain the House". I apologise for doing so today. The arguments about the independence of the Cross-Bench independent Peers were well made by the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, and by our noble and gallant Convenor, Lord Craig of Radley, and I shall not repeat them.
It is well known, and it is true, that the Cross-Benchers never hunt as a pack. However, on the question of our independence and numbers in your Lordships' House, now and later when we all hope the Government will legislate to implement the recommendations of the Royal Commission, we are wholly agreed and united. The amendment which I moved to the House of Lords Bill last year was always intended to be temporary.
I intervene briefly to plead for the greater independence of your Lordships' House not only on our Benches, but in the House as a whole. It is my perception that this House is held in somewhat higher regard and respect by the general public than, sadly, is the case for the other place. As a former Speaker, I say that with great sadness. I suspect that that is because we tend to reflect public opinion more accurately and to show a greater independence than does the House of Commons. In my submission, the low repute in which Parliament is held today is both serious and dangerous. It is far easier to lose our freedoms than it is to regain them and we owe all our freedoms to Parliament.
When I was in Brussels about three weeks ago, a Belgian MEP made a significant comment to me. She said that all the countries in the EU had come to their democracy through revolution or troubles of one kind or another, but that ours had always been achieved through Parliament. That is true: France, Germany, Italy, Portugal and Spain came to democracy late in the day. All our freedoms have been achieved through Parliament. The one blip (at the time of King Charles I) was Parliament taking on the executive in the person of the King.
Lord Shore of Stepney: My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord will forgive me for intervening. Did he really say that the remarkable and marvellous demonstration of the urge for responsible representative government which was shown by the British people, and which led to the Civil War, was a "blip"?
Lord Weatherill: My Lords, it was hardly a blip; I used an inappropriate phrase. The greatest enemy of freedom is apathy and I fear that we have it today in terms of our parliamentary system. When I entered the House of Commons in 1964, to be a Member of
In those days, the House of Commons was stuffed full of very independent people. I must say to the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, that that was especially true of the Privy Counsellors. Not many of the awkward squad are left there today. We need more people of that calibre. I refer, for example, to Tam Dalyell and to the honourable Member for Bolsover. Noble Lords who believe that the honourable Member for Bolsover is a bit of a nuisance should know that Colonel Sir Walter Henry Bromley-Davenport was one of the greatest disrupters of Parliament that I have ever heard. The honourable Member for Bolsover would not hold a candle to him these days.
In those days, the awkward squad was reluctant to take "no" for an answer and was pretty doubtful about "yes". In those days, too, the influence of the Whips was heavily constrained. I should know because at that time I was a Whip and for six years it was my duty to represent the views of the awkward squad.
I pray that this House will retain its reputation for independence and, in days to come, will not be a pale reflection of the other place. It is our undoubted duty to examine and improve legislation and to ask governments to think again. I agree wholly with the noble Lord, Lord Wedderburn of Charlton, regarding what he said about the importance of a second Chamber. Governments should accept and welcome independent points of view. I pray that the Whips in your Lordships' House will not look with disfavour on those who speak or vote against the party line on either side of the House or, indeed, on the Cross Benches. I believe that our reputation will be enhanced if we have a reputation for independence.
I suspect that the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, was right when he said that the Government will say that this Bill is unnecessary because they intend to put into practice the commitment that they made to set up an independent commission. However, if they succeed in expediting that commitment, they have my support.
Lord Goodhart: My Lords, I do not intend to delay your Lordships for very long. In the past hour or so I have had a distinct sense of deja vu. After all, this Bill is a revised version of amendments which were moved and debated at some length during the passage of the House of Lords Bill through your Lordships' House last year. We did not support those amendments on that occasion. That was partly because we wished to see the Bill enacted as cleanly and simply as possible and in the belief that the Bill should concern itself with no more than the removal of the hereditary Peers from this House. To a large extent that has now been achieved and so that situation no longer applies. However, while I do not believe that it would be fair to say that my party looks on this Bill with hostility, we look on it with a distinct lack of enthusiasm.
I certainly agree that when we reach stage two the independent appointments commission should be a statutory body. I believe that setting up such a commission now would send the wrong signals because it would show that we in this House believe that the interim House will continue for a very considerable time. It seems to me that the present form of the independent appointments commission, as proposed by the Government, is acceptable on the footing that it is a short-term interim arrangement.
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