Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, perhaps I may gain some clarification from the noble Lord. Am I not right in believing that the position of the Liberal Democrats is that there should be a wholly elected House at stage two and therefore that there will be no need for an appointments commission, statutory or otherwise? We are dealing with the current House. Therefore, does not the noble Lord believe that it should be backed by law rather than by the whim of the Prime Minister?

Lord Goodhart: My Lords, perhaps I should have made it clearer that if there is to be a continued appointed element in the House at stage two, then there should be a statutory independent appointments commission to appoint it because at that stage it would be clear that it will continue in existence for some time.

14 Apr 2000 : Column 431

We do not believe it appropriate to include it at this stage because it writes something into statute which is likely to have effect only for a short, interim period.

In saying that I am not indicating in any way any failure to recognise the important contribution that Cross-Benchers make to this House. It is certainly our very firm wish that as long as the interim House continues there should be measures that ensure that an adequate number of Cross-Benchers are appointed by an appropriate system. However, for the moment we believe that the system proposed by the Government is adequate. I believe that our views would change if the present government were to be re-elected and did not show a wish to proceed immediately to stage two.

We on these Benches wish to press on as soon as possible to stage two, although if the Wakeham commission proposals, or anything significantly like them, are accepted that would have to be described as stage one-and-a-half rather than stage two.

Looking in more detail at the Bill, I note that there are two specific defects. First, subsection (7) broadly repeats the government proposals in the White Paper. However, it omits one element which, not surprisingly, we on these Benches regard as crucial; that is, a reference to proportionality of representation for other parties in your Lordships' House. As your Lordships will know, that has been the subject of some controversy recently between my party and the Government.

Secondly, subsection (8) requires the members of the commission to be members of the Privy Council. That is something which has been proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, and approved by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley. But the Privy Council seems to me to be a most inappropriate body to make such a selection.

The members of the Privy Council are, to a very large extent indeed, senior politicians or judges, either from this country or from a number of member states of the Commonwealth. Those who are judges or politicians from the Commonwealth are not likely to be involved in the selection process. Clearly, that would be inappropriate. But a body which consists almost entirely of senior politicians and judges, which contains very few women--a quick glance through the list of Privy Counsellors shows that the number of women is in the low 20s--and which contains, so far as I can make out, no members of an ethnic minority in this country is plainly not an appropriate body.

The noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, said that there are two grounds for believing that the Privy Council is the correct body. First, there would be matters of confidentiality; and secondly, ambition would be vanquished. But that is not exclusive to Privy Counsellors. I should say that it has been announced that my party's nominee to the proposed interim appointments commission is my noble friend Lord Dholakia. He is a person who is, I believe, of unchallenged integrity, would make a wholly appropriate member of that commission, but is not a member of the Privy Council.

14 Apr 2000 : Column 432

Those particular defects--that is, the exclusion of proportionality for other parties and the restriction on membership of the commission to Privy Counsellors--could be corrected by amendments in Committee. But I cannot hold out any real hope to the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, that that would be enough to persuade us to take an interest which would become positive support for the Bill.

3.8 p.m.

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Kingsland for keeping this issue before the House. I congratulate my noble friend both on his initiative and on the way in which he introduced what I believe to be an extremely important Bill. I pay tribute to all noble Lords who have spoken in the debate. It has been particularly good to have so many distinguished contributions from the Cross Benches.

There has been something a little unseemly in the way in which the Government's plans in relation to an appointments commission have been advanced without consulting the Cross Benches and without giving this House an opportunity to debate the matter. I need not add to the complaints which your Lordships had to learn from a Cabinet Office press release on 18th January of the appointment of head-hunters to appoint a non-statutory appointments commission to appoint Members of this House. This House should be informed properly of developments which affect it or its Members. At least now, with this Bill, we have the opportunity to debate those important issues.

Several undeniable facts underlie the debate. First, as my noble friend Lord Kingsland pointed out, the House of Lords Act has doubled the proportion of life Peers under the 1958 Act within the total membership of the House from some 40 per cent last November to almost 80 per cent once the latest introductions have themselves been introduced. Secondly, in our recent debate on the Wakeham report, the noble Baroness the Leader of the House implied that she would accept no more than 87 elected Peers in a House of 500 or 550. That would mean about three-quarters of the Government's favoured long-term model for the House being made up of appointed Peers. Thirdly, the present Prime Minister has been dubbed, "the uncrowned King of Ermine". In less than three years he has created as many life Peers as my noble friend Lady Thatcher created in 11 years. Fourthly, there is a growing public sense that the life peerage has moved--as I forecast that it would in our proceedings on the House of Lords Act--to the frontier of what is acceptable in a modern Parliament.

The growing place of patronage in this House, the growing--indeed, unprecedented--use of patronage and the growing sense among the public that that system is out of keeping in a modern Britain all point to the fact that we need some new system for supervising and safeguarding the creation of the dominant element in this House. It will be remembered that the hereditary peerage did not owe its place to anyone living. The appointed peerage, by contrast, by definition does. Without any offence to the many distinguished figures who are here as a result of it, it is

14 Apr 2000 : Column 433

that process which must be put beyond question. We cannot go on with a Prime Minister creating a Peer, on average, every five days or so and not expect people to ask some questions.

An independent appointments commission is essential for so long as the appointed peerage dominates three-quarters to four-fifths of one House of our Parliament. That is incontestable. I fully expect the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, whom I am delighted to see is replying to the debate, to set out in detail today the personnel identified by his head-hunters to serve on the Government's quango commission. Perhaps he will set out their terms of reference, the number of Peers they are to appoint, and the limits the Prime Minister will accept on the size of the House, if any. After all, he and the rest of the Government have had three years to think about the matter and, 200 Peers later, it is time for an answer.

I was amused to see the Prime Minister saying in a recent interview in the Observer:

    "I am the first Prime Minister to give up patronage".

You could have fooled me. Is it not odd how after three years in office, the view looking out from the balcony of No. 10 is so different from the view of the outside world looking in? Whatever else may be said of the Prime Minister in the "Dog and Duck", that he has given up patronage is not the first thing that would spring to mind.

I must say also to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, that to announce the latest news on his quango commission will not be enough. I hope that he will tell us when we can expect to know more on the details of the new commission; when it will be set up; and when the details will be announced of the chairman and the other personnel who will be involved. I and many other noble Lords were struck by the terms in which the noble Baroness the Leader of the House accepted the Wakeham commission's recommendation--in line with what we have been saying for the past three years--that any appointments commission must be statutory. She said "Yeees", in principle, in due course. We then had a classic paragraph of Cabinet Office prose on all the difficulties that would then ensue.

Of course, there are difficulties with the details of the proposals of my noble friend Lord Wakeham. The noble Lord, Lord Wedderburn of Charlton, mentioned some of them, as did other noble Lords. Those are, of course, precisely the kinds of area where I hope that my noble friend Lord Kingsland will invite the House to propose amendments when we reach Committee stage. But the possible existence--this year; next year; sometime; never--of a stage two is no reason not to bring in safeguards on the use of patronage now. Those safeguards should include independence rooted in law for the appointments commission. They should include an independent chairman chosen by the commission itself, and not by the Cabinet Office. I cannot understand why the Government have decided that they must appoint the chairman and that he or she should not come from

14 Apr 2000 : Column 434

members of their commission. They should include checks on the Prime Minister's power to control the overall number of Members of this House and the relative strength of the main parties and of the Cross Benches. They should underpin and strengthen the Cross-Bench role in this interim House.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page