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Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I thought that we had established that that was not the noble Lord's complaint. I thought his complaint was about whether or not it was statutory. I am not quite clear where the Opposition now stand on this issue.
How can we possibly say at this stage that they will endorse his choices? But what is the point of treating them as a simple rubber stamp? What about the position of the chairman, separately recruited but now to be subject to the election of his or her fellow members? Would a seamless transition in any case be consistent with the requirements of the proposed subsection (2)(a)?
What about one of the further embellishments of the requirements--which is not taken from the Government's own proposals--that all members of the commission should be "members of the Privy Council"? When pressed as to why that was, even the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, put his arguments with his tongue in his cheek. To say that they are the only people in the world for whom ambition is vanquished seemed, if I may say so, somewhat humorous. The noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, clearly demonstrated--perhaps "fatuity" is an unfair word--that it was not a sensible suggestion.
The natural reading of that is that they, the members of the commission, must be members of the Privy Council before appointment. How would that be factored into a situation where existing members of the commission may not be Privy Counsellors? Further, what would be the consequences of a failure by the commission to make the appointments required by subsection (4)? What happens if the Prime Minister breaches the requirements of subsection (5)? Or what happens if any of the people who are to make appointments under subsections (8) and (9) fail to do so? Can the commission not be established at all? Where are the teeth in the Bill? How can it be enforced?
The answer is that it cannot be, as it stands, and it is inherently difficult to see how it ever could be. We cannot prevent the Prime Minister advising the Queen, since she must seek the advice of her Ministers. We cannot force him to advise her in a particular way. The Prime Minister's commitments in this area do all that is necessary. To the extent that the objective of this Bill, as it was the objective of the amendment to the House of Lords Act, is to ensure that the Government do establish an appointments commission, then it is completely redundant.
Some noble Lords--indeed, it would appear to be the only point being made by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde--have spoken in support of the Bill on the grounds that provision of this kind ought to be statutory. That brings me to the argument that the provision is unnecessary on legal grounds. As we have explained many times before, it is quite normal to set up this kind of body as a non-departmental public body without statutory backing. That does not affect either its standing or its effectiveness and it provides that degree of flexibility which is appropriate for the beginning of such a body.
Nor, I would submit, would it affect the commission's continued existence. A body such as we are setting up will rapidly become an accepted part of the political landscape. Look at the Committee on Standards in Public Life. It is a body which the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, obviously does not like. I do not know why. It is impossible to imagine our public life without it, yet its only right to existence is the statement in another place of the then Prime Minister, the right honourable Member for Huntingdon, that he proposed to appoint it. It would be impossible for any Prime Minister now to disband that committee without replacing it with something stronger. The same will rapidly become true of the House of Lords appointments commission. It does not need statutory backing to secure its continued existence.
Many of those who have pressed the case for a statutory commission seem to have been motivated by the desire to take the Prime Minister out of the process. That appeared to be, in one or other moments of the noble Lord's speech, his point. The two things are, of course, quite separate. It is quite possible to have a statutory process which accords a central place to the Prime Minister. Conversely, the Government's own proposals already take the Prime
At the end of the day, it is the sovereign who awards peerages. Generally, legislation does not trespass into the delicate area of relations between the sovereign and her Ministers. This is not an issue which can be addressed simply by the introduction of amendments to the Bill presently before us. The Bill would almost certainly require to be completely rewritten. The implications of statutory provision in this area are such that it should not be embarked on as a by-product of a provision which is only temporary, as this one would be. Is a statutory commission to be answerable to anyone for its recommendations for the award of honours? By convention, the Prime Minister is not.
Your Lordships might argue that all these points could be addressed once the Bill went into Committee. I am suggesting that there are too many of them for it to be worth while even embarking on the exercise. What is the point of going to all that trouble to make statutory provision for an arrangement that will be only temporary--which, as I have said, is not necessary in order to see an appointments commission established and which would interrupt the work of the appointments commission that the Government are already setting up. Even if they were addressed, the shadow that would be cast over the existing commission would continue to exist.
Moreover, if the Bill were to reach the other place, and if it were to find time there, we should be advising our honourable and right honourable friends to vote against it. Your Lordships therefore risk wasting a great deal of time for no purpose. As we have established in lively debate, all that the noble Lord is asking for is statutory backing. I hope that I have satisfied your Lordships that there is no need for statutory backing to achieve precisely the purposes that the noble Lord requires. I earnestly suggest that, as a man of principle, the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, will think that this is not a sensible way to spend the time of the House; namely, going through a Bill that achieves next to nothing and simply detains the House.
Lord Ampthill: My Lords, before the noble and learned Lord sits down, as a Cross-Bencher who has not taken part in the debate perhaps I may ask him a question. He dismissed in a few words the idea that the noble and gallant Lord the Convenor of the Cross-Benches should play a part. Cross-Benchers find that somewhat hard to understand when the parties are to be represented. As the noble and learned Lord spoke so briefly on the subject, will he give a reason?
Lord Ampthill: My Lords, I apologise to the House for intervening again; it is Friday afternoon and it is getting late. But Cross-Benchers are feeling a little sensitive at this juncture that others are to have a go at deciding who joins our Benches, whereas those others are able to take care of themselves. I cannot see the great harm that would arise from either the Convenor or his representative being part of this process.
Lord Kingsland: My Lords, I have listened with great interest to the noble and learned Lord's speech, as he would have expected. Having heard his reasons, which were legion, for rejecting a statutory appointments commission at the transitional stage, I look forward eagerly to hearing his reasons for appointing a statutory appointments commission at stage two.
I have been asked many questions during the debate and I am keen to give all of them a detailed reply. However, since I hope your Lordships will give the Bill a Second Reading, the opportunity to do so will wait, I trust, until the Committee stage.