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Lord Whitty: My Lords, I am sure that the noble Lord is not suffering from a memory failure. The situation is slightly complicated. More details of the announcement on footpaths will be given later. The animal disease regulations give us the powers to which I referred. A few local authorities that have had no incidence of the disease throughout have been somewhat reluctant to end the closure of footpaths. In those circumstances, we want blanket restrictions to be lifted. My reference to consultation with local people and local councils relates to areas where there is still some disease and the restrictions have not been completely removed.
Baroness Masham of Ilton: My Lords, is the Minister aware that along the side of the A19 near Yarm, sheep have been penned and shot in full view of the public? That has caused great upset. If that has to be done in public view, is it not possible to provide some form of shielding?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, it would obviously be desirable to do so. However, in order to carry out the necessary tasks, a number of things that we would rather not do have had to be done. The difficulties of rounding up, executing and disposing of sheep have undoubtedly caused distress to those on farms, to those passing and to neighbouring communities. It is regrettable, but in the circumstances some such instances are bound to occur.
Lord Plumb: My Lords, the Minister is well aware of the gravity of the situation, economically and socially, for many families throughout the country. Is he fully aware of the self-help available through the Addington fund and the various stress associations? Various bodies have been raising funds to help those who are suffering. For example, 240 of us in one organisation raised £30,000 on Saturday night. I hope that the Minister will fulfil the Government's commitment to match pound for pound everything that has been raised through the various charities.
Is the Minister prepared to read or re-read the 1969 statement of the committee of inquiry? It runs to only 264 pages. A lot of the evidence gathered at that time is relevant to today's circumstances. Apart from the fact that the virus has been far worse this time, we could almost repeat that report, which took evidence from 1,000 people.
Is the Minister aware of a report in Farmers Weekly last week that referred to telephone calls made by an individual or individuals to farmers offering to take infected material on to farms for a cash payment to make sure that the farmer can claim compensation? If that story is anywhere near the truth, it is devastating. The police certainly need to be aware of it and to try to get hold of the rascals who are causing the problem.
On the real issue, will the Minister give an assurance that we shall think about following the practice of the United States and Australia and stopping imports of products from countries where foot and mouth disease exists? We have imported meat from 26 such countries over the past two years. I understand that 37,000 tonnes of pig meat has come in from those countries. We have been sitting on a time bomb, which has now exploded like a volcano, spreading the problem far and wide across the country.
Lord Whitty: My Lords, there were quite a few questions there. I very much respect the experience of the noble Lord, Lord Plumb, on the issue, in particular his involvement in the post-1967 inquiry. The 264-page report is a lot shorter than some of the briefing that has fallen on my desk in recent days. I shall pay great attention to that report.
We are addressing imports nationally and at EU level. We need to tighten up on that. I am also aware of the reports in Farmers Weekly and elsewhere of the despicable practice that the noble Lord mentioned. However, as with other stories that are going around, it is difficult to pin down if and where the practice has happened. It is important that we identify and deal with the matter, if we can, and that we establish the facts rather than the anecdotes.
I have said what I intended to say about the inquiry. I shall simply repeat to your Lordships' House that, following the experience of this disease, we all need to learn the lessons. The best way in which to do so may not be through inquiries as they have been conducted in the past. Nevertheless, we are absolutely certain that we need to be open about how we learn those lessons.
"Most Gracious Sovereign--We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Lords Spiritual and Temporal in Parliament assembled, beg leave to thank Your Majesty for the most gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament."
The Lord Chancellor (Lord Irvine of Lairg): My Lords, we now begin five days of debate on the gracious Speech. I welcome both that constitutional affairs has been chosen for the first day and that we now have a Select Committee on the constitution, appointed on 8th February under the distinguished chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth.
Today's debate and the establishment of that committee reflect the major significance of our programme of constitutional reform. It has prompted debate in Parliament and the country about the nature and effectiveness of our institutions, their mutual relationships and our sense of national identity. The Government have both contributed to and learned from that debate.
But we remain convinced that we were right to have removed the hereditary peerage from this House, subject to a temporary right for one-tenth to remain; right to have created the Scottish Parliament and the National Assembly for Wales; right to press ahead with democratic self-government for Northern Ireland as part of the peace process; right to create the regional development agencies; right to restore an all-London tier of government; right to have put the Freedom of Information Act on the statute book; and right to have introduced the Human Rights Act. That Act will stand as a major legislative and constitutional monument to this Government's first term of office.
Our programme of constitutional reform was designed to increase public engagement in democracy and to regenerate our national identity by strengthening what is best about Britain. "British" signifies the unity and the intermingling of the nations that make up our country. It means a strong civic society and vibrant communities with an influential local voice. It means being internationalist in spirit, learning from our neighbours and providing an example to them in turn.
Most of all, it should mean fairness and equality for all our people before the law: tolerance for the many cultures of our multi-racial society--not a flattening process of assimilation--and a culture of liberty and effective protection of human rights under the rule of law. Britain does have a special identity: strong local communities; democratic values; freedom under the law; creativity; an enterprising spirit; diversity; tolerance; strong protection for human rights; and the ability to draw the best from a wide range of cultures.
What, emphatically, being British does not mean is having 750 hereditary legislators sitting in the House of Lords; being anti-European and inward looking; having Westminster hold an "England first" strait-jacket over the diversity of the regions and nations in the Union; having no principled protection for human rights; and having our great national institutions, which represent our community spirit, such as the NHS, privatised.
Our constitutional reforms draw on the best of what is British so as to rejuvenate our democracy, build a society that includes and celebrates differences, and revives people's sense that public bodies are relevant to their beliefs, their lives and their ambitions for themselves and their families.
Devolution does not signal antagonistic confrontation but beneficial diversity; and diversity is not to be feared but embraced as a source of strength and innovation. A drug enforcement agency for Scotland may show the rest of Britain how to tackle the scourge of drug addiction and trafficking. The National Assembly for Wales's new services for the elderly may point the way forward in that area of care. The RDAs in the English regions are making pioneering advances in regional development and are attracting inward investment from which other parts of the UK can learn. Diversity is about the distinct parts of a whole learning from each other.
Devolution will free the nations and regions of the United Kingdom to find innovative local solutions for local problems and to learn from each other. To see the devolved institutions, elected by the people they serve, taking forward policies that will best improve life in their own areas, co-operating with this Parliament but not totally dictated to by it, and influenced by the other devolved institutions but not slavishly copying them--that is our aim.
Devolution will strengthen the Union because it gives expression to existing identities. To try to stifle those identities would be to fuel the arguments of those who want to tear the Union apart. Instead, under our devolution settlement, a new Britain is emerging with
We have begun to remedy the neglect of the English regions. RDAs continue to improve competitiveness and co-ordinate economic development and regeneration more effectively. Regional chambers of local councillors and other partners have given each region a focused voice. The party opposite would undo all that, removing a form of local expression that is already showing benefits in favour of--I am not quite sure what.
The Human Rights Act is already proving itself. It will stand the test of time. The prophets of doom predicted that we would see chaos as the result of incorporation: courts clogged up with absurd cases; fundamental laws overturned; common sense thrown out the window; and a criminals' charter under which the police would be rendered powerless. That is all nonsense and has now been so proved. We prepared extremely carefully for implementation. That has paid off--decisions have been sensible, the bulk of our laws have been found to be compatible and the courts have taken the Act in their stride.
The Government introduced the Act because we wanted a culture of respect for human rights and responsibilities to become embedded in our society. The Act reflects a new partnership--a co-operative endeavour between the Executive, Parliament and the judiciary to deliver a new, rights-based culture. So, as a Government we do not see the rare successful human rights challenges as "defeats" for the Government. The working out of the Act by the courts is not an obstacle to good administration but, on the contrary, an essential element on the path to achieving it.
Our reformed constitution and institutions of government now need to be turned to strengthening communities, enabling them to exercise their rights and fulfil their responsibilities. Our overhaul of Whitehall will support that process. A streamlined Home Office will be able to focus on fighting crime and making our communities safer. The many interests of those who live in our rural communities will be better served by being the responsibility of a single department. The education department will now be able to concentrate on the vital work of improving standards, especially in secondary schools, building on the work done in primary schools in the last Parliament and transforming access to higher education, driving forward the opportunities for everyone to benefit from lifelong learning.
Transport will benefit from the new departmental arrangements. We have promised £180 billion of investment in transport, with 25 local rail and tram schemes. Regional development agencies will benefit from being the responsibility of the department responsible for regional economic development generally. The new Department for Work and Pensions will continue the reform of the welfare state,
We have already made major innovations in the electoral systems that are used in the UK for the devolved administrations, the European Parliament and the London Assembly. The commission headed by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, made proposals for electoral reform at Westminster. Our manifesto confirmed that we will review the experience of the electoral system for the devolved institutions and the report of the commission of the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, to assess whether changes might be made to the electoral system for the other place.
We are committed to enhancing the scrutiny functions of regional chambers. In some parts of the country, however, there may be a desire for a stronger regional political voice. We said in the previous Parliament that provision should be made for directly elected regional government in regions in which people decided in a referendum to support that and where predominantly unitary local government is established. That remains our commitment.
However, we believe that if people choose to have elected assemblies, those assemblies should involve democracy, not bureaucracy. They should be primarily strategic and take on powers from a range of unelected regional bodies in areas such as economic development, transport, the environment and planning. They should not duplicate the legislative powers of Westminster or take on responsibility for running local services such as schools, hospitals or refuse collection. They should be representative and incorporate a wide range of expertise. We believe that strong English regions will strengthen local government and the United Kingdom, not weaken them.
As was said in the gracious Speech, we will, following consultation, introduce legislation to implement the final stage of reform of the House of Lords. That will include the removal of the remaining hereditary Peers and put the House of Lords Appointments Commission on a statutory footing. We have given our support to the report and conclusions of the Wakeham commission and we will seek through consultation to find a means of implementing those conclusions in the most effective way possible.
The gracious Speech also promises a draft Bill to reform the criminal justice system and to modernise the criminal courts. Lord Justice Auld was asked to carry out an independent review of the criminal courts. We expect to receive that review shortly. His recommendations will be essential in helping us to make our legislative decisions to promote far-reaching improvements in the criminal justice system.
So, my Lords, we are proud of what we have achieved so far on constitutional reform. However, we have a little way to go to complete the process of re-engaging the people with their institutions and their sense of belonging to a country that is fair and inclusive.
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, it is with some humility that I follow the speech of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor. Through legislation that the noble and learned Lord has promoted, he has changed the face of Britain perhaps more than any other Minister in the Government.
Personally, I regret many of those changes and believe that some of their effects are still unknown and may lead to a substantial growth in expensive bureaucracy. None the less, those changes make the noble and learned Lord a considerable figure in the Government. The annexation by his department of large provinces of a humiliated Home Office shows that his ambitions have not yet run their course. We shall watch him with close interest--and, I must warn him, with some scepticism--to see where he now wishes to lead us.
Many important issues are covered by the rubric of "constitutional affairs". Some of those issues were touched on in the gracious Speech, but some were not. I will leave it to my noble friend Lord Kingsland, who will wind up on behalf of the Opposition, to explore some of those matters.
As there is no opportunity during the next few days to debate the dangerous situation in Northern Ireland, I would like briefly to touch on it. Once again, our sympathies go to the brave members of the RUC and their families, who have had to bear so much in the front line for so long. We will support the Government in anything that they do to back the security forces in maintaining the peace in Northern Ireland.
We in this House have in recent years been made to swallow many distasteful concessions to terrorist organisations. There is increasing impatience with the terrorists' failure to make any meaningful gesture in response to disarmament. We cannot debate that in detail today. However, when the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House replies to this debate, will he give the House an undertaking that if the present situation deteriorates further, or if talks reach an impasse and the First Minister, Mr Trimble, leaves office on or after 1st July, he will enable an urgent full-day's debate on Northern Ireland before the Recess? He might also make it clear which Minister in this House will be answering in relation to Northern Ireland now that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, has moved on.
I shall today concentrate on the future of this House but I shall not follow the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor in his eulogy on the constitutional reforms of the past. In the gracious Speech, we heard that the Government were planning to consult before introducing further legislation on your Lordships' House. That is welcome. It is in line with what we have long been asking for, with what the Liberal Democrats have been asking for and with what Cross-Bench Peers and many outside observers have been asking for. It was also envisaged by the noble and learned Lord in 1997 when he wrote in the manifesto--rightly, I believe--that there should be a Joint Committee of
My party accepted that without reservation. We still think that that is the right way forward. I suspect that Peers in other parties may feel the same way. We for our part will play an active and positive role in any genuine consultation that occurs. That consultation should be as open as possible in every way. Parliamentary discussions must include all the main parties and, given the current composition of the House of Lords, any Joint Committee must be large enough to include voices from the Cross Benches and the Bishops' Bench, too.
The Government have wisely decided to concentrate on public services in this Parliament. Although consultations must not be unduly protracted, we surely now have ample time to reach appropriate conclusions, which will strengthen this House and Parliament. It would be helpful to the consultation process if the Government were to publish, perhaps without prejudice, a draft Bill to let us know more about their thinking. The Labour Party's latest manifesto was as clear as mud on the way forward. However, a proposal has been included in the gracious Speech. The inference is that a Bill must be in a well-advanced state. It would be statesmanlike of the Government if they were to break a four-year silence and set out their thinking on the details of stage two. We have become quite familiar with broad-brush phrases, which were again used by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor today, even if the word "democratic", which featured so prominently in 1997, has been buried. It is time for all of us to look at the small print.
I have been in the House for a number of years. As I said yesterday, I recall the old House with affection and respect, as many other noble Lords will do. However, we have now moved on and we must look forward. I understand the political imperatives that lay behind the 1999 change. There was an imbalance in numbers and the problem--albeit sometimes exaggerated--of backwoodsmen. There was a feeling that, however good the arguments that the opposition advanced, a Conservative government could always defeat them. Let it also be said that there was some ancient resentment of hereditary Peers and a sense that the Labour Party had old scores to settle.
There was business to be done but it has now been done. It is surely now time for the Government, too, to move on. When there is a widespread perception of a Parliament in crisis, rattling the sabre at a rump of hereditary Peers is not the real issue that faces us. After all, the Prime Minister and the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson of Coddenham, have chosen 39 Peers between them in just the past eight weeks. More than half of the Labour Peers--114 of them--are Blair creations. That figure puts the remaining 51 Conservative hereditary Peers in a certain context. And there are no backwoodsmen any more. Gone are the days when Peers grumble that they had seen people in the Lobbies whom they could not even recognise.
If a flood of hereditary Peers was a democratic monstrosity, as Mr Blair said, what are we now to make of that cascade of patronage? Are we to see it as a triumphant, modern and representative democracy? Let there be no doubt that when we legislate on stage two, the legitimacy of every type of Peer will be put under the microscope, and quite justifiably so.
The age of settling party scores on the composition of this House should be over. That is last century's business. We must now turn to the future. Securing that future in this House and building its authority will not be easy if the executive in this Parliament show themselves as intolerant of being asked to think again as they were in the last one. But I think it must be done.
I cannot be alone in noticing a spirit of concern in the land about the power of the executive in modern Britain; about the need for both Houses of Parliament to stir themselves. Of course, we cannot act for another place but we can defend the freedoms and the powers of this House and we can deflect botched change which would not enhance its authority. The task of building a better House is not that of one party nor is it even the Government's business. It is Parliament's business. It is, in a very real sense, the people's business for it is in Parliament that the liberties of the people should be guarded.
While on that point, perhaps I may put one matter quite bluntly. You do not justify the restriction of trial by jury or force a House of Parliament to change its views simply by writing it into a manifesto. Parliament never has and never should accept such restraint, however respectful it must be, as we always are, of securing the fair passage of the Queen's business.
I detect that the Government betray some uncertainty about what they want for stage two. That is quite understandable for the questions are complex and profoundly far-reaching. Having said that, the Government cannot now expect to hold a gun to our heads and the heads of the Liberal Democrats and expect us to work only to their prospectus. That is not an attack on the Government, nor is it a threat to them. It is a statement of how difficult the issues are. There are huge issues which need to be debated and resolved as we move to create a stronger House: for example, issues relating to the size of the House; what limits to set on that size; how long Peers should stay; how we all get here and so on. We need to find the right basis for an appointments commission, statutory or otherwise, and we have not yet done so. We need to tackle the issue of rampant Prime Ministerial patronage, which is every bit as anachronistic as the now banished imbalances of hereditary Peers. If we have elected Peers, we need to determine on what basis they are elected; how many there are; how long they will sit; and who they represent. We need to find ways to defend the independent element in the House, whose numbers were so reduced by the 1999 changes; and I believe that we must resolve to maintain the presence of the judiciary and the Bishops in this House.
We also need to address issues of the other faith groups. We need to decide whether to change the name of the House and whether to separate the peerage from membership of the House. We need to consider the impact of those changes on the powers, the role and the functions of this House. That in itself is one of the most important considerations. That is an enormous agenda and it is an opportunity which, if lost, may never recur.
It is also a challenging enterprise in which I very much looking forward to playing a part, as does the rest of my party. It could be the beginning to unlocking the door which has been steadily pushed shut on parliamentary authority and liberties. Or it could go horribly astray and lead to further damage to this House and Parliament. For in some ways, the issues at odds between Parliament and the executive are as acute as they were in the 17th century.
I wonder whether Ministers really consider the report of my noble friend Lord Wakeham to be the only basis for discussion. My noble friend Lord Wakeham took the first major look at the House of Lords for over a generation. I very much look forward to hearing his contribution later this afternoon. He produced an outstanding report. He cleared much ground. He clarified a number of important points. But his work was done, necessarily, in a hurry because the Government then said that they wanted to move on before the last election, and he reached no firm conclusion on composition. In fact, he produced three conclusions.
Since then, things have changed so quickly that some of the report's admirable analysis is already out of date. Of course, if the Government do not publish a draft Bill--and I think they should--then the conclusions of my noble friend should be uppermost in our minds. But are the Government saying, for example, that the inventive ideas in the report of my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern have nothing to teach us or that the powerful arguments of the noble Lord, Lord Richard, are irrelevant? Perhaps I may say how sorry I am not the noble Lord is not playing a part in this debate. That may be the Government's view but it is not our view. We think it is untenable. Parliament, in considering its future, cannot be constrained within the parameters of one report, however excellent. That is no basis for proper consultation. I believe that the Government need to understand that.
I shall take my lead from the noble and learned Lord and I shall resist the temptation to discuss those and other issues in detail. But we can make clear that we shall not accept, and should not accept, an imposed solution. We should not let one party put through a token solution and call it stage two. That simply will not work. We have one opportunity to strengthen this House and we must take it.
In conclusion, I welcome meaningful cross-party discussion. That is the right basis to go forward. In 1999, the Government dealt with the clear grievance of the imbalance in numbers and the hereditary peerage. Now is the time to bury old slogans and divisions and to work together to build a new House. It is time for a mature look at Parliament and its place in the nation. So we shall join positively and constructively with the Government, with the Liberal Democrats and other groups and parties. Our objectives should be clear: to create a House even more effective and with even more authority to probe and test whichever executive are in power. That must be the aim we set ourselves and no other solution should satisfy us or satisfy the country.
Lord Goodhart: My Lords, I begin by saying that we are delighted but by no means surprised to see the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor back in the place which he held before the general election. I also extend a warm welcome to the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, on her appearance as a Minister in the Lord Chancellor's Department. If government departments were football teams, I think that the Lord Chancellor's Department would have to pay the Foreign and Commonwealth Office a very large transfer fee for her. As a distinguished barrister, she must feel very much that she is coming home to be in the Lord Chancellor's Department.
I start by taking stock. The last Parliament saw more constitutional change than any Parliament since the Parliament elected in December 1910 and perhaps since the Parliament of 1832. Those reforms were strongly supported by us on these Benches and, indeed, most of them had been advocated by us long before the conversion of the Labour Party to the same ideas.
Those reforms restored Parliament to Scotland and created an assembly for Wales. Devolution to Scotland was essential for the preservation of the United Kingdom. Indeed, had it not been for the folly of your Lordships' House in rejecting Home Rule for Ireland in the 19th century, I believe that that country might still have been part of the United Kingdom. Welsh devolution has presented problems. There have been complaints about the absence of the power of primary legislation, but my noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresham will speak on the question of devolution for Wales.
We now need to move forward with devolution to the English regions. Regional identity is undoubtedly stronger in some regions of England than others. However, in some places there is a clear demand for it. As and when support for regional government is demonstrated by a referendum within that region, I believe that we should set up regional assemblies with real powers, including tax-raising powers devolved from Whitehall. The absence from the gracious Speech of any promise of enabling legislation or, indeed, any other sign of support for meaningful regional devolution is something which we greatly regret.
I turn to human rights. As the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor stated, the Human Rights Act was a great step forward for the protection of rights in the United Kingdom. I pay a genuine tribute to the noble and learned Lord for his leadership in getting that Act on to the statute book.
As he said, the Human Rights Act got off to a good start, thanks to the sensible attitude of the courts. As yet, there have been no signs of the outburst of litigation that followed, for example, the introduction of the Canadian Charter of Rights. We welcome the setting up of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, which has done good work in its short existence. However, it may not be reconstituted until October, which we believe would be a matter for serious concern. We still need a human rights commission to inform the public about its rights and to help to enforce them.
We also note with interest the transfer of responsibility for human rights, freedom of information and data protection from the Home Office to the Lord Chancellor's Department. The Freedom of Information Act is certainly not as strong as it should have been. Even so, it will be a big step forward in developing a culture of openness in government. We want to see it implemented as soon as possible and in due course strengthened. The transfer of responsibilities to the Lord Chancellor's Department suggests that that department is becoming an embryo ministry of justice. That is something for which we have pressed and which we would welcome. We need to see further progress in that direction. We need to end the anomalous position of the Lord Chancellor as both head of an important government department and head of the judiciary. I believe that the Lord Chancellor can no longer in practice sit as a judge because there are so few cases in which he could sit without running into problems with the right to fair trial under Article 6 of the European Convention.
We acknowledge the considerable improvements in monitoring the process of selection of judges that has been implemented in the past year. However, we believe that the role of the Lord Chancellor in the selection of judges should be transferred to an independent appointments commission, and that the Law Lords should become part of a separate supreme
There has been considerable progress on elections and electoral reform. Following the implementation of the Neill report, we now have an Electoral Commission; the publication of names of major donors; a ban on foreign donations and limits on spending in campaigns. However, anyone who saw the posters put up by either the Conservative Party or the Labour Party during the election campaign will realise that they were a total waste of money.
We need to reduce further the limits on campaign spending and introduce limits on the size of donations. There is a real danger to democracy if parties become dependent upon a small number of large donors. I believe that the fact that the Conservatives were offered and accepted £10 million in total from two individuals, Mr Stuart Wheeler and Sir Paul Getty, is an assault on democracy.
We will support proposals to allow positive steps to be taken to increase the representation of women in Parliament, which is a regrettable necessity. In principle, no one group in society should be given priority over another. However, the imbalance of women in the House of Commons--I have to say, with some shame, in my own party as well as in others--makes it plain that action is now needed. The best way to improve the representation of women without positive discrimination is by an electoral system based on proportional representation. In the elections to the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and the European Parliament, the proportion of women elected was far higher than that under the first-past-the-post system which we still have in Westminster.
There has been some progress on electoral reform. In Great Britain we now have forms of proportional representation in the Scottish Parliament elections, the Welsh Assembly, the Greater London Assembly and the European Parliament. Those are moves in the right direction, although the closed-list system for the European elections needs to be replaced by either an open-list system or STV. However, the Government's shunting aside of the report by the Jenkins committee and their refusal to commit themselves to anything other than a vague promise of a review after the next Scottish and Welsh elections means that we are stuck with the present system for at least the rest of the present Parliament. That is a system under which 42 per cent of the popular vote has given the Government a majority of 165 in the other place. That means that your Lordships' House as now constituted is more representative of public opinion than is the House of Commons.
That brings me to the issue which will probably be of most interest to your Lordships House; that is, the reform of this House. We have had stage one and the House is the better for it. No insult is intended to former hereditary Members, many of whom made valuable contributions to the work of your Lordships' House. But in terms of party strengths, this House is
From the moment that the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, persuaded the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor to accept the interim retention of 92 hereditary Peers, it was clear that there would soon have to be a second House of Lords Act. In the new Bill, the remaining rights of hereditary Peers will have to go; we completely support the Government on that. However, beyond that a fog descends on the Government's intentions. The Wakeham report is an unsatisfactory guide to reform. The leader of the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham's, own party did not suggest anything other.
On the issue of powers, there is one proposal in Wakeham which we strongly oppose; that is, the proposal to abolish the power of veto of your Lordships' House over secondary legislation. Secondary legislation receives an entirely inadequate scrutiny from either House. The only real protection from Government abuse of the power of secondary legislation is the power of your Lordships' House to reject it. When that happens, the Government must come back with an amended instrument, as happened with the London mailshot regulations or, in the last resort, an act of primary legislation.
I am a member of the Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Deregulation. That committee has an important constitutional role. Under the outstanding chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Weedon, it has been widely acknowledged as having carried out its duties with impartiality and success. However, if the power of veto over secondary legislation was removed, I believe that that committee would find it much harder to recommend to your Lordships House to accept a wide degree of delegation of powers to the extent that is now routine.
I turn finally to the composition of the new House of Lords. The objective of the Liberal Democrats is to achieve a wholly elected body. That does not mean that we would oppose a reasonable compromise providing for a minority of appointed Members to go with the majority of elected Members, but the figures of fewer than 100 elected Members, as proposed by two of the three options in the Wakeham report, are far too small. The Wakeham report proposes that the Appointments Commission should appoint more or less the whole of the rest of the Members of your Lordships' House.
I have to say that the commission chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, did not get off to a good start. Its first list met with a howl of derision in the media. To some extent, that was unfair. Talk of "people's Peers" came from the spin doctors of
The commission may be a good way of selecting a limited number of independent Members of your Lordships' House to be selected for their expertise which will add value to our debates and to the work of our Select Committees. But, surely, even the Government must now recognise that the commission is an inappropriate body to appoint the majority of Members of your Lordships' House. It would, in effect, be an electorate of seven people with power to elect most Members of one of the two Houses of Parliament. When one talks of "rotten boroughs", that puts Old Sarum deep into the shade.
We welcome the Government's offer of consultation but the vital question is whether it will be real consultation. The Government's earlier stand was that they would offer no more than a joint committee of both Houses to report on the implementation of proposals dictated by the Government. If consultations are to be meaningful, we must look at the substance of the proposals as well as at their implementation. In that respect, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. We must at the end of the day have a House which can carry out its duties of revision and scrutiny with skill and authority.
Yesterday, the committee of the Hansard Society published a powerful report on the shortcomings of parliamentary scrutiny in both Houses. It is ironic that on the same day the Government and the Conservatives in the House of Commons conspired to defer the appointment of Select Committees until October for reasons internal to the Conservative Party. That inhibits scrutiny for the next four months.
If the consultations are to be real, we are prepared to play our full part in them, but in doing so our aim will be the same as that of our Liberal predecessors 90 years ago when they said in the preamble to the Parliament Act 1911 that,
The Lord Bishop of Portsmouth: My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this part of the debate on the gracious Speech. I am also grateful to noble Lords who have spoken and for the many points which have been raised. I look forward to the contribution to be made later by my friend the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bristol, who for good or ill happens to have been my ethics tutor at college.
The key question is whether the proposals will enable Parliament to serve the people better. I believe that broadly to be the case. It is surely right that this House should have a complementary role to that of the House of Commons in such a way as not to change its democratic primacy but rather to hold the executive properly to account. As a relative newcomer to this House, I have learnt to value the experience and the wisdom that is abundant here. I want to support calls for wider "representativeness" but I also want to speak up for what might be called the "non-professionalism" of this Chamber.
As regards "representativeness", I want first to echo the response of the Church of England to the Wakeham proposals, which were to endorse the idea that there should be wider participation on these Benches so as to include other Churches and other faith communities. That echoes what the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor said about diversity. I hope that the way it is explored will involve full consultation which will also take into account the kind of service the House wants. However, it should also deal with the detail of how nominations are to be handled. We on these Benches would want fully to endorse what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, about membership of that Joint Committee.
The Church of England's response to the Wakeham report also dealt with the work of the Lords Spiritual and made it clear that we are here to speak for the nation in things spiritual, including many moral and religious questions. We always come here after regular contact with leaders of other Churches and the other faith communities, to say nothing of our collaboration almost on a daily basis with other local leaders in local government, prisons and education.
Moreover, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford said in a debate here in March last year, we are not here to press for privileges for the Church of England, but to express a far wider voice; a role which we have been trying to take more seriously by better organisation of our attendance. I can also vouch for the fact that when diocesan bishops are chosen, national considerations are also taken into account in addition to the needs of the local diocese. That includes participation in this Chamber.
I realise of course that "representativeness" is about much more still. I am aware that there are many walks of life not present here from which we could benefit. In that connection, perhaps the House needs to take account of certain imbalances. Since the efflux of late 1999, the area covered by the diocese of
The non-professional nature of those of us here who have not been party politicians is perhaps open to more misunderstanding than anything else in the public eye. The fact is that were the Chamber to be exclusively professional, we would be justified in demanding far better and more appropriate remuneration. However, I hasten to add that Bishops--if we were still here--would not benefit in any way as any remuneration would be subtracted from our stipends--and perhaps considerably more!
The fact remains that history has produced a second Chamber which is made up largely of people who--shall we say?--gain their daily bread elsewhere. That makes us the cheapest second Chamber in the world. I believe that there is something unique in such a non-professional membership of experience and breadth and it reflects the wide degree of skills and experience which is increasingly and deliberately sought-after in other public bodies. It is high on the agenda of head hunters and business consultants. I hope that in the plans for reforming this House, that vision is given greater sharpness. It would, among other things, save us from the unfortunate razzmatazz which arose in relation to the "people's Peers" saga recently in the press.
There is much else that could be said about House of Lords reform. I have long thought that far too much attention has been focused on the composition of this House and not enough on its workings. I particularly welcome the remarks on this matter made yesterday by the Leader of the House. We have a real opportunity to grasp. There are many concerns in this House and beyond about the workings of the House, and I welcome the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, about secondary legislation and the veto.
Secondly, I should like to make a few comments on political participation, or what has come to be known more broadly as the "democratic deficit". Although I welcome any move to increase representation in both Houses, none the less I perceive an underlying issue that is in danger of being ignored, perhaps because it is cultural and therefore difficult to address. We cannot ignore the fact that a government--I believe that the political persuasion is irrelevant--have been elected with the positive support of only one in four of the electorate. It is a poor reflection on us all that so many chose not to exercise their democratic right. I wish I could say that that represents widespread contentment with the state of the country, but I do not believe that that is the case. In my experience as a university governor, there are many, particularly among the young but by no means exclusively so, for whom the political process has become irrelevant. Some of the answer may lie in the reform of representation, but it is only part of the question.
At a more profound level, I perceive a disengagement with civic life to an extent which will not be altered by changing the faces at the front, nor by self-indulgent agonising about dressing up at the State
As far as concerns Christianity, the spiritual and social aspects of koinonia are seen as both complementary and interdependent--a dynamic inherent in the household of faith. I believe that we need to find a similar koinonia for today's society in which our moral outlook is held in tension with our social make-up. It is a sign that we have so far not achieved that in the political realm that so many people feel themselves disenfranchised from participation in government, whether it be local, regional or national. If we fail to address this fundamental issue of political koinonia, we tinker at the edges to no avail.
Lord Wakeham: My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the right reverend Prelate in his remarks. I have known him for a number of years. Certainly, before he came to your Lordships' House I knew that he would make a good contribution to our debates. Every time I hear him speak the correctness of my analysis is confirmed.
I was somewhat diffident about making a contribution to this debate for two reasons. First, the previous occasion on which I spoke in this debate as a Back-Bencher was 22 years ago, and immediately I sat down I was invited to join the administration. In view of the comments in the Labour Party manifesto in my name, perhaps I should not risk a similar fate in addressing your Lordships this afternoon. Secondly, and perhaps more seriously, I and my colleagues on the Royal Commission have had our say and published our report which contains well over 100,000 words. As for the next stage of implementation, or not, it is for others to consider what we have said and to come to their own conclusions.
I am grateful that the Government are broadly minded to endorse our report and legislate after further consultation. I am sure that they are right to hold further consultation because of our experiences in the Royal Commission. When we started we had members of all parties and of none; some knew quite a lot about the House of Lords and some knew very little. All the issues that we discussed were very much those that have been raised in the debate so far. There was virtually nothing that we did not discuss. At the end of a year of very hard work, and a considerable amount of goodwill on all sides, we reached a unanimous conclusion as regards our report.
As my noble friend the Leader of the Opposition said, we offered three options for the number of elected Members. As I have said on a number of occasions, I do not much mind which one of those options is eventually accepted. The fundamental thinking in our report was more important than the exact numbers. I hope, therefore, that the consultations are held in the spirit of attempting to find a solution to this problem. If any party believes that it will get 100 per cent of what it wants, the negotiations will fail. It is not possible to reconcile all the points without a considerable degree of give and take by all those engaged in them.
I should like to make one or two points which I hope are not too contentious. First, the time to reform and carry out stage two is very ripe. It is not just about the hereditaries. I suspect that a considerable number of the present hereditaries will return as either elected or appointed Members because they are some of the best parliamentarians in this House. The House would be a great deal poorer if they did not contribute to its deliberations, but I accept that they would not be here after stage two as hereditary Peers.
Secondly, I believe that if we missed the opportunity in the next few years to settle and deliver this reform a long time would elapse before we had another opportunity as favourable as this. It is very important, not just to the hereditaries, that we get it right because of human rights legislation, constitutional changes, devolution and our increasing commitment to and involvement in the European Union. Therefore, I am very anxious that we do it.
I believe that it is right first to be clear about, and to settle, the role and functions of this House and, as the second stage, to determine its powers. When we have those matters clear in our minds the question of composition is considerably easier to deal with. However, I do not believe that it is right to start with composition. As to composition, I hope that your Lordships continue to recognise that it is the differences between your Lordships' House and the other place which add enormously to the value of this place. If we sought to create a repeat of what went on down the corridor we would fail, and then I for one would be happy to be a unicameralist. I see no point in having a Chamber here that is just the same as the one down the way. It is the differences that we contribute which make us valuable.
I conclude with one point on which I know not everyone agrees with me. We considered very carefully the question of whether the procedures of this House, which are essentially self-regulating and open and free, were the right way to continue. We came very firmly to the conclusion that that was the right way forward. I hope that whatever final form the House evolves into we keep what is unique but is still very valuable: the self-regulating nature of the Chamber. We have an opportunity to produce a House with more authority and competence, and which is more broadly representative of a modern United Kingdom, than the House of Commons--full as it is bound to be with professional politicians--ever will be. I hope that we seize the opportunity that has been presented to us.
Lord Renton: My Lords, I did not envy my noble friend Lord Wakeham being appointed chairman of the very important commission on the composition of the House of Lords and its powers. However, he did remarkably well to achieve unanimity. It was a very strong and distinguished committee. I am glad that the introduction of the so-called democratic principle to our House was made a little flexible and that my noble friend did not tie himself down to a solution which might have been to our constitution's disadvantage.
Before I go further, may I say how very pleased I am that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, is now the Leader of the House. The noble and learned Lord was the first Attorney-General for hundreds of years to be appointed from your Lordships' House instead of from another place. That has a bearing on what I shall say about the other place.
I must be very brief with regard to the Lord Chancellor. The noble and learned Lord was remarkably brief, bearing in mind the ground he had to cover. He described only some parts of our purpose as a parliamentary democracy and ignored, unfortunately, the representation of those people who, in various walks and at various levels of society, have to bear responsibility and whose views should therefore always be considered, and, I hope, represented, in Parliament in one House or the other.
Our parliamentary democracy surely requires representation of all the people. Having served in the House of Commons for 10 Parliaments and in your Lordships' House for five Parliaments before the present one--for 56 years altogether--I hope that it will not be totally out of place for me to draw one or two conclusions from that almost historic experience. I regret to have to point out that over the years the House of Commons, especially since it reached its climax of representation in 1951 under the great Winston Churchill as Prime Minister, has become steadily less representative and has never been so unrepresentative as it has become as a result of the recent general election.
I say that, not only because fewer than 50 per cent of the electorate voted at all, nor because only 25 per cent of the electorate elected the Government, but also because the MPs who were elected are not accustomed to much responsibility in their various walks of life--good and nice people though most of them, I believe, are. Certainly the new Member for Huntingdon is. I can say that of him. He received a far bigger majority than I ever did. However, I could not have had the majority of 5,000 which I had 10 times without the support of the wage earners, their families and the few unemployed that there were. The Government Front Bench should not accuse us of being unrepresentative of the people. We are not.
Of course the trouble is that being an MP now has become a whole-time job. I hope that I am not presuming when I say that I must bear some of the responsibility for that because I was the acting chairman of a Select Committee in the late 1970s which recommended that the House of Commons should
With regard to the Solicitor-General, a splendid lady--I had the pleasure of being at school with her father so I know a little about her--she is not a barrister or a solicitor. She has had limited legal experience at the Brent Law Centre and as a legal officer to the National Council for Civil Liberties. That is a pressure group. It is most unfortunate that the responsibility of the Law Officer in another place is not borne by a qualified Law Officer.
Pursuing the theme of representation by people with responsibility, one wonders how many doctors, accountants, academics of distinction, farmers, landowners, financiers and leading industrialists are to be found in the House of Commons? There are very few, but we have them. What about the Armed Forces? Scarcely any of today's Members of Parliament have served in the Armed Forces. But in your Lordships' House, we have one Admiral of the Fleet--admittedly he does not attend very often--four Field Marshals who attend frequently and speak in most defence debates, and, I am sure they are proud to say, the Leader of the Cross-Bench peers is a Marshal of the Royal Air Force. Scores of us in your Lordships' House have seen service at one time or another in various ranks in the Armed Forces. That is a further advantage that we have over another place.
Your Lordships' House contains Peers and Peeresses from many different walks of life--so much so that now we can claim to be "a classless nobility". That is not a contradiction in terms; it describes fully our representation. I believe that that is worthy of us. We also have the advantage of having the 92 hereditary Peers, who were mentioned by my noble friend Lord Strathclyde in his very constructive speech. Their experience covers a wide range of important activities. They include landowners, farmers and, for example, the noble Lord, Lord Colwyn, who is an expert dentist and a famous dance band leader. Those 92 people are a good lot and we would be less representative of the people if we got rid of them.
Why are we getting rid of them? We are getting rid of them because these poor Labour people, with their limited attitudes, have got it into their heads that hereditary Peers should be ignored. I disagree. If we got rid of them, it would make this House less
In the full Session that ended in the late autumn of last year--it was admittedly a fairly long Session--your Lordships made 4,619 amendments to government Bills coming to us from the House of Commons. That is twice as many amendments in a Session as we have ever had to make before. That was not merely because of the number of government Bills or because the Bills were long and detailed. It was also largely because the Government gave only a limited opportunity for Members of another place to discuss those Bills and they limited that opportunity by frequently using the guillotine, which we do not use in your Lordships' House. That limited the time available to Members of another place to discuss those Bills. Furthermore, only a limited number of MPs had the expertise to consider the effect of the legislation clause by clause. And so your Lordships, with your zeal and greater expertise and experience, know how to improve the drafting.
The worst thing that could happen--I hope that I may have the attention of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, whom I respect in many ways, and of the new Leader of the House--would be to turn us into a microcosm of another place.
Lord Thomas of Gresford: My Lords, I join other noble Lords in congratulating the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, on his appointment as Leader of the House. To say that we in north-east Wales bask in his glory would perhaps be putting it a little strongly, but he did merit a paragraph in the Wrexham Evening Leader, and not many people can say that.
Mostyn has a special place in my heart. In saying that, perhaps I may follow the noble Lord, Lord Renton, along some of the byways down which he has just taken us. In 1964, during the general election of that year, it was the very first place in which I knocked on a wage earner's door. I did not achieve a majority of 10,000. I even skipped my national service. I did not come to the House through the service route. I came to the House through the traditional Liberal route of losing eight general elections in a row. I heard the noble Lord say that we should maintain the hereditary principle. I am a great fan of the noble Lord and it is a pleasure to follow him in the debate. But the grain of this new century runs with the appointment to Parliament of people who are accountable. It is inevitable that the second Chamber will become fully elected. There should be no argument about the principle. It is all a question of timing and of the functions and powers of the House. To continue as we are is completely unacceptable. However, I do not wish today to discuss the composition of the House.
I welcome the continuing commitment to devolution set out in the gracious Speech and the elegant expression of the rationale of devolution by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor. I shall remember his phrase that there should be no flattening by assimilation of the various strands that make up the society in which we live. The publicity received by the National Assembly for Wales has been tied to personalities and has not always been positive. It has concealed the immense hard work which the Assembly and its committees have performed. It illustrates the success of the Welsh Assembly to have legislation coming before Parliament in the way expressed in the gracious Speech, which states:
With the Bill that is promised for the provision of health services in Wales we can see how policy formulation is now giving some meaning to the labours of the National Assembly. The problem in Wales, as Comparative Indicators 2000, a publication of the Statistics Directorate of the National Assembly, shows, is that there are more elderly people in Wales than in England or Scotland, more people in Wales have long-term illnesses than in England or Scotland and more people visit their GPs. The specific death rates in Wales are lower than in Scotland but higher than in England.
To address this health problem, the National Assembly set in train a number of reports. Putting Patients First outlined plans to reinvest in the National Health Service and to involve people in health policy development and planning, as well as in the implementation of services. The assembly then produced a report entitled Better Health: Better Wales, setting out a strategy for health improvement. Finally, we had the partnership agreement formed between the Labour administration and the Liberal Democrats in the National Assembly for Wales. Under that agreement, a very substantial increase in
What constitutional lessons can be learnt from what is currently taking place in Wales? The first is that proportional representation can produce a partnership government and that the synergy between the two parties involved--the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats--can lead to constructive policy formation and then to constructive legislation which will be of enormous benefit to the people that that government serve.
The second lesson is that this partnership has not led to the swallowing-up of one party by the other. In the election which took place a few weeks ago, in Cardiff Central the Liberal Democrat vote was not subsumed by Labour, rather it went up by 11.8 per cent. In Ceredigion it was not subsumed by the opposition party, Plaid Cymru. Our vote went up by 10.4 per cent. Furthermore, the Liberal Democrats significantly increased their share of the vote both in Scotland, where the Liberal Democrats are also in partnership with the Labour Party, as well as in Wales. Plaid Cymru, in opposition in Wales, found that its vote was down by 7 per cent in Ynys Mon and Caernarfon, and by 3.5 per cent in Ceredigion--the three parliamentary seats held by Plaid Cymru in the other place. Thus the second lesson to be learnt is that partnership government does not mean that one party is taken over by another. It does mean that we can retain our distinct identities and move forward.
A further lesson to be learnt is that voter turnout in the general election for Westminster was higher in Wales than it was either in England or in Scotland. Many people had thought that, because many matters covering many areas of policy had been devolved to Wales and Scotland, the people would be less interested in voting in the Westminster elections. In fact, the reverse was true.
Perhaps I may make one criticism of constitutional matters covered in the gracious Speech. The Welsh Assembly did ask for parliamentary time to be made available for three further Bills. One was an education (Wales) Bill, to carry out some innovative plans drawn up by the Assembly in the field of education. The second was a census amendment (Wales) Bill, while the third was a St David's Day Bill, which may have been of lesser importance--it is not a matter of massive importance to secure a public holiday on St David's Day. However, it is important that no parliamentary time could be made available for the education legislation and that is a shame. Thus the power of the Assembly to pass primary legislation is still a very necessary power.
I used the phrase "devolution settlement", which is a phrase frequently employed in the context of the Welsh Assembly and the Scottish Parliament. However, as the former Secretary of State for Wales, Mr Ron Davies, once said, devolution is "a process, not an event". Here we are witnessing major constitutional innovation which is taking forward the interests of the people of Wales and Scotland. That is reflected in the gracious Speech that we are considering today.
A further criticism which could be advanced is that one of the primary purposes of devolution was to cure the "democratic deficit"--a phrase used by the right reverend Prelate--conferred by the quango systems in place in Wales and Scotland. What has not been achieved so far in either of those two countries is a reduction in quangos, the very rationale which brought the new administrations into being in the first place.
However, I find myself in a most unusual position; namely, to be speaking on behalf of the government of Wales, as I do today, as well as congratulating the Government on bringing forward further measures which will assist us in our joint task in that country.
Lord Rawlinson of Ewell: My Lords, I do not propose to follow the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, in speaking on matters of devolution because I have my own idiosyncratic views that I wish to express about a different constitutional matter. However, I should like to follow him in his welcome to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn. I should like to repeat that welcome. The noble and learned Lord will make
I should like to talk about the role of the Law Officers of the Crown because I believe that they play an important part in the constitution. Over the past years I believe that their role has gradually been changed and shifted. When I first became a Law Officer, Harold Macmillan said to me, "Remember, you are the last of the Crown officers who remains a Member of the House of Commons". He then moved on to a stimulating but strange discussion on Samuel Pepys. Later in the conversation he said that I should remember the following as regards the responsibilities of a Law Officer: they belong first to the Crown; secondly, to Parliament; and, only thirdly, to the government of whom the officer is a member. It is the principal public function of the Attorney-General and the Solicitor-General, who are the parens patriae--the guardians of the public interest--rather than the Government's interest. The Attorney-General is the principal agent for enforcing legal rights and is required to intervene when the public interest--not the government interest--is affected.
It is also the practice of both Law Officers to represent the Crown in litigation whenever major interests of the state are involved. The Attorney-General prosecutes in criminal cases. Some 30 years ago, I personally prosecuted on all circuits save the Welsh circuit. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, will understand that I did not dare to do that. The Solicitor-General is responsible for the Revenue Paper, for revenue cases. Reggie Hills--a remarkable Treasury devil for revenue--used to school Solicitors-General in revenue practice. Those are the Crown duties, quasi-judicial in nature, that are quite apart from their government duties.
Their second responsibility is to Parliament. Here we come to the major change that has recently taken place. The Attorney-General is meant to be available to assist the House of Commons and committees. He was invariably a member of the Privileges Committee and would assist the Speaker. I remember having to assist Speaker King on one occasion when there was an incident in public with a gun. It was part of the duties of the Attorney-General to be of assistance to the Speaker. Often Members of Parliament would call for the attendance of the Attorney-General to join in and
These independent duties were always disliked by civil servants. They did not like the absence in court of the Law Officers, where they were not available to be consulted by departments or by the Cabinet. The civil servants wanted the Law Officers to be tame, in-house legal advisers. There was a long campaign to remove the Law Officers from the Royal Courts of Justice--where they had had their chambers for years and years--which succeeded in doing so in the late 1980s or early 1990s.
I sense a general attitude now to follow this course; a different attitude from the old attitude towards the role of the Law Officers. I shall refer to various people for whom I have the highest regard as lawyers. The change began in 1997 when the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, was appointed Solicitor-General, not in the House of Commons but here in the House of Lords. In fact, at that time there was an Attorney-General in the House of Commons. Two years later, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams--to whom I have paid my tribute--was appointed Attorney-General in the House of Lords. That was unique.
The noble and learned Lord was also the Deputy Leader. I used to sit here sometimes and think how extraordinary it was to see him sitting there on those red Benches and I wondered how he had the time. I know that he has a great capacity and a great facility for work, but I do not know how was he able to handle all the problems of the Attorney-General that he had on his hands and at the same time be the Deputy Leader of the House, but he did.
The removal of the senior Law Officer from all participation in the House of Commons and its committees was a big change. Maybe it was due--this was referred to by my noble friend Lord Renton--to the change in attitude towards Members of Parliament and the payments and expenses they get now which exclude them from taking part in any other single activity. Therefore there were no, and there are no, leading legal practitioners in the House of Commons. Perhaps there is one, the shadow Attorney-General, Edward Garnier, whom I remember with great respect.
We have seen lately how easy it is to parachute a desired candidate into a safe seat--I remember Mr Woodward of butler fame--but instead of parachuting a distinguished lawyer into the House of Commons, the Government have parachuted him into the House of Lords. We have had the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams; we now have the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, another distinguished lawyer. The Government could not be luckier than to have someone so distinguished in that role. The Government got a good bargain but the House of Commons did not.
There has now been a further change. This year the Government have gone further. They have appointed a Solicitor-General who has no experience of general practice of the law and who was not a QC. She has been made a QC--she was given silk, I am told, at the end of last week--which makes a mockery of the rule that to be a QC you had to have real experience and excellence in legal practice. There is the exception of honorary QCs, but they are honoured for their services to the law. What has this Solicitor-General who has been imposed upon us done? Why has this Law Officer of the Crown, who has all these responsibilities for the public interest, suddenly been imposed upon us by this Government? She is not a barrister; she is not a solicitor with a certificate allowing her to practice advocacy in the High Court. She was a legal officer at the National Council of Civil Liberties and has not practised since she came to the House of Commons in 1982. Her only claim for becoming the Solicitor-General, for becoming a QC, is that she is a former Secretary of State who was dismissed.
In 1964, Harold Wilson wanted to have Eric Fletcher, who was a solicitor, as the Solicitor-General. But he was dissuaded, and Dingle Foot became Solicitor-General and Eric Fletcher became a Minister without portfolio. How will this Solicitor-General play it? How can she handle the problems? How can she handle the public responsibilities if she has no qualifications or knowledge of the problems which, as the Attorney-General knows, crop up every day in criminal law, common law and international law? How can she possibly play a part in that.?
The number of appearances in court of the Law Officers has been in steady decline for some years. In 1997-98, the Attorney-General appeared once and the Solicitor-General five times; in 1998-99, the Attorney-General appeared four times and the Solicitor-General five times; in 1999-2000, the Attorney-General appeared once--"the Marchioness inquiry"--and the Solicitor General five times. So there were 21 appearances by the Law Officers. Some 70 per cent of those appearances--15--were made by the Solicitor-General. How will this new Solicitor-General, who does not even have qualifications, play a part? It will lead to more decline in the role of the guardians of the public interest.
The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor in the year 2000 did not sit at all. I understand why. The noble Lord, Lord Thomas, referred to the European Court problem, with the dual role of a judge and a Minister. Perhaps the judicial role of the Lord Chancellor has ended--I do not know--but it is obviously a problem. I hope that it has not ended and that he will be sitting there. I see the noble and learned Lord nod, and that gives me greater confidence.
This latest move, this shoehorning into an important legal office--as though it is of no importance, as though it does not matter--of this former Secretary of State, who has no proper qualification, and allowing her to step from her previous position to her present one, seems to be something which shows the attitude towards the Law Officers. If it means that we are to move ultimately towards a European-style ministry of justice, I hope that we shall do so by means of open debate and not by stealth.
Above all, the present appointment of an unqualified Solicitor-General should be changed. She is incapable of fulfilling the public interest duties. It is not fair on her, it not fair as regards the office and it is not fair on the public, whose interest rests in the special capacity of the Law Officers of the Crown.
Most of your Lordships will know that I find it amusing, odd and totally incongruous that just because by forebears sucked up to Pitt, Walpole, North and anyone else who was around to be sucked up to at the time, that I should have any possible excuse for bossing people about. I completely accept that our day as hereditary Peers with a right to legislate has gone. I am delighted that my noble friend Lord Renton should fight such a gallant action on my behalf. He suggested that some of us might stand for election. Suddenly, the temptation of being in your Lordships' House on three counts--one by birth and two by election--is overwhelming. I could say to the noble Baroness, Lady Jay: "Not only am I here; but I have been twice elected, and you have not been elected once".
Perhaps I may refer to one or two minor points in the Lord Chancellor's opening remarks. Chou En-Lai, when asked what effect he thought the French Revolution had had, said that it was too early to say. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg is convinced that all the constitutional changes produced by this Government in the past two and a half years have been perfect and offer the best of all possible worlds.
I found it marginally amusing during the election campaign that Mr Kennedy went around talking about English health and education when he was standing for a Scottish seat and had absolutely no right to talk about such matters, even in Scotland. Frankly, education and health in Surrey have nothing to with the Member for Ross, Skye and Inverness West. They are delegated matters. These points have not yet been examined. So I do not believe that the constitutional settlement is nearly as happy as the noble and learned Lord says it is. As for his and the Liberals' idea of reinventing the Heptarchy and undoing the work of Alfred the Great, are we sure it is a good idea to invent regional assemblies--Mercia, Northumbria, Egbert of Kent, Offa and his dyke? Let us be just a little careful before we do some of these things.
I make these observations in the same way as I make observations on proportional representation. That is designed so that the Liberals and a small number of other people can boss us about. The glorious thing about our present system is that one moment the Prime Minister is rushing about in a large car with people bowing and scraping, the next he is on the Underground on his way to a cricket match. We can sack our government; and we must always be able to do so. If we go down the road of proportional representation, we shall not be able to sack the government. The Dutch and the Belgians have not sacked a government since the war. The Germans have done so only once. We must be very careful. The ultimate power of the people is to say, "On your bike!". It is essential. Proportional representation will put an end to that. Whether it is us on our bikes or noble Lords opposite on their bikes, one day that is what will happen. That is the right way to do it. Then we scramble back on our bikes, or even the Liberals scramble back on theirs--my noble friends are saying "No"!
I now turn to the important remarks made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, about the reform of this Chamber. It is essential. The noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, was right to say that we now have a major opportunity. I cannot get over how encouraged I was by what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams, said yesterday. But some difficult points need to be examined. There will need to be a ceiling on the number of those elected. Let us assume that there are three elections over 10 years and that there is no ceiling. We win next time: up goes the number of Tories. The Liberals win the time after that: whee, up go the Liberals! Then in come Labour, and they have an enormous amount of scrabbling to do to pick up on the figures. This does not sound to me a
So how are the elections to be held? How are we to hold elections for independents, for those who have no party affiliation? All these points require thought. I suggest that there must also be a fixed tenure and possibly even an age limit. Then, my noble friend--I mean that in all possible senses--Lord Renton proves the whole thing wrong. He has been here longer than God, is nearly as old as God and contributes almost as much as God. I do not want to argue from the particular to the general, but these are real problems.
I shall support full-heartedly any real prospect of real change to make this a real, balanced Whig Parliament. If the measure to change this House is merely a "faff-about" Bill which does nothing much to change it and just shoots through, out will come my bovver boots again, out will come my razor, and back on will go my hooligan kit. I want this house to be much better when I am not in it.
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