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Lord Bach: My Lords, I agree with my noble friend. That was one of the principles behind the arrangement. The United States has argued for many yearsand perhaps with some forcethat European countries have not had sufficient capabilities to meet the needs of NATO. It is very important that European nations find extra capabilities to meet whatever requirements there may be. It is an essential part of this policy that European countries obtain the right capability to meet the new situation in which they find themselves.
Lord Bach: My Lords, I am not in a position to say how many would have to come from the Reserves. I again make the point that there will be no extra commitment. There would always be a possibility that Reserves would be used, but no more so for this force than for any other.
Baroness Park of Monmouth: My Lords, I wonder whether the Minister can enlighten me. According to an article in today's edition of The Times, the contribution of Belgium, for instance, to the force in Afghanistanwhich admittedly is not a Petersberg task but is nevertheless a commitmentis 30 people. Are we talking about that kind of increase in the defence capacity of our allies?
Lord Bach: My Lords, I am delighted that the noble Baroness has asked that question. The article to which she refers goes on to suggest, quoting the Conservative spokesman on defence in another place, that an EU army is proposed for Afghanistan. The idea of any such army in Afghanistan is nonsense. There is no EU army, nor will one be deployed there. It is important to make the distinction between a force which includes EU member states and one which is under the political control of the European Union itself. Moreover, as has been said previously from the Government Benches in this House, the EU is not yet capable of carrying out a task of the complexity and size of that posed by the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.
It may assist if I tell the House that, of the 17 countries potentially involved in sending armed forces to Afghanistan, five are not members of the EU. The suggestion that was made that somehow the British Government had a secret agenda was nonsensical. I am sure that, on consideration, the honourable Member who made it will withdraw it.
Baroness Park of Monmouth: My Lords, may I correct one point? In asking the question, I hoped I had made it clear that I recognised that we were not looking at a Petersberg task in Afghanistan, nor at an
Lord Bach: My Lords, I apologise to the noble Baroness. There have been considerable negotiations about the numbers of troops needed for the ISAF agreement. The noble Baroness should not take the various numbers that may come from various countries as an indication that that is the maximum that they could provide.
The Lord Chancellor (Lord Irvine of Lairg): My Lords, in her letter of 15th October last year to my officials, the Information Commissioner informed them that she would not be reapplying in the competition for the post. In a message to her staff on 19th December, she said:
Lord Goodhart: My Lords, does the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor accept that there have been serious concerns about the decision of that distinguished public servant not to seek reappointment to her important post? Can he dispute the widespread belief that an important part of the reason for Mrs France deciding to go was the Government's decision to defer the introduction of the public right of access to government information until January 2005, which means that until that date the job of the Information Commissioner is significantly downgraded?
The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, I not only dispute that; I completely rebut it. The commissioner did not want to reapply. Her decision was not prompted by the Government's decision on the timetable for implementing the Freedom of Information Act. I asked
Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, what are the procedures for making the appointment? Does my noble and learned friend feel that they are sufficiently transparent, given the public interest in the post?
The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, it is well recognised that public appointments may be renewed once without open appointment, but after two terms the usual practice is to have an open competition. The Home Office informed the Select Committee on Public Administration in 1999 that that would be the position. It has always been absolutely up front. Section 18(5) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 provides that the office vacates two years after the date on which the Act is passed, but expressly provides that the commissioner is eligible to be reappointed. She did not seek reappointment, for the reasons that she gave to her staff. Advertisements will appear for the post of Information Commissioner next week. The selection panel, with an independent member, will be chaired by my permanent secretary, Sir Hayden Phillips. A shortlist will be made, which I shall be asked to approve, and I shall in due course inform the House of the successful candidate.
Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, does the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor agree that, in view of the very wide exceptions contained in the Freedom of Information Act, it is vital that the Information Commissioner should have the robust independence and wisdom demonstrated by the present commissioner throughout her distinguished terms of office? Will he do his best to ensure that her successor is as independent, wise and effective as she has been so that we can begin to have more confidence in the effective coming into force of the Freedom of Information Act when that eventually happens?
Lord McNally: My Lords, does the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor recall that when the Freedom of Information Bill was going through Parliament, Mrs France's specific experience and the fact that her role would roll into the implementation of
The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, Mrs France did not resign. Her post was vacated by force of statute. She was free to reapply. I personally would have been delighted if she had reapplied. She chose not to do so for the reasons that I have already given to the House.
Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, I beg to introduce a Bill to make provision for civil partnerships and with respect to the rights and obligations of civil partners; and for connected purposes. I beg to move that this Bill be now read a first time.
The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, let me try with candour to carve out contours for the current debate about the future of this House. Unicameralism does not have many, if it has any, serious followers, although the House of Commons, elected by popular franchise, could be said to be sufficient for our democracy. However, I believe it to be generally accepted that this House, although unelected, adds major value to our legislative and deliberative processes. It can persuade and restrainbut never compelthe other place, whose pre-eminence is firmly established and protected by the Parliament Acts. This House is therefore a check and a balance within our constitution. For those who regard the other place as excessively dominated by the executive, this House is an important restraint upon the executive, whatever party may be in power.
This House is unelected, but election is not the only route to legitimacy in our democracy. The judiciary is a distinct institution within our separation of the powers, but they are unelectedand, so far as I know, no one calls for them to be elected.
There are, I am sure, someperhaps manyin this House who believe that to have any elected element in this House would destabilise our constitution because of a claimed-for greater legitimacy for this House to challenge the other place that would result. I acknowledge that there are some, perhaps many, who regard a hybrid House with two
This Government came to power in 1997 on a manifesto commitment, renewed in their manifesto of last year, that the hereditary peerage should have no privileged place, based on birth alone, in a House of Parliament. As is well known, we compromised on that principle in the last Parliament to avoid, as is equally well known, the "Somme and Passchendaele" to our legislative programme that the noble Viscount, Lord Cranbornewho sadly has taken his leave of absence from uspromised if we did not yield a temporary right for some to remain. This is history; and the Weatherill amendment was the vehicle for 92 to remain temporarily. Your Lordships should be in no doubt that the removal of the remaining 92 is unfinished business for the Government.
Now, may I take your Lordships into my confidence? I confidently predict that this debate will not disclose any present consensus for our proposals. But let me make one other confident prediction: nor will the debate reveal any consensus around any other particular set of proposals. The reform of this House is par excellence an issue on which there are as many opinions as there are politicians to express them.
Let me in the light of what I have just said say a word or two about the spirit in which the Government approach consultation on the White Paper and this debate itself. We continue to seek consensus around compromise between a multitude of divergent views. Compromise often, perhaps almost always, gives a measure of dissatisfaction to all and perfect satisfaction to none. None the less, compromise and consensus can be compatible. A consensus to agree a compromise on the basis that that compromise is the best that can be achieved in the present circumstancesI emphasise present circumstances because we cannot and do not aim to bind our successorsis none the less a consensus for today.
That is what we continue to aim for. Our White Paper contains proposals and invites responses to them all; and we are listening, and will listen. The consultation period ends at the end of this month, and this two-day debate is a major addition to the consultation process.
May I make one plea? It is easy to knock any proposed compromise, or any component within it, but surely it is incumbent on each of your Lordships who contributes to this debate to say specifically what other compromise he or she proposes in place of the compromise that the Government have proposed, unless the proposition is that the current status quo should be maintained. That, however, would be of course unacceptable to the Government, whose manifesto commitments, powerfully endorsed by the electorate, are so clear.
The status quo would be for a continuing hereditary estate of 92 in a House of Parliament, self-perpetuating by election from the ultimate closed list of allthe hereditary peerage. I therefore urge all noble Lords who contribute not to confine themselves to saying
I turn now to our main proposals, which we believe to be the right outcome for today. We took as our starting point the recommendations of the Royal Commission chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham. We have not followed every detail, but we believe our basic approach to be the commission's. We started, as did the commissioners, from the role and functions that the second Chamber should perform. We concluded, as did they, that it should be a revising and deliberative assembly, not seeking to usurp the role of the House of Commons as the pre-eminent Chamber. It should have a membership appropriate to its functions, and not seek to duplicate the other place. It should be as representative as possible of the broader community in the United Kingdom, but not so constituted as to put at risk the relationship between elected Members of the Commons and their constituents, as a wholly or substantially elected House would do. We concluded that it should not be dominated by any one political party.
A major vice of the hereditary peerage in Parliament was that it gave one partythe Conservativea permanent majority in one House of Parliament regardless of whether that party was in government or opposition. When we returned to power, in 1997, there were 477 Tory Peers and 116 Labourthat is, about four times as many Tory Peers as Government Peers. Prior to 1997, the Conservatives created twice as many Conservative life Peers as Labour, despite their in-built majority from 750 hereditary Peers. Since 1997, 247 life Peers have been created, as against 387 under our predecessors, but of those 247, fewer than halfonly 113are Labour.
As of yesterday, 8th January, the make-up of the House was: Tory, 221, still the largest group; Labour, 200; Liberal Democrat, 65; Cross Bench and other, 189. The total is 675, excluding the 26 Bishops. With that history, and that current make-up, and after 100 years of one-party dominance, the charge against the Government, of packing, is to say the very least more than a little rich. I shall come in a moment to the huge decrease in the Prime Minister's powers of patronage which would result from implementing our proposals. We have also accepted the Royal Commission recommendations that independent Members should form about 20 per cent of a reformed House: about 120 out of a House, ultimately, of 600.
Next, we agreed with the Royal Commission that a second Chamber that was wholly or largely directly elected could bring it into conflict with the other place. Our system of parliamentary democracy is built on the accountability of government to the House of Commons and through that House to the people. To assume power a government must command a majority in the House of Commons; to retain it, they must retain the confidence of that House. That is what has given us stable democratic government for so long and which reform of this House must not imperil. This
Thus, we have concluded that this House should remain substantially nominated, but also propose 120 elected Members as the best way of ensuring that the nations and regions feel that they are properly represented in a reformed House. That is 33 more than the Royal Commission's option B, which a majority of the commission supported.
I greatly look forward to this debate. I know that there will be some, perhaps many, who will say that our mistake was to let the electoral genie out of the lamp and that he should be put back firmly whence he came. I recall, for example, the powerful speech of the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, in that sense on 21st June 2001. I recall also the frequent attacks of my noble friend Lord Barnett upon the unwisdom of a hybrid House. However, our proposal for 120 elected to represent the nations and regions in this House, and by way of a different electoral system, will ensure that the 120 elected could not usurp the individual role of the MP in the constituencies, any more than it will give the House as a whole any ground for seeking to undermine the pre-eminence of the Commons.
But I confess that this is pragmatism based on principle. To those who say, "You should have proposed more elected", I say that the numbers would simply fail to add up if, that is, you accept the Government's positionI invite the Leader of the Opposition to confirm that he doesthat the rights of all existing life Peers to be here for life must be respected.
Today we have 587 life Peers, 92 hereditaries and 26 Bishops. So the start position is 705. If we take away 92 hereditaries we are left with 613; we add 120 elected and reach a total of 733. The maximum transitional House that we contemplate is 750, reducing to 600 over 10 years. Many would say that anything in excess of 700, even on a transitional basis, is excessive.
What these figures show is that there is no scope at present for more than 120 elected. Those who say that there should be more than 120 elected should explain where the scope for them exists. All that is on the assumption that the rights of the 587 life Peers are to be respected; we believe they must. They changed the course of their own lives, in many different ways, on the basis of an undertaking that they had a seat in the second Chamber for life. However, as the White Paper shows, we are canvassing opinions on a voluntary retirement scheme.
What these figures also show is that there is precious little scope for political parties to appoint new Peers in the transitional period. Therefore it is absolutely nonsense to maintain, as some do, that the majority will be nominated by the political parties. The 120 elected is simply the maximum we can contemplate
Our proposals also signal a huge decrease in the Prime Minister's powers of patronage. Instead of being able to control all appointments to the House, he will lose all rights over the independent Members; he will lose all rights over the nominations of other parties; and most important of all, he will lose the ability to decide how many nominations his party or any other party may make. I have already said how circumscribed the opportunities will be, in practice, to make new Members so as to ensure that the House does not become of excessive size during the transition period. That will be the responsibility of the Statutory Appointments Commission.
We have, however, rejected, as the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, knows, one important recommendation of the Royal Commission; that the appointments commission should choose the identity of the party nominees. We do not believe that any political party should accept that an external body should choose who should represent it in a House of Parliament. I readily recognise that the Royal Commission produced a distinguished report, but here we respectfully consider it went wrong.
It is impossible to cover every issue. I have confined myself to the proposals which responses to the consultation thus far show to be perceived to be central. We make our proposals in the spirit I described at the outset and I repeat, we seek consensus based on compromise, rooted in acceptance that the pre-eminence of the House of Commons is the bedrock of our parliamentary democracy. I look forward to two days of debate.
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, there are two good reasons why we can all see that this is an important occasion for this House. First, there are just over 80 speakers scheduled for a two-day debate. Secondly, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor led on the subject. He, after all, as Mr Robin Cook told the House of Commons, is the man to whom sole credit is due for the White Paper.
I shall respond in a few moments to some details of the White Paper, although it is well known already that my sense of rapture over its content is distinctly modified. The Prime Minister claims in his foreword,
I say at once that my party believes that the only way to secure the lasting reform we all want to see is through cross-party consensus. The time for partisan strife on this issue is gone. That was last century's business. The Lord Chancellor made much of that again today. But the time has come to move forward. This is no time for the unilateral imposition of half-baked single party proposals.
I still believe that the noble and learned Lord was at his most statesmanlike when, in 1997, he proposed creating a Joint Committee of both Houses to prepare stage two proposalsa pledge repeated several times since. Yet whenever I or the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, asked for such a committee to be set up, the Government accused us of delay. If there has been any delay it has come from within government. The Government allowed a miserly 12 weeks for public consultation, across a holiday period, on Parliament's future after dithering for nearly two years following the Royal Commission report.
I hope that the Government do not see this White Paper as the last word. I hope that even now they will open multilateral discussions in both Houses; in this House that should mean including representatives from the Cross-Benches and the Bishops. The Government have never tried to achieve cross-party consensus and it would be a worthy conclusion to this debate if the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House were to make such an announcement tomorrow evening. If he does, I guarantee that my party will move constructively to play a part. If he does not, then we face a tremendous and pointless fight over these plans.
The public expect much more from their politicians. Another battle over the House of Lords will not get one patient treated more quickly, one train shifted from the sidings, one criminal swept off the streets or one more teacher in our classrooms. Instead it will reinforce the growing sense that this Government have lost their focus on the real issues the country want addressed.
The Conservative Party will meet the challenge set out by the White Paper and the invitation made again by the Lord Chancellor to respond in the time the Government set; that is, by the end of the consultation period at the end of January. The essential difference between our proposal and theirs is that ours will be a proposition that can be put before a Joint Committee, not a single-party prescription to which no change is acceptable.
We want to see a House with a composition that gives it the authority and confidence to use its powers. The White Paper utterly fails to do that. Indeed, its fundamental weakness is that it entrenches patronage
The Government treat election as though it were a danger to be restricted in numbers and controlled through party lists, which are simply appointment at one remove. The kind of choice they want could not be clearerparty choice, not people's choice. The same issue was before us in 1998 when my late noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish so memorably led resistance to closed lists for European elections. They were finally imposed by the Parliament Acts. Closed lists are a democratic monstrosity. It would be a deep affront if they were to be imposed on the House that led the fight against them.
Some may think it unfair to call the Government fearful of democracy. But you only have to look at their latest published views. Where do you find them? Secreted in the supporting documents smuggled out by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor a month after the White Paper was issued. On page 22 of the supporting documents, one reads:
I do not agree with all the findings of the Royal Commission. For instance, I am opposed to the removal of the power of this House to reject secondary legislation suggested by the commission of the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, and eagerly snapped up by the Government. I am disappointed by the Government's total rejection of any method either House might seek to amend ministerial regulation. The idea is dismissed on page 18 of the supporting documents:
But if I disagreed with the commission of my noble friend Lord Wakeham on that issue, I agree with him on so many others. There are two which go to the very heart of the matter. First, as regards the appointed element, the Royal Commission wanted the Appointments Commission to appoint all nominated Members, including political ones. My noble friend
A second important insight of the Royal Commission, shared with the report made in 1998 by my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern, was that Peers, whether elected or appointed, should have long terms to ensure their independence of party Whips. The power to select and deselect is the power by which patronage dominates another place and, if the Government have their way, is set to dominate this House too. Up to now, life membership has given independence. Let me take one example almost at random. The noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, after 54 years of service, has been expelled from the Labour Party for objecting to Shaun Woodward. But, quite rightly, the noble Lord cannot be removed from this House. Nor can his distinctive voice be silenced by the threat of removal.
The Royal Commission sought to replicate that independence so far as possible, proposing that Peers in the new House should serve long terms, effectively 15 years, to entrench independence. The same long terms would ensure that their mandate would decay and so avoid what government claim to fear; that is, confrontation between two Houses with equal mandates. It was an ingenious proposal, like the commission's suggestion that Members of this House should not be re-elected or be allowed to move immediately to another place. But the Government rejected each one of those crucial proposals.
There is so much else wrong with the White Paper. Why, for example, are the only Peers to be made to retire compulsorily at 75 the Law Lords? Are the likes of the noble and learned Lords, Lord Donaldson of Lymington, Lord Brightman and Lord Simon of Glaisdale, too much for Ministers to bear? Would not the House lose much without the retired Law Lords? Why precisely is 16 the right number for the Lords spiritual, not 20, or 26? How will rebalancing after landslide elections fairly take place if the powers of patronage are removed from the Appointments Commission and given to party leaders? Who will qualify for the retirement bonuses promised to Peers who agree to go? I refer to a matter buried in the supporting documents. Will the noble and learned Lord identify the mysterious Peers he describes on page 73 who,
Why do the Government believe that elected Peers should not be paid salaries at all? That is what they suggest. How can a person who has canvassed for election justify not being here full time? Where are the proposals to improve scrutiny of finance and European legislation or to bind the United Kingdom together?
What is the Government's precise view on legitimacy? Three years ago the noble Baroness, Lady Jay of Paddington, set out in her famous doctrine that reform would make the House more legitimate and authoritative. Five years ago the Government talked of a "more democratic" House. But now we have the Williams doctrine. On 18th December the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House, in replying to a Starred Question, told the House that elected Peers would be no more legitimate than appointed ones. And he gave this reason for having elected Peersthat they might, as he put it,
Is the Williams doctrinethat elected Peers are no more legitimate than appointed onesreally the settled view of the Government? If so, I suggest that they are speaking one constitutional language and the rest of the country another. That is the central dilemma that the Government do not begin to resolve. If they do not see elected Peers as more legitimate, what is the point of having them? And if they are no more legitimate, the House will have no more authority in the eyes of the country or of another place. How can the Government seriously propose a reformed House with elected Peers with reduced powers and no more authority? That is surely nonsense. One has to ask what is the point of going through the whole ghastly charade at all?
The White Paper fails practically every test. Key principles should govern any further reform. That reform should deliver a stronger, more authoritative House and restrain the growing power of the executive. It should be built on cross-party consensus and wide public debate and should take place alongside reform of Parliament as a whole. The White Paper should entrench the Parliament Acts to prevent this House's powers being reduced unilaterally. I refer especially to the power to extend the life of a Parliament. That is another key Wakeham recommendation that was rejected. In relation to all of those measures, the White Paper fails and fails again.
The noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House will no doubt wish to tell the House in responding tomorrow evening when we may expect a Bill. I warn him that if that Bill is based on these plans, he should prepare for a very rough ride. The reform is not worthy of such a name and should be condemned to the ministerial dustbin.
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