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Lord Barnett: My Lords, I was interested by the noble Lord's criticisms of the White Paper and the fact that he agrees with parts of the Wakeham report. Will he tell the House what he wants to see by way of composition of your Lordships' House?
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I thought that I had answered that rather adequately when I said that we accepted the invitation made by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor and laid out in the consultation paper; that is, that we should respond by the end of the month. My Lords, we shall do so.
Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, I begin on a consensual note by saying that I strongly agree with the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor on two points. The first is that at the end of the day there will have to be a compromise. Perhaps I might be forgiven for saying that there are bad compromises and good compromises. Secondly, I very much agree with his comments on the lack of justification for the way in which the House of Lords, as an unreformed House, used to operate. No one can argue that the House of Lords of the last century was a model for any kind of democratic upper Chamber.
I also strongly agree with the point made by the Leader of the Opposition, the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde; namely, that at the end of the day there will have to be some attempt at a meeting of minds between both Houses and all parties in the two Chambers.
We on these Benches perhaps see the problem in a slightly different way from the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor and the Leader of the Opposition. We believe that in this country we are facing a considerable crisis of confidence in the parliamentary system. We are deeply troubled by growing evidence of a lack of interest among the public and a sense that the parliamentary system is no longer very relevant to their lives. However painful it may be, we need to address the findings of, for example, the BBC study that showed that among the civic institutions of the United Kingdom, Parliament rated third from the bottom, with only 32 per cent of the public expressing confidence in it.
Even more disturbing in some ways is the lack of confidence among Members of Parliament in their own Chamber. That was expressed in their responses to the Hansard Society study that asked them what they thought were the effective instruments the legislature had vis-a-vis the executive. The replythis involved a majority of Members of Parliament and their belief about being effective in controlling, supervising and scrutinising the executivewas that there was not a single such instrument, with one exception: Select Committee hearings. That finding came shortly before the crisis that blew up over who appointed members of Select Committees and the way in which chairmen were chosen. Incidentally, the House of Commons, thank goodness, won that battle itself. That was the first example for quite a long time of it standing up for itself.
I do not make a party point. There have been different governments in this country, which have been powerful and which have come from different parties. Consistently, however, the story has been the same: that we in the United Kingdom have one of the most powerful executives of any democracy in the world and that that executive is less effectively scrutinised and checked than virtually any other legislature in the democratic world. That is at the centre of the point from which reform should start.
We on these Benches are concerned about the consistent attempt to reform the House of Lords not as part of Parliament but on its own. We must recognise that reform of Parliament as a whole is needed if we are not to short-change our citizens.
It will not do for the Government to argue continually that the battle between the House of Commons and the House of Lords is about the pre-eminence of the House of Commons. I know no sensible person who would ever argue that the House of Commons was not pre-eminent within our Parliament. The noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Weedon, is the distinguished chairman of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee and one of the most respected Members of this House. In his speech to the Constitutional Unit a few weeks ago, he said that the House of Lords wasI use his phrase"necessarily subordinate". All of us accept that.
A great many, but not all, upper Houses in other countries are effective. I refer to the Indian, French, German, Scandinavian and Dutch upper Houses. They do not challenge the lower Housethey live with it. They complement it and attempt to support it. That should be the case in this country as well.
We who seek to reform the House of Lords most want greater strength in the House of Commons, not less. We should complement what it does, and help and support it in scrutinising legislation in the most effective way. We on these Benches specifically want greater strength for Select Committees in the other place and more free votes for Members of the other place. We want those in another place to choose their own members of Select Committees, and not be under the influence of the Whips. Does that challenge the
The approach to reform should be holistic, not split into little pieces. I strongly endorse the plea of the Leader of the Opposition that there should be at least some meeting of minds between the leaders of parties in both Houses in order finally to try to get straight what the relationship should be. We should make our Parliament, with its long and marvellous traditions, as effective in the future as it was in the 19th and first half of the 20th centuries. Since then, the executive has increasingly grown in strength. The late lamented Lord Hailsham said that we in Britain had an elected dictatorshipthose are his words, not mine. I fear that for many of us that frightening phrase echoes with growing validity as we perceive what has happened to our Parliament.
What, then, is the role of the House of Lords? It is to be an effective, scrutinising body. That matters all the more as those of us in this House who were involved, for example, in the counter-terrorism Bill know very well. Quite straightforwardly, the House of Commons is no longer able totally to discharge its duty of scrutiny. That is not because it does not want to do so but because the growing demands of constituency work combined with the very proper growing demand of Select Committees, many of them excellent, make it difficult for Members in another place to discharge that duty fully. As many of us know, the counter-terrorism Bill was debated for only two days in the House of Commons. An issue as major as that of detention without trial was discussed for just two-and-a-half hours in that place. Had there not been eight hours of scrutiny in this House, I believe that the ultimate Act would have been much more troubling that it turned out to be.
This House repeatedly proposes amendments to legislation and many of them are in the name of the Government. But all of us in this House who have been engaged in major Bills know that many of those amendments are inspired by sensible and intelligent criticism of legislation and by proposals for improving the drafting. But, more than that, they are often inspired by suggestions to the Government that quite simply what they propose is wrong. Why is it that time and again in this House we see coming back from the House of Commons Bills which merely reiterate what they stated two or three years previously? That applies to Bill after Bill on education, police powers, prisons, criminal justice and health. They reiterate what was debated previously because, in the end, the Bills were not considered adequately before being passed into law.
Therefore, in order to be an effective, scrutinising Chamber we believe that we need to introduce much more pre-legislative scrutiny of major Bills. No major Bill should go ahead without pre-legislative scrutiny, enabling our fellow citizens to make their contribution. In this day and age it is not so radical to suggest that the introduction of information technology to our children means that they, too, as
Secondly, with regard to scrutiny, it is crucial that the Lords maintain their powers over secondary legislation, of which there is more and more with less and less being scrutinised. Here, I agree strongly with the Leader of the Opposition that we cannot accept the proposal for delaying legislation as an alternative to the proposal to retain the ultimate veto. Incidentally, that veto is used very rarely because, as we know, if the parties in the Commons agree, our delay can be swept away within a matter of days. Far from that, it seems to me that we require a new Select Committee on statutory instruments. Such a committee would be able to consider the substance and not only the vires of those instruments and to recommend to the House those that should be more fully debated. Dare I say that perhaps those that are entitled to be more fully debated might conceivably be amendable as well?
With regard to the powers of the House, of course we on these Benches do not believe that there should be a major increase in our powers but neither do we believe that there should be a diminution in them. In that context, we should like to see the House of Lords take on some responsibility for the large areas of legislation and government policy that are simply not scrutinised by anyone. I refer here not only to a matter for which we have pressed for a long timea joint committee on treatiesbut also to the whole issue of international agencies and government agencies, which go virtually unscrutinised by anyone.
When we look at young people clenching their fists in the protests against the World Trade Organisation, we might spend a moment considering the fact that at present there is no legitimate parliamentary way in which they can make their feelings known. The WTO and treaties do not come before any House of Parliament to be debated or considered or for their reports to be deliberated upon.
I want to raise two other issues. The first is crucial: it is composition. We agree with what the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor said. It is very difficult to suggest that some other body should make political appointments. In that sense, we understand why the Government decided to disregard that element of the Wakeham commission report. But let us be fair to the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, and his colleagues. They were trying to grapple with the issue of patronage and political appointment. If we do not like the way that they did it, we need to come up with something more convincing, and on these Benches we are clear about what that is.
The House of Lords should be substantially elected and there should be only a proportion of independent people to maintain the rich tradition of expertise in this House. But, in the end, there is no escaping what almost every other elected upper House in the democratic world has long since embracedthe concept of elected Members to this House. We believe
Finally, I turn to the issue raised by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor concerning the size of the House. Let us confront that directly. The proposal to remove the Weatherill Peersperhaps I may say on behalf of these Benches that we greatly respect much of the work done by themwould take from this House some 92 Members. In addition, over a five-year period some 90 Members will be carried away by retirement or by the inevitability for all of us of moving to another world. That means that over a period of five years approximately 180 people will leave this House. We on these Benches believe that if one offers adequate retirement assistance for those who wish to retire voluntarily from this House because it has become difficult for them to maintain their work here, combined with a tranche of elected Members who come in over a 10 or 15-year period, the problems raised by the noble and learned Lord will simply disappear. We shall show him the reasons for saying that.
Before I sit down I simply want to say that we on these Benches have a clear and positive alternative route for this House. We believe it to be democratic and legitimate. Frankly, given the crisis of confidence in our parliamentary system, we believe that the time has come to address that crisis and to address it radically, thoughtfully and with truly imaginative proposals. The White Paper falls very far short of that.
Lord Craig of Radley: My Lords, I start by making clear that my very elevated position on the speakers' list does not mean that I speak today for the Cross-Bench group. What I say reflects my own personal and very independent view.
My starting point is to agree with the Government that it would be quite wrong to attempt to clone another place. I accept that the Commons must be the pre-eminent Chamber of Parliament. Further, I fully support the concept that a significant proportion of the membership of your Lordships' House must be non-party political; that is, independent Members. I was pleased to note that the Government acknowledge that the independent element of the existing House of Lords is one,
However, whether considering the appointed or elected elements of the reformed House, it is important to ensure that the new arrangements prove attractive to individuals of quality and experience inside and outside the political arena. The White Paper and its supporting documents make a number of references to government concerns that no one of any substance will be prepared to stand and that this or that aspect of the options could discourage excellent candidates.
Not enough consideration has been given to what will make the reformed House, on the lines proposed in the White Paper, attractive to individuals with the expertise, the skills and the parliamentary commitment required. An entitlement to put ML after one's name does not strike me as sufficient.
The arguments advanced to de-link the peerage from membership of a second Chamber, still to be called the House of Lords, may have some weight. But that also leaves room for considerable confusion. I welcome the Government's intention to retain the title House of Lords. I recall encouraging them to make that decision during the debates in 1999.
I am concerned about the incentives and attractions for individuals to stand for election or appointment to this Chamber, particularly for those who sit on these Benches. These candidates will want to consider their expected period of service and their opportunities for re-election or re-appointment, as well as status and remuneration. The Government's proposal that,
I turn now to the new statutory appointments commission. First, it is self-evident that the chairman and members of that commission should be familiar with the workings of the House. They must know how Members spend their days and time here, whether on the floor of the Chamber, in Select Committees or on other parliamentary activities. These commissioners will, after all, be responsible for identifying and selecting individuals to sit on these Benches as well as for a number of other issues of importance relating to membership of the House; for example, the Royal Commission excluded MPs as members. For those reasons I agree with that.
The proposals in the White Paper and supporting documents do not provide enough of a guarantee of the quality and experience required to sit on the statutory appointments commission. I expect those criteria to be set out in the Bill. The comparison with members of the Electoral Commission is not apposite. Their functions are not in any way similar, although there is a reference to the Electoral Commission as well as the appointments commission having responsibility for propriety, which may need further clarification.
The Royal Commission proposed that one of the eight members of the appointments commission should be nominated by the Convenor of the Cross Benchesnot, incidentally as represented in the White Paper as,
Secondly, a number of references are made to "each round of appointments", but it is not clear whether the frequency will be left to the appointments commission or decreed by statute. A prolonged gap between rounds could lead to a reduced independent number. Twenty per cent will not adequately represent the value perceived for the contribution of independent Members to the work of the House.
The White Paper is also unclear about how those who choose to surrender a party Whip, or who would be classified, as happens today, as "Other", are to be counted. It has been suggested that that will be for the appointments commission to decide. But how should it do that? It is not acceptable that from the day a Peer surrenders a party Whip, or for those who are not independentsfor example, Others or minor party membersthat they should be included in the independents figure of 20 per cent. Those who surrender a Whip should still be counted within the percentage of their party for a period of time and not immediately added to the independent quota.
No mention is made of the future of the two hereditary office holders. It should be made clear what the Government proposes for these offices. Do they intend to make any changes to State Openings and other events involving the Crown where the present holders have responsibilities?
For retiring archbishops or holders of senior public appointments, such as the Governor of the Bank of England, the Cabinet Secretary or the heads of the Diplomatic Service and the Armed Forces, there appears to be no straightforward route to these Benches as in the past. Will they have to apply for membership and be considered by the appointments commission? I hope not for such individuals. The Prime Minister recognised this difficulty under the current interim Appointments Commission arrangement. He revoked his decision not to
I am also concerned about the abrupt loss of experience and expertise that we enjoy in the hereditary element on these Benches, if they are to be culled en bloc. The Convenor, who currently gets minimal financial assistance to provide him with support in a range of activities of importance to the Cross-Bench groupin dealing with accommodation needs or with the audit and other revenue requirements affecting the handling of the Cross-Bench's Cranborne moneyis greatly indebted to the support that he receives from hereditary Cross-Bench Peers.
But Cross-Bench hereditaries, unlike their counterparts in the parties, who want to return as appointed MLs, will have to seek appointment through the appointments commission. It is already clear from experience following stage 1 that excluded hereditaries have returned to the House by the party route, but no former Cross-Bench hereditary has been able to do so other than by filling a vacancy due to death. It seems unfortunate that the detailed knowledge and experience of the House, which the remaining hereditaries have, should be lost overnight. I hope that the Government will agree that it is still within the spirit, if not the wording, of their manifesto commitment to allow the remaining hereditaries to continue as MLs, without further selection or appointment, for life or at least for the ten-year adjustment period. That would greatly ease the transitional arrangements and sustain the expertise of the workings of this House; for example in the role of Deputy Speakers.
I questionalthough I am not sure that there is a ready answerwhy ethnic and faith representation should be in proportion to the population, while the threshold for minor parties is deemed to be 5 per cent of the votes cast, not 5 per cent of the whole electorate. There seems to be an inconsistent approach to those two important issues, especially as the parties will be subject to the requirements in relation to gender and ethnic origin.
The Government say that they are keen to seek consensus on further reform. I welcome that. I hope that they will hold themselves to that undertaking and will give adequate time to address and work through the many aspects of the change. I have addressed only a few of the issues relating to independents. They are important, but they are of course only one aspect of the whole. We seem no nearer a consensus on the issues concerning the elected elementtheir number, electorate, terms of office and so onthan when the idea of reform was first mooted. The Royal Commission itself was unable to agree a single solution. The White Paper seeks views and lacks a clear definition of the Government's position.
That is bound to prove the most difficult and contentious issue before both Houses of Parliament, yet until it is resolved many of the other issues, including those affecting the independent element, cannot be fully addressed in context, let alone settled. I urge the Government to allow further debate and discussion to concentrate on the complex issue of the elected element. The White Paper is not a good basis on which to discuss further reform of your Lordships' House.
Lord Gordon of Strathblane: My Lords, the footnote to the Speakers' List reminds us that the Companion recommends that speeches be limited to 15 minutes. One does not need to be a Nobel prize winner in mathematics to calculate that with 42 speakers, we will rise somewhat after half-past one in the morning if we all take our 15 minutes. Tomorrow, with 40 speakers but starting later, the same will be the case. I therefore hope that I shall find favour with the House if I unashamedly curry that favour by keeping my remarks to roughly half that time or even less.
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