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Noble Lords: Hear, hear!

Lord Gordon of Strathblane: Perhaps I should sit down now.

One thing is already clear—my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor alluded to it. It is hardly prophetic to say that it will be difficult to reach a consensus. I hope that efforts will be made to reach a cross-party consensus because, frankly, unless we get one, a reform will not get through this House. The numbers just will not work. However, I hope that the whole House will now recognise the Government's wisdom in proceeding with stage one reform of the House—on which we could achieve consensus—when we did, rather than waiting for a total package, as we were urged at the time by some noble Lords, which would manifestly have produced substantial delay.

There is a bit of a hang-up on the composition of the House of Lords and not nearly enough attention paid to procedural reform of how it works, of how the House of Commons works—I entirely endorse what the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, said—and of how the two Houses work together. As a relative newcomer, it seems to me silly for a Bill to go through all its stages in one House and then all its stages in the other House. We could well have debates on its substance on Second Reading in both Houses and then adopt a Committee structure involving both Houses.

We could experiment with many things to improve the way in which the House of Lords works. I want to concentrate on one small issue, on which I take issue with the noble Baroness and others. Election is not the answer. If there is widespread disillusion with the House of Commons, I must say that it is partly caused by media coverage of it—we exaggerate the difficulties. However, let us say that there is disillusion

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with a wholly elected House. I do not see how we dispel that disillusion by applying the elective principle to this House.

For the avoidance of doubt, I have not gone fascist in my old age. I recognise that a democratic mandate is essential for the exercise of ultimate power, but not for the scrutiny of legislation or participation in debates in a second Chamber which by convention—and, to some extent, by statute—has ceded the exercise of real power to the House of Commons.

A House of Lords with a significant elected element will inevitably—perhaps justifiably—seek more powers as it shares democratic legitimacy with the House of Commons. It is all very well saying that we do not want that at present; the reason for that is that we are not elected and we recognise the supremacy of an elected Chamber. If we were elected, why should we go along with all the conventions that grew up during the 20th century by which we regard the House of Commons as supreme? In what way would it be supreme?

If I may appeal directly to noble Lords and Baronesses on the Liberal Democrat Benches, if this Chamber were to be elected by a better electoral system—in their eyes—would that not confer on it greater democratic legitimacy than a first-past-the-post House of Commons? If this House were elected at a different stage in the electoral cycle, could it not be regarded as a more up-to-date expression of the electorate's will? Could it not therefore be entitled to say to the House of Commons, "Sorry, that may have been true two years' ago; you had a mandate then. But we have a mandate now and ours is more recent"? There is a real danger of stalemate.

At present, this House does an extremely good job of focusing attention on matters on which the Government are then almost compelled by pressure of public opinion, rather than by statute, to rethink. That works—it worked recently, just before the recess, on the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001. It will not work nearly as well if we have an elected Chamber. Let us be clear: one reason why we are better at scrutiny than is the House of Commons is that we do not have the constituency workload of Members of the House of Commons.

We should also acknowledge that democracy—which, let me repeat, I believe to be essential for the exercise of ultimate power—brings other weaknesses in its wake. It induces short-term thinking. It is perhaps only natural that some Members of Parliament, if not all, have an eye to ensuring that they are re-elected at the next election. Are we really so arrogant—which would be deeply uncharacteristic of this House—as to say that the people who are elected to this House will somehow be made of sterner stuff and want to do unpopular things immediately before a general election? I think that unlikely. It is true of successive governments, although the present Government are making efforts in this regard, that one reason that we have long-term infrastructure problems in this country is that few political parties are willing to spend taxpayers' money on a benefit that will not be

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apparent for 10 or 15 years when they recognise that, given the swings and roundabouts, they may well be out of office.

That is a drawback of democracy, which is still, as someone once said, the least bad system that we have. We do not need an elected element for scrutiny of legislation. The solution proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, of Peers who would be elected for one long term of 15 years and not allowed to stand for re-election, is ingenious. But let us be honest, the element of accountability is lost. It is precisely because they will not be re-elected that they can behave independently. Let us grasp the nettle and recognise that if they were not elected in the first place they might be even more independent.

Even if that argument is not accepted, there is a further problem, and this is where I disagreed with the major reform involving the hereditary Peers. The hereditary principle was not the reason why hereditary Peers could behave with a degree of independence of thought; it was the lack of election. That is as true of life Peers as it is of hereditaries. If we lose that, we will run into severe danger.

Even with the ingenious suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, we face another problem, one that was alluded to by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig. Are we to pay the elected Members? If we pay them, we must, if we are to be honest about it, pay everyone. We cannot have two classes of citizen. I look at the sterling committee work done by hereditary Peers. In that connection, I must respectfully disagree with my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor. His arithmetic suggested that we could not have more than 120. Things might be worse than he thinks. It would be unthinkable that a government, of whatever political complexion, would not wish to baptise, as it were, the 92 departing hereditaries—or, at least, a good many of them—and make them life Peers, in view of the continued contribution that they would make to the public life of the country. If we pay everybody, the public will assume that the House is doing more than it did before. That runs against the fundamental principle that we should try to preserve the supremacy of the House of Commons.

There is another danger. If some Members are to be elected, especially if they are allowed to seek re-election—I concede the report of the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, did not recommend allowing re-election, but the Government are, at least, canvassing the possibility of short terms, with re-election—we must make sure that the constituency basis of that election does not remove the pre-eminence of MPs in the service of their constituencies. We might make it sectoral, creating, for example, an old-age sector for over-55s or over-60s. If I am elected to represent old people in Scotland, will old age pensioners in various constituencies come to me or to their MP? We must be careful about that.

We must also be careful about the geographical basis of any election. As the Lord Chancellor invited us to be constructive, I shall endeavour to do so, by

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suggesting a way round the salary problem. If we leave the House unsalaried—although with generous allowances—but allow those who are nominated by a subordinate body or a national parliament to recompense indirectly those who are elected, that might solve the problem. Otherwise, we face a major problem.

Having promised to take half my time, but having taken two thirds, I must sit down, but I urge the House to consider the damage that might be done if we have any elected Members. Certainly, the figure of 120 is on the high side.

4.23 p.m.

Lord Wakeham: My Lords, it has been my misfortune not to have heard the noble Lord, Lord Gordon of Strathblane, speak before. He made a helpful contribution to the debate. However, I would like to comment on the matter of Members representing the regions and nations in this House. We thought about having a series of appointments boards—I, certainly, thought about it—and we concluded that the electorate was probably the best way to get them appointed. Such Members will have some of the characteristics of appointed Members, but they must also be appointed or elected by the regions and the nations. The noble Lord was kind enough to call that an ingenious solution, but we arrived at it by means of a tortuous process.

The first thing that I want to do is to congratulate the Government on embarking on the exercise in the first place. I intended to say that it was a difficult exercise and that we had ducked it when we were in government. However, with my noble friend Lady Thatcher sitting beside me, I would like to rephrase that and say that we had different priorities.

Lord Whitelaw, when he was Leader of your Lordships' House, and I, when I was Chief Whip in another place, discussed the issue on more than one occasion. We considered that it would be too divisive a matter to get a consensus at that time. Unfortunately, we may still be proved right. The Royal Commission, which I had the honour to chair, managed to get a consensus during our deliberations, and the Government have departed from that consensus in several important respects. Frankly, I am fearful as to the consequences.

In his foreword to the White Paper, the Prime Minister said that the report of the Royal Commission offered an excellent way forward. I cannot yet return the compliment. There are several aspects of the White Paper that differ significantly from our recommendations and give me cause for concern. As they stand, I find them difficult to support.

Of course, I welcome the Government's decision to press ahead with the second stage of reforming your Lordship's House. The current "interim" arrangements, introduced in 1999, are unsatisfactory and inadequate as a long-term response to the challenge of Lords reform. It is vital to the health of our parliamentary democracy that we move rapidly to

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establish a second Chamber with the authority and confidence to play a full part, working alongside the other place in holding the Government to account.

I also welcome the Government's support for the great majority of our recommendations, especially those relating to the role and functions of a reformed second Chamber. The Government are right to endorse our conclusion that the reformed second Chamber should not be wholly or largely elected. Such a chamber would inevitably compromise the role of the other place as the United Kingdom's decisive political forum. It would produce a second Chamber that was a clone of the other place, full of professional politicians and dominated by the political parties. It was interesting to find, as we went around the country taking evidence, that nobody—but nobody—thought that that would be a desirable outcome. Such a chamber would be either a compliant rubber stamp for government legislation or a source of legislative gridlock.

A reformed second Chamber needs a different source of political authority from that of the other place. The Royal Commission argued that that authority could be derived from the state of being broadly representative of British society, relatively independent of partisan politics and expert and experienced in a range of walks of life. So, I welcome the Government's support for the conclusion that most of the Members of a reformed second Chamber should, as now, be appointed.

I am concerned, however, by the Government's proposal that most of the appointed Members should be chosen by the political parties. A continuation of direct political patronage—whosever cronies they are—is unlikely to give the reformed second Chamber the necessary political authority to play an effective role. The Royal Commission recommended that all appointed Members should be chosen by an independent statutory appointments commission. On a related point, I must say that the method of appointing the appointments commission is also important. The commission should not be the creation of the Government, as the present one is, but should be set up by an all-party agreement. To that extent, the present members of the Government's Advisory Committee on Appointments ought not to be members of a truly independent appointments commission. They are excellent people, and many of them are good friends of mine, but there should be a fresh start. I know that the Government intend to have a statutory appointments commission in the proposals.

We recommended that the appointments commission should be required to maintain the proportion of around 20 per cent of the total and work towards a situation in which the distribution of politically affiliated Members matched the pattern of the votes cast for political parties at the most recent general election. That way, there would never again be a realistic chance of having a second Chamber that was dominated by a single political party. The Government would normally have the allegiance of

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the largest group of Members, but no overall control. Other parties would be represented in proportion to their electoral strength.

The Government support the application of that formula but also want the political parties to determine who should represent them. That creates two problems. That would preclude the appointments of politicians who might make an excellent contribution to the work of this House but who happen to be out of favour with their party leadership—and we can all think of examples. It would also inhibit the appointments commission in proactively seeking out good quality candidates from different walks of life if it were prevented from appointing people who happen to have political affiliations. There are many good and suitable people who would not get on to a political list, but who have expertise and experience in other areas, but are members of one party or another and cannot be considered Cross-Benchers.

In practice, I believe that the Government are being unnecessarily defensive. The political parties will be able to determine which members of the second Chamber receive their Whip and in practice they will be able to insist on having the right number of members able to respond to their whip. The appointments commission could be expected to give very serious consideration to nominations from the political parties. And it just may be that it would be rather smart of the Government to distance themselves a little from the appointments process. I can think of many occasions when I was Chief Whip when I would have found that quite useful.

I also have major concerns about the Government's provisional views on the arrangements for electing "regional" members. If "regional" members have only a short tenure and remain dependent on their party for renomination, they are less likely to apply independent judgment in their contribution to the House. If they perceive membership of the second Chamber as a stepping stone to a wider political career in another place, they would be inclined to behave in a partisan fashion that would alter very substantially the nature of the second Chamber. More fundamentally, if Members of the other place came to see "regional" members of this Chamber as rivals for their political influence, they will either oppose or, if they do not oppose, they will later regret the whole concept of this second stage reform. A very distinguished veteran of the 1968 reform of the House of Lords told me, "You can only go as far as the other place is prepared to let you go". The issue goes far wider than merely ensuring the supremacy of one Chamber over the other. The Government ignore that advice at their peril.

The relatively high proportion of elected members and the rapid turnover inherent in the Government's current proposals would also make it much more difficult to achieve and maintain the right political balance. One argument I have heard advanced—and it has been mentioned today—is that the relatively short terms proposed by the Government would enhance the accountability of the "regional" members in the second Chamber. But that is precisely the point on

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which I would challenge the proposals: direct accountability to the electorate should be the preserve of the other place. Extending it to your Lordships' House would risk undermining the proposition that under our present constitutional settlement the other place should have the greater political authority.

My third reservation is that the White Paper does not mention the Royal Commission's recommendation that the Parliament Acts should be entrenched against further unilateral amendment by another place. This is a vital constitutional safeguard. It would protect the current balance of power between the two Houses of Parliament, which was not seriously challenged in any evidence to the Royal Commission and which the Government say they support. It would also entrench the second Chamber's current veto over the other place legislating itself into permanent existence, or at least extending its life.

The Government say—and I am pleased about it—that they are seeking a consensus and have identified a number of points for consultation. I welcome that and trust that the Government are sufficiently open-minded to alter their position. After all, the Royal Commission reflected a broad spread of political opinion and consulted widely. We were very widely divided when we started, but we had to work very hard to achieve a consensus. The Government have moved away from that consensus. I believe that they will have to move back towards our recommendations if they are to succeed in their attempts to modernise your Lordships' House.

4.35 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Guildford: My Lords, the report and subsequent debates in this House made clear the commission's skill and the Government's commitment to a reformed and modernised upper Chamber. These Benches have on previous occasions paid tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, and the work of his commission. We support the broad aims of the commission's report, including those which affect the role of the Lords Spiritual. We do so wholeheartedly. None of us is here today—and not least those of us on these Benches—to defend privilege or position.

The consensus achieved by the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, offered us an opportunity and it would be a failure of political responsibility if we did not achieve the reform of this House. That may involve some tough discussion in the coming months, but failure to use the opportunity would not only undermine the credibility of our future work but would undermine the credibility of our parliamentary process as a whole.

The details of what proportion of the House should be elected, who should be appointed and the means thereby are important and will be at the heart of the debate. However, I want to offer a reflection on the principle of why noble Lords want to avail themselves of counsel from these Benches and, from that reflection on the principles, offer a few comments. My fundamental theme will be that politics is too important to leave to the politicians and religion is too important to leave to the bishops.

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The Government have, in my view, wisely chosen to follow the commission's proposals on two fundamental principles. They accept that constitutional reform should be evolutionary and they look to build on the experience of the past, recognising the vital role that this House has played in the process of parliamentary life. There seems to be a third principle in the Government's proposals. That is that this House needs to be different from the other place and therefore complementary to it. It should not be a rival or, worse, a pale reflection of the other place. It should be a House distinctive in its composition and style of working which adds to the task which Parliament exists to do for the people.

The danger in thinking that the only way in which we can be democratic and representative is through election is that it threatens to make this place increasingly like the other place. Since the first steps in reform were taken, some have commented in recent months that there are already signs of that happening in the way in which this House works. If we choose a large or even predominantly elected membership, not only do I doubt whether large numbers of people will be queuing at the polls to elect members—and what will be the credibility of people who have been elected by less than 20 per cent of the electorate, as happens in some local elections in our country?—but we may well be in danger of losing a distinctiveness which we should not give up too lightly.

I am glad to see that the Government accept that there is real merit in involving people with particular skills and experience, whose working and professional life is out there in the community, in the life and work of this House. I believe that we should resist the idea that this House should follow where the other has gone and have a virtually exclusively full-time and professional and, therefore, predominantly political membership. If this place remains the second House complementing the elected House, there is real merit in drawing on the experience of people who bring engagement with the common life of our country in all its diversity. Election by no means exhausts the meaning of representative democracy. We have the opportunity in this House to draw on the many faces of our contemporary life.

A few months ago I gathered with assembled members of the judiciary, high commissioners from a number of countries and many others at the site of Runnymede, which is in my diocese. In the language of our day, Magna Carta was an attempt to bring stakeholders together. It is no coincidence that the meeting on that plain was brokered by a bishop. Since that date the Church has, thank God, assumed a more fitting role as servant rather than superpower. Nevertheless it retains a pivotal role in the common as well as the constitutional life of our nation.

When I come to the House, which I seek to do on a regular basis, I bring with me my life and ministry as a bishop: a public ministry to one million people across 500 square miles of Surrey and North-East Hampshire. My daily work, and that of a thousand clergy and lay people is tending to the ties that bind our

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society together: its towns, neighbourhoods, schools, families and a host of other global and local connections. Our ministry, which is a public trust, is open to all. That is the foundation of the historic role that the bishops have played in this House.

Like other Peers who seek to bring their experience to this place because of the character of our contributions to our national life elsewhere, I cannot be here each day. Your Lordships need me to be involved in my life in the wider church and community if my contribution here is to be of value. That is why we are not convinced that these proposals are right, either in terms of the size or the nature of what the Bishops as Lords Spiritual or those who would enrich us with the life of the other churches and faith communities can bring to the House. The Government are seeking to do a very Anglican thing: choosing the middle way between having what some see as an embarrassment of bishops and those who want to see Parliament cleansed of all spiritual representation and contribution. They have alighted on the figure of 16, which is down from 26, so it appears a reasonable half-way house. It may be reasonable but it is not workable if these Benches are to provide the constancy and continuity that are the prerequisites of attaining the benefits of our presence.

The figure in the report of the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, was arrived at in connection with the arrival of members of other churches. I am sorry that the Government have given up on a structured ecumenical presence in this House that would have had the full support of the bishops and, even with all the difficulties, would be achievable. One can focus the argument on the difficulty of justifying too large a number of spiritual leaders, or one can hold the view that the House needs people on these Benches who cannot be here all the time. Paradoxically, it is our not being here that has the potential to enrich the life of the House, because when we are here we bring the spiritual ministry entrusted to us in our local communities.

Imaginative and sensible conversation might help us to find agreement. To erect barriers to faith being interrogated and called to account would be the worst possible news for a dynamic 21st century legislative Chamber whose role is to scrutinise and, when necessary, say no to those caught up in short-term or popular solutions that need long-term or sometimes unpopular demands to be made on them.

At a time when there is growing spiritual concern in people's lives, and when complex issues of religious faith and vision are affecting even our international order, we need more than ever to bring all the voices of our shared life together. Religious life and faith play a powerful role for good or ill in people's lives and communities. The creative and the destructive possibilities of faith are plainer now than ever for all to see. We need only to contrast the chaos of Afghanistan or the Balkans with the post-Soviet renewal in Poland, the truth and reconciliation work in South Africa, or the rapidly decreasing HIV infection rates in Uganda. The faith of ordinary people is often the transforming lump of leaven in the bread of life that feeds families and nations.

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We should encourage reform in this House. We should hold on to our conviction about what can be achieved in a House which is distinctive in its form and composition, and which can draw the many voices of our common life together for the good and welfare of our people. That, together with the excellence of our legislative work, is a trust that we need to fulfil. Along with many others, I would encourage seeking a route by consensus and structured conversation if we are to seize the moment that the work of the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, has offered.

4.46 p.m.

Lord Renton: My Lords, I regard it as a great privilege to follow the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford, not only because I happen to have been Recorder of Guildford for some years and enjoyed attending the most modern and magnificent cathedral over which he presides spiritually, but because I agree so much with him that we should not interfere with the representation of the episcopacy in this House. I hope that the Government will bear in mind the fact that the Bishops represent only England, which is merely a part of the United Kingdom. I believe that we should have more representation from the spiritual leaders in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

In considering the future composition and powers of your Lordships' House, we should realise that within our constitution such composition and powers must dovetail with those of the other place. During my 56 years in Parliament, 34 of which were spent in the House of Commons, I have seen the powers of the other place remain about the same but its composition has declined, whereas your Lordships' powers have also remained about the same but the composition has improved enormously and widely. Your Lordships' House is not only representative of all the professions, but includes field marshals, an air marshal and an admiral of the fleet. It is now a magnificently well-informed and responsible body. But we should remember the need to dovetail with the composition and powers of another place.

I am sorry to say that general elections do not always represent the views of the majority of the voters. No government since the end of the second world war has received a majority of the votes polled. More voters have supported the opposition and independent members in another place than have supported any government. I have the statistics and I ask your Lordships to bear with me, as I shall be selective. The highest turnout of voters was 84 per cent in 1950 when a Labour government were elected. The lowest was at the last general election when only 59.4 per cent of the electorate voted. But what about the proportion of votes for the winning party? Again, the highest proportion was obtained in 1950 for the Labour government with 39.9 per cent of the electorate only—yet that was the highest. The lowest figure in that respect was at the last general election when only 24.2 per cent of the electorate voted for the present Government.

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I shall give your Lordships just one more statistic because it is relevant. In 1955, the winning party's share of the votes polled was the highest at 49.6 per cent. That shows that never more than half of the electorate who voted has supported the government of the day. I realise that that is partly due to the three-party system. In days long ago when we just had the Conservatives and the Liberals the matter was more simple and, you could say, more democratic. The lowest proportion of the electorate voting for the government of the day in all these years—nearly 60 years—was recorded last year when only 40.7 per cent voted Labour. Surely that is one of the reasons why your Lordships should have—and should not hesitate to use—the power to ask the other place to think again.

The other factor to be considered is this: the nature of Members of Parliament has changed. In my first 30 years in another place we had a wonderful collection of people who were representative of responsibilities of all kinds. Until 1997 there were a large number of men and women MPs who were accustomed to responsibility in all the professions: in business, in farming, in the Armed Forces, in the public services, and in the academic world; indeed, one could go on because in various other ways they were also representative.

However, since 1997 there has been a large number of young Members in the House of Commons who have had little or no experience of responsibility. After the last election, it was significant that the Prime Minister could not find in the other place a Queen's Counsel who was fit to be appointed Attorney-General. So, I am glad to say, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, was appointed from this House. As for the position of Solicitor-General, a lady Member of Parliament was chosen. In actual fact, I was at school with her uncles. For the first time on record, I believe, a solicitor was appointed Solicitor-General. But, alas, she was a solicitor who had scarcely ever practised as such.

But in your Lordships' House we have a vast array of talented experience of all kinds. I hope that no Member on the Labour Benches will be embarrassed by this, but I dare to add that the Government Front Bench in this House is much more talented than that in another place—

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