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Lord Renton: My Lords, with all those fundamental thoughts in mind, I turn, now, to the Government's White Paper. I shall deal with it briefly because so much has already been said and there is very little that it would be either necessary or desirable for me to add.
Our views are sought next on the "term of appointment". I believe that there should be no limitation. We have, so far, always managed without a limitation. So let us continue in that way. The following proposition asks:
I could continue, but I shall not because I have already spoken for 13 minutes. Perhaps I may conclude by making two points. Yes, the Commons must have the last word, but we must always have the power to ask them to think again. My second point is that the House of Lords must not be democratised to any major extent. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Richard, for whom I have had a great regard for many yearswe both served on the same rather important committeewishes to go much further, but I hope that your Lordships will not be persuaded by his arguments, and I hope that he will not mind my saying so. If we were democratised to any major extent, it would reduce our capacity and make us less representative of people accustomed to responsibility.
I have not mentioned this before, but I wish to say finally that we must not become "whole-timers". We must keep in touch with the realities of life and not suffer, as Members of the other place are now doing, from having to keep our noses to the parliamentary grindstone.
Lord Dahrendorf: My Lords, the experience of my own life does not entitle me to be quite as bold as the noble Lord, Lord Renton, in my comments on elections and elected parliaments. What the noble Lord has just said to the House has further increased the enormous respect that I have for him and, indeed, makes me grateful because, as your Lordships will soon see, in several important respects I agree with him.
My noble friend Lady Williams of Crosby made a strong case by saying that we are debating not simply minor reforms of the House of Lords, but the reform of Parliament and that in reality the proper way forward would have been to set up institutions to discuss those reforms. My noble friend also made certain clear statements on the functions and powers of the House of Lords and I agree with all that she said on those points. However, I wish to raise an issue which, in one important respect, leads me to different conclusions from those of my noble friend.
"Expertise and experience" may well have a role in bringing about this effect, although one caveat is important to note with regard to expertise. The Wakeham report rightly pointed to the pitfalls of the notion that,
"Experience", linked in the White Paper with "expertise", is another matter; it has to do with independence. Some noble Lords may have heard me say facetiously that the House of Commons is a Chamber of parents, while the House of Lords is a Chamber of grandparents. I say that with an apology to the younger Members of this House who make such a welcome and valuable contribution. Parents are directly and often nervously involved in issues whereas grandparents have a degree of detachment because they have seen it all and can therefore examine sensitive matters such as cannabis, or even stem cell research, calmly and wisely. What is more, grandparents have usuallythough I admit, not alwaysovercome the ambition disease which tends to cloud minds.
However, I am not suggesting that being a grandparent should be a criterion for the appointments commission. The independence of the second Chamber is as much a matter of style as of formal criteria. In this Chamber, Whips operate by shame rather than by threat. The next election is viewed as much with curiosity as with fear of losing position; lobby efforts are looked at with critical eyes rather than the desire to marshal supportor at least, that is how it should be.
Let me add that that is also true for elections. I cannot insist too strongly that elections are neither the only source of legitimacy nor do they necessarily create legitimacy. I was pleased to hear the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor say that elections are,
A partly elected second Chamber, too, would increase the influence of party further and, I suspect, it would do something elseit would deceive the electorate by a semblance of democracy when in fact the input of the people would remain very limited. Hybridity as such is not the main issue; an elected element which misleads the electorate rather than empowering it is the issue.
First, it is of more than symbolic significance that the group of independent Peers on the Cross-Benches should be both strong and active in their participation in the legislative process. Secondly, an appointments mechanism has to be developed for Members of the House which can take the Wakeham proposals as its starting point, although that requires further thought. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, made some relevant points in this connection. In my view, this mechanism should apply to all Members of the House. Thirdly, it is crucial that the procedures of the House, including the "usual channels", favour independence rather than entrenching party domination.
I make these points whether or not de facto changes in the powers and functions of the two Chambers will occur. The anomaly that this House has become the Committee stage in the legislative activity of Parliament cannot, and probably should not, last. But however powers develop, the strength of the second Chamber has to arise from its "distinctive approach", and this approach has to have a degree of independence from constraint, from party and from day-to-day politics as its condition. When the compromise comes before us in a Bill, I shall judge it on its meritsbut its merits for me will depend on the preservation of the independence of your Lordships' House.
Lord Denham: My Lords, I hope that the House will forgive me if I do not discuss this White Paper in much detail. We have already gone a step too far ahead of ourselves. If ever there was a case that can be compared with the answer given by the Irishman who was asked the way to Ballymurphy, it is this one. If you want to arrive at the best possible next and final stage of Lords reform, you do not start from here.
The noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House, therefore, will not be surprised if I revert to the subject of the promised Joint Committee of both Houses of Parliament. As he knows, I was horrified when, in his winding-up speech on the debate of the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, of 18th July 2001, he confirmed that Her Majesty's Government were not now prepared to appoint the Joint Committee and said, in vindication of this, that they had not been able to agree the terms of reference for the Committee with the other two parties. In particular, the Government were not prepared to allow the Joint Committee to discuss the composition of the ultimate House.
The membership of the Royal Commission was broadly based and no more than half were members of either House of Parliament. I had therefore taken those words to mean that, after the Royal Commission had reported, the Joint Committee would examine all its recommendations, including powers and composition, from a strictly parliamentary point of view. With the advantage of hindsight, after listening to everything that has been said, copious correspondence and a long personal interview that the noble and learned Lord very kindly gave me, my reading of the disputed words still stands.
Be that as it may, the undertaking to appoint a Joint Committee was repeated on several occasions throughout the passage of the House of Lords Bill through this House by the then Leader of the House, the noble Baroness, Lady Jay of Paddington, and by two law officers of the Crown, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, and the noble and learned Lord the present Leader of the House himself, without any pre-conditions of any kind being mentioned. And all these were listed by the noble Lord, Lord Ampthill, among others, in that debate of 18th July last, to which the noble and learned Lord replied.
It was only after the House of Lords Bill was safely on the statute book that Her Majesty's Government made clear what they meant by the words "parliamentary aspects" in the White Paper of 1999, and therefore the limitations that they intended to put on the Joint Committee. The Bill had its Royal Assent on 11th November 1999, the day of Prorogation, the State Opening was on 17th November, and the House rose for the Christmas Recess on 12th December and resumed on 10th January 2000.
I have quoted these exchanges rather fully because they show beyond doubt that whatever private reservations Her Majesty's Government may have had about the role of the Joint Committee, they had not made them clear to the rest of the House while the House of Lords Bill was still before it, as it was their clear responsibility to do.
After 30 years on the Front Bench, both in government and in opposition, I find even the suggestion of any undertaking from the Dispatch Box being disregarded as total anathema. And this is not just any undertaking, it was one that was largely
I have noticed over the years that any party that has a larger than usual majority in another place is inclined to find the usual rules and procedures irksome and, because of the size of that majority, somehow gets the impression that they do not apply to them. I watched my own party suffer under this delusion on occasions in the 1980s and 1990s and I did not like it then any more than I do now. Because those same rules and procedures often carry a built-in safety net, which is designed to protect the country from an over-powerful government. It is at times like this, therefore, that far from becoming obsolete they are more necessary than ever before.
I have been one of a group of six individual independent Peers who have got together and prepared a paper on these matters which has been submitted to the Government in response to their White Paper. I say in passing that anyone who is rash enough to say that he or she would like to see that paper is welcome to a copy.
One of the members of that group is the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, who played a key role in the proceedings on the 1999 Act. He would have wished to take part in this debate but is prevented from doing so as, for pressing personal reasons, he cannot be present tomorrow. He has asked me to express his regret at not being able to take part in the debate.
On the issues of independence, I make a distinction between those on the one hand who come to this House as members of a political party, whether elected or appointedand I see some force in the argument of those who say that they see very little difference between appointment and election under the closed list systemand on the other hand those who are here as independents. I emphasise that it is plain that on the basis of any electoral system of the kind contemplated by the Government there is no real prospect of the election of an independent. Thus, all the elected members will inevitably belong to some or other political party.
On the generally accepted basis that the other place is to retain its primary role, the House of Lords has to provide something which is different, complementary and useful. The natural conclusion is that the House of Lords should continue, first, to be more independent
The natural source for independence, and for experience and expertise, is the independent Cross-Benchers. That is precisely what they are here to provide. That said, I hasten to make plain that I recognise that many party Members in this House have considerable areas of expertise and display a considerable degree of independence of their Whip. If that independence is to continue, as it should, it is vital that political Members, once in the House, should be assured of their position for a substantial period and that they are under no threat of not being re-appointed or of being de-selected. Here, I agree wholeheartedly with the noble Lord, Lord Gordon of Strathblane.
A quota of appointed independent Peers is the obvious, indeed the only, way of having a non-party-political element in this House. The more one has criticisms of the rest of the government scheme, the greater the need for that independent element. I say in passing that, taking the figures placed before the House by the noble Lord, Lord Renton, if 40 per cent of the electorate do not vote for any political party, then these Benches represent more of our citizens than any political party does.
Whatever is decided about election versus appointment, the source of independents has to be appointment by a commission of some kind. However, the Government's proposals will achieve a satisfactory independent element only if their quota is large enough and is filled only by those who are genuinely independent of party influence. At present, virtually everyone who does not take a party Whip and is not a Bishop is labelled a Cross-Bencher and all are lumped together in one figure. It is very encouraging that the Government recognise that under the new system this treatment will no longer be appropriate. They have expressly accepted that the members of "other parties" will count against the political quota and that anyone appointed as a Law Lord should fall into that separate category.
But there remains the issue of those who come to this House as political Members, whether appointed or elected, and who then cease to receive their party Whip. Are they to be numbered as part of the independent quota? Surely the right answer must be: yes, if they have truly been converted to independence and have abandoned their party tiesand perhaps also a suitable transition period has elapsed; but, no, they should not so count if their move is for other reasons. There are various other reasons why someone may move. They can include the withdrawal of the party Whip or the perfectly proper feeling of a Member who holds, or has held, some office or appointment and who considers that, by reason of that position, it is unsuitable to be seen as a supporter of
The third reason for such a move may be described as purely tactical. Unless the second part of my proposition regarding those who do not move genuinely is accepted, there will be an inevitable temptation for Whips to induce their less regular or less reliable Members to move, so that they count against the independent quota and thus create a vacancy in the political quota which the Whips can then fill with some more reliable Lobby fodder. It is vitally important that the Government make plain to us how they intend to protect the independent quota from infiltration or from counting by people who rightly sit on the Cross Benches but who are not truly independent. The Government have accepted the principle that only genuine independents should count. We shall be interested to hearin the closing speech, I hopehow they intend to operate the system to achieve those ends.
The White Paper recommends a quota of 20 per cent of the membership of the final House to be independents. Whether 20 per cent is sufficient will no doubt be discussed by others, but I should be grateful to have definite confirmation from the Government that whatever the final percentage is, it will be applied throughout the transitional phase from the passing of the Bill until the final House of 600 is achieved.
I was disturbed by some of the figures that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor gave in his opening speech. It must be recognised that when the House loses its 92 hereditaries and gains 120 elected members, all of whom will obviously belong to a political party, overnight the political representation will increase by 56, but the independent element will be reduced by 28the number of hereditaries who sit on these Benches. I was disturbed to find, when the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor did his mathematics, that he made no suggestion of extra independents being appointed as part of the final figure of seven hundred and thirty-something to compensate for that gross overnight imbalance. There must be a clear understanding that that imbalance will be corrected immediately, at the time of the change, and that the proportionate quota will be maintained throughout the transitional period.
To achieve independence on these Benches or within a political party, it is essential that the individuals in question have nothing to fear or to hope for from the powers that be, whether those powers are the Government, the party Whips or an appointed body containing party elements. At present, your Lordships can speak or vote as they see fit with no apprehension that they may be deselected or forcibly retired. In the future, that necessary condition of independence can continue only if the period of their appointment is long and non-renewable. One solution is appointment for life, with proper provision for retirement when the Member is no longer able or willing to take a proper
There is another cogent reason for wanting a high degree of permanence and continuity. Once one has become a Member of this House, one gradually discovers who isand who is nota sound and reliable voice on topics that are outside one's own expertise. It is an unusual feature of this House that what is said in debates, in committees or in informal discussion can still affect or alter the way in which Members think and vote. That depends on respect for and reliance on those with special expertise whose arguments one finds convincing. I shall take a deceased example to avoid any problemthe late Lady Faithfull. Over the years, I am sure that many Members of the House learnt that what she said about children was almost inevitably a sound guide to their own decisions. Such confidence in the opinion of others can grow up only with a large degree of permanence. I therefore urge the Government to ensure that, whatever the period of appointment may be, it is long and that there is no need to fear deselection or to hope for reappointment.
Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My Lords, I strongly echo the noble Viscount's plea for the maintenance of the number of independents in your Lordships' House. I shall refer in particular to two speeches that have been made during this remarkable debate: those of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford and of the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf. The right reverend Prelate made an excellent point about how much his role here is enhanced by what he spends most of his time doing in his diocese. I also echo the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, about membership of political parties and the peculiar ways in which members are affected by the fact of belonging. In most cases, the effects tend to be baleful rather than beneficial.
The rather dim document that we are discussing today is at least a little bold in part of its title"Completing the Reform". One does not have to be a bold prophet to say that it is very unlikely that this document will be the last milestone on the road to reform. It revives and justifies the protest that we on this side of the House have made from the beginning that the Government, in their determination to hunt down the hereditaries, have neglected the problems of Parliament as a whole. The White Paper follows suit.
While mentioning White Papers, I might point out that when I was younga long time agoWhite Papers were very drab in appearance. They remain drab in their content, but an attempt has evidently been made to put a highly coloured cover on the drab contents in the hope that the brilliance of the cover will conceal the drabness of the content.
It is generally agreed that the House of Commons need have no fear of its powers and privileges being in any way encroached upon by your Lordships' House as it is at present constituted. Rather, it is the Government who continually threaten to bypass and undermine Parliament. Of course, they cosset Members of Parliament, providing them with the comforts of Portcullis House and encouraging them to make their hours and voting times more convenient. It is permissible to express some doubt as to whether increased comfort is particularly friendly to democratic governance.
I had hoped to see in the White Paper, first, some assurance thathere I employ an exceedingly hackneyed metaphor, for which I apologisethe playing field on which Parliament competes with the executive will be made less tilted. Secondly, I looked for a recognition of the need to improve the procedures under which the cascade of primary law is examined. Thirdly, I hoped for some thoughts on how Parliament might be better equipped to control the flood of secondary legislation. Instead, we have the lamentable proposal to remove your Lordships' power to reject an order, no matter how inept. I was very glad to hear my noble friend Lord Strathclyde say quite clearly that we shall oppose that proposal. I was very glad also to hear the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, say the same thing in her splendid speech.
I am disappointed with the White Paper. I also regret that the Government have shown little or no sign of being really worried by the diminished regard in which Parliament is held by the public, as witnessed by the pitiful numbersto which my noble friend Lord Renton has called attentionwho thought it worthwhile to vote in the last general election.
I do not challengeI do not think that anyone in your Lordships' House does for one momentthe pre-eminence of the Commons, although one might pause in passing to ask how well performance justifies that pre-eminence. However, I recognise that that is an affair for the other place and not for your Lordships' House. Nevertheless, the genuineness of the Government's concern for that pre-eminence, which is repeated again and again in the White Paper, is slightly open to doubt and question if only because of the frequency of the complaints that one hears from the other end of the building about the way in which Parliament is frequently bypassed, overlooked and neglected. It is just possible that the Government's concern for Parliament is not entirely different from the concern of the walrus and the carpenter, in Alice in Wonderland, for the oysters they were about to consume.
A largely nominated House, to which I see little objection, would provide a place in Parliament for people other than professional politicians: people who would not even consider standing for election but still have much to offer, such as, I stress, scientists, engineers and representatives of the Armed Forces and police; people whose lives have not been filled and conditionedI almost said contaminatedby their membership of a political party.
I find it difficult to erase from my mind the suspicion that the Government's paramount intention and concern, above and beyond everything in the White Paper, is to keep your Lordships' House in its place. It must not be allowed to become a source of irritation to Ministers of the Crown. But what other useful role does it have?
I have reached the conclusion of my remarks. I should like to end simply with a reminder that your Lordships' House was once dubbed as "Mr. Balfour's poodle". I fear that, if we continue down the road indicated in the White Paper, your Lordships' House may well be turned into a kennel full of poodles.
Lord Richard: My Lords, I was very interested in what the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, had to say about the independence of people in this House. I cannot help but observeparticularly following the noble Lord, Lord Peytonthat both the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, and the late Lady Faithfull were both members of a political party. They both took the party Whip, although the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, wears it lightly, as he has done for many years past. The same is true of Lady Faithfull. I make the point simply to illustrate the fact that independence and membership of a political party are not necessarily contradictory.
I shall be relatively brief, as the points that I want to make do not improve with repetition and the lines of argument are now clearly drawn. I should, however, like to deal with one matter before making my remarks on the White Paper. There seems to be a feeling that this is not a political House, but of course it is a political House: it does political things, passes political legislation, and inevitably has political parties. The idea that somehow or other the British Constitution can have a second Chamber that works as if it were populated by a set of independent Solons, however wise they might be, is totally fallacious.
Of course I am in favour of keeping the Cross-Benchers: I would give them no less than one-third of the total membership of the House. I should hope that the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, would at least to
I was pleased to hear the Lord Chancellor say that the Government are looking forward to hearing the contributions of Members of this House as regards their proposals in the White Paper. It is quite right that they should have an open mind, or at least a mind that does not seem to be firmly closed. It is quite right also that they should say that they are still seeking a consensus. I hope that a consensus is possible. At some stage, however, consultation will have to cease and decisions will have to be made. I hope that we can reach a consensus on these issues. A consensus might be possible, but achieving one will require some determination by the Government.
One important aspect of the White Paper is that the democratic principle now seems to be accepted (though in a severely truncated form). The idea that one can confine those directly elected to 20 per cent is unrealistic. I do not believe we can have tokenism of that kind when dealing with representative government. But gone at last is the argument that somehow or other elected and nominated Peers cannot sit comfortably in the one House. The issue for the Government now, as it emerges from the White Paper and the various statements that have been made, is not whether there should be an elected element, but how large that elected element should be.
It is worth looking for a moment at what the public seem to want in that respect. Not for the first time it seems to be in advance of government thinking. The latest polls indicate that there is widespread public support for a more democratic upper House. Following the publication of the White Paper, a national opinion poll in the Evening Standard of 14th November last year found 71 per cent backing for a largely elected House and 91 per cent thinking that 120 elected Members was too few. A poll by Democratic Audit submitted to the Royal Commission found that 84 per cent of the public favoured election over appointment for the upper House. In an ICM poll of last September 78 per cent said that the Labour Party should commit itself to a majority rather than a minority elected replacement in the House of Lords.
The fact is that the electorate as a whole seems no longer prepared to put up with a second Chamber whose composition is primarily determined by Prime Ministerial patronage. With respect to the White Paper, whatever else it does, it does not abolish that.
I support the general principle that emerges from the report of the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, that the system of political appointments to this House should come to an end. Where we differ is with what it should be replaced. He would replace it with appointments by a public appointments commission. I would replace it by direct elections.
I want to see, as is well known to many noble LordsI have said it often enougha second Chamber two-thirds of which is directly elected and one-third of which is nominated. I believe the political part of the Lords should be by election and the Cross-Bench, independent element should be by appointment.
Let me try briefly to deal with the question of legitimacy. In this country legitimacy comes primarily from the exercise of democratic choice. With respect to the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, I do not follow him in his arguments. I have never understood the argument that appointments can produce a more generally representative House. The public are used to elections; they are part of the fabric of the constitution. Sometimes they may choose not to vote. But it is a democratic right not to turn up and put a cross on the ballot paper just as much as it is a right to do so.
If that is the position as regards the rest of the constitution, why not this Chamber? There is no reason in principle why two-thirds of this Chamber should not predominantly be elected. Therefore one has to look outside the principle of the democratic legitimacy point in order to find some reason why we are supposed to be different.
The argument is sometimes heardwe heard it this afternoonthat to have over 50 per cent of this House directly elected would be to produce a clone of the House of Commons. I do not believe that for an instant. The powers and functions of the two Chambers are clear. The electoral systems would be distinct. The claim that a more democratic second Chamber would challenge the supremacy of the Commons or produce legislative gridlock is surely misplaced. A more democratic outcome would not mean that the upper Chamber would be equally as legitimate or powerful as the House of Commons. The upper House could not threaten the primacy of the Commons. We would continue to have strictly limited powers and functions. Members would be elected for a different and secondary Chamber with no role in determining the government or controlling finance, which are quite rightly the roles of the House of Commons.
Nor would the second Chamber be able to veto a Commons Bill or, under the terms of the White Paper, any statutory instrument. If a minority of Cross-Bench appointees were included too, as many suggest and the Government propose, the difference between the two
Again, I try hard but for the life of me I do not see what problems that set of facts raises. It may make it more irritating for the Government. It may force the executive to be more responsive and more accountable. At one stage in my political career, many years ago when I was naive, I thought that was the function of Parliament. Perhaps I am wrong.
The opportunity for major constitutional reform seems to come about once every 50 or 60 years. It would be sad if the opportunity to produce a more workable second Chamber and to resolve the issue of the relationships between the two Houses were now to be missed. I do not pretend that those relations would always be simple or smooth. It cannot be expected that between two Houses with credibility and legitimacy it would be. But it is worth noting that a report for the Irish Senate published in 1997 found that of 58 second Chambers around the world, 41 were wholly or largely elected. Only two (Malaysia and Swaziland) had a mixed appointed/elected membership where the majority was appointed. In only one western democracyCanadawas the second Chamber wholly appointed.
The truth is that no government like making life more difficult for themselves. A second Chamber where the majority were elected would prove more troublesome to the executive. In common with most of the country, particularly with the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, that is a prospect which he and many others would welcome.
Many MPs believe that this House is basically irrelevant to the real business of Parliament. Anyone who has been a Member of the other place knows well how little attention is paid to this Chamber. It could easily be dismissed when it was dominated by the hereditary peerage. It still suffers from the total absence of any kind of democratic credibility or legitimacy. It can be dismissed as being appointed and not elected. But if we want a properly functioning second Chamber, not merely a legislative reviser, then we have to give it that credibility and legitimacy to do its job.
I have said on a number of occasions outside this House that in essence the argument is about what sort of second Chamber we want. If we want the family pet of the constitutioncolourful, good for the tourists, little power and very conscious of its own superioritythen that is what we will get. If we want a properly functioning second Chamber which is part of the legislative process and part of the constitution of this country, then it has to change. I fear that yesterday I went a little far in describing these proposals as "half-baked"; perhaps that is putting it a little high. But they are seriously under-cooked.
Peering into the future I venture to opine that the White Paper is unlikely to become a distinguished constitutional document. The root of its weakness is that the Government rushed into the project of getting rid of the old basis for the House of Lords without ever having properly thought through what was to be put in its place. As a result they have been living from hand to mouth and going from one expedient to another ever since.
Let us consider the question of an elected or an appointed chamber. There is something to be said for an elected chamber. There is something to be said for an appointed chamber. But for a partly elected, partly appointed chamber, which carries within itself a mass of contradictions, there is nothing to be said whatsoever. It is a hyphenated hybrid which will not be a permanent solution to our constitutional problem, but will lay out problems for the future.
Let us consider the other central point in this White Paperthe appointments commission. It is unclear to me, having read the White Paper, and, indeed, the Royal Commission report, what powers the appointments commission will have. Will it have the powers of the Prime Minister to advise the Crown with binding effect to appoint Members of this House? If I am right in thatI should be grateful for clarification from the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the Houseit is a major constitutional change putting power in the hands of a strictly irresponsible body because it is elected by no one. It is said to be responsible to the House of Lords but only in the vaguest possible sense. I am reminded of a favourite saying of my mother, "Who are these people, why are they there and why should we listen to them?"
The Prime Minister has from time to time been denounced as a control freak. I must say that anyone who can control the noble and learned Lords the Lord Chancellor and the Leader of the House is not a control freak but a control genius. I have known every Prime Minister since Neville Chamberlain. Your Lordships may find that difficult to believe, but I am well preserved! They all become control freaks sooner or later, wherever they start from. There is only one Prime Minister in my experience who did not do so and that was Sir Alec Douglas-Home who was prevented by the true nobility of his nature and by his moral and physical courage from having to resort to such expedients and devices.
Another matter arises in the discussion and in the White Paper and that is the question of patronage. There has been patronage as long as there has been a House of Lords. What is an hereditary Peer but an appointed Peer whose appointer has passed into what
There has been much talk of transparency. That is the latest instalment of the hypocrisy and humbug that have made us a great nation. How can the appointments commission possibly be transparent when we do not know how its members will be appointed and who will be considered? How can we judge whether the members of the commission will do their work properly? I ask the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House why should not the names of those who apply to be considered as Members of this House be made public? If they wish to be Members of this House they should lay their cards upon the table and let other people have a look at them and express their opinion. That would be transparency, but there is no suggestion of that from the Government.
The principal matter on which I wish to speak concerns the very important question of religious representation in this House. I certainly have no objection at all to the presence here of the bishops of the established Church in a representational and institutional capacity. If I had any doubts, they would have been resolved by the powerful and moving speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford.
One of the key recommendations of the Royal Commission report was that there should be a wider representation of religions, faiths and denominations. What has happened to that? It has completely disappeared from the White Paper. I refer to the Roman Catholic Church as it is the Church about which I know marginally more than the others. I assure noble Lords that I do not mention the following matter in any triumphalist way but the figures of the practising members of the Church of England and of the Catholic Church are revealing. According to the latest Church statistics of 1999, there are 1.6 million practising Anglicans and 1.8 million practising Catholics who attend Mass weekly. Can it really be right to exclude their Episcopal representatives from this House? You might say, "Yes, historically that is what has happened". But, historically, the Government have embarked on what they claim is a radical reform of the House. So let them look at that issue and let us know what they think about it and what they propose to do. The whole question is dismissed in two sentences in the White Paper. It states that the practical difficulties are too great, although it does not say what they are, and that most other denominations and faiths have no hierarchy. I have heard the Catholic Church accused of many things in my life, but that has never been selected as a cardinal fault.
I wish to say a few words about the position of the Catholic bishops, as far as the circumstances allow. The Catholic bishops do not seek membership of this House. Indeed, although some are not unfavourably disposed to the matter some are strongly opposed to it. The memorandum to the Royal Commission, which
There are two further questions that need to be addressed. First, if Catholic bishops came to this House, what would be their status? Would they be spiritual Peers or Cross-Bench Peers? We need guidance from the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House on that important and serious question.
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