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Earl Russell: My Lords, the noble Lord is making a powerful case, but will he concede that in this case we are concerned with legitimacy only in one quarterin the eyes of another place? Its Members are unlikely to deny that election confers legitimacy.
Lord Neill of Bladen: My Lords, with respect to the noble Earl, we have earlier heard opinion polls cited. The noble Lord, Lord Richard, cited them as something to which we should have regard and which should influence our conduct. The argument seems to be that opinion polls show that by a margin of about 85 per cent the man in the street would like a greater input into this House. So we must consider legitimacy more widely than simply in the eyes of Members of another place.
The real question is: will the 120 elected Members of this House improve its quality? Or will they be a mere cosmetic device or tokenism? We all have our views on that. My view is that they will diminish the quality, the independence and the perceived independence of the House. More particularly, they will introduce an alien element, as there will be 120 people with some sort of link outside to an electoratean umbilical cord, as it were. We have heard words such as "answerability", "accountability" and so on. It will introduce a different element to the House if 120 people are here on such a ticket and the rest of the House is not. That is not a recipe for success.
Let me move to practicalities, which have not yet been mentioned today. How would elections work? How would they take place? The so-called option Bwhich the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, will recogniseis to hold elections to the House of Lords at the same time as elections to the European Parliament. I remind the House that there was a 24 per cent turnout at the last election to the European Parliament. That was the lowest in Europe and the lowest ever in any member state since elections beganif anyone wants to challenge that, the Library has given me the figures. It would be a disaster to think of linking those elections.
Suppose the election is on the same day as the general election. The noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, said that we deceive the people by a semblance of democracy. I shall refer to an article by the noble Lord, Lord Hurd of Westwell, in today's Financial Times. That is not unfair, because the noble Lord is to speak later and can demolish what I am about to say. His article states:
Imagine the scene at a polling booth with a philosopher-king, or the noble Lord, Lord Hurd himself, standing there when a voter comes along and asks: "What am I doing today?". The answer will be: "It's the usual thing: you are electing MPs, but I must tell you that there is something extra. You are electing to the House of Lords". "Are they the same sort of thing? Are they MPs but sitting in the House of Lords?" "Well, not quite. I think I ought to tell you that they are meant to be different in character from Members of Parliament." "But how?" "Well, they are meant to be free as far as possible from subservience to the party Whips." "Does that mean to say that they do not have to take the party line on any particular issue?" "Yes, it does." "I am not sure I want to vote for those sort of people. Anyway, can I choose the order, because I recognise one name on the list at number 10?" "No, you cannot choose that. There is a list set by the party machine; you cannot make a choice." "Well, thank you very much."
As far as I am concerned, that is not a splendid exercise in democracy. If we analyse what is involved, it is not much of a recipe for the publicif they had it explained to them; I am sure that the pollsters did not give them my little spiel.
I shall quickly make two more points. This House ought not to lose its power to strike down subordinate legislation. It does so rarely, but I recall an example that struck me as especially impressive, which concerned the election of the Mayor of London. The issue was whether the argumentative prospectus issued by each candidate should be paid for and arranged by the state.
The Government said no, because it was not like a parliamentary election. It was then pointed out that the constituency was far bigger than that in a parliamentary electionbetween about 8 and 10 million. In the end, the House of Lords simply voted down an Order in Council that provided for the election and the Government had to give way. Eventually, a useful little booklet came roundall of us in London received itcontaining addresses from 10 candidates. That is a splendid example.
Lord Saatchi: My Lords, I hope that the Leader of the House, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, will not think me too sad a figure when I tell him how many hours of my Christmas holiday were spent poring over his previous statements on the reform of your Lordships' House. In fact, those statements form much of the text of my speech. I hope that the noble and learned Lord will take it as it is intended, as a mark of respect for what he says and how he says it.
When it comes to the powers and functions of the new House of Lords, the Government's Cromwellian fervour for change appears to have come to a sudden halt. Gone is the language of modernisation and change. Instead, as my noble friend Lord Peyton of Yeovil said, a new word emerged: "pre-eminence". That word is used 12 times in today's White Paper. There is also a new gospelthe primacy of the House of Commonsand a new fundamental principle, which is that
The Government's response to the apparently simple notion that changes in functions and powers might go along with changes in composition is blank. Nothing has changed and therefore there is no need for any change. In response to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, the Leader of the House said:
Is it too much to suggest that we are witnessing one of the most blatant pieces of political manipulation that this venerable House can ever have seen? The Government already control another place, in which they have never lost a vote. They will continue to control appointments to your Lordships' House and will gain dramatically from the replacement of 92 hereditary Members with 120 elected Members. With the Government's current poll rating, they will go from having two Members in that 92 to having 60 out of the 120, leaving the rest of us to scrabble around for the leftovers.
Several noble Lords have recently expressed the view that something has changed and that that should be reflected in the relationship between the two Houses. For example, the noble Lord, Lord Desai, said:
The response of the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House was given in an uncharacteristically crisp reply at the end of the debate on the Parliament Acts (Amendment) Bill which was brought forward by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson of Lymington, early last year. At one point, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, asked my noble friend Lord Kingsland whether he was,
The debate is about how Parliament will scrutinise the executive. Should not Parliament decide how it will do that, rather than having the decision made by the executive by what my noble friend Lord Strathclyde called unilateral imposition? That is what my noble friend and the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, were driving at when they asked for a Joint Committee to examine the proposition.
The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor said of the House of Commons that its pre-eminencethere is that word againwas protected by the Parliament Act 1911. However, the case for revisitingif only modestlythat iconic Act has been made by two of the most distinguished Members of the House, the noble and learned Lords, Lord Simon of Glaisdale and Lord Donaldson of Lymington. They reminded us that examination of the preamble to the 1911 Act showed that it was intended only as an interim step. If it does not bore your Lordships, I shall tell you what it says:
The second relevant aspect of the history of the Parliament Act 1911 was the motivation behind it. The record seems to show that its raison d'etre was the hereditary nature of the composition of the upper House. Commending the Parliament Bill to the House of Commons on its Second Reading, the Liberal Prime Minister, Mr Asquith, said of the hereditary principle:
The hereditary House of Lords has gone. Elected members are about to appear. Yet still the Government insist that everything should remain the same in the relationship between the Houses. The Government have judged the reform to the inch; just enough elected Members to ensure that they never lose another vote in your Lordships' House but not enough elected Members to threaten their pre-eminence in the House of Commons.
In the name of modernisation, the Prime Minister used his superior power in another place to remove what he saw as an in-built majority for his opponents in your Lordships' House. In the name of democracy, he achieved parity between the Government and Opposition Benches in your Lordships' House. But, as they say, power corrupts and so now it appears that he wants even more power. He has enough power; he should stop and if he will not, we shall stop him.
Ninety years have elapsed since the country was told that your Lordships' House needed to be reformed. A great amount of thought and much debate has ensued and only in 1968 did a government get near a solution. One of the greatest difficulties to progress was that the arrangements which prevailed until 1999, and not very differently since, had worked surprisingly well, although governments of both parties were occasionally much irritated by the House upsetting their plans.
Our Annual Report and Accounts show that we are sitting longer in both number of days and hours than ever before. The state of the Bills brought to us has been so bad since the Government came into office that no fewer than 4,761 amendments needed to be made last year, surpassing the previous record number and being two and a half times the number of any previous government. I wonder whether the right honourable gentleman might ponder whether his Ministers could be induced to present their Bills to Parliament in better shape than that which prevails.
I am not alone in my disappointment with the White Paper. On the day following its publication, it received an unprecedentedly bad press. Perhaps I may quote brief extracts from the five daily broadsheets of Thursday 8th November 2001. The Financial Times stated:
I share the abhorrence expressed throughout all the articles from which I have quoted, but it is time to try to be constructive. My proposals will inevitably be received with derision, but that I will risk.
I suggest that the House be called the Senate. I am sure that those who become members would prefer to be senators than the insignificant ML. Half of the new House (51 per cent might sound better) would be elected and the constituencies would be the counties and unitary authorities. Each county would have the same number of senators with the exception of those in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland which should, as they have their own parliaments or assemblies, be entitled to only half the number of the English counties. There would of course be howls of protest from Yorkshire getting the same number as Rutland, but in the United States California has got over its fury at Rhode Island or Delaware, though I agree that the constitutional differences between ourselves and the United States prevent direct comparisons.
Three hundred elected senators would leave the same number for party life Peers and Cross-Benchers in the proportion of 30 per cent party life Peers and 20 per cent Cross-Benchers who would survive as senators. This sadly would require the cull of both groups, and the parties and Cross-Benchers could decide who stayed or went, as in 1999. I would hope that those eliminated could be found from those who never or rarely turned up. They would of course retain their peerages. The cull would be conducted after the first election by the counties, so the balance which the Government sought could be achieved.
That brief outline of what is in my mind will probably have irritated a large number of your Lordships. However, I very much hope that noble Lords who are still to speak will take the opportunity to give the House the benefit of their own thoughts on the way forward. Whatever they propose is bound to be more acceptable than the White Paper.
Lord Hurd of Westwell: My Lords, I do not think that anyone could conceivably have been irritated by the speech to which we have just listened. On the contrary, we are more likely to find it ingenious and well worth further study.
We find ourselves on a half-way island in the middle of the river. The Government have brought us to it with some difficulty. They are now pointing us to the further shore, which is labelled complete reform and they are indicating in the White Paper a vessel on which we might voyage to that further shore. The
I thoroughly enjoyed serving on the Royal Commission, not least because of the skill with which it was led by my noble friend, but also because we did the rounds of the country. We read a great deal of paper, received a great many letters and conducted a series of small debates throughout the country. I formed a clear view, which I have not changed, about what people in this country really want in a second Chamber. They are clear about wanting an elected Chamber, provided that there are no wretched politicians in it. That is not a realistic vision, but we must take careful account of both its elements.
In the work that my party did under the chairmanship of my noble friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern on the Royal Commission, I always argued for a substantial minority of a directly elected element in this House. I shall not go into all the reasons for that, but I believe that it would be strengthening, which is needed. We have our occasional triumphs. The Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001, which has been referred to several times today, was a triumph of our system working, but that does not entitle us to be satisfied day in and day out by our effectiveness. We deceive ourselves if we are so satisfied. We should always be trying to find ways of strengthening the system and I believe that an elected minority would do that.
However, it would have to be different. The article in the Financial Times today, to which the noble Lord, Lord Neill of Bladen, was kind enough to refer, was not so much a defence of the elected principle but a warning to the Government that they were mucking it up. The Royal Commission suggested three specific safeguards against the danger that elected Members of this House would be clones or poor shadows of Members of the House of Commons. Most of us favoured the open list. We couched it in Royal Commission language, but it is plainly there for anyone who cares to read it. Most of us did not believe that the closed-list system was acceptable. We favoured a long periodaround 15 yearsso that those elected were not constantly consulting the Whips or worrying about the state of opinion in their constituencies. We favoured effective discouragement of any attempt to use elected membership of this House as a springboard for membership of the House of Commons.
Those three substantial safeguards were neglectedindeed, discardedby the Government. I hope that they will reconsider those safeguards because without them the case for elected membership is greatly weakened. Many of your Lordships are worried about a hybrid House. That issue has surfaced at least twice in this debate. We are worried about the impact on all our relationships and ways of doing things by the arrival of even a minority of elected Members. The case for that would be stronger if we were
I have been struck by the number of formidable Members of this House. They are people whom I have learned to respect for the force, vigour and effectiveness of their utterances. They tend to cluster behind these Benches and are the ones who are the most convinced that they will be bullied and swamped by the arrival of even a single elected Member. These particularly powerful Members of our House seem to be the ones who are most fearful of this development, although I do not share those fears.
Those who believe, as I do, that there should be a majority of nominated Members of the House realise that we are up against it in terms of the argument. I am not talking about the argument in this House. Anyone listening to this debate, discussing the matter in the Tea Room or reading Hansard will know that there is a strong majority in the House against election and overwhelmingly in favour of nomination. But we are up against it. That is true of the political parties. I look forward with excitement to the announcement that my noble friend Lord Strathclyde said would be made in the next few days about my party's policy. I study the opinions and research; I occasionally read the newspapers, although that is not a popular thing to do in this House; and I listen to what is happening down the road. We are up against it and must search for reasons that are valid outside this Chamber for supporting a high degree of nomination.
My noble friend Lord Renton put his finger on the right argument when he spoke of experience of life outside politics. He recalled a time when both Houses of Parliament had a substantial asset in the form of many Members who spoke out of continuing experience of practical life outside the world of politics. My noble friend Lord St John of Fawsley referred to his mother, so I shall refer briefly to my father. He served as a Member of Parliament for 19 years, but throughout that time he was a farmer first and a politician second. He spoke about agriculture, but listened on every other subject. By contrast, a few weeks ago the leader of my party appointed Mr Clifton-Brown, the Member of Parliament for Cotswold, to be a junior shadow spokesman on agriculture. That was not a sensational development, except for Mr Clifton-Brown. However, there were immediate grumbles, mutterings, long letters and consultations, resulting in the Member of the other place stepping down. He had to withdraw from his promotion. Why? What was his offence? What sleaze or potential scandal was involved? The reason was that he was, and had always declared himself openly to be,
I might not have related that absurd story had it not been that we have the benefit in this House of the noble Lord, Lord Neill of Bladen, who now presides over the Commission on Standards on Public Life. He did not invent the muddle and cannot be blamed for it in any way, but I look forward to reading his article in the Financial Times or elsewhere, at a time of his choosing, about how he proposes to sort it out. We cannot do anything about that matter in this House, but it leaves a serious gap in the parliamentary system, as my noble friend pointed out. There is a lack of people who come with practical and up-to-date experience of the world outside politics.
Many of us have experience, butI must put this very delicately, though it applies to myself as much as to othersour experience tends to ebb a little. Things change and we do not always perceive those changes. There is always a danger that we shall make speeches which are wholly accurate about a situation that we knew so well 15 or 20 years ago, but which may not be entirely apt now. That is why we placed much emphasis in the report on the proposal that there should be space in this House for part-time Members, who would have to be nominated. Such Members would not be here all the time. But, when they came, they would take part in our debates and contribute something out of their own up-to-date personal authority to the matters of importance to the nation being discussed. They would be able to speak and bring to our discussions their up-to-date authority on practical life.
In my view, that development is crucially important for the health of our Parliament. It is a great pity because, as with elections, so with nominations: there is a dangerand I use an un-parliamentary phrasethat the Government are "mucking it up". They are spoiling a good case on nomination by insisting on clawing back what we on the Royal Commission suggested that they should give up; namely, the power to nominate the Members of this House who belong to political parties. I hope that the Government will study carefully the very subtle points made by my noble friend Lord Wakeham on this point as regards the actual convenience for the party managers of having an appointments commission that has the final say in this respect. Unless they are willing to concede on that point, I believe that they will seriously weaken the uphill argument on the question of nomination.
Like my noble friend Lord Wakeham, the chairman of the Royal Commission, I believe that we would be unwise to set sail in this vessel in its present form to the further shore. The Government must set to and repair her substantially. Although I listened carefully, I did not detect very much indication from the speech of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor that he has his tools ready for that purpose. Either this will be a substantial repair job, or noble Lords will have to be ready to camp for some time on our halfway island in the middle of the river and try to make it as comfortable and as effective as possible.
Baroness Strange: My Lords, with 82 speakers42 of whom will speak todayI shall, out of fairness to other noble Lords, especially those who have to change for official dinners, be even more subliminal than usual. But I should just like to put my toe into the water. With all the endless talk that there has been, and some unhappy actions, too, over the past few years about the reform of your Lordships' House, it seems to me that most people have been looking at the subject the wrong way round, like peering down a telescope the wrong way, or the Rock of Gibraltar, which is in fact upside down.
The noble Baroness, Lady Williams, got it right. If we are to preserve your Lordships' HouseI very much hope that we shallwe must look very closely at what its functions are. As I see it, its functions are threefold, the first being to provide a very thorough screening process for legislation. I have before now described this function as being like a high-class sewage filter, filtering through untreated legislation from the other place, to make it workable in the country. This I believe to be its most important function; associated with it there is also the power of delay, of making the other place think again. Over the anti-terrorist Bill last year we had a very significant example of this. We all wanted an immediate anti-terrorist Bill. We all supported the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, but we did not want it overloaded trailing strings of unattended consequences, which would only cause future difficulties. The other place did have a chance to think again, and, with great wisdom, took it.
The second function is the absolute power of causing any government, whatever, to hold a democratic election after five years. It is possible, as happened in the last election, for the same party to be returned with a greater majority. This is democracy in action, and how the people have chosen. It is very important that they should always keep that choice. Our third function is in our debates, and in the dissemination of wisdom. We are proud to have among your Lordships so many wise, experienced and knowledgeable people on so many subjects, to whom it is always a pleasure to listen.
We have been concentrating on how or why we are here, and not on what we are here for. Over the past few years your Lordships, who are all Peers, and, therefore, in your essence, all equals, have been treated like pigs in Animal Farm with some more equal than others. Some of us have been created Peers through our own past services to the country, through politics, or the services, through the law, or the medical profession, or the Civil Service; some of us have supported financially a political party; some of us have powerful friends; and some of us have ancestors who came into one or other of those categories, and inherited through them. But we are all here, for whatever reason, to contribute to the work and the glory of this House.
Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, it is very difficult to follow such a wonderfully elliptical speech. We have to start with the principles on which we should judge a reform. The first must be that the composition of the House, as the noble Baroness, Lady Strange, just said, must relate to its functions and powers and not be discussed separately. Secondly, the role of the second Chamber must clearly relate to that of the first Chamber, so we have to consider the reform of Parliament as a whole and not the two Houses separately. Thirdlyhere I agree very strongly with what my noble friend Lady Williams, said in her opening speechwe must recognise the low esteem of Parliament at present and seek reform that will contribute to increasing the credibility and legitimacy of Parliament as a whole, and not simply attempt changes that will satisfy the current balance within both Chambers.
The fourth principlenamely, the supremacy of the House of Commons, to which so much importance is given in this White Paperis, in part, a self-serving myth. I note that paragraph 13 of the document says:
Fifthly, Members of the other place should, therefore, approach the topic of House of Lords reform with a degree of humility. The aggressively partisan style of the elected Chamber is largely responsible for the decline in public respect for Parliament. It offers a two-party battle between an all-powerful government and a highly privileged and entrenched Official Opposition in which MPs of the governing party see their role as unconditionally supporting the Government's control of the agenda
Sixthly, I suggest that in any reform of Parliament, the aim should be to move the style of debate and scrutiny towards the spirit of compromise, sometimes exaggerated co-operation and attention to reasoned criticism which characterise this Chamber rather than towards the partisanship which disfigures the other place.
I should like to make one major point about why the two Chambers behave differently. This Chamber has an effective four-party system with no overall control. Therefore we are forced, eventually, to compromise with each other. That is part of the reason why we operate differently. By all those standards, the proposals before us are astonishingly timid and limited.
Perhaps I may say a little about the functions of a second Chamber because they form an important part of the debate. Shortly after I came to this place I was privileged to serve as the chairman of one of the sub-committees of the House of Lords Select Committee on the European Union. I found that to be a fascinating learning experience. What I discovered was the politics of influence rather than of power. The extent to which committees enable us to hold reasoned debate among ourselves, to interact with interested and informed lobbies outside and with those non-governmental organisations which form the organised representatives of civil society, and so contribute in a pre-legislative role to informed discussion, education and debate, and in a post-legislative role to scrutiny, thus ensuring that Ministers can stand up to sustained questioning and that officials can manage to justify what they have done, is considerable. Most important, that is what politics needs to be about; it is not about power but it is certainly about real influence.
When discussing issues with officials and Ministers both outside the committee as well as inside the committee, I learnt a great deal about the necessity of maintaining that kind of dialogue. To that end, I should say that I was impressed by the officials and the Ministers with whom I dealt. We need to expand that dimension of the second Chamber. Perhaps less time should be spent on the Floor of the House and more off the Floor. Furthermore, I strongly agree with my noble friend Lady Williams when she referred to expanding the committee system to cope with the broader internationalisation of government as a whole. We do have quite effective scrutiny of the European Parliament in this House, but we do not look at treaties, we do not look at UN agencies and we do not consider the other international commitments which crowd in on the British and all other governments, however proudly they might wish to protect their sovereignty.
Again, much could be done that would not interfere with international organisations, but which could make a valuable contribution to the need to raise issues of public concern and, therefore, usefully to influence
Part of the mistaken emphasis of the White Paper is the notion of tensions between the House of Commons and the House of Lords rather than between the executive and the legislature. What we ought to seek is stronger legislative control of the executive, stronger scrutiny, accountability and debate, which in turn ought to put both Chambers of Parliament on the same side.
I turn now to the question of composition. First, election itself is not that much worse than appointment. As I look around the Benches, I see that a high proportion of the current Members of this Chamber have stood for election during their careers. I count myself among them, having stood five times. Perhaps I may humbly suggest that that in itself is an argument against those who say that if there were to be a substantial proportion of elected Members, no one of substance would stand. If one holds to that opinion, then that would cut out a large proportion of the House as people of no substance.
The second argument I have heard muttered is that if we put in place a regional basis for election, it would lead to an incursion of superannuated county councillors. One of the first lessons I learnt on joining this Chamber was that among the most valuable and hardworking Members of the House were a collection of people from all three of the parties represented here of precisely that backgroundsuperannuated county councillors. They are immensely valuable, they are conscientious and they bring to the House their experience and knowledge of issues such as education, transport, policing, social services and planning. Furthermore, as a Labour Member of the House remarked to me earlier today outside the Chamber, they bring to this place the valuable experience of having had to co-operate with other parties in situations where councils do not have overall control. They can appreciate a rather different style of politics from that which is the norm in the other place.
A great deal depends on the electoral system chosen. Our current electoral system is a prime source of popular disillusionment with politics. For the majority of seats in the House of Commons, before the election is even held one knows who is going to be elected. As I went around the country helping my own party during the last general election, what most struck me was that the campaign was being fought in fewer than 200 seats. In one constituency, all three parties put up posters all over the place and canvassed widely, while in another constituency one would not have known that a general election had been called. That is part of the reason why the turn-out in so many seats went down.
The noble Lord, Lord Gordon of Strathblane, suggested that constituency responsibilities of any kind would detract from this House. I venture to suggest that those of us who have some regional base in politics and try to maintain it do in fact contribute to the value of the House. After having taken part nine months ago in a debate on the chaos at Leeds station, yesterday morning I gave a fourth interview to Radio Leeds. That demonstrates how one's activities in this House feed back into local politics. Regional ties provide a valuable element of diversity to bring to the House.
Of course we shall need to have sufficiently long terms for elected Members, nine years or perhaps even 15 years, to ensure that there would be a degree of distance from the electorate. Perhaps, along the lines of the US Senate and others, we should have a minimum age for candidates in order to guard against the House being used as a stepping stone to the Commons. At this point perhaps I may also mention one of the taboos of the debate; at some stage we might wish to suggest a maximum age limit, or term limits even for appointees.
I would also suggest that a mixed Chamber of appointees and elected Members is quite thinkable because, as the noble Lord, Lord Hurd of Westwell, pointed out, we have been mixed for a long time. The idea that a "hyphenated hybrid" would be new and unworkable, as suggested by the noble Lord, Lord St John of Fawsley, is nonsense. I recall a Conservative colleague telling me that during the debate on the first stage of reform of the House, Conservative hereditary Peers used to refer to Conservative appointees as "day boys"with all the patronage that anyone who has attended a public school will know that term implies. That is a two-class system for you.
One of the most important issues, howeverand again I agree strongly with the noble Lord, Lord Hurdis whether we remain a part-time Chamber or become a full-time Chamber. Part-time status has strong advantages, but the current drift towards a full-time commitment is clear. If the suggestions that we read in the newspapers from the Leader of the House about morning Sessions and sitting in September are accurate, that would make this Chamber more of a full-time commitment. It would also require that it becomes a salaried Chamber. I would strongly resist becoming a full-time House. But we are drifting towards that and we should seek to reverse the trend.
I have taken up too much time, for which I apologise. Perhaps I may therefore summarise rapidly. We have a basis for consensus in what I would like to call the "Richard compromise"that is, that we should move towards a House which would be, roughly, two-thirds elected and one-third non-elected. If we were to take 120 the first time, another 120 five years later and another 120 after that, we could think about a House of 540 members180 nominated and 360 elected.
There must be consultation among the parties on thisand soon. We await the Government's proposal that they will be consulting with all other parties. The outcome of all this might be a stronger second Chamber, to which the Government and the other place would have to listen and as regards which they would have to recognise its influence and even, perhaps, share a little of their power. That would mark a constructive reform of Parliament and a great improvement in the style of British politics and government.
Lord Stewartby: My Lords, I start with an apology for not being here at the beginning of the debate. Having put my name down to speak tomorrow, I was somewhat taken aback to find my name down to speak at a relatively early hour today. I have therefore the disadvantage or advantagewhichever way one may care to look at itof not having prepared as well-crafted a speech as that of the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, and many other noble Lords who have spoken today. However, it does give me the opportunity to make certain remarks based on personal impressions and in the light of what I have listened to today.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Strange, and many other noble Lords have pointed out, the starting point is the purpose of the House and its functions. We need to keep in mind that aspect when we look at the individual proposals in the White Paper.
More and more we need to perform within the constitution those parts of its role that another place has increasingly come to neglect. The noble Lord, Lord Ampthill, mentioned a point which is well known
So we need to ask ourselves whether any proposals for change in the composition of your Lordships' House are likely to enable it to carry out its important roles more successfully than it does at present. If one looks at some of the main elements, it is not at all clear that these proposals are likely to lead to more effective scrutiny and deliberation than the present structure of the House.
Of course we need to ensure that the membership of this House includes those elements which are increasingly lacking in the membership of another place. In his article and in his speech today, my noble friend Lord Hurd referred to the Clifton-Brown affair. It seems to me to be the ultimate absurdity that you may speak with responsibility in Parliament on anything as long as you do not know anything about it. From observing the way in which much legislation is now processed, some noble Lords may have come to the conclusion that that is happening already.
When I was a Member of the other place in the 1980s, I had the responsibility in the Treasury for taking through the House a number of Bills on financial institutionsthe banking Bill, trustee savings banks and building society legislation and so on. The only reason that I was asked to do that was because I had spent several years before arriving at Westminster as a banker and working for and among financial institutions. It is absolutely crazy that another place, which is increasingly short of people with practical experience of the world outside, should now be in a position where those who do know something from their own experience are, in effect, precluded from making the contribution that they are best qualified to make. It is such a nonsense. I hope that the remarks of my noble friend Lord Hurd and the publicity that he has given to this case will ensure that the matter is thoroughly reconsidered.
When one looks at the party element of the proposals for future membership of the House, one has to ask whether they are likely to increase party control in detail over the membership of the House which represents those parties. Because of the mathematical scheme embodied in these proposals and the closed list system proposed for elected Members, there is likely to be an even greater emphasis by the political parties on trying to ensure that those who come here will be regular attenders, very loyal, show the minimum amount of independence of mind, and, in their contributions, stick very closely to the collective position that their party represents.
That is all very well from one point of viewit deals with part of the democratic elementbut it does not coincide with the way in which the House currently works and which has generally been found to be fairly satisfactory. If it changes the nature of the membership in relation to party affiliation, the way in which the commission process and the appointments system would work is likely to move us further away from the mix of contributions which we currently enjoy in your Lordships' House. Priorities of party are likely to become increasingly important and to impose on the systemI hope in only a small waymore of what has happened down the corridor, which is that fewer and fewer Members of another place have serious experience of the world outside or the opportunity for robust independence within the framework of their party commitments. That would be a great pity.
When one looks at the elected element, the debate about numbers, to which the noble Lord, Lord Richard, and others have referred, is a little metaphysical. The question is whether such an element is likely to change the way in which your Lordships' House works. If so, is it likely to be for the better? I have strong reservations about this, as have a number of other noble Lords who have spoken. It is crucial that the safeguards proposed by the Royal Commission are built into the system. The key point is whether or not those who might come here as elected Members would be open to re-election. That would change the conduct of any Member of this House.
I well remember when broadcasting was introduced into another place and when "Today in Parliament" began using live inserts from speeches. It changed the way in which Members of another place conducted themselves, and indeed what they said. I was becoming pretty cheesed off by my constituents saying that they never heard me on the programme, so I deliberately changed my way of doing things. I began to include in every speech two or three sentences with more colourful language and one or two racier ideasand lo and behold, they were reported.
This is not a fanciful angle. I am sure that if Members of this House were subject to re-election, they would be bound by human nature to want to play to their constituency in order to be better known, in order to encourage support and to have a better chance of being re-elected. That is why the Royal Commission proposal for a long period of appointment, not followed by re-election, is so important. Otherwise, we should find that this House was increasingly being used in the way in which, inevitably, another place is used by elected Members of Parliament, for their personal needs in terms of re-election. That would not be suitable or compatible with the functions that we performand which, it is generally agreed, we ought to continue to perform.
We must regard with some scepticism the idea of an enormous public wishas mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Richardfor a large elected element, and the idea that it is the only thing that would "put us on the map". I wonder whether my noble friend Lord Hurd, when he went round the country picking up comments as to how we went about our work and what
I should prefer, like the noble Lord, Lord Neill, and others, not to have an elected element. That is not because I believe that elected people lack ability or the opportunity to make contributionsas the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, has said, one can point to many examples. I merely think that it would change the process of our work in this House in a way that would take us away from the essential functions that we have up to now been trying to fulfil.
Even if the White Paper is notas the noble Lord, Lord Ampthill, saida deliberate nonsense in order to ensure that the Bill, when it comes, will fail, it is a hotchpotch of individual ideas which seem to have been added one by one in order to make a bow in the direction of a number of quarters who have different and often conflicting objectives. The hotchpotch does not add up to a coherent whole. For my part, I need a lot of persuading that they would amount to an improvement on the status quo.
Baroness Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde: My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, who was chairman of the Royal Commission, and the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, I too was a member, along with the noble Lord, Lord Butler, on the Cross Benches and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford, who is not present. Therefore, I declare an interest.
I congratulate the Government on picking up this issue some two years to the month after the Royal Commission reported directly to the Prime Minister. The issue of House of Lords reform has been a poisoned chalice for governments over the past 90-odd years. Indeed, the previous attempt to reform this House took place 33 years ago, when it fell as a result of the extreme Right and the extreme Left in another place coming together. My fear is that the White Paper is drawn in such a way that this attempt could suffer the same fate. It would be a tremendous opportunity lost. Therefore, I hope that the Governmentalthough I note that neither the Lord Chancellor nor the Leader of the House is in his placeare prepared to listen and to make amendments.
The report of the Wakeham commission, as it became known, contained 128 recommendations. The Government must be congratulated on accepting the majority of them. The recommendation about ensuring a more equal balance as between men and women Members of this House is self-evidently necessary. Perhaps even more self-evidently necessary is a balance reflecting the ethnic communities in our diverse society in Britain.
A further recommendation is that an overall guarantee should be written in, so that in the future no one party, in or out of government, will have sufficient members to dominate this House and recommendations relate to the independent element. I hope that I am not nit-picking, but the Wakeham report stated that "at least" 20 per cent of the Members of this House should be independent; the White Paper uses the words, "about 20 per cent". The Independent Members of this House may well want to examine that point.
The noble Lord, Lord Hurd, rightly mentioned, as did our eminent chairman, that the members of the Royal Commission were a mixed bunch. We were. We came to the issues before us from very different standpoints. We decided early on that we could all stand by our principles and our strong points, and that we should end up with a report that would probably gather dust on the shelves like any other. We quickly decided that we had to work together to examine the issues and see where we could achieve consensus. It is a great credit to the chairman of the commission that the report does achieve a consensus. It will not suit everyone, but at least it is a working document which will enable reform of this House to take place.
We decided alsoa point that has not been directly touched on in the debatethat reform of this House is not the property of this House; nor is it the property of the House down the corridor. It is a matter in which the people of this nation have a vested interest.
We had just 10 months to do our work, and we "went on the road". We had 21 meetings up and down the country, including in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. We received 1,700 pieces of evidence. As this is a complex situation with no simple answers, the report delivered to the Government was one that was knitted together rather like a jigsaw puzzle, in the sense that one part related to the other. Once you start messing about with the principal component parts, the rest of the proposals are severely damaged.
I suggest that that is what the White Paper has done. It has undermined an overall recommendation which, with some amendment through consensus, may have found the way forward. It is for those reasons that I cannot support the White Paper. Indeed, if there is any consensus today it is from the three members of the Royal Commission who have spoken so far, from different sides of the House.
There are two key areas. The issues of the appointments commission and the composition of the House, although separate, are clearly interlinked. I greatly welcome the provision in the White Paper of a new statutory appointments commission that will be responsible for appointing the independent members. However, the proposals in the White Paper are a long way from what the Wakeham report suggested.
There has been a lot of talk today about elections. The noble Lord, Lord Hurd, rightly drew some laughter in the House when he pointed out that in our meetings members of the public said that they wanted elected Members in the House of Lords. We asked
The report's recommendation that the appointments commission should appoint all appointed Members was clearly thought through. We know the difficulties with the Whip. A party cannot be forced to give a Whip to a Member that someone else has appointed. We were conscious that our report would have to be the basis for primary legislation. Those details could be discussed within that legislation. The problem can be dealt with in a number of ways.
With my background, having stood in election after election throughout my life and taken the view that when I was elected I was accountable to the people who had elected meI think that that is the right approachI initially felt that we would probably end up with a recommendation for an elected House. However, I changed my opinion as the work of the commission proceeded. I support the presence of elected Members. I support Model B set out in the report, although it is not written in tablets of stone. However, a wholly elected House, as some in the media and elsewhere have called for, is not the answer. There is no simple answer. Just electing everybody will not solve the problems. However, I sincerely believe that there has to be an elected element. That may not suit everybody in this House. There may be a majority opposed to the idea in this House, but we have to take note of what the public expect.
Elections have not served women or ethnic minorities very well down the corridor. In recommending elections, we also had to take account of the fact that someone elected at the same time as a Member of the House of Commons would immediately become part of the political process. They would campaign and watch their every step. They would be under the Whip and may be threatened with deselection if they expressed an independent point of view in this House. We all know that that is how party politics works. The challenge was to devise a system of delivering elected Members but ensuring that they have the ability to be as independent as possible and do not use this House as a stepping stone to becoming an MP or challenging their local MP. That is why we
However, there are other issues. The role, powers and functions of the House was the first area that the Royal Commission looked at. One third of the reportparagraphs 7 to 19covers the role, powers and functions of the House. If you do not know clearly what they are, you cannot legitimately move on to deal with the composition. I entirely agree with the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, on 7th November, when the Statement on the White Paper was made, that we need to look at functions.
Recommendations 19 and 20 deal with the authority of this House to veto a Bill from the other place to extend the life of Parliament. That idea was not rejected at any of our meetings and no politician who gave us evidence and was confronted with that question challenged it either. That is why the Wakeham report calls for an amendment to the Parliament Act to that effect. There is no specific reference in the White Paper to those two recommendations. I should have thought that they were an extremely important aspect of the powers of this House.
Last year, the Labour Government were re-elected on another landslide. Obviously I am delighted about that. In the manifesto, the party reconfirmed its support for the Wakeham report and the conclusions of the commission. It went on to say that a Labour Government would implement them,
In conclusion, some Members of this House have said in the marginssome have implied it in the debate, directly or indirectlythat the House should be left as it is. That is not how the matter was left with the exclusion of the hereditary Peers. We have unfinished business. This House has to go to the next
The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor said that the Government were willing to listen. As he said, we all know that we shall not achieve unanimity, but we need proposals around which we can secure a sizeable consensus. The report may need amending, but we should not kick away the stool and abandon the principles on which the report was built. The biggest tragedy of all would be a stalemate, brought about by those at either end of the spectrum, that left matters as they areas unfinished business. People are ready for reform. I was heartened to hear the Leader of the House say on 4th December:
Lord Inglewood: My Lords, at the beginning of her most interesting contribution, the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, declared an interest. I suppose that, as an hereditary Peer, I too should declare an interest because we are discussing proposals for the attainder of my membership of this House. If anyone can be said to have a non-pecuniary interest in the debate, I am sure that it is me. I also hope that, under the so-called Clifton-Brown doctrine, I am allowed to speak about the issue. As my noble friend Lord Hurd was speaking, it occurred to me that, if the logic of that proposition were taken to its extreme, we would be unable to conduct this debate at all.
I have expressed my general views about reform of the second Chamber and do not propose to repeat them now. Although I suppose that it is trite to say that fact is stranger than fiction, the case of House of Lords reform must surely fall into that category. Let us go back just to 1997, when the Labour Government came in with a manifesto commitment to remove the hereditary Members of the second Chamber, all of whom were there for life. After all, it was arguedand I do not disagreeit was no longer appropriate for hereditary peerage to be sufficient to confer a seat in Parliament. I make it quite clear that I do not subscribe to the idea that the legal right to legislate should be a piece of entailed heritable property.
So out they went, except for the so-called 92 elected hereditaries, of whom I am lucky enough to be one, who would remain until the reformed Chamber was put in placenot until the next stage of the reform was reached. The Government then sucked their teeth. By 2001, they concluded that a life peerage, just like an hereditary peerage, is not an appropriate basis for membership of the second Chamber. So what do they do? No, they do not expel them as well; rather, because a life peerage endures for life, they will remain for the rest of their days.
Having been in politics for a number of years, I no longer expect consistency or logic. However, the way in which this particular project is evolving, we are in danger of going down the rabbit's hole to Wonderland if we do not recognise that, basically, it is a fixor, to use a word that the Lord Chancellor used in his opening, a compromise. In this case, it is a compromise made with himself to achieve consensus.
It seems extraordinary that there is an historical precedent for all this. In late 1648, when Colonel Pride purged the House of Commons to leave the Rump, he did much the same to the House of Commons as the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, did to the House of Lords in 1999. Yours Lordships will recall that that Rump soldiered on until the end of the following decade, between bouts of failed electoral reform and government experiment. On balance, although I think that the 1650s was a remarkable decade in British history, it is not a glorious chapter in the history of Parliament or parliamentary democracy. It seems that it should be an example of what not to do, and not a precedent.
I should like now to confine my remarks to two general points. The first, which touches on some remarks made by the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, is to suggest that the proposals for a revised form for the second Chamber have been formulated in the wrong way. Apparently an attempt is being made to find a way of devising a second Chamber as a convocation of the "great and good", however one might define it. However, sufficient time has not been spent trying to analyse how the new Chamber will perform its functions. Only when one is clear about how to achieve an objective can one work out how best to find appropriate, good and competent people to contribute to achieving that objective.
As we all know, there has been considerable debate about the composition of the second Chamber, but, as has already been mentioned, there has not been much discussion about how it will perform the tasks assigned to it. One point on which there is widespread agreement is that the House should take a lead in scrutinising European Union matters. Interestingly, that topic has recently been considered in some detail in the document published before Christmas by the Select Committee on the European Union, on whether a European Union Senate comprising Members of national Parliaments might be a desirable development. Its conclusion, which I am glad to say is in line with the evidence that I gave to the Committee, and the likely conclusion of the European Parliament, is that it would not be a desirable development.
What is required is greater scrutiny and accountability of member state governments to national Parliaments in respect of actions and decisions taken by those governments off the Floor of the House. In a rapidly globalising world, which is
It is terribly important that we have reasonably clear answers to those types of question before deciding the composition of the reformed House. It is highly unlikely in practice that "the very great and very good" will want to come in day after day to perform relatively important but perhaps somewhat repetitious work. I suspect, conversely, that the views of people who are willing to work in that manner might be of much less value and carry much less authority when discussing great matters of state.
Until we are clear in our minds about how Parliaments in general will work in the 21st centuryin this I echo the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Williamswe cannot really be sure how the House of Lords itself should function as part of a 21st century UK Parliament. If the second Chamber is not going to be elected or predominantly elected, which the White Paper seems to reject, the Pandora's box of alternative possibilities is open, as we have seen in this debate, and an almost limitless number of permutations can be debated. I suppose that the only consolation of opening Pandora's box is that Hope is at the bottom. In many things in life there is a distinct link between form and function, and I believe that this is one of them.
The Government's proposals include the suggestion that there should be regional representation along the lines adopted at the last European elections. As leader of the Conservative MEPs in the North West, and as the first candidate from the North West to have been elected in the last Euro-elections, I havealthough I am not sure whether it is despite or because of being an hereditary Peersome first-hand experience of the system, and there are a number of comments that I should like to make.
Unlike Scotland and Wales, which are historically homogenous, English regions are not homogenous. In my own case, and I speak as a Cumbrian, there are very serious misgivings about the north-west region as currently constituted. Those misgivings have been echoed by, among others, the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours. As one who is a supporter of devolution and wants more decisions to be taken out of London, I am concerned about what is happening and what might be proposed for England.
It is also my opinion, which I believe is shared by my fellow MEPs of all partieswe have obviously discussed these issues between usthat there are considerable difficulties in establishing satisfactory relationships in our constituencies with the media,
I believe that regionally elected Members will, when all their constituency work is taken into account, be full time. I also think that, if they are full time, they will have to be paid. I say that for the very simple reason that one cannot be part time if one has no other time to work. Allowances cover expenses; they do not cover the necessary infrastructure of life such as housing, clothing, insurance and pensions. We are urged to take out private pensions by the Government in order not to be a drain on the state. Allowances will not cover private pensions, among other things, and they do not cover a whole range of expenses, such as "keeping shirts on the bairns' backs". If we have a full-time activity, we cannot go out and earn in any other time the necessary money to deal with those aspects of life.
It is my view that, de facto, it is now extremely hard to participate in the business of this House if one happens to be based outside London unless one is either a pensioner or is very rich. In fact that has had a significant effect on the impact that I might call "out of London" has made in this House. It is simply not possible to get regionally elected Members to operate on a part-time basis.
If there are to be closed listsI was interested to learn from his opening remarks that the Lord Chancellor, like me, does not like themwe must put in place proper rules as to how those lists are put together. The selection process is a formal primary. I was interested by the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Neill of Blaydon, in that regard. It was interesting to see how each political party in the last European elections carried them out. I start with the Labour Party. As far as I know, the lists were put together after some preliminary sifting at local level in the smoke-filled rooms at Stoke Rochford. The lists were zipped and stitched together in that manner.
We in the Conservative Party had a process which improved upon that. We had a series of siftings which culminated in a hustings meeting where all those present voted, and ranked the candidates to go on the list. That in fact was less satisfactory than it sounds. In my case some of my supporters wanted to go to the selection meeting. They left home on the west coast of Cumbria at around six o'clock in the morning to go to Lancashire. They had to sit through the entire meeting, otherwise they were not allowed to vote. The poll was carried out late at night and they arrived back home at 10 o'clock. They were aged about 80. That cannot be a good way of selecting party candidates; it is neither even-handed nor proper. In that regard the party that did the best job was the Liberals. They had hustings and a postal one-man:one-vote system.
If we are not to have a fully or predominantly elected second Chamber, it is important that the traditions of this House, which are markedly different from those down the corridor and which accord it considerable public esteem, are not lost. Populist party political point-scoring is inherent to elected partisan politics. But I suspect that the introduction of even a small number of partisan-elected politicians is likely to change quite markedly the way this House works. It is important that we are clear about that before embarking in that direction. It may not be a reason for not doing it; but we do not want to do it blindly.
Finally, great care and thought needs to be given to the date and form of the election. Of one thing I am quite sure: it should not unthinkingly be made to coincide with the Euro-elections. I have fought four European elections and contrary to what is suggested in the White Paper, none of them had anything at all to do with Europe. Rather, they appeared to be a plebiscite on the superficial popularity of the government of the day on the particular Thursday in June when the election was held. As far as I can see, that plebiscite is conducted without any serious national discussion of the issues in advance. It would be an error to embark blindly down that road for elections in that way.
In his opening remarks the Lord Chancellor called on critics of the proposals and said that they should come forward with an alternative. I shall not do that. There is much about which I am still not sure. But we must be clear on one important constitutional principle; that is, whether we in the United Kingdom are to have a genuinely bicameral system, or the unicameral Parliament to which is attached an institutionalised Comite de Sagesa kind of national Economic and Social Committee.
I am not clear what the Government want. They must make up their mind. The answer to that question is of fundamental importance to the future of Parliament in Westminster and the form in which democracy evolves in Britain in the coming century. Once again, if one can be clear about that, a whole series of other things will follow.
In his opening remarks the Lord Chancellor said that he did not expect much agreement on the matters under discussion this evening and tomorrow. Having heard the speeches so far, I disagree. There is general agreement to disagree with the noble and learned Lord's proposals. I asked myself why, and the answer came from a Labour predecessor of the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House, my noble kinsmanan hereditary PeerLord Longford, to whom he gave such a generous tribute not all that many weeks ago. Lord Longford said at least twice in my hearing in this Chamber that there was one overridingly important thing to remember about this House, and I dare say he observed the proposition as much in the breach as in the observance; that is, that
Lord Marlesford: My Lords, though neither Minister can regard the White Paper as having yet achieved a terrific push forward from this debate, both the Government and the Wakeham commission were quite subtle in the way in which they tried to forestall in-House objections. I refer to the proposal which I find a little curious in the context of radical thought; that is, that life Peers should be entitled to stay for life.
I was particularly intrigued by the proposal in paragraph 95 that the Government would welcome views on the possibility of a resettlement grant for Peers who choose to resign or retire. However, I should like to make a specific suggestion so that at least if it were to go forwardthat is unlikely, for reasons I shall mention in a momentwe would get value for taxpayers' money.
My suggestion is that each year, all life Peers would be entitled to bid for a stated number of departure tickets. The lowest bids would be selected first. That would continue until either the quota for the year was filled orhere I nod to the Treasurythe available funds were expended, whichever came first. Though a paid exit ticket is not a particularly respectable device, I suspect that all of us eventually, with trembling hands and fading eyes, would be guided to fill in the departure application form by our children, grandchildren or even perhaps our great-grandchildren. At any rate, that is my suggestion to obtain good value for money.
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