Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Lord Elton: My Lords, can the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, explain a little more what he means by the Speaker of the House, who has no powers whatever over our proceedings, standing as the defender of our liberty?

Lord Naseby: My Lords, that is probably for another day, but in principle I am saying that elected Members sent to this House by the general public—and the Quinquennial Act is a prime example—will look to whoever is presiding over the proceedings to ensure that their viewpoint is given fair exposure. If necessary, that is the person whom they can see privately and raise a particular point with, as is done in other Chambers. But it goes wider than that.

I recognise that other noble Lords want to speak so I shall conclude. If there is a crisis of confidence in Parliament—and there is—in my judgment the answer does not lie in a hybrid solution. Either it must be fully elected or fully appointed. My four years here lead me to believe that a fully appointed Chamber could be sold with conviction and with success to the British public.

9.22 p.m.

Lord Harrison: My Lords, I believe that the House of Lords should become a House of comment and not another House of Commons directly elected by the people. As a House of comment, deliberation, debate and revision, the House of Lords can, in a complementary manner, support the pivotal role of the Commons as the pre-eminent decision-making forum in the British body politic.

In that role, the House of Lords can join all the other bodies which in effect support and comment on the work of the Commons. Incidentally, I point out that all the other bodies to which I refer are unelected and unaccountable: the judiciary; the Monarchy; and, yes, the press and the media. When, for example, did the presenters of the "Today" programme ever stand for election or make themselves accountable to the public? And yet they powerfully influence the political debate in this country; more so indeed than the majority of your Lordships. Before bacon and eggs each morning, it is the "Today" programme, not us, which determines the daily political fry-up.

However, no one suggests, other than perhaps the former Lord Stansgate, that all those other commenting bodies—the press, the media and the

9 Jan 2002 : Column 656

judges—should be directly elected. And nor should we as a House of Lords be directly elected. We should rather concentrate on our current job and reform our antiquated practices. We should strive to be an effective, specialising, revising, advising and supervising House, bringing added value to the body politic by becoming that House of comment which I described.

Let me make two recommendations to propel us on that path. First, our Committee system needs root and branch reform. Committees of the Whole House should be abandoned and replaced by Committees in the Moses Room or wherever, using a modern, business-like approach to our work. We should jettison the grace notes and curlicues of custom and practice used in this Chamber, which may be quaint and quixotic to the onlooker but which only serve to impede proper progress and effective debate on legislation that requires contemporary elucidation and not ancient obfuscation.

As for the Select Committees, never has so much talent been assembled for so little return. As a proud member of European Union Sub-Committee C—note how we hide behind the anonymity of the letter "C"—I am appalled that the wonderful array of talent, experience and expertise found among my fellow committee members leads us to write reports on foreign common and security policy which frequently fail to reach the Floor of the House for engaged debate; whose tired and unserviceable presentation makes them an unappetising read. These reports are seldom read outside the House or sent to those who might benefit from them, such as British Members of the European Parliament, because little attention is given to who might be their core audience.

Moreover, I am aggrieved to be part of a committee system whose method of taking evidence is antiquated, inefficient and, at times, downright lacking in civility. On making my way to the committee one day, I was astonished to discover languishing in the Corridor a lone and unattended distinguished European ambassador who had given up his time to come and give evidence to our committee. Common courtesy requires at the very least that he should have been chaperoned and refreshed with tea and biscuits. We did not do that. Instead we boast in our annual report about how proud we are of doing everything on the cheap.

When a witness comes for his or her Star Chamber grilling, further indignities ensue. We still employ an out-of-date recording system, which entails placing the stenographers directly in the sight line of chairmen and witnesses. I looked on in astonishment recently when the Secretary of State for Defence was told to "budge over a bit" because half of the committee could not see him properly.

What about the fraud of holding meetings that are open to the public so that we can claim to be an open, transparent and democratic second Chamber? Our system does everything in its powers to dissuade the public from scrutinising our work. First, we have the farce of finding the ever-changing committee rooms,

9 Jan 2002 : Column 657

whereby half the room allocation in the House is peremptorily changed in an attempt to throw participant Peers and the public alike off the trail. Very occasionally an explorer of Shackletonian endurance will find our committee rooms and enter, where he is greeted with stares of surprise and disbelief. But no other welcome is offered. No effort is made to accommodate or inform the unexpected guest about the nature of the inquiry taking place. Soon the member of the public tires and quits this South Pole of democracy, emerging anew into Parliament Square a sadder and no wiser man than when he entered it.

My anxieties about the present European Union Committee system were brought to a head last autumn when the media became hot under the collar about the so-called European army—the European rapid reaction force. Sub-Committee C had published an excellent and informative report on this subject a couple of months previously, but because of the lack of resources and the absence of an established press officer for the Lords, our report was rendered impotent for the purposes of enlightening and enlivening the public debate. No one had heard of it and certainly we had done little to promote it. Our Olympian aloofness means that our report stayed with the gods.

I turn now to the future composition of the House. It has been little appreciated that the Wakeham report does, in effect, call for an indirectly-elected House, alongside those directly elected from the regions, by requiring the remaining 80 per cent or so broadly to reflect the proportion of votes cast for each party at the previous election. The problem with Wakeham is that no satisfactory method is offered of immediately achieving this de facto proportional representation on the surcease of the general election.

I can offer my solution, which I call the "Manchester United squad system" in that, like manager Alex Ferguson perming 11 players on the field out of a wider squad of 30, each political party in the House will field a team of Peers from which will be drawn the quota of Peers eligible to vote according to the percentage of votes cast for the party at the previous general election. Without elaborating on the details of my proposal, which I have summed up in a paper available from my office, I can say that the system has, I believe, the following virtues.

First, it could be enacted immediately after each general election and would be effective from the start of Parliament, unlike Wakeham. Secondly, it would ensure an indirectly-elected House drawn from the popular vote at that election. Thirdly, it would support a proportional representation system that sharply distinguishes the House as a House of comment from the House of Commons, the home of direct elections. Fourthly, it would provide continuity because the wider team from which the quota is drawn does not have to change; and, fifthly, it would provide an easy bridge from the current revised House to the new House in a final form, including the flexibility of setting a cap on the size of the House of 750, 600 or, indeed, a smaller number, if desired.

9 Jan 2002 : Column 658

The sixth virtue is that it would accommodate both working Peers and occasional Peers—the unique feature of the current House. Finally, it would allow all Peers to retain equal speaking, voting and all other rights and also allow parties to retain (and honour) senior party supporters without requiring them to be permanently on tap as voting fodder. Peers who were ill, absent on business, or otherwise unavailable, would not be letting down their party.

I shall submit my ideas to the consultation on the White Paper, but it is my firm belief that we now have a golden opportunity to establish a second Chamber fit for the 21st century. We must find the alchemy to secure that noble end.

9.32 p.m.

Lord Northbrook: My Lords, I was full of high hopes for the White Paper, The House of Lords: Completing the Reform. However, I had suspected that the document might be somewhat confused due to the range of views on the opposite Benches. On the one hand, the view of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor a few years ago, as expressed in Janet Jones' book Labour of Love, stated that he favoured a fully appointed House: while on the other hand we have the views of the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, when serving as Lord Privy Seal as expressed in Michael Cockerell's television documentary in February 2000 "Blair's 1,000 Days: The Lady and the Lords" in which she asked:


    "How is it possible to justify any House of Parliament which is not at least mainly democratically elected?"

The document is a dog's breakfast. It was rushed out in great haste and there is a major misprint on page 22 where a whole line has been omitted. Moreover, a very short time has been allowed for consultation—only until 31st January. In addition, I have worries about the composition of a new House in certain areas of detail. First, how are the ranks of the bishops to be cut from 26 to 16? There seems to be no detail on that point. Secondly, how will the number of Law Lords be reduced from 28 to 12? Even that total does not seem to have been finally fixed. Thirdly, there is the question of how, in practice, the initial political balancing of the appointed political Peers will take place.

I am also confused by the meaning of certain sentences in the White Paper. On page 25, we are told:


    "In particular, the Appointments Commission will ensure that at least 30 per cent of new appointees are women and 30 per cent are men".

What about the remaining 40 per cent?

I shall move on to more detailed criticism. Along with many other speakers, I should like to focus on the role of the appointments commission in relation to political Peers. As has already been said many times, this Royal Commission proposal has been watered down. No wonder my noble friend Lord Wakeham is concerned about parts of paragraphs 65 to 68. The role of the commission has been emasculated; it will not be allowed to choose political appointees, and therefore their quality will be less good due to lack of independent scrutiny. It should not be left to the political parties to select their own people.

9 Jan 2002 : Column 659

My next area of criticism concerns whether the new proposed structure will be any better than the existing House or whether it will be worse than the former House. The present House does a good job of revising legislation. As has been stated, 4,761 amendments to Bills were passed in 2000. Adding a number of elected Members may have a symbolic resonance, but would it necessarily produce a more effective second Chamber? Would it make up for the skills lost through the exclusion of the hereditary Peers?

Furthermore, I believe that instability will be introduced by creating a two-tier membership of the House. Overall, it will not add value. It will make the House more complicated and it is unclear whether their numbers will be taken into account when determining the political balance of the House.

My next criticism concerns the problem of bringing the numbers down to 600 within 10 years. Initially the number of Peers must rise. An extra 24 Labour Peers will be needed to rebalance the size of the House, thus pushing the overall size to 727. Then, as stated in paragraph 95, will come,


    "a real challenge . . . to work towards a reduction in numbers".

It is stated in the document that provision will be made for Members formally to retire, but would that apply to elected Members?

Continuing on the theme of the size of the House, if one expects some new appointments over the coming two years before a Bill is passed by the House, then the size of the membership will increase to 750, as stated in paragraph 91. However, the size of the House is to be capped at 600 in 10 years' time. How will that work in practice? The problems governing the mechanics are difficult. As independent life Peers die, will they be replaced automatically, or only when the House is reduced to 600 in size? The same problem of the mechanics will arise with regard to the appointed life Peers. What is to happen if not enough Peers volunteer to retire?

My next concern is the task of the appointments commission of balancing the House according to the political vote at the most recent general election. Paragraph 66 states categorically that the appointments commission cannot enforce resignations, a point which has been referred to by other speakers. However, the problems will become apparent if there is a big change in the party vote or if general elections are called one after the other, as happened in 1974.

My next criticism concerns the form of the Bill that is to come before the House. The complexity of the arrangements could lead to hybridity in the legislation. Some 92 Peers, who in effect are now life Peers, are to be treated differently from the rest of the House. A separate class of elected Peers will be created by the Bill. Some Members will be Peers and some will not. We seem to have a situation where, as per Erskine May, specific private or local interests will be affected in a manner different from the private or other local interests of other persons or bodies in the same category. All those matters will require many hours of debate.

9 Jan 2002 : Column 660

In conclusion, the White Paper fails to offer a solution to the composition of the second Chamber and instead creates a complicated and highly unsatisfactory structure for the House.

9.40 p.m.

Lord Mackie of Benshie: My Lords, I have enjoyed many of the speeches today. I greatly enjoyed my leader's speech. I agreed with practically all of it—which is quite unusual—until she advocated moving towards an elected House. I can say categorically that I am against an elected House. But, as the Lord Chancellor said, people are willing to compromise, and if we compromise along the lines of the commission's report it might work.

The reason that we must have this House full of good, experienced and able people is what is happening in the Commons. The point has been made already by the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, and other noble Lords, that the number of Members of the Commons who have no other experience is quite extraordinary. We have all seen in our own lives and our own parties, able young men and young women coming in as research assistants, going out to a party, seeing the party staff, getting a place on the electoral register and becoming candidates. In my view, it would be infinitely better for the House if these able young men first went and did something outside and were successful at that.

The Commons is getting more and more like that. I do not think that there are so many great men coming out of there. Perhaps the best example at the present time is the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, who has done this House a lot of good with his direct approach.

I do not mind the White Paper. Of course I disagree with parts of it, but I do not think it is bad at all. Many parts of it can be put right by this House.

It is important that we have 600 Members because my experience in Europe and elsewhere has shown that the committees of this House have a tremendous value and are thought very much more of than the committees in the House of Commons. We need reasonable numbers of able people to come in and man the committees.

If we are to have elected Members—which I would not like—for goodness sake let us take the 87 recommended and ensure that they are elected not by a list system but as people. We could change the election procedure for the European Parliament at the same time.

We have a lot of work to do. The list system is awful but, if we have names, the election might produce people from the regions who would be extremely valuable. I would still prefer to stick to nominated people because in that way we would know the enormous number of people who are willing to serve in the House of Lords on the old basis.

I have missed out the bishops. I do not see the justification for nominating 16, 12 or any number of bishops to this House. There are able and good people in the Church of England who can be nominated by the excellent committee which has already produced

9 Jan 2002 : Column 661

Peers in the House who, it is universally agreed, are exactly the kind of people that we need. Nominees could be people from all the Churches. They do not have to be bishops. They could be vicars—or whatever they call them in the Church of England—or ministers of religion who are good at their jobs. To have bishops as such is wrong in spite of their excellence as persons.

We must also examine the country's opinion of this House. I am afraid that it is regarded by the country as a geriatric House. There are too many old people here. I am 82, and am obviously deteriorating fast. But, so long as you pay my fare down and give me enough for my dinner, I shall come here. Too many people have that view. Indeed, some need the money. I do not say that I cannot use it, but I could do without it at a pinch. So if you cannot shoot us—which would not be popular—then you should buy us out and send us off home with a pension or something of that sort. We must have a House that is up to the minute, not one that is out of date.

Perhaps I may give a small example. I bought a new house with a nice lawn, and I like a croquet lawn. So I rang a friend of mine who is a dealer in manures and said, "I want a bag of tattie manure for my lawn". He said, "You've got a big lawn?". I said, "Not bad. Big enough for a pitch". He said, "you do realise that we now sell manure in tonne bags". It is a small example of how you can get out of date. Many of us are out of date, and we should do something about it before it is too late.

9.47 p.m.

Lord Jopling: My Lords, I want to begin by recalling the situation in which I found myself in 1992. At the request of the then Leader of the House of Commons, now the noble Lord, Lord MacGregor of Pulham Market, I was asked to take the chair of a Select Committee in another place on the Sittings of the House of Commons. Just before the election in 1993, we produced a unanimous report on changing the arrangements for the Sittings, which was broadly accepted. A number of people were kind enough to attach my name to the recommendations of the committee, which was extremely flattering.

However, after the 1993 election, given the Conservative Party's majority in another place, we could perfectly easily have forced through those recommendations with the greatest of ease. I say that as a former Chief Whip. It would have been simple to do. But we did not. At that time we took the view that, until a consensus had been arrived at in implementing the reports of the committee of which I was chairman, we ought not to do that. Eventually, when there was a consensus, nearly all the proposals of my committee were implemented. That was, I believe, in 1996.

How I wish that this Government had a similar approach to major changes in the way in which this House conducts its affairs. If the Government had sought changes in the way in which this House is set up and works in the same way as we did in the House of Commons seven or eight years ago, we should be

9 Jan 2002 : Column 662

approaching this situation in a totally different way. I only wish that the Government had not seemed so arrogant in brushing aside any efforts to achieve an agreed reform, which is how we should have gone about it. I very strongly resent that.

I could go on for a long time about the details of the White Paper, but I shall confine myself to two points, the first of which I shall deal with briefly. The Government must radically change their attitude to the House of Lords. The Leader of the House, who is kind enough to be here, will know what I am going to say. The Government's indifference to this House is clearly shown by the way in which they respond to Questions that we put down for them to answer. I remind the Leader of the House that today's Order Paper includes no fewer than 92 Questions for Written Answer that have been awaiting an Answer for more than three weeks. He will not mind me saying that he and I have had discussions about the problem. He nods at that. I know that he is concerned, but he must do more than wring his hands. Something must be done to deal with it.

When I first went to another place, the general rule was that Answers must be given to Written Questions within three or four days. I well remember that in my previous position as Chief Whip down the other end of the building I used to rant when Ministers failed to do that. I also remember ranting at my civil servants when I was a Minister if Written Questions were not answered within three or four days. I understand that one week is now regarded as the norm for Answers to Written Questions, yet we have 92 Questions here that have been waiting for more than three weeks. That is intolerable. It will not do. I invite the Leader of the House to ask his officials to show him an Answer that was given to Mr Burns, a Member of another place, in November with regard to Questions that had not been answered in a short period. He will discover from that that the record of answering Questions promptly is infinitely better in the House of Commons than it is in this House.

I begin with that abrasive point, because it is a reflection of the Government's attitude. It can only come from Ministers and I know from two previous incarnations that Ministers can put these things right if they want to. They ought to do so in this case.

I do not know whether the phrase has been used before, but the Government's general proposals on the composition of the Lords are neither one thing nor another. I am not arguing with the proposal that the Lords should be subservient and of secondary importance to the Commons; I think that it should be. However, it would be impossible to sustain that situation of subservience in the long run if this House were all elected. We cannot have both things. This House cannot be both all elected and subservient to the Commons. The two propositions are incompatible. Our successors in a fully elected House of Lords would not, in time, put up with that situation. That will not do.

The Government are proposing to have 120 elected Members representing the nations and the regions. A number of points have been made on that. However,

9 Jan 2002 : Column 663

the proposal seems to suggest that the nations and the regions are not properly represented already. Although I hesitate to name some of my old friends who sit on the Benches opposite, I do not think that they would mind very much if I were to mention them. I do not know what the noble Lord, Lord Islwyn—the former Roy Hughes, an old friend of mine, who is one of the great champions of Wales—or the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, would say if it is suggested that the regions are not properly represented already. There are endless major champions of the regions in the House and I do not know why they need to be significantly strengthened.

I feel that it is far better to leave this House as it is, by making it all appointed, and not to tinker with elected elements. We have already heard a good deal about the horrors of a hybrid House, and I shall not enlarge on that. However, I believe that a hybrid House could be described as neither nowt nor summat—nothing nor something, for those who do not understand my native Yorkshire vernacular.

I now turn to the political element of the House's composition. The Government have proposed that the numbers from each party should reflect the votes cast at the previous general election. If that is to work properly, it surely must mean that there should be an adjustment in the numbers, memberships and the party balances immediately after each general election. I believe that that is what should happen.

That would be best done if those appointed to membership of the House were appointed for only one Parliament at a time. I am very strongly opposed to people being appointed, once the life Peers have all disappeared from the scene, for more than one Parliament. We would say to people, "We are appointing you for one Parliament. It may be that you will be here for two, three or even four Parliaments. It will depend on the balance of votes cast at general elections". As I have said in the House before, there will be no difficulty in finding people at the end of their career who would be happy to come here for one Parliament. Endless people will stand at general elections knowing that they may be in for only one Parliament. I am sure that we could find endless people with great distinction who would be happy to be appointed to this place for only one Parliament. It is essential, however, that we can readjust the membership of your Lordships' House immediately after a general election.

I believe, however, that the concept of party balances according to general election votes is a short-term concept and extremely dangerous. The Government suggest that the balance between the parties of the political Members of the House of Lords should be based on the votes in the previous general election. I tabled a Question, which was answered on 22nd November, asking what would have been the state of party balances in all elections since 1966 if that rule had applied. Leaving aside elections up to 1974 where the Northern Ireland Members took the Conservative Party Whip (I may be excused for doing that because I was the Northern Ireland Whip in another place up to 1974), starting with the first

9 Jan 2002 : Column 664

election in 1974 and looking at all the elections since, it is interesting to see how the political Members of the House of Lords would have divided in those circumstances.

During that period the government of the day would have had between 28 and 35 per cent of the vote in this House; the Opposition would have had between 40 and 47 per cent. That means that on each occasion, in each Parliament, the government of the day since 1974 would have had a large minority in this House, in spite of having had a large majority in another place. I have made that point four times already in these debates and at last the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, responded to my point in our last debate, which was good of her.

I have consistently taken the view that the situation at present, where this Government have only 30 per cent of the votes in this House, is totally inadequate; it is quite unfair. The Government are only able to live with it in the short term because the Liberal Democrat Party invariably votes with the Government. But if the situation arose in the future where the Opposition parties were unanimously opposed to the government, and the government had only a small number of the votes, their task in this House would be hopeless.

We need to think in the long term. The carve-up of political Members on the basis of votes in a general election will not work. I predict that it would have to be changed at some future date to be fair to the government of the day. In my view, the government ought to have equality with all other political parties. The government should have 40 per cent of the votes in this House and all other Opposition parties should have 40 per cent; the remaining 20 per cent should be made up of Cross-Benchers. That is how the House should be structured and I hope that at last somebody will take notice of my suggestion.

10.3 p.m.

The Earl of Sandwich: My Lords, I shall try and move the debate quickly on and limit my time to half of that so generously allocated.

I speak as someone who, on the one hand, has benefited from the extraordinary privilege of centuries and yet, on the other, as someone who has felt and been made to feel able and entitled to contribute as an equal and full Member of this House. My father thought it was a stuffy place, as the noble Lord, Lord Renton, well remembers. He was forced to come here in 1962 when his father died and unsuccessfully tried to get back. But after nearly seven years I have come to understand and respect the independence of this House and would regret any unnecessary dilution of its historic traditions.

I do not wish to prolong the hereditary principle and I am ready to walk the plank when the time comes. If a reasonable adaptation of the Wakeham proposals ever receives the support of a majority of this House, I am ready to vote for them. I would go further and say that this country does not want to see any further postponement of reform.

The research has been done and here I disagree with the noble Viscount, Lord Goschen. He underestimates the feeling. It is up to us to reach a compromise

9 Jan 2002 : Column 665

solution, if not this year, at the latest by the end of this Parliament. As the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, said, a stalemate would be a tragedy. We have heard enough members of the Royal Commission tonight make not only themselves, but also the Government, so unhappy that they should go home and rethink the proposals even before tomorrow's 40 extra speakers.

I do not see any endgame emerging from the present proposals, not least because of the views of another place. I believe that the Government have let the Royal Commission down badly. They have made a fundamental mistake in building up the expectation of an elected Chamber only to fall back on a compromise partial election which, I agree with many others, is no democratic election at all. We do not need a charade of the democracy which exists, more or less, in another place. We are different. We are a part-time, value-for-money House using the best experience which is on offer and we must not throw that away.

Nor do we want to compete with another place for legitimacy. That was well put by the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, who spoke succinctly of a misleading sense of empowerment. A partially elected Chamber would run the risk of dividing the House and a European-style election, as has been said, would be a sham which would fool no one, least of all the voters. The elected MLs would be chosen like MEPs from large regional constituencies and would not enjoy public confidence like MPs. Once here, they would inevitably expect this House to behave very differently and radically change its procedures. Worst of all, a party dominated, hybrid House, as many have said long before today, would fly in the face of the most important principle which is accepted by everyone; that is, the value of an independent second Chamber which is complementary to the first. That is already a recognised, understood principle, so why threaten it with a mixed bag of clowns and poodles?

I am not personally worried, as I know many people are, about poodles because arrangements can be made, and are proposed, to tighten up the Appointments Commission and make the statutory commission much more independent and authoritative, perhaps involving the Privy Council. Like the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon, who will speak tomorrow, I am much more worried by the spurious legitimacy of the clowns, as he described them in his excellent recent article in The House Magazine. It would not be wise to give the Commons any impression that MPs are to be overseen by regional shadows whose electors will—as I am afraid is the case with most MEPs—never even learn their names. I do not think that many people, not even the Liberals, see a limited number of regional Peers as a serious plank in the process of devolution. Nations and most of the regions are already well served in this House and any under-representation can and should become an issue for the new appointments commission.

My concern is, therefore, much more basic, rather like that of my noble friend Lord Cobbold. As a Cross-Bencher I deplore the reduction in the number of

9 Jan 2002 : Column 666

independents which would be a direct result of the small elected element. The arithmetic is still unclear, not least because of the undecided status of other faiths and the Law Lords, but also because of the disparity of which my noble friend Lord Bledisloe spoke. I believe that 20 per cent is much too low a proportion of independents for a reformed House which will pride itself on its independent character. I was encouraged by the willingness of the noble Lord, Lord Richard, to go to 33 per cent.

I have not said this before as I do not defend the hereditary principle, but I could come to regret the loss even of hereditary independent Peers elected by their colleagues who already demonstrate independence of mind and other qualities more suited to this House than the remote-controlled regional Peers who are intended to replace them.

I would personally do away with the elected Peers altogether and bring the independent quota up to at least 30 per cent so that the country recognises the value of experience devoid of party political background. I believe that we could build a consensus on that in spite of the present content of the Government's proposals. Of course, there is a limit, perhaps beyond 35 per cent, at which the parties could no longer control the agenda, but we are a long way from that.

I know that there are many in this House, including, I suspect, many on the Government's Back Benches, who are sadly absent at the moment, who have acquired a refreshingly independent character over the years and who would be happy to see a higher proportion of independents to balance party political appointments. If these figures are regarded as unrealistic, I can only say that I hope the Government will at the very least look again at the balance between genuinely independent Peers and party members in this House.

Cross-Benchers cannot in their nature reach corporate decisions, but genuine independence is one issue on which there has been a surprising degree of consensus. While understanding that there will always be compromises where former party members are concerned, many of us feel quite strongly that there should be some basic test of independence on the Cross Benches in a reformed Chamber. However, that must not be interpreted negatively. There should also be encouragement of former party members to join the independents—some noble Lords may currently be considering just that—provided that they had genuinely renounced their party membership.

In time, I believe that genuine independents would become informal "representatives" of a wide cross-section of professions and be recognised by their different constituencies as such, as many are today. The Royal Commission explored that idea but did not take it very far. Those independents would be amplified by some of the other groups that were identified by the commission—minority communities, other faiths, women in public life and members of professions and charities, who perform a democratic function. Such appointments must, as now, be

9 Jan 2002 : Column 667

promoted by the relevant sections of society but should not be formally elected or representative because that would produce an unworkable system.

I briefly add my voice to those who would prefer to retain the principle of expenses versus salaries. Having salaries would be another nail in the coffin of the idea of elected Peers. It would be crazy to lose the advantages of unpaid public service—that system already suits the House and the country well.

In summary, I do not want to alter the present functions or character of the House that have developed over centuries. I would strengthen the Appointments Commission, do away with the idea of elections altogether and have a greater proportion of independent Peers replacing the hereditaries. The public are not fooled by sham democracy. I want to see a more, not less, independent House, which the public would perceive as being a truly impartial revising Chamber. Let us not have change for change's sake; we should preserve what we have, which is already of proven value.

10.12 p.m.

Lord Norton of Louth: My Lords, I am conscious of the time and shall endeavour to keep noble Lords awake. Unfortunately, it is not in my gift to keep noble Lords warm.

I begin by agreeing with a point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams. We should not be considering reform of the second Chamber as some discrete change to our constitutional framework. We have to look at the second Chamber within the context of Parliament and Parliament's place in our constitutional arrangements. Yet discussion of reform of each House takes place independently, as if change to one Chamber can be considered without reference to its impact on the other.

At the moment, there are clearly problems with the other place in fulfilling some of the functions that are traditionally ascribed to it. Indeed, some people appear to see reform of this House as a means of compensating for the failure of the other place to carry out its functions effectively. If the House of Commons is not doing its job effectively, that is not an argument for reforming the second Chamber; it is an argument for making sure that the first Chamber is provided with the means to do its job properly.

I turn to the content of the White Paper. The Government want to achieve significant change to one Chamber of the legislature. One would therefore expect that for a change of such constitutional importance the Government would have a powerful and consistent argument to deploy in favour of it. However, when we look at the White Paper and what has preceded it, what do we find? We find not only that no consistent case is made but also that Ministers and other proponents of reform appear uncertain about what the justification is for change.

At least five reasons have been offered: those of democracy, legitimacy, representation, variety and effectiveness. The first finds expression in the Government's election manifestos of 1997 and 2001;

9 Jan 2002 : Column 668

the second finds some support in the 1999 White Paper; the third underpins the report of the Royal Commission and the Supporting Documents accompanying the White Paper; the fourth has been advanced by the Leader of the House; and the fifth was put forward by the Prime Minister.

The argument that electing some Members is the democratic option is, as I have argued previously, sustainable only if democracy is defined in terms of process—that is, election. If one defines it in terms of ensuring that the wishes of the people are carried into effect, then in fact our existing arrangements are democratic. Electors choose one body—the party in government—to carry out the programme that they have endorsed and they can hold that body to account at the next general election. One has the paradox that an unelected and, hence, unaccountable second Chamber is necessary to preserve the fundamental accountability of the political system.

I have advanced that argument previously in your Lordships' House. My definition and resulting line of argument were rejected by the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House on 21st June last year. In the course of his comments, the noble and learned Lord said:


    "I reject the proposition that democracy is all about the will of the people to be paramount".—[Official Report, 21/6/01; col. 113.]

Yet we now find that the Government accept the argument that I have advanced. In the supporting documents to the White Paper, we find the following—the Lord Chancellor repeated it in his opening speech—


    "It is widely asserted that in the twenty-first century, the only basis for selecting a chamber of Parliament in a democratic society is a form of election. The Government does not accept that for a second chamber in the UK parliamentary system. It is vital to know where true accountability lies".

It then goes on to develop the argument that I have just outlined, although not taking it to what I regard as its logical conclusion.

The second, and related, argument is that election will confer legitimacy on the second Chamber. The 1999 White Paper spoke of the need for greater legitimacy to fulfil the function of legislative revision. The noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House made a similar point on 21st June last year in talking about acceptability. But how will the election of some Members confer greater legitimacy on the Chamber as a whole?

If legitimacy derives from election, what is the position of appointed Members? According to the Leader of the House, all Members will be equal, be they elected or appointed. Therefore, if appointed Members can claim legitimacy, why do we need elected Members? In any event, that line of argument begs the question: legitimacy to do what? Is it to express an informed view, or to carry out the functions of legislative revision, debate, and scrutiny of the executive? I have argued that the legitimacy of your Lordships' House must be earned, not assumed. I believe that it is earned through the work of Members who have expertise and experience—a phrase that I first used in evidence to the Wakeham commission.

9 Jan 2002 : Column 669

There is nothing in the material before us to show that elected Members will add anything to the effective fulfilment of those tasks.

Then we have the argument that election will deliver a more representative House. The case advanced by the Royal Commission was that election could be used to ensure that the different parts of the United Kingdom each achieve a voice in the second Chamber. It is repeated in the White Paper and in the supporting documents. One can see the logic of the argument. However, it is not conclusive because election is not the only means of delivering that particular goal. Indeed, if one wishes to achieve a House with a membership drawn from a wide range of backgrounds—not only regional but also social and economic—then election is a highly inefficient means of achieving that. A process of appointing members can be much more efficient. If one wants a more structured representation of the regions, that can be achieved without the need for direct election. Indirect election may, in this context, generate fewer problems.

Furthermore, it is not clear from the White Paper and supporting documents whether Members should be representative of the regions—that is, speak for them—or simply be drawn from the regions, rather in the same way that Bishops are drawn from the Church but speak in an individual and not a representative capacity. The White Paper talks of representation, yet the supporting documents point out that a directly elected Member of the second Chamber would have the potential to challenge the representative role of Members of the other place—a potential for conflict clearly deemed to be undesirable.

The argument that elected Members will add variety is a variation on the argument of representation. It was offered by the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House on 17th December in answer to a Question from my noble friend Lord Geddes. The noble and learned Lord believes that election leads to variety. Has the noble and learned Lord looked recently at the profile of the membership of the other place? It is because of the absence of variety that the noble and learned Lord has been steering the Sex Discrimination (Election Candidates) Bill through this House. Greater variety can best be achieved through appointment and not through a uniform system of election. A proactive, independent appointments commission could do an invaluable job in ensuring that Members are drawn from—not representative of, but drawn from—a wide range of backgrounds. A great deal can be done in that direction. The argument advanced by the noble and learned Lord does not bear the weight of serious reflection.

The argument that reform will deliver a more effective House is one that is advanced by the Prime Minister in the foreword to the White Paper. It has already been quoted earlier in the debate. He wrote:


    "The imperative is for a reformed second chamber performing broadly the same functions as in the existing House of Lords but in a more effective manner".

9 Jan 2002 : Column 670

We must therefore assume that that is the authoritative justification for the changes proposed in the White Paper.

Elected members are to be introduced in order to enable the House to fulfil its functions more effectively. How? This is where we find a gaping hole in the White Paper. The same hole appeared in the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Williams. How will elected members enable this House to be more effective in carrying out its existing functions? The House is able to fulfil these functions because of the experience and expertise of its membership. The value of such a membership is, in effect, conceded by the Government in making the case for retaining an appointed element. Neither the White Paper nor the supporting documents produce any evidence to show that elected members will add value to the House in fulfilling its functions.

The supporting documents touch upon ways in which the House may be strengthened in fulfilling its functions, drawing largely on the Royal Commission, but none relates to election. If the Government want to proceed with reform, they must demonstrate how the proposals in the White Paper for an elected element will meet the criterion advanced by the Prime Minister. When the Leader of the House made his statement introducing the White Paper, it was a speech of two halves. The first half outlined the functions of this House and the second adumbrated the Government's proposals for reform. I felt that there was a part missing in the speech; the bit that actually linked the two parts—to explain how the reforms would actually deliver the functions and improve the fulfilment in terms of those functions that he so clearly adumbrated. We find exactly that gap in the White Paper.

If we are to have reform of this House, and there is a debate to be had, then consideration of reform must proceed on the basis of an informed debate. The subject is too important for anything else; and we are entitled to expect one. The White Paper that is before us is, I regret to say, no basis for an informed debate. It makes no coherent intellectual case for a part-elected House. What is before us simply will not do.

I conclude with one or two quick points in response to points already made in this debate. The noble Lord, Lord Richard, points to opinion polls. He clearly thinks that we should place great reliance on them. The logic of that is that we look forward to his voting for the reintroduction of capital punishment. My noble friend, Lord Hurd, noted that we are up against it in terms of opinion in the other place.

In terms of opinion polls the outcome depends on the question asked. There is no agreement if we look at opinion poll data in terms of different options for a reformed Chamber. As I say, it depends on the question asked. A quite extensive ICM poll last December asked:


    "When it comes to making new laws in the second chamber, whose views do you think should be more important? The views of eminent people who have special knowledge or expertise, or the views of elected representatives of ordinary people?"

9 Jan 2002 : Column 671

The results were, eminent people 43 per cent, and elected representatives 49 per cent. We should ask how strongly people feel about the issue. This is really not a pubs and clubs issue. Support may be broad; it is certainly not deep. We should also ask how much they know about the subject. The Wakeham commission found that those most knowledgeable about Parliament were most likely to support retention of an appointed Chamber. Certainly, when I give speeches about what the Lords does, at the end few people want to depart from the present arrangements.

We may be up against it in terms of views in another place. That is not an argument for rolling over and giving in. We should argue for what we believe is right.

10.25 p.m.

The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, I begin by commenting on observations made by several Peers about the last election. There was indeed a low turnout, but there is more than one interpretation of the reasons for it. Might it not reflect the greater complexity of government today? The Government are seeking to be both socially responsible and economically prudent in a balanced way that ideology perhaps prevented in the past.

I welcome the pre-eminence accorded to the Commons in the White Paper. I am sure that we all agree with that, but it is fundamental. When I first arrived in your Lordships' House, I remember attending Questions and hearing that the United States had defaulted on its payments to the United Nations over several years. I have great respect for the United States, its dynamism and its achievements, but it was defaulting on those payments. Children and families in Africa were not getting clean water or advice on HIV-AIDS—the sort of support that the United Nations could provide—because of the constitutional settlement in the United States. Congress denied the money to make that possible.

I also remember the denial of President Carter's energy reforms and the denial of President Clinton's reform of the health arrangements. Many Americans are happy that their government are often incapable of governing. In many ways, it suits the affluent and reasonably well off that the government are unable to interfere in their business—they can look after themselves. It is the poorest in society who suffer when a government are hamstrung. The US obviously has a very different constitution from ours, but we have such close affinities with the US—there is indeed a special relationship between us—that it is important to bear the US experience in mind.

Constitutional experts suggest that a more likely model for us is that of the upper House in Australia. There is a fully elected, directly elected upper House, which is accorded general popular respect. That is most unusual for upper Houses: most are not popular with the public. In Australia, the upper House is respected for its ability thoroughly to revise legislation and because it will occasionally intervene in the legislative process. It has blocked the government's legislative programme at times.

9 Jan 2002 : Column 672

However, I hope that your Lordships' would agree that we would not want to pursue that model. In 1975, the upper House denied a Bill of Supply. As a consequence, both Houses were dissolved and the Labor Government were not re-elected. I refer your Lordships to Meg Russell's book, Reforming the House of Lords: Lessons from Overseas. She in turn quotes John Uhr, who stated that the Senate has,


    "proven its capacity to bring down government and, with that power as a threat, to transform the policy substance as well as the administrative style of governments".

Meg Russell states:


    "Gareth Evans, leader of government in the Senate during this period is recorded as saying that the Senate 'made my life an absolute and unequivocal misery' and that negotiating with other parties there was 'the sort of thing that made grown men weep and jump off tall buildings'.

What might happen to the Salisbury convention if the new reformed House of Lords were to begin to take on more legitimacy? The House might, from time to time, block manifesto commitments made by the Government if they were seen as contentious or controversial. It might want to be seen to stand up to government. We all enjoy twitting authority from time to time, but there might be a new force of conservatism.

I shall consider the virtues of the current House. I am reminded of the contribution of my noble friend Lord Laming on the Children Leaving Care Bill and the Care Standards Bill. He is a former director of the Social Services Inspectorate, and he brought immense insight and understanding to that Bill. He now serves as the chairperson of the investigation into the Victoria Climbie affair. When he returns to your Lordships' House, he will have even more fabulous experience to bring to bear on legislation.

I think also of a conversation that I had with one of my noble friends and an Opposition Front-Bench Member in your Lordships' Lobby last year. The Opposition Member was praising her opposite number to the skies, saying what a competent job she did, how much on top of her brief she was and how much she admired her. I think of the noble Lord, a member of the Labour Party, who, when I asked his advice during the passage of the anti-terrorism legislation, said that he had listened to the debate on his party's proposals and was now even more confident than before that he would oppose them.

We have the virtues of independence, of listening to one another with respect, of experience and expertise in great abundance in this House. I salute the support in the White Paper for the principle of maintaining an experienced Membership in the House and its acknowledgement of the need for Peers to continue to be part-timers, thus replenishing the fund of their experience.

The noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, talked about his age and the age of the House. As one of the younger Peers, I think that it is arguable that having a higher age profile than the House of Commons and having more grandparents than parents in this House is to our advantage. Peers are more mature and have, therefore, achieved most of what they wish to achieve

9 Jan 2002 : Column 673

in life. They are more independent, less worried about promotion—outside the House or inside—and have the confidence of their life experience behind them, which helps them to contribute.

My concern is that there may be an unwished for dilution in the pre-eminence of the House of Commons. If the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, is right in his prophecy that the public will see the proposed elected element as a mere sop, rather than a genuine attempt at democracy, there may be a call for far more radical change and a greater representative element in the House. I was reassured by the clear limits that the White Paper put on the elected element, but then I spoke to senior Members from all parts of the House, and they all told me that they expected that the House would eventually be a mostly or fully elected House if we started off down the road of election.

The Government are trying to tackle years of lack of investment in housing, education, transport and other areas. They are attempting to take on that mammoth task and at the same time to balance the books. They seem to be achieving that.

Your Lordships may recall the debate on child poverty. The recent Rowntree report on poverty indicated that last year, more than in any previous year, the indices were improving in terms of social exclusion. We have the lowest unemployment rate in the EU and our economy is doing fairly well.

However, I am concerned that if we are not careful we shall not achieve the difficult targets of reinvestment in our services. That is essential. We can make interventions in the lives of the poorest people but what would really help them are properly funded services and proper investment which will benefit us all but will most benefit the most vulnerable. If there is a hamstrung House of Commons, if unintentionally the pre-eminence of the House of Commons is undermined, it will be considerably more difficult for the Government to achieve their aims.

10.36 p.m.

Lord Sheldon: My Lords, to me the debate is largely about the relationship between the executive and Parliament. We do not have in this country the separation of powers which exists in the United States and I have always argued that we have certain advantages in not proceeding along those lines. However, we need to do more in that direction than we have in the past. In our recent history, Parliament has never been so subservient to the Administration.

In 1968 there was introduced the Parliament (No. 2) Bill in which I played some part. I opposed that Bill. It was designed exclusively to create Peers. The idea was that the total number of life Peers would be 200 to 250. That is very different from today's situation. After long discussion and deliberation—after 14 days, nights and mornings because that was when Dick Crossman was introducing such changes into all the procedures—the government withdrew the Bill. After 14 days they reached only Clause 6 of a 20-clause Bill.

9 Jan 2002 : Column 674

In those days, Parliament still behaved as a body which could oppose the executive. I was concerned about the patronage power of the Prime Minister as a result of that Bill. I was concerned about the distortion not just of the House of Lords but of the House of Commons, too, as Members would have been expected to line up for transfer into this House. I could see the House of Lords becoming an aldermanic Bench.

As it happened, that did not take place and I have seen the House of Lords improve considerably over the years. At that time I wanted the House of Commons to undertake a number of reforms. I wanted it to undertake reform of the Select Committee system and to examine policies which the Select Committee system would undertake. Instead of remedying the inadequacies of that time, those inadequacies have become much worse.

We have seen a real need for Parliament and the executive to be realigned. What is always needed are people of independent mind who, while obviously owing allegiance to political parties, exercise their judgment. When I was first elected to the House of Commons in 1964, that was the position to a greater extent than now. As the noble Lord, Lord Norton, said, reform of the House of Lords comes from those who look to see the House of Lords remedying the defects and inadequacies of the House of Commons. That is not its job. The House of Commons should remedy its own faults. Over the years the weaknesses of the House of Commons have increased and the number of parliamentary disasters has grown. The conventional role of Members of Parliament is to present their different views with some candour, and such Members of Parliament and noble Lords are vital to the reputation of Parliament.

In my years in the House of Commons, I supported the government, but I opposed them in two important particulars. Harold Wilson was strongly against devaluation. I was the chairman of a Back-Benchers' group on economic and finance and wanted the pound to be devalued in 1964-65. He never forgave me for that. I wanted to see a withdrawal of troops East of Suez and he did forgive me for that, even though at one stage he said that our frontiers were on the Himalayas. In due course I became a member of the government. I should be rather surprised if such a thing could happen today. We have seen a change—but not only today; I cannot see that it would have happened under Mrs Thatcher either.

The model that we have here is the need for the independence of Members of this House and the modernisation of their proper role. There needs to be a new requirement, but we must not replicate the House of Commons, not because of the challenge to its powers, but because of the need for a Chamber that is less dominated by the executive. What pleases me the most is when I hear people speaking from the heart. They are not trying to prove anything here. The great advantage that we have is that this House is not the road to power, so people can speak their minds. We have better discussions and debates than in the House of Commons, not because we are more clever but

9 Jan 2002 : Column 675

because Members of the other place have a different agenda. They see themselves at the foothills of power. Of course, we know that power resides there, but our advantage is that we are not in that kind of race.

We have to ask whether we can devise a House of Lords that will avoid some of the disasters of the past. What should a new, or even the present, House of Lords do about a matter such as the introduction of the poll tax? It was a disgrace and I am sure that the House of Lords today would be much more vociferous than in Margaret Thatcher's time. We would speak our minds forcefully and strongly if such an issue came up again.

What about the privatisation of British Rail? Robert Adley who was the greatest expert on railways in either House unfortunately died. He called the proposed privatisation of British Rail a "poll tax on wheels". He was right; it was a disgrace. Unfortunately he died so we were unable to have the advantage of his knowledge and understanding of railways. What would happen today? Would we be quiet and subservient even if the House of Commons were such? I think that we would be much better. One of the advantages of getting rid of so many hereditary Peers is that we have become more legitimate, and because of that we can say things in a way in which we were unable to do so before.

What about the decision on the Dome? It is a much less important matter, but nevertheless I think that we would have spoken out in a different way. The House of Lords would bring fresh and different views and contribute in a different way, in a less executive-dominated Chamber. That is one of the important matters that we have to discuss today.

The domination of the executive has increased and is continuing to do so. The power of the Whips used to be about privilege, the possibility of government office, committee membership, overseas visits, and so on. Added to that, we now see the possibility of paid appointed Peers. That is a serious matter because once we start paying new elected people to this House, they will be thinking of their electorate. They will want secretaries, special advisers, research assistants, offices and so on. If you envisage those people with us, you can imagine the kind of dominance that there would be in this place. They are in it for real. They are dealing with power in a different way from us. We would be putting sensible points forward; but they would be in the electoral system, while we were not.

One conclusion we should dismiss straightaway is the introduction of the list system, which is an abomination. In my area we had local MEPs who decided which of them would speak for each constituency. Along came the MEP to my constituency. We were outraged, and said, "We didn't choose you; you've no right to choose us". We sent him packing—quite right too! I wish that I had seen that happening in every constituency in the country. That is the kind of gumption that I want to see. If we see the list system doing that sort of thing, the outrage will be much greater. I hope that we shall be able to get rid of that kind of thinking immediately.

9 Jan 2002 : Column 676

There is an important consideration here; namely, the quinquennial Act, which has already been mentioned. I remember the debates in the early 1970s when people talked about getting rid of the House of Lords. The one insuperable barrier to that was the quinquennial Act. The one super advantage that we have is that they cannot get rid of Parliament at will. That remained here. Therefore, the fact that it is not mentioned in any of the papers is an omission that I find both appalling and astonishing. I hope that that is an oversight, but we need to ensure that it does not happen again.

The power of the machine has grown. De-selection is on the agenda. Members of Parliament in the other place are thinking in terms of that: they have to keep their noses clean. They realise the problems that they have with their constituents. Indeed, recently there has been a case of someone not being included on a shortlist, and so on. We never used to see that sort of thing. So the power of the party has grown and there are dangers in that respect.

There used to be parallel paths in the Labour Party, through the National Executive Committee on one side and, on the other, through the parliamentary party. I was against that process. I felt that they were too much opposed to each other, but at least you had an alternative system. You had to have an alternative system; it was not monolithic. I hope for a better accommodation, but not a take-over. What we have seen is substantially a take-over. We have seen the whole of the political system moving in a way that I find rather sad.

As I have always said, an important aspect of all of this is the power of the Back-Bencher in the House of Commons. I made use of that power. I always believed that the task and power of the Back-Bencher was to look as if he was running to escape from the net and be pulled back. That is the way to exercise the maximum amount of power. On occasion I did so, although perhaps not as much as I should have liked. That is something that a Back-Bencher can do. Unfortunately, with the size of the majority and the kind of Back-Benchers that we now have we have lost that power. Francis Pym said that the most important point is the size of the majority. If you have a majority of about 50, 60, or 70, the power of the government Back-Bencher is much increased. That has the greatest restraining effect upon the government of the day. That is a most important aspect.

The independence of Members will not be obtained by election. If the election is controlled, that independence is a myth. But there is a paradox here. An elected element can be more easily controlled by party than can an appointed one because there must be another election. An appointed element is for life and you cannot do much about it. This House should have no place for such an elected element if it is to be subjected to executive selection by the list system, or by some other system that has the same kind of results. If that were to happen, it would not lead to the reform of the House of Lords; it would lead to its emasculation.

9 Jan 2002 : Column 677

Furthermore, the worst of all the proposed changes would be anything which increased the power of the executive still further. Better to introduce no changes than to invite such an outcome. My noble friends should be aware that much work has yet to be done. I wait to see it.

10.50 p.m.

Lord Blackwell: My Lords, my aim in intervening at this stage of the debate is simply to add my voice to those of the many noble Lords—indeed, I suspect that they are in the majority—who have already spoken against the principle of introducing elected Members into the House. Like other noble Lords, I do not accept the argument that election is necessary in order to create legitimacy or that it has any role in increasing the effectiveness of the second Chamber.

Many noble Lords have made the point that we need to look at the democracy of Parliament and at the Constitution as a whole rather than to consider this Chamber in isolation. Every noble Lord who has spoken has accepted the primacy of the first Chamber. However, like the noble Lord, Lord Neill of Bladen, who spoke earlier, I believe that the biggest danger lying behind the primacy of the first, elected Chamber, is elective dictatorship; the dictatorship of large majorities and tightly whipped votes. In such a system, the democracy of Parliament as a whole is undoubtedly enhanced rather than diminished by the presence of a second Chamber that is truly independent and can delay legislation and make the first Chamber think again.

My noble friend Lord Norton of Louth argued that elected Members would add no value to this Chamber. I would go further and argue that in practice such elected Members would be likely to diminish the independence of the House. Members elected on a party system inevitably would have obligations towards their party manifestos. They would also have obligations to the party which selected them, as well as to the party workers who would have worked on their behalf. Many would seek election to this House as part of a career plan that would tie them to their party and enhance objectives they might have in mind for a later stage. Having such Members, aside from the fact of their political ties, would I suspect inevitably diminish their level of independence and would change the climate of the House, a climate so eloquently described by the noble Lord, Lord Sheldon. No doubt that climate would change if Members were introduced who would bring a far more party political nature to our debates and interventions.

Against those disadvantages, I agree with many other noble Lords that the proposal to introduce appointed Members of the House of Lords is that it could bring in a different kind of individual; that is, people who could bring to the House expertise from the jobs they have outside the world of politics, as well as individuals who in many cases would not be willing to stand for election to public office.

9 Jan 2002 : Column 678

While many of us are in debt to those who give a high proportion of their time to this House on a voluntary basis, I subscribe fully to the argument that we do not need all Members of the House to be full-time or professional politicians. Indeed we benefit from being a House of part-timers and from the many Members who contribute and vote only when they have a particular knowledge of or interest in the subject matter under debate. Such a House creates a greater challenge for the Government than the other place where there is a fixed number of full-time Members. Thus, in the Lobbies, the arithmetic is predetermined, whatever the subject and whatever the arguments that have been put forward.

The weakest argument for reform is that which states that this House should seek to reflect populist or fashionable opinions. If the House of Lords has any role, it is to serve as a bastion or a bulwark against fashionable tides of opinion and to speak out and argue the case for the unconventional or the unfamiliar.

I remind noble Lords that there have been times in history when fashionable opinion has held, for example, that the world was flat, that witches should be ducked and that particular religions should be persecuted. Fashionable opinions are not always right and can, as we have seen at various times in history, be manipulated by people who would be dictators. A House that is not modelled on fashionable opinion has an essential role in democracy as a bastion, a bulwark, against fashionable opinion when that opinion gets things wrong. To argue for modernisation as a driving force risks throwing away many of the linkages to history and to conventions that, once turned away, cannot be easily replaced or reinvented. We should do so at our peril.

My experience of this House is that the Government do not always lose votes. In fact they rarely lose votes simply because the massed ranks of the Opposition turn out against them. The Government lose votes in this House because they cannot get their own supporters to turn out and vote for them. That was true under the previous government when, despite their numerical majority, they lost votes in this House on important issues when they could not carry the conviction of their own Back-Benchers. That is a part of the benefit of the conventions and independence of the House as it is currently constituted.

It follows that I would favour relatively minor changes to the status quo. Certainly changes, in the way advocated, to limit the Prime Minister's powers of appointment, capping the total number of Members, having some rule about the way in which new Members are appointed in accordance with ratios at previous elections and strengthening the appointments commission would all help.

But it also follows that I—like many other noble Lords, I suspect, from what has been said today—would oppose any element of a Bill that results from this debate that opens the door to elections in order to bow to some false notion of democracy. With respect to some of my noble friends on this side of the House,

9 Jan 2002 : Column 679

I would also deeply oppose any proposal which seeks to further increase the elected representation from that which the Government have proposed.

10.57 p.m.

Lord Williamson of Horton: My Lords, it is important that, despite the large number of speakers in the debate, we should make available our views from all parts of the House before stage two of the important constitutional reform is concluded. That is why, as a relatively new independent Cross-Bench life Peer but a regular attender both in the Chamber and in committees, I intervene now. We are at the end of a long feast of speeches. At the end of the feast, I hope that what I say will be considered not as cold rice pudding but as at least warm apple pie.

My first point is that, having set up the Royal Commission and received its excellent report, we should be cautious about moving away from its recommendations. In general, that is a principle that we should follow. But I do not entirely share all the criticism that has been made today of the Government's White Paper. I feel that many of the arguments in it are clearly argued and that where they differ from the Royal Commission they generally have reasons for doing so. Of course, that is not to say that the Government are always right.

I wish to make two general points and then to respond to the open questions set out in paragraph 96 of the White Paper. The two general points are these. First, although we are moving to a further stage of reform, it is, for me, very important that we should not prejudice, inadvertently or by accident, the notable strengths of the current House—that is to say, the great diversity of expert knowledge in different fields; the thoroughness of our scrutiny and, where necessary, amendment of draft legislation; the balanced nature of our debates; the good reputation of the work and reports of the Select Committees; and, last but not least, the support which the public gives to the work of this House. When I arrived in the House, I was quite amazed to find how many letters I received from the public, and how many of them were supportive of the House. That was quite a surprise for me.

Secondly, I want the reform to increase the public perception of this House as an essential and integral part of Parliament as a whole. We know the value of the role of this second Chamber; and the Clerk of the Parliaments—whom I congratulate on his knighthood—reminds us in various reports that we work as long and as hard, or longer and harder, than most parliaments in scrutinising draft legislation and in holding the executive to account. But the public, or many of them, still see this House not as a workplace—although it is that—but more as a traditional and privileged place, more Coronation Coach than Coronation Street.

I am not in favour of abandoning tradition—it is good for everyone to carry a little of our history around with them—but I do want the reform to strengthen the feeling among the public that this House, like the other place, is their Parliament. That is

9 Jan 2002 : Column 680

why I am in favour of having some elected Members. The figure of 120 in the White Paper is reasonable. That is also why I am in favour of their election on the basis of the nations and regions of our country, as that will tend to reinforce the feeling among the voters that these Members are their Members. The arguments for elected Members have been made in the Royal Commission report. I am slightly surprised that some of those who speak in favour of elected Members want them to be rather half-hearted, rather at a distance. They want cats with no claws, but, of course, that is not what they will get. If we have elected Members, they will be operational in relation to those who elected them.

I turn now to the specific questions posed in paragraph 96 of the White Paper. The balance between political and independent Members seems broadly right, as does the balance between about 240 elected and independent Members on the one hand, and a maximum of 330 nominated political Members on the other. The 330 should indeed be a maximum. I should have preferred—I believe that I am in the minority—a House smaller than 600 Members. But we are where we are, and I am well aware of the difficulty and the time needed to move down from the present figure. It is the arithmetic of trying to fit a quart into a pint pot—if the European Union allows us to use that phrase any longer.

To have regional elected Members is a completely new step. We have to be sure that the choice of timing, the method of election and the term of membership get off to a good start. I favour elections simultaneously with the United Kingdom parliamentary election, because I want the public to see the election of these Members as an election to Parliament equivalent in principle to the election of Members in the other place. For the same reason, the term of office should in my view be one parliamentary term, with a possibility of re-election. I know that I am again in the minority on that point, but it is the way I see the potential introduction of elected Members into this House.

The method of election is extremely important. I am strongly opposed to the closed list system. I did not like it when it first came in, for other reasons; I do not like it at all now, and I hope that we can have a system which ensures that the public cannot say afterwards that it was all rigged beforehand, they did not have any choice and that is how it came out. We must avoid that at all costs.

The appointed political Members are not quite in the same position as the elected Members, and I see no difficulty over a difference in the length of term of elected and appointed Members. I do not have strong views on the length of term. I should be content with a term of 10 years. I bear in mind that that could give an annual turnover of about 33, which could be useful in re-balancing the political membership after one election. This calculation is also partly linked with the question of whether or not Members of this House could retire or resign. I cannot see any reason why there should be any objection to retirement or resignation.

9 Jan 2002 : Column 681

The independent Members appointed after the reform could perhaps have the same term as the appointed political Members, but there is an important difference, which has been referred to in the debate. Some of the political appointees might reasonably expect reappointment, if that was agreed in the system, but the reappointment of an independent appointed Member would be highly unlikely, in view of the competing claims on the appointments commission. The term for an independent appointed Member therefore needs careful consideration, because in practice it would be a fixed term without reappointment.

The Government have asked whether we should continue the present system under which Members of the House receive reimbursement for expenses that they have incurred when attending the House, but no salary. The present system does not reimburse all the costs associated with membership of the House, such as if a Member lives outside London but has to maintain a London flat because of membership. On balance, I support the continuation of the present system rather than a salaried system.

Changes have been proposed for how this House deals with secondary legislation. I hope that the Opposition will not accept that we have to choose between a system under which we can refuse a statutory instrument—that is the current system—or one under which we can amend it. If we are making changes as important as those that are foreseen for the House, I do not understand why we should not have a

9 Jan 2002 : Column 682

system under which this House could decide to accept, to refuse or to send back a statutory instrument for a limited period. That would be a change, but it is not a serious change against the interests of the other place. It would probably be considered to be against the interests of some bureaucrats or against the interests of the Government at times, but it is not against the interests of Parliament. Now that the Pandora's box has been opened, I hope that we will let everything out.

Finally, I support the position of the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, on the independent quota. It should be for independent Peers, not for wandering albatrosses from political parties. They may be excellent albatrosses, but they should not count towards the independent quota. By independents, I mean those who have been appointed by the appointments commission or who have signed or could sign a declaration that they are independent. That should apply in the transitional period as well.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I beg to move that the debate be adjourned until tomorrow.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

Northern Ireland Arms Decommissioning (Amendment) Bill

Brought from the Commons; read a first time, and to be printed.

        House adjourned at nine minutes past eleven o'clock.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page