Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Earl Russell: My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble and learned Lord for giving way. I hope that I may ask him a question. I am persuaded by what he says about the quality of debate, but the positive effect on the quality of the debate of the existing system goes with a negative effect on our ability to persuade another place. Is he able to address the trade-off between those positive and negative effects?

Lord Howe of Aberavon: My Lords, I am not at all sure that there is a negative effect on our ability to persuade the other place. If we were established as a largely elected Chamber, the confrontation would be more violent and more direct and conciliation would be less easy. It is the Government's insight as originally set out that the present balance, imprecise as it may be, gives us our influence and impact and leaves the final decision to the other place. I do not believe that that would be altered for the good by accepting the implication of the noble Earl's question.

The other reason was pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf; that is, that we need to have people here who are truly independent and are not dependent on the wishes of party masters and who, as the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, pointed out, should have no reason either to fear dismissal or to hope for reappointment.

Years ago, Christopher Hollis—some will remember him as the Member for Devizes; he was a very distinguished figure in the days when my noble friend Lord Renton first entered the House of Commons—pointed out in a rather dramatic phrase that:


That degree of independence, difference and distinction was very important.

The opposite case was argued most eloquently by yet another Welshman, the noble Lord, Lord Richard. He asked: if democracy is legitimate elsewhere, why not here? He pointed out that independence and membership of political parties are not necessarily incompatible. Well, they are not necessarily incompatible but such membership effects a powerful restraint on independence, as he must have found out frequently. I am not saying that that is illegitimate, but it is inconsistent with the distinctive nature of this distinct place, which has a different role, to have a similar pattern of choice for the people who will sit in it.

The noble Baroness, Lady Williams, put the matter in a different way. She said that if you do not like patronage, the only alternative is election. That plainly is not so. My noble friend Lord Wakeham and the commission over which he presided with such distinction identified and spelt out two alternatives—either nomination by the commission that they described or election on the basis that they described.

10 Jan 2002 : Column 699

Those are legitimate ways of trying to achieve a different structure for this House, although I do not agree with them.

The thought that the Royal Commission put into the matter was spelt out and elaborated not only by my noble friend Lord Wakeham but also by my noble friend Lord Hurd and the noble Baroness, Lady Dean. If that approach is adopted, it is of the utmost importance that the qualifications and conditions that were spelt out have to be followed in absolutely every respect; perhaps more so.

One matter seems to loom as an island of unanimity in the debate so far. Of all of the possibilities, as my noble friend Lord Strathclyde pointed out, the closed list is a democratic monstrosity. Our experience of the European elections shows how numbingly the procedure is—it seems to compel would-be candidates to compete for what they perceive as their party's centre of gravity and it operates as a charter for conformity of the narrowest kind. Indeed, it is a charter for the deceit of those whose preferences one is seeking.

I think that it was Disraeli who described the Reform Act 1867 as "a leap in the dark". By comparison, a move towards the closed-list system for this House would be not a leap in the dark but the clearest brightly illuminated step in entirely the wrong direction. We have the experience of the European elections to underline that.

I notice that the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, is looking at me. He will recall his patron saint, Aneurin Bevan, saying many times, "Why read the crystal when you can read the book?". So far as closed lists are concerned, we can read the book all too clearly. I hope that we all agree on that.

My closing theme is that I do not believe that the country will be served by reproducing in this House what we now see at work in the other House. I say that with great regret, as someone who had the privilege of leading the other place for at least 12 months. I come back to my brutal, ill-mannered summary—the last thing that people want to see here are clones of the clowns in the Commons.

4.3 p.m.

Lord Jenkins of Hillhead: My Lords, although I do not often trouble noble Lords these days, I thought that I should say a few words in this debate. Five decades ago, my political reputation, such as it was, became founded on two incongruous pillars. The first was the liberalisation of the law relating to allegedly indecent literature, which resulted in the Obscene Publications Act 1959. In that task I had the invaluable assistance—there are several incongruities here—of the (not-then-ennobled) noble Lord, Lord St John of Fawsley, whose aphorism-studded speech we listened to with great interest yesterday.

The second of the props—arguably it is more relevant to our deliberations today—was the publication in 1954 of a little book entitled, Mr Balfour's Poodle. It dealt with the powers and composition of the House of Lords in relation to the

10 Jan 2002 : Column 700

Lloyd George Budget of 1909 and the Parliament Act 1911. Work on that, fortified by subsequent biographical writings, left me with a sustained interest in the relations between the two Houses and in the composition of this House.

All of that made me a firm supporter of the culling of the hereditaries in 1999. I felt few twinges of historic sentiment. I agree with the dismissive remark—I cannot now remember who made it—that the cure for admiring the old, unreconstructed House of Lords was to go and look at it. When a lady who I otherwise greatly liked and admired was reported to have said, "Poor dears! They never did anybody any harm", I profoundly disagreed. No harm? I take one simple example—the vote of 419 to 41 against the second Home Rule Bill of 1893. By the scale of its obscurantism, it was one of the most disgraceful votes in the history of Parliament. It effectively killed the hope of Anglo-Irish reconciliation within a common polity. That was not just a sentimental regret. The subsequent deprivation of the so-called treaty ports in the south-west of Ireland in the winter of 1940-41, when America was still hesitating, very nearly lost us the battle of the Atlantic and hence the war.

Therefore, of the Government's record on the Lords up to 1999, we could say, "So far so good". I sometimes think that the best House of Lords that I have known in my short 14 years here was that immediately following the cull and before the subsequent big reinforcements. However, that is no doubt a typical example of wishing to pull up the ladder which one has oneself climbed.

In Mr Blair's defence, it should be remembered that nearly all of our most famous Prime Ministers have been great creators of Peers. Pitt was accused by Disraeli of making Peers of,


    "second-rate squires and fat graziers".

Others, he said, were,


    "caught from the alleys of Lombard Street or clutched from the counting-houses of Cornhill".

Gladstone made 100 Peers, which process left him with no desire to impose the indignity upon himself. Asquith had threatened to make 500 Peers and Lloyd George was not exactly austere in his honours lists.

Three years on, we have the White Paper proposals. They perhaps came quicker than I had expected. However, it is 90 years since the preamble to the first Parliament Act stated,


    "It is intended to substitute for the Lords as it at present exists a Second Chamber constituted on a popular instead of an hereditary basis".

There cannot be an accusation of excessive haste in this regard.

However, there can be an accusation of muddle and an inability to use the framework of clear thought to consider how Parliament as a whole—both Houses—should operate in the 21st century. It must be said in mitigation that getting right the reform of the House of Lords is an intractable task, which has eluded all statesmen who applied themselves to it in the 20th century. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor should not be too downcast about his

10 Jan 2002 : Column 701

experiences yesterday, although the lack of support was deafening. He has a lot of achievement to his credit. In my view, his high judicial recommendations and appointments have been outstanding and his influence on other constitutional arrangements have been wise and liberal. But he will have to start again on the White Paper. I forbear from harbouring the suspicion that it was put together as an immensely subtle ploy on the part of the Government to show the difficulty of agreement and hence to put the whole matter of composition to bed again for another 90 years.

What do I believe should be done? In spite of the way that various winds are blowing, I remain sceptical about a wholly or largely elected Chamber of anything like the present size. With regard to the scheme put forward in the White Paper, I am not really sceptical; I believe that it is total nonsense. It proposes a 20 per cent elected element, paid unlike the rest of us, having to be called or addressed in a different way and subject to a party caucus and a reselection process every five years. It is almost the recreation of the old system of cricket professionals, even to the extent of their initials having to go after their names rather than their titles before them. No doubt they could help by rolling the pitch in their spare time!

What quality of people would one get under such a system and in such a category? I agree with the view expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Gordon of Strathblane, in his excellent speech yesterday. One would certainly be unlikely to get a contribution towards the qualities outlined by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Habgood, in a letter to The Times this morning. He states that the point of having a second Chamber is,


    "namely to remedy some of the defects of popular democracy . . . short-termism, over-dependence on the party system, and lack of experience outside politics".

That leads me to a further difficulty about constructing an acceptable new shape for an elected second Chamber at present. There is a widespread view, which, on balance, I share, that such a second Chamber should not be a rival to the House of Commons as the primary democratic forum. But the House of Commons has recently reduced itself to a lower level in public esteem, a less effective watchdog of the executive and a weaker magnet for the talent of the nation than I have ever known, whether in my own direct experience of 54 years in Parliament or in my modern historical writing and reading. It has become little more than an electoral college for the choice of the government of the day. To try to construct and fit in a House of Lords underneath the level to which the Commons has reduced itself is a feat of political engineering which would tax even greater men than those who currently sit round the Cabinet table. They sit round it, I understand, often for little more than half-an-hour a week. Perhaps that is part of the reason why such an ill-thought-out scheme has reached a White Paper.

10 Jan 2002 : Column 702

Therefore, in my view, we must consider the advantages as well as the disadvantages of a nominated Chamber. One can have nominees of great distinction. The most extreme example of which I can think was the Italian summit in the post-unification period of the Savoy monarchy. There, at different times, sat Verdi, Puccini, Mascagni, Carducci, the great orator, and Marconi, the great telephonist. They were all members—a spectacular list. But I am not sure how great a part they played and they certainly did not prevent Mussolini coming to power.

I turn to a rather more modern, and perhaps more pedestrian, example. Harold Wilson, with whom I sometimes agreed and sometimes disagreed, did not finish up very well with the "lavender list". However, he had previously shown great discrimination—even imagination—in nominating mostly non-party, public service Peers of distinction and independence, some of whom are still with us: the noble Lords, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, Lord Croham, Lord Richardson of Duntisbourne, Lord Roll, Lord Bullock and Lord Briggs, and Lord Roberthall and Lord Kahn. Even Prime Ministers, with a little encouragement and assisted by new rules about categories and an independent body, can behave responsibly.

I recognise that the tide of opinion may have been encouraged to flow too far and too fast for that. If that is the case, I believe that we must contemplate something much more drastic than the White Paper or even more drastic than a 50 or 80 per cent-elected second Chamber of roughly its present size. I believe that we should contemplate a small, regionally based, wholly elected—either directly or indirectly by those who have themselves been elected—equivalent of the United States Senate or the German Bundersrat. If 100 members are enough for the Senate with its quarter of a billion population, I consider 60 to be enough for us.

One would hope to persuade people of real local influence and power to stand. But I am sure that one would not find 600 or 700 such people. They would all have to be the product of a party list. I agree very strongly with what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon, said about party lists. Therefore, I would keep it small. In my view, it would be inappropriate to retain this Chamber with its gilt, its red and its flummery. In those circumstances, we should find for it a nice, cosy, utilitarian council chamber.

I must confess that, partly out of self-interest and partly out of tweaks of traditionalism, I would prefer that we stay roughly where we are but with considerable further restrictions on party patronage. But I am sure that we should face the logic of one course or the other and not fish around in the ill-thought-out and muddled middle.

4.18 p.m.

Lord Butler of Brockwell: My Lords, it is always a daunting task to follow the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, given his great experience and the huge historical sweep of his remarks, as it is to follow the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe. I have worked

10 Jan 2002 : Column 703

for both of them at various stages of my career. Since the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, is chancellor of my university, I suppose that in one sense I still work for him today.

Those of us who had the privilege of serving on the Royal Commission, so ably led by the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, must feel a certain degree of sympathy for the Government if they are disappointed that their proposals have not met with universal acclaim. I start with such a degree of sympathy, but I am afraid only a degree. For the truth, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, pointed out, is that while claiming to act on the recommendations of the Royal Commission, the Government have in fact gone cherry-picking among those recommendations. In doing so, they have destroyed their coherence, and in some respects produced proposals which are internally inconsistent, as I shall endeavour to show.

Nevertheless, unfair criticisms have been made both of the Government's and of the Royal Commission's proposals. It is very easy for critics to set their requirements for this House by looking at it in isolation. I agree with those who say that that is a profoundly misleading way to set about the task.

The only way to look at the future of the House is to proceed as the Royal Commission did, and as I believe the Government have tried to do, within the context of the parliamentary system within which it must operate. For that reason, I share the view of those who say that too much weight should not be put on opinion polls which show such high support for an elected House. If the question put had been whether people wanted a House composed of Members of independent mind and entirely free of political domination, I believe that the number responding "yes" would have been just as great. It is the privilege of those who answer opinion polls not to have to provide for a reconciliation between inconsistent objectives.

I suggest that the starting point must be that, despite the long and distinguished history of this House, there is no divine ordinance that there must be a second Chamber. A second Chamber must add value to the work of Parliament. Like other speakers, I suggest that we need to start by asking what that added value should be.

The Royal Commission took a good deal of evidence on that point. The evidence suggested that there was value which this House could add to the work of the other place. That value fell under three headings: first, a range of expertise and experience, not necessarily available in the other House; secondly, a fair representation of groups in our society, which, as a matter of record, has not been achieved in the other place; and, thirdly, an independence of the executive which in present circumstances manifestly does not exist in the elected House.

Perhaps I may briefly take those three aspects in turn. It is clear that a full range of experience and expertise will not necessarily be produced by the chances of election. It is also a fact that all groups in our society have not been adequately represented

10 Jan 2002 : Column 704

through election. I cannot agree with the noble Lord, Lord Richard, that if we leave these matters to the electorate, the electorate, like the market, will somehow sort the matter out. For that to happen requires the electorate to act in a considered and a co-ordinated way across all its constituencies in a way which is clearly impracticable.

In theory, it would be possible for such interests to be represented by indirect election—election from prescribed groups. But, for all the speakers in the debate, and certainly for the Royal Commission, the problem of selecting such groups, establishing the quotas for representation, defining the constituencies of electors and ensuring that elections are properly conducted in each group surely makes such a course impracticable. That is certainly what the Royal Commission concluded.

However, the Royal Commission felt that for one type of representation, election is not only possible but desirable. That is the type of representation for which it exists already—geographical representation. If it is felt—it surely should be felt—that all regions of this country should have a voice in this Chamber, it is not only practicable but, as the Royal Commission felt on balance, desirable, that those representatives should be elected. But for the rest, there is no alternative to appointment through an exercise of judgment by a body—an appointments commission—charged with ensuring that as many as possible areas of expertise and interest are available to your Lordships' House.

I understand, although I cannot share, the view of those who argue that in a House of Parliament the only proper source of authority is election. On this view it does not matter that election would produce a replica of the other House; that it would not add anything in expertise; and that it would not produce fair representation of minorities. Democratic legitimacy for such advocates becomes the mantra and election the only means to it.

I shall not weary the House by repeating the arguments against duplicating the House of Commons. That argument has been made many times in this debate. But I want to ask those who attach such importance to elections whether, in the circumstances in which election is conducted in this country, it should be accorded the sanctity in this context which this approach attributes to it.

In our circumstances, where candidates are chosen by the political parties and the only power of the electorate is to decide in what proportion each party's nominees should occupy the Benches of power, is election so very different from appointment that we should subordinate everything else to it? Of course election is the only proper way to choose a government. But that is not what we are about here. I simply ask whether a cross in the box is such a sine qua non that everything else must be subordinated to it.

So far I am with the Government's proposals. But in three respects I feel that they fall short of what is required and in one respect I believe that they are internally inconsistent. They centre on the third of the requirements for this House—its independence.

10 Jan 2002 : Column 705

Independence depends on the executive not commanding a majority in the House. The Government's proposals achieve that. But independence also requires the independence of individual Members, a quality which has been a valued feature of your Lordships' House down the centuries.

The Government departs from the Royal Commission's proposals by saying that those who take a party's Whip should be appointed by that party. There is clearly some force in that. But the effect of it, combined with a closed list system for elections, which so many speakers have criticised, means that political parties would effectively determine the identity of 80 per cent of this House.

That opens up the crucial inconsistency in the Government's proposals. The Government accept the Royal Commission's suggestion that the independent appointments commission should be responsible for ensuring that,


    "the appointed members are broadly representative of British society".

How can the commission do that if it only appoints 20 per cent of the House?

In arguing that parties must be able to choose those who represent them, I believe that the Government are raising a false fear. That fear is that, if the appointments commission determines the political appointees, all kinds of people will be appointed whom the parties do not want to take their Whip. The fear is groundless. Of course, in considering whom to appoint to take the sides of the political parties, the appointments commission will give great weight to the nominations of party leaders. But it will not be bound by them. That will give the appointments commission greater leverage to ensure that those whom the party leaders put forward will provide the breadth of representation which the House requires and the Government say they support. It will also give greater assurance to the world outside that those put forward by party leaders are not placemen nominated only in return for some political service.

Finally, I join with my colleagues on the Royal Commission in urging the Government to provide for elected and appointed Members to serve terms which are not only long enough to ensure their independence but which are also as similar as possible. Apart from the method of entry to the House, all Members should be as equal as possible in every other respect.

I believe that this Government and future governments have less to fear and more to gain from an independent House than they believe. Many times in my career I saw governments irritated when the upper House delayed or amended their legislation. But in the end governments are not judged by the quantity of the legislation which they pass or the speed with which they pass it. They are judged by its quality. However irritating it may be at the time, scrutiny by an effective revising Chamber serves the government and the country well. A poodle is not worth its keep.

Perhaps I may introduce a personal note. This morning I had the good news of the birth of a grandson. Apart from causing one to take a more

10 Jan 2002 : Column 706

favourable view of the hereditary principle, such an event makes one think about the future. There is no doubt that the task of completing reform of your Lordships' House can be and should be carried out. If it is carried out well, this House will serve the country better and earn more public admiration. The Government's proposals are capable of improvement but if this opportunity is missed I can envisage that the job may remain incomplete during not only the rest of my lifetime but also, on past form, that of my grandson.

4.33 p.m.

Lord Sewel: My Lords, after the quality and talent displayed in the opening speeches today, we have now reached that stage of the proceedings which follows the Lord Mayor's Show.

In considering constitutional reform, two approaches may be potentially profitable. The first is to base reform on some great unifying theory. The White Paper makes no attempt to do so; this reform is not driven by that concept. The second is to adopt a more modest, pragmatic, fit-the-purpose approach to ensure that procedures work. That has been the tendency in the past. It is a satisfactory way of doing things. But if we go down that road, it is important to achieve a system that works and which delivers what people want to see achieved. That is where my doubts begin. With regard to the effectiveness of the work undertaken, I do not think that the proposals in the White Paper will deliver the type of second Chamber that the Government wish to see established.

The concerns of another place have centred almost entirely on composition. A better way forward is to seek to reach that great consensus step by step. What are the functions that we would expect a second Chamber to perform? There is the possibility of wide agreement on that in this House and beyond. I shall not repeat what has been said many times in the debate. Once we have reached agreement, we then have to ask what type of composition will most likely enable those functions to be best performed.

In a bicameral system, with one Chamber dominant and the other subordinate, the emphasis given to different functions within a single Parliament will differ from Chamber to Chamber. There is nothing wrong with that. It is clear that under present arrangements with regard to executive formation and the control and accountability of the executive the House of Commons rightly provides the forum. We cannot in any way or shape determine the formation of the executive; and rightly so. The main function of the House of Commons is to provide a forum for a contest between the current executive and the executive seeking to get in. That may not be a pretty sight at times but it is a necessary parliamentary function.

Similarly, one of the great benefits flowing in recent years from the House of Commons is the triumph of the departmental Select Committee system. Again, that focuses on the relationship between the legislature and the executive. That part of the necessary function of a Parliament is a matter predominantly for the House of Commons.

10 Jan 2002 : Column 707

With regard to legislation we see a different picture. I do not say that the House of Commons has given up as a legislature but it has come close to that on occasions. The anti-terrorism Bill has been mentioned. My experience relates to the Scotland Bill. The scrutiny received by that Bill in this House was of a totally different order from that which it received in another place. Therefore a real claim can be made by this House—it relates closely to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf yesterday—that the House of Lords is taking over the Committee stage of the legislative process. That is a valuable role that we play. If we can add that predominant function to the parliamentary process, we must then ask: what composition will ensure that that function is delivered in the best possible way? With regard to the Government's proposals in the White Paper, we must ask: to what extent would an elected element improve the ability of this House to perform the function of legislative scrutiny?

But no defence of the elected element has been made in such terms. That is the real stumbling block to approving any element of election whatever. Indeed, the Royal Commission itself did not try to justify election in those terms. As the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell, said, the elected element is there to deliver regional representation. Quite honestly, it is an awful risk to introduce an elected element "just"—I use that word in quotation marks—to deliver regional representation. I do not believe that it is beyond our wit to devise a system that delivers regional representation without having an elected element in any form. So unless I can be convinced—and I have not been convinced by my thinking, reading and listening—that an elected element will improve the ability of this House to perform the function of legislative scrutiny, I will remain sceptical of the value of an elected element.

The real concern underpinning much of what I have said is that once we introduce an elected element we do two things: we change the nature of this House and its relationship to another place. I know that an argument has been made that we can have an elected element—almost a predominantly elected element—and that that will not disturb that relationship. That is not practical politics. If I in some way became an elected Member of your Lordships' House, when push came to shove, I would take the view that my electoral mandate was as strong as that of people down the Corridor and I would say, "Why should I budge, not them?". Once that happens, the relationship between the two Houses changes fundamentally.

I also believe that the great strength of this House in terms of its membership is based on two things. One is the fact that most people come here at a relatively senior stage in their lives, after having done something—usually quite well—somewhere else. That is important because of what they bring to the House and its work. I ask myself whether the same kind of people would come to the House through the electoral route. I have grave doubts about the answer to that question.

10 Jan 2002 : Column 708

The other reason that this House works is that, if ambition has not been completely spent by the time that we get here, let us say that the fires of ambition burn a little less fiercely. That is of great value to our deliberations. If the advantage of the elected element is just to deliver regional representation, that advantage is far outweighed by the risks that introducing an elected element would inevitably bring.

4.44 p.m.

Lord Trefgarne: My Lords, I am conscious that we are now in the second day of a long debate and I therefore apologise in advance to your Lordships for trespassing on your patience for a moment or two longer than is my normal practice. I come to this subject with no special intellectual insight—less still any talent in constitutional matters—but with a little experience of your Lordships' House.

I succeeded in 1960; I took my seat in 1962, when I was old enough to do so. In the next few months, I shall therefore have had the privilege of serving in this place for nigh on 40 years. Of course, some noble Lords have been here even longer, but I hope that my experience, including 13 years on one or other of the Front Benches, will be of a little value.

During those 40 years, the composition and practice of your Lordships' House has of course changed almost out of all recognition. In 1962, there was just a handful of life Peers, although their small number was hugely enhanced by their quality and distinction. The daily attendance allowance, as I recall, was 3 15s a day, and we could claim our travelling costs only if we attended at least one third of the daily sittings.

Be all that as it may, there is now virtually no debate about the need for a second Chamber. While there are a few unicameral systems in the world, it is now generally agreed that we need and must retain a second Chamber. In the White Paper, the Government set out their view as to the role of your Lordships' House: namely the scrutiny and revision of legislation; the discussion of the great issues of the day—often from a considerably more informed standpoint than is possible in the other place—and, in the last resort, preventing the House of Commons from extending its life beyond five years, other than in the most exceptional circumstances. Of course, a select committee of your Lordships' House acts as the supreme court within our judicial system—a matter to which I shall return in a moment.

So much for the role of the second Chamber. What then are the powers that we should accord to it in order effectively to fulfil the roles to which I have referred? Of course, I acknowledge that, in the end, the House of Commons must have its way or, as my noble friend Lord Jopling put it, a government must get their business eventually. So the question is whether the present powers of delay are sufficient—or, indeed, excessive. I believe that they are about right. The only threat to those powers would be the introduction of a guillotine procedure as in the other place. That would undermine, if not obliterate, the power of revision and scrutiny in a wholly unacceptable way.

10 Jan 2002 : Column 709

In the White Paper, the Government have proposed that your Lordships' power to reject secondary legislation should be ended, to be replaced by a power of short delay. As there is no power of amendment to such measures—and as far as I know, none is proposed—I would certainly be against that as well. In short, I think that the present powers of the House of Lords relate well to the present task and I would urge that neither of them be changed.

However, the issue that excites the most interest and comment is of course the composition of your Lordships' House. What follows are my own personal views on this matter. They are certainly not those of the Association of Conservative Peers, still less those of the Conservative Party; they are quite simply my own. I have referred before to the important characteristic of independence which must be the essential characteristic of the majority of the Members of your Lordships' House. By independence, I mean independence from the House of Commons; independence from any political party; independence from the Executive; and, yes, independence from the judiciary as well. The same point has been made by several noble Lords during the course of the debate and I entirely endorse what has been said in that regard.

I therefore believe that there should continue to be a place in your Lordships' House for a number—perhaps a smallish number—of hereditary peers, who for sure bring that quality with them. I acknowledge that, prior to the 1999 reforms, when just over half of the Members of the House were hereditary peers, a great many of them took the Conservative Whip or at least adhered to Conservative principles. Although it was then rare indeed for the Conservative majority to be deployed at, or even near, full strength, there was a clear and understandable perception in the minds of other political groupings that somehow their wishes and views could never prevail and that the whole process was, as far as they were concerned at least, a waste of time.

That was, in truth, not the case. The Conservative government were often defeated, not least when the Cross-Benchers were fully mobilised. Indeed, I remember that as a junior Minister I often had to qualify, modify or change my proposals to meet concerns expressed from the Opposition Benches—sometimes with support from my own side. However, I acknowledge now that the political arithmetic of the House of Lords at that time was perceived to be unfair. With hindsight, I rather regret that further consideration of that problem was not undertaken long ago. Would it not have been possible to say that noble Lords who never attended should not be allowed to vote unless they had, in some way, re-qualified themselves to do so?

I have some more detailed suggestions relating to the compositional mix. I hope that your Lordships will find them an appropriate contribution to our discussion. There should continue to be a smallish number of hereditary Peers to bring the extra degree of independence to your Lordships' deliberations that is

10 Jan 2002 : Column 710

so essential. I acknowledge that Cross-Benchers are generally independent, but, as they must be appointed by someone, an additional degree of independence provided via the hereditary route is desirable. Of course, I would say that, wouldn't I? I am a hereditary Peer. However, I suspect that my views are widely shared, even among those who arrived in this House by a different route. I was particularly struck by what the noble Lord, Lord Gordon of Strathblane, said about the matter. Our current process of selection for hereditary Peers seems to be working rather well. However, if the principle is to be sustained for a longer period, the process could be modified a little to remove the present party emphasis, while allowing us to keep a number of hereditary Peers.

Again, I would be prepared to accept a smallish number of elected Peers. The Government's suggested number for that is probably about right, but the precise number could, perhaps, be a matter for further consideration. Those elected Peers should represent a geographical constituency, and their election should be firmly disconnected from the House of Commons electoral process. I am, however, implacably opposed to the party list system, which is nomination by another name—a democratic monstrosity, as my noble and learned friend Lord Howe of Aberavon called it just now. Those Peers should be elected for, say, 15 years, for all the reasons that other noble Lords so clearly described.

The House has benefited greatly from having a considerable body of life Peers. I apologise if that sounds patronising. Many of them are people of enormous distinction. It is also true that, by and large, that is the only route by which women can enter the House. There should be a considerable number of appointed Peers, and they should be disconnected as far as possible from the process of political patronage. The Government propose that the appointments commission should play no part in the selection of political Peers. I have some sympathy with that view, but would it not be possible to give the appointments commission not a right of appointment, but a right of oversight or veto over what is proposed, rather than the role that has been suggested for it?

I have described the three principal categories that might appropriately make up your Lordships' House. I offer no considered view as to the precise numbers, but a proportion not too far removed from the present one seems to be about right.

The judicial committee of your Lordships' House is, of course, the supreme court in our system. It would be much better for us to have a separate, free-standing supreme court, so as to underline even more firmly the independence of the judiciary from the political process. I know that noble and learned Lords go to great lengths to distance themselves from the political controversies of the day, but they remain Members of your Lordships' House. I am also a little uncomfortable about the fact that retired noble and learned Lords should, by and large, be free from those constraints, although some of them still serve, from time to time, on the judicial committee. I would be happier with a separate supreme court, wholly

10 Jan 2002 : Column 711

independent from Parliament. That would solve the problem of the retired Law Lords, who, of course, make such a welcome and valuable contribution to our proceedings, as they could then do so independently of the supreme judicial function.

I am firmly of the view that religious leaders can and often do make a most valuable contribution to our proceedings. I am sorry that right reverend Prelates and the two most reverend Primates are not always able to contribute more than they do. I was struck by the fact that, when we discussed religious hatred the other day, there were so few right reverend Prelates present. The time has come for us to invite the leaders of all the significant faiths in our country to be Members of your Lordships' House. At the same time, there would be a reduction in the number of representatives of the Church of England. I am told that one, at least, of the significant churches in our country would, as a matter of principle, not be willing to come to your Lordships' House. I hope that it can be persuaded to reconsider.

We are in the process of devising momentous changes to our constitution, and it is a matter for regret that the White Paper is such an inadequate document. Several of my noble friends and others have already drawn attention to its obvious shortcomings. I urge the Government to move forward with much greater care and with the benefit, if possible, of consensus at every stage. I know that my noble friends on the Conservative Front Bench—in your Lordships' House and in another place—are more than willing to join in that search. I hope that the Government will respond accordingly.

4.56 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Portsmouth: My Lords, it is clear from much of what has been said that the questions raised in this debate go beyond the normal bounds of political division and touch the heart of what is meant by representation in this key part of our parliamentary apparatus.

I have reflected long and hard on the debates in which I have taken part or at which I have been present over the past months. Like it or not, the current composition of the Chamber has provided an effective foil to the strength of the other place. It is clear that opposition to the proposed reforms is derived not from a single point of principle but from a wide variety of political standpoints, philosophical persuasions and professional attitudes. There should be space in the debate for an examination of representative legitimacy, and I urge those in all parts of the House to think outside the box of current constraints. A debate about the future of the Chamber poses questions about the viability of the presence of every person here, with the possible exception of the Clerk of the Parliaments, his colleagues, and, of course, the Hansard staff.

I do not criticise the proposals so much because of what is in the White Paper as because of what has been left out. The Queen's Speech, in June last year, promised the introduction of legislation to implement the second phase of House of Lords reform following

10 Jan 2002 : Column 712

the current processes of legislation. However, the pledges made by the Government in their election manifesto went much further and were broader. There was a commitment to completing House of Lords reform, removing the remaining hereditary Peers and making the upper Chamber "more democratic and representative", while at the same time maintaining the primacy of the other House.

At that stage, the Government appeared to support the conclusions of the Wakeham commission. They also expressed support for the modernisation of the procedures of the House of Lords in order to improve the House's effectiveness. Furthermore, there was a commitment to place the appointments commission on a statutory and independent footing. In brief, what some of us were hoping for related not only to composition and representation but also more effective working practices and—to echo what the noble Lords, Lord St John of Bletso, Lord Harrison and Lord Sheldon, said yesterday—an independent appointments commission. Those are not separate and distinct issues, but parts of a package which, as the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, recognised, stand as a whole or do not stand at all.

In the White Paper, there is an almost exclusive focus on composition to the detriment of other, equally important matters. Although we must start somewhere, this is not the right place to begin. The proposals in the White Paper for the establishment of a statutory independent appointments commission are welcome, but the conditions and boundaries placed around appointments are such as to undermine the credibility of the commission's independence.

The noble and learned Lord the Lord Privy Seal, winding up at the end of the first day of the Queen's Speech debate last June, was understandably anxious not to let the delayers delay so that we became lost in what he referred to as the "long grass". I believe that a wiser course of action would have been to set up a joint parliamentary commission dealing with questions related to both Houses of Parliament. I believe that to be the case all the more strongly for the fuller reason that there are such obviously deep-seated disagreements about elected versus non-elected Members which transcend party-political views that some compromise would be very dangerous at this stage.

Perhaps I may give an example of how theological differences at their best are resolved. There are many examples of unsuccessful attempts. The key question is to locate as far back as possible in the conceptual train of thought exactly where the disagreements lie. Despite the long debate, we appear not yet to have achieved that. Having lodged and really struggled there, there is then the best possible chance of lasting accord, or at least willing sympathy.

We have at the moment the experience of listening to a cacophony of views from well-qualified quarters for a largely elected membership. Those include, for example, the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, and the noble Lord, Lord Richard. Against that view are the noble Lords, Lord

10 Jan 2002 : Column 713

Gordon of Strathblane and Lord Dahrendorf, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe. Add to that tensions with the other place, a large Labour majority, a party with a collective memory of impatience with this House in its pre-1999 composition if not since, and its traditions, which are equally understandable, and the pressure appears to be on for a quick fix.

I am not by nature a delayer, as my colleagues and perhaps those who know me in the Portsmouth diocese will tell your Lordships. If the noble and learned Lords the Lord Chancellor and the Lord Privy Seal know 500 ways of avoiding change in this Chamber—I suspect that they have been picking them off in the past two days—I must tell them that the Bench of Bishops could supply them with a mere three million more from our experience elsewhere. None the less, I believe that we are not ready quickly to resolve the issue in a satisfactory way.

I come now to the presence of the Lords spiritual. I welcome support both in the Wakeham report and in the White Paper which speaks of recognising the role,


    "that moral, philosophical and theological considerations have to play in debating political and social issues".

I shall not here press the question of a number. The magic figure of 16 was, I am led to believe, reached by the Wakeham commission when a much smaller House of Lords was under discussion. I understand that it reappears as an indicator of our contributions. I want instead to talk about our future development.

Our presence is based on a Writ to be Members of the House of Lords—not Peers—who introduce each other here without Garter King of Arms and who retire when giving up office. That must take place by the age of 70, our day-to-day experience working as bishops being no longer up to date and successors waiting somewhere else in the queue.

Incidentally, speaking of retirement, there will be occasions in October when we can pay tribute to the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury whom I saw at a meeting this morning. He asked me to express on his behalf today his strong continuing personal commitment to the House of Lords and the viable presence and contribution of the bishops here.

We bishops come with many different interests and experiences, as my friend the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford said yesterday. We do not come mandated by anyone, not even the Archbishop himself, still less by a vote in the General Synod, let alone a Lambeth Conference resolution. We may pay heed to what various Church authorities and other authorities may say, but we are independent even of those and we value that independence. That quality needs to be grasped in a more courageous approach by the Government in considering how to diversify these Benches. By the way, they have not always been episcopal; there were abbots here in the Middle Ages.

Looking at particularities, it is clear from national history that, for example, at the time of the union of parliaments in 1707 the Church of Scotland saw no point in representative membership here. It would have been a denial of 16th and 17th century

10 Jan 2002 : Column 714

ecclesiastical disputes to have done so. That is an area of debate I know well as I was born and bred in Scotland as a Scots Episcopalian. That experience bred in me a deep respect for the Kirk and its theological seriousness as well as in my own case a strong sensitivity towards smaller Churches with long histories.

I hope very much that a reformed second Chamber will be a more welcome venue for other Churches and faiths, whatever the character of their governance. I take into account what the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, said yesterday about that. The same applies to the Roman Catholic hierarchy, taking into account what the noble Lord, Lord St John of Fawsley, said. Here there are questions not only of law, as he pointed out, but also of attitude. In my work I am in regular contact with the Roman Catholic Bishop of Portsmouth, Crispian Hollis, who happens to be a nephew of the MP mentioned earlier by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe.

So often in conversations with other Church leaders and leaders of other faith communities, we bishops hear the message, "Oh, we know that you will do that for us". That is what might be described as an "inclusive particularity" that we embody, working on behalf of others but not clinging to internal ecclesiastical privilege. But I am not sure how much longer such inclusive particularity can carry on if we are to be as widely expressive as people would like.

In relation to what the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, said, I want to point out that it is sometimes difficult for us to attend debates. I assure him that before the debate on the Bill to which he referred I was working very hard behind the scenes. I was not able to be present at the discussion on religious hatred, but I rearranged my diary pre-Christmas-style in a fairly baroque manner in order to be present for as many of the debates on that important Bill as I could.

I want now to turn to representation and political legitimacy. I have been in and out of reports, debates and Meg Russell's book on parliamentary reform, but I am afraid I remain sceptical about an increasingly elected option which feels like a juggernaut. It seems that one of the issues with which not only these Houses but also the nation at large is struggling is the whole question of political and social representation.

It has long been held as an unchallengable truth that the sole form of legitimate representation is through election. That is a most persuasive and pervasive notion, but one which I believe has come under increasing scrutiny in recent years. Perhaps I may refer to the letter in today's Times by the former most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York, the noble Lord, Lord Habgood. My experience on the ground is that political enthusiasm by the few has been met by indifference and apathy by the many. There are local elections and there are European elections. Where exactly will those elections be? We need to try somewhere, but I am not sure that we have yet got it right.

Occasionally it is suggested that the reason for that is the illegitimacy of the representation of this House. I have not detected any change in that sentiment since

10 Jan 2002 : Column 715

the dismissal of the vast majority of hereditary Peers. Nor, I must say, do I detect any great passion or commitment at large to the elected representatives of the other House sometimes. That is not a problem with one or other place; it is a reflection on the current position of British society where a gulf has opened up between the avowed representatives and those whom they represent.

In registering my scepticism about the proposals to go for an increasingly elected element, I am not allowing some form of anarchy or arbitrary selection. I am instead inviting the House to consider the full implications of having two fully elected Chambers, which is a possibility. That would in any case have the effect of losing the opportunity of encouraging political participation beyond those who subscribe to party politics.

That is why I believe that the independence of the appointments commission is so crucial and why I have strongly urged that the opportunity should be taken to foster vocations to service in this House. We do not need pew fillers or bench attendants. We need people with energy and insight who will scrutinise legislation and provide considered counsel to the other place. I do not believe that the current proposals will do that. Individuals may come here with a variety of beliefs, philosophical convictions and professional experience, but we need to look beyond the narrowness of the electoral process, particularly as people will be drawn from a decreasing minority within our communities.

Whatever system is used for membership of this House, and I realise that some kind of compromise will probably be necessary, we need a second Chamber that is committed to scrutinising legislation and asking awkward questions without being ultimately responsible for the final decision. We need a Chamber of wisdom and experience to create a tension with the Chamber of elected representatives. Above all, we need a vigorous Chamber that can challenge government. For example, on this occasion, we are asking for something wider and deeper than the White Paper. I echo what the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, said earlier. We need a process that will look at the working practices of both Houses of Parliament and which ensures a parliamentary symbiosis that is both lively and productive.

5.11 p.m.

The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, I was absolutely delighted to hear my noble and learned friend Lord Howe say that one of the attractions of becoming a Member of your Lordships' House was to be called "Lord Tomnoddy", or whatever. Having been a Lord since the age of seven, I am quite used to it, but I realise that sometimes life Peers become rather more excited than do those of us of a different type.

However, having had my snobbish joke, it is right to say that I do not agree for one moment with my noble friend Lord Trefgarne. I do not think that in the 21st century there is a place any more for the hereditary principle even though that means that I may no longer be here. I have enjoyed it enormously for 25 years, and

10 Jan 2002 : Column 716

I may even be tempted to run for election. I could then say that I was here under three counts, but of course, I do not know whether I would be elected.

Having said that, I was also very interested in what the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth said about theological disputes. One could distil the disputes about the election-appointment second Chamber and whether or not to mix the system and divide the arguments into four groups: Nestorians, Monophysites, catholics and Ayrans. My noble friend Lord Trefgarne is a Nestorian as he wants a bit of heredity. Monophysites want only an appointed Chamber. Ayrans want only an elected Chamber and the catholics want a bit of all three, as they have the dual nature of Christ and the holy trinity—those incredibly complicated doctrines invented by over-cerebral Greeks in the fifth century.

We have to ask ourselves certain questions, such as the one asked by the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, about whether we need a second Chamber. That has been answered in the affirmative. We should then ask what it has to do. That is not always answered properly. We say that it scrutinises and legislates, but I think that it has to be more than that. I shall say why in a moment. On occasions, it has to be nasty and tell the House of Commons that it cannot do certain things. If the other place does not like it, it can invoke the Parliament Act 1911. That is what it is for. The second Chamber has to be able to act as we did on the anti-terrorism legislation. During the passage of the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act, we were in a pre-1911 position and had co-powers with the House of Commons. The Minister said that the Bill had to be enacted by Christmas, so the Parliament Act, which could cause a delay, did not function. There was therefore a much greater balance between the two Houses.

From the middle of the 14th century, the House of Commons has had sole taxation rights. Walpole made that Chamber supreme and it is the House of Commons that sustains the Government—the Queen's Ministers. It is therefore essential that the House of Commons carries out its other duty, which is to hold the executive to account. It is extremely difficult for it to do that. It is probably very bad for his character if I say that I am reading the excellent biography of Churchill written by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead. He says that at the beginning of the 20th century the House of Commons could change the executive's mind and had much greater control over the executive than now. Members did not ask pap questions such as, "Is not my right honourable friend the Prime Minister the greatest thing since sliced bread? He is such a total genius".

The House of Commons used to be much more robust. The consequence of the lack of robustness is that the executive has become over-mighty. It has to have someone to tell it to pull itself together and be held to account. That has nothing to do with who the executive is. It does not matter whether it is my noble friend Lady Thatcher or the present First Lord of the Treasury. I spent my time voting against my noble

10 Jan 2002 : Column 717

friend Lady Thatcher when we were in government, and I do not regret a tiny bit of it. One should hold governments to account.

We need a more balanced constitution, which means more balance between the two Houses. The powers of this House are quite adequate. It needs not more powers but the self-confidence to use them more vigorously.

All that has been said about the independents and non-party domination is true, but however much one likes to argue there is no real legitimacy other than election. We have to find out how to have elections, give electoral authority to those who are elected, but at the same time allow them independence from and disloyalty to their party Whip. I use the word "disloyalty" in a complimentary sense. To me, that means fixed terms that do not run concurrently with those in the House of Commons, and no re-election. I should not want more than 60 per cent to be elected because I want people to be here because of the position they hold. The Royal prerogative should say, "These groups are under-represented", and their representation should then be topped up.

In that sense, I am catholic and support the dual nature of the House of Lords, unlike the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, who thinks that a compromise on those lines would be wrong. He is therefore a Monophysite. We give this House authority because we maintain its independence. I urge my noble friends and colleagues in the Conservative Party to take up this electoral point. They have a great blockage against them: the hordes of former chief Whips who adorn our Benches. They say that they must get the Government's business through. Whether they like it or not they are still apparatchiks. I mean that as a compliment as they are good apparatchiks whom governments need.

I suspect that the Government may know that they will have to give way a little. We have the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor as Blackadder and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, as Baldrick, who are saying, "We have a plan". Their plan is simple. They will suggest a ridiculously low level of elected Members and then be seen to be great, good and gracious by giving way a little. It is obvious that they have been influenced by the Prime Minister's trip around the souk in Cairo. They have seen someone striking a bargain and thus will be willing to enter into a little bargaining themselves. Peradventure we might see 35 per cent of the House elected. They will then hold themselves up as the great compromisers. As The Times commented this morning, the Lord Chancellor is not a fool, rather he is a very clever man and knows exactly what he is doing. At that point they will get away with it by saying, "We have been so good. We have given way to the demand for election".

I hope sincerely that neither the apparatchiks who advise and support my friends in the Conservative Party nor the Lord Chancellor will be allowed to get away with holding down the elected element. If they do so, this House will not have the authority to carry out its job. We must get this right, although I can see how

10 Jan 2002 : Column 718

difficult the task will be. That is because while almost everyone has said that the scheme proposed in the White Paper is rotten, just as many have come up with different proposals. It has been pointed out that for every single Member of each House of Parliament, there is a different scheme for reform. That is what has made the task so difficult.

That task will become even more difficult the longer that the present arrangements last. My noble friend Lord Cranborne said to me recently, "Mike, I can well imagine your grandson and my grandson in this House, both sitting as elected hereditary Peers, debating some new scheme for reform when it comes up in around 50 years' time. Their speeches will be as follows: 'My Lords, no one in their right mind would have proposed this system. However, I would suggest to your Lordships that it has stood the test of time, therefore why change it?'".

We have got to get it right. We need a majority of elected Peers; that is, over 50 per cent. The House must be independent and not be frightened to use its powers. If this House does its job well, the House of Commons will do its job better and the government of the day will be held to account. It is too easy to sustain a government. Governments must be held to account and—this applies equally to Mrs Thatcher and anyone else—they must stop thinking that if they lose the Scunthorpe bypass order, the whole authority of the government has collapsed. What has happened is that someone has said, "Think again"—and if you are big men, you will think again. Please, Baldrick and Blackadder, listen to what I have said.

5.23 p.m.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, the more so because of his support for the proposal to introduce an element of elected membership to the new House. That proposal has not had many voices in its favour this afternoon. I certainly agree with the noble Earl, although perhaps not on the detail.

The noble Earl and many other Members of the House have asked: how do we achieve a House that is independent? Would elected Members necessarily lose their independence simply because they have been elected? I was brought up on a simple proposition: the most independent politicians are those who lack all ambition. If we could fill the place with politicians who are not ambitious for advancement, they could add a sense of independence which would otherwise be lacking. I believe that the main reason why the other place gives the impression of not having that element of independence at the moment is because young, newly elected politicians are bound to be ambitious, which in turn tempers their sense of independence. Older Members of the House of Commons usually demonstrate a greater degree of independence.

I am pleased that the Government have made it clear that this is not to be the final stage of the reforms, but that it is only one stage. Having said that, I hope that we shall not be debating reform every two or three years. If that is the case, no other business will be done.

10 Jan 2002 : Column 719

This House and the other place could become so embroiled in the process of legislation to change the House that nothing much else would be addressed. That is an important point because outside this place, in the country at large, people may perceive us as something of an anachronism, but they also have concerns and needs which they want the Government to tackle.

Perhaps I may say also that the reason why most people outside the House want to see an elected element in the House, or even a totally elected second Chamber, is because they want to have some influence over what happens here. In turn, of course, we—the unelected Members of this House—influence the lives of ordinary people. If they say, "We want to be able to determine who will be the people who will have influence over our lives", then we should not dismiss it, because it is a legitimate request. Furthermore, I am bound to say that people outside are not that much impressed by the IQ levels or great experience of this Chamber unless something is delivered for them which improves and betters their lives. That is a basic proposition of democracy and one which I think is important. For that reason, I welcome the proposal that there should be an elected element. Perhaps it should be larger than has been envisaged in the present scheme, but at least we are moving in the right direction.

I also accept the fact that the House should be smaller. The figure of 600 Peers is still too high. We should seek to achieve a smaller House, which would be better and work more effectively.

People warn that we should not become a clone of the House of Commons. Of course that should not happen, although I am conscious that, as a former Member of the House of Commons, I may be accused of being that very type of person. It is more important to deal with the question of what happens if there is a dispute between the two Houses. Yes of course the House of Commons should be dominant, but this Chamber should have certain powers of delay. However, I do not think that democracy or the world will come to an end if there are elements of tension between the two Houses, provided that they can be resolved without wasting a great deal of time. I think that we have become monolithic in our attitude towards government. We believe that only one voice should prevail and woe betide the second Chamber, a devolved assembly or local government if any of those institutions should express dissent. Surely we should be sufficiently self-confident in our approach to accept that a little dissent and a degree of tension between two Houses of Parliament, if that tension is in the interest of protecting the rights of the individual against an executive, can be a good thing. However, I repeat that it is good only provided that the tensions can be resolved and, ultimately, that the House of Commons should prevail.

I should like to make a final introductory point. I very much regret that there is no voice for democratic nationalism from Northern Ireland in this House. I think that it is a weakness. I would like to feel that the arrangements we agree will be such that the SDLP

10 Jan 2002 : Column 720

would feel able to see some of its members putting forward their views in this Chamber. Our debates on Northern Ireland issues are much the poorer because we do not have that voice in the House.

I think that there is general agreement that our powers, provided that we exercise them well—we could certainly exercise them better than we do at present—are probably about right in terms of scrutiny, in terms of European legislation and in terms of the welcome suggested changes in dealing with subordinate legislation. I also join in the wide welcome given to the proposal that there should be greater pre-legislative scrutiny of all legislation and that this House has an important role to play in that process.

I said earlier that I believe that a larger elected element than that presently envisaged might be desirable. However, I should qualify that by saying that I support a directly elected element. I do not like the idea of indirect elections, whether they come from local government, from devolved assemblies, from the CBI, the TUC or anywhere else. I would prefer elections to be direct. Why do I say that? Some years ago—I was already a Member of this House—I spent a day canvassing for a parliamentary by-election. The voters did not know who I was. They thought that I was simply a party worker knocking on their doors. I received an earful about the state of the schools, buses and public transport in general, planning issues, and this, that and the other. I returned to the House that evening feeling quite chastened. It was a healthy experience to be subjected to that kind of comment and criticism because it makes one view politics a little differently than if one is never exposed to the views of ordinary people. That does not mean that one has to be a slave to the last opinion one has heard, but it does mean that one feels accountable for what ordinary people think and feel.

What is more, whatever experience one may bring to the House, it enables one to understand the relationship of that experience with what ordinary people think, thus enabling one better to exercise one's opinions and judgment. Opinions and judgments exercised without reference to ordinary people's concerns can be fairly shallow. They may be expressed elegantly and eruditely, but they can be fairly shallow. I certainly find it important to remind myself that I am here because my job is to help to contribute to policies which improve the lives of ordinary people. So there are benefits in elections.

There are also benefits in having constituencies. When I was in the other place, I found that my constituency was a wonderful source of input, not only of criticisms but of ideas, thoughts and information. Let me give an example. Housing benefit was introduced, but in my constituency in Battersea it was a complete shambles and people were not getting housing benefit for weeks and weeks and months. I knew that immediately because my Friday evening surgery was full of people saying, "We are not getting this new housing benefit". I was able to do something about it. Had I not had that kind of input, I would never have known or I may not have known for a long time.

10 Jan 2002 : Column 721

So, I repeat, there are benefits in this process. I fully accept that we cannot move to a fully elected House; I am talking only about the benefits.

When the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford spoke yesterday, although he opposed elections he made an interesting comment in his speech. He said:


    "My daily work, and that of a thousand clergy and lay people is tending to the ties that bind our society together; its towns, neighbourhoods, schools, families and a host of other global and local connections".—[Official Report, 9/1/01; col. 585.]

That is not a bad description of a constituency to which he is able to be sensitive and responsive and which gives him a lot of information, thoughts, ideas and input.

I do not think it would matter if there were two classes of Members of this House, some elected and some not elected. We can live with that. In the Commons there are two classes of MPs—those who have safe seats and those who have marginal seats. Because I had a marginal constituency, I tramped up to the top of Big Ben with every school party that I took round Parliament on a visit. I hoped that when the children went home they would say, "Mum, do you know who looked after us today? We were in the House of Commons and that fellow, Dubs somebody, showed us around". I thought that the mother would say, "Well, well, we will vote for him". It did not work in the end—I lost my seat—but it was helpful. So one does behave a little differently if one has a constituency, but it is not too unhealthy and we could live with two classes of Member.

I mentioned that I thought that the House was liable to be too large. The Government have said that life Peers will not be removed but, nevertheless, perhaps we can find some way, other than death, to reduce the numbers. I do not think that we should give people 50,000 or 100,000 to go—that would be quite improper and the public would not stand for it—but there may be a way to work out certain pension rights. Let us assume—I give this only as an example—that, because we do not have constituencies, our salary, if we were full time, would be, say, two-thirds of that of the Commons. We then apply an attendance factor to that over the years and then say that that is the salary on the basis of which there will be a pension entitlement. It would not be difficult to work out. If there were a pension entitlement for noble Lords—after all, given the age factor, it would not cost the public very much over a limited lifetime, so it would be a fairly good bargain—it would enable us to lower the numbers in a dignified way, and our colleagues who felt able to retire would have an incentive so to do.

I do not wish to get into a difficult argument about the Bishops. I appreciate the argument as to why there should be Bishops in the House, but there are other occupational categories and, indeed, other faiths. The noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, is an example of a member of the Church who is here not as a bishop but in his own right because he has an important contribution to make. I wonder whether it might not be a better approach for all the Churches to

10 Jan 2002 : Column 722

have their people put forward as Members of the House in their own right, rather than confine the Bench of Bishops to members of one particular Church.

5.35 p.m.

Lord Palmer: My Lords, I, too, welcome the opportunity to debate the White Paper, Completing the Reform. It is, however, worrying and depressing that these proposals have been so universally condemned by the world's press and media, and, judging by yesterday and so far today, do not seem to have won much favour from all sides of your Lordships' House.

I must declare an interest as one of the 92 Members of the House facing expulsion from Parliament under the current proposals.

On 4th December, the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House, in reply to my question regarding a timetable as to our expulsion, said:


    "I cannot give a timetable in the context of the euthanasia to which the noble Lord is looking forward".—[Official Report, 4/12/01; col. 706.]

Many of us took exception to that reply. Not only are few of us looking forward to that expulsion but many were affronted by his use of the word "euthanasia", which in itself is an emotional word. My dictionary tells me that it can mean,


    "relieving suffering from an incurable disease".

I do not know how many of us 92 are experiencing such a medical condition, but I suspect that the number is small. I have to say that many of us believe that the noble and learned Lord was uncharacteristically harsh in his choice of words while realising his desire and commitment to rid the House of the hereditary element.

I am always fussed and concerned about constitutional change, and one has only to look at the utter farce of the Scottish Parliament. There is no revising chamber; there is a huge power of patronage, with 56 placemen out of a total of 129 members; and MSPs take no notice whatever of a committee's recommendations with regard to a Private Member's Bill—and here I refer to the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Watson, which is making a complete mockery of animal welfare. MSPs take no notice of public opinion either, as evidenced by their actions over Section 28.

Finally, the estimate for the new Parliament building is now 270 million—that is only the estimate—with a further 7 million for landscaping. It would be laughable if it were not such a scandalous waste of public money.

I believe that we are far too over-governed with more than 1,300 legislators here at Westminster. We now have the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly. In addition, we have nearly 22,500 councillors in Great Britain.

With regard to second chambers, Italy has roughly the same number of MPs as the United Kingdom, but its upper House has only half that number. In the United States of America, 23 per cent of central government is in the upper House. In Germany it is as

10 Jan 2002 : Column 723

low as 11 per cent. Yet here in the United Kingdom it is 107 per cent. Surely the case could be argued that our second Chamber numerically should be brought more into line with second chambers throughout the rest of the world.

Many of us believe that reform of Parliament should start in the other place, and I subscribe to this. However, my biggest worry is the total apathy at general elections, as other noble Lords have mentioned. I often wonder how the police will be able to man the barricades at the polling stations if Her Majesty's Government go for an elected element to your Lordships' House. It also greatly concerns me as to the calibre of person wishing to be elected—and here, naturally, I am as completely against the closed list system as almost every other Member of your Lordships' House seems to be.

I am also concerned about the future make up of committees. The White Paper fails to mention the vital role that House of Lords committees play in the legislative process of Parliament. I have the privilege to serve on Sub-committee D. May I remind your Lordships that this committee covers the environment, agriculture, public health and consumer protection. It meets once a week in the mornings when the House is sitting and naturally with such a wide range of topics there is a vast amount of reading and preparation work to be done. Four members of Sub-committee D are hereditary Peers, which is 36 per cent of the committee; all of them attend regularly and with the exception of myself make valuable contributions due to their vast experience, first hand, particularly in the field of agriculture.

Almost everyone I met over the Christmas Recess asked me the same question although often phrased differently— "How long have you got before the chop?". I had to reply that we would perhaps know more when the noble and learned Lord comes to wind up the debate tonight. But seriously for a moment, for those of us facing expulsion a timetable certainly would be useful in order that we can plan for the future.

The irony about this White Paper is that everyone I have spoken to who is a Member of your Lordships' House agrees, admittedly often in subdued tones, that at the moment this House is working extremely well and as my noble friend Lord Cobbold asked so succinctly yesterday, "Why change it?".

Few people seemed to realise how fortunate they are to have a secondary chamber such as we have today. The tragedy is that the majority of people did not seem to care about this place, nor understood what we try to do and indeed, at times, what we achieve. But over recent years, more and more members of the public are turning to the House of Lords when their elected Members appear to have failed them. This is evidenced by the deluge of letters urging Peers to vote on a whole range of issues when the other place has proved to be toothless and lacking. Indeed, the House of Lords is regarded by some as the Government's only effective opposition and recent political events only go to prove this. As a revising Chamber, the House of Lords has

10 Jan 2002 : Column 724

always been the last bastion of democracy and the White Paper does nothing whatever to protect this important role.

I urge Her Majesty's Government to turn their attention to things that do matter to this country and which the electorate really do care about—health, education and transport—and not merely to try to tinker with the constitution.

5.42 p.m.

Lord Baker of Dorking: My Lords, perhaps I may say to the noble Lord who has just spoken that, as he is one of the hereditary Peers who is moving a bit closer to the tumbrels, I hope that in any reformed Chamber he will reinvent himself under another category. I shall be happy to vote for him if he does so. Like many hereditary Peers he contributes a great deal to the workings of this House.

When the Lord Chancellor opened the debate yesterday, he said:


    "may I take your Lordships into my confidence? I confidently predict that this debate will not disclose any present consensus for our proposals".—[Official Report, 9/01/02; col. 562.]

There is the prophet of the Cabinet. No speaker in the debate, on any side, has supported the Government's proposals. One would have thought that one of the recently appointed "Blair Peers" might have said something—if not from conviction, at least from gratitude—in favour of the White Paper. But there has been total radio silence. The noble and learned Lord is not so much Blackadder; he is more like some stricken Samson with the ruins of the temple around him, friendless in Gaza.

The Government are in this muddle because their approach to constitutional reform has been fragmentary and piecemeal. Like a magpie, they have done a bit here and a bit there. There is no strategic vision or concept of where we are going; and that is very evident in their approach to the reform of this House.

Any independent person looking at the constitutional framework of our country today would come to the conclusion that there is an imbalance in our constitution and that the executive is too powerful. The executive has gained power over the past five years for two reasons: first, because of the large majority in the House of Commons and, secondly, because the present Prime Minister is trying to run, within a parliamentary system, a presidential form of premiership. I do not think that any Prime Minister has been as powerful—apart from those who have led our country in war— as the present Prime Minister. Everything comes in to No. 10; all is arranged around the power of No. 10. When we talk about the pre-eminence of the House of Commons, we mean the pre-eminence of the executive and its management of the House of Commons; the House of Commons, which by any standard, as the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, said, is considered in the political memory of the past 50 years or so to be one of the most servile and sycophantic.

10 Jan 2002 : Column 725

That is very regrettable. There must be better checks on the executive. The only body that has stood up to the executive in the past five years—and we have made fairly marginal dents upon it—has been this House. Yet this House is the body that is in need of reform!

Perhaps I may say where reform should start. It must start with an examination of the powers of both Houses. As the noble Lord, Lord Butler, said, this House must add value to the legislative process. Our greatest power is the power of delay. Certainly, that should not be reduced by the proposals in the White Paper to reduce our powers as regards secondary legislation.

In a reformed Chamber I should like to see much more pre-legislative scrutiny. I was a member of the Procedure Committee in the House of Commons from 1975 to 1979 which was considered to be the great reforming Procedure Committee. It recommended departmental Select Committees and pre-legislative scrutiny. This House can be very effective in carrying out pre-legislative scrutiny.

Secondly, this House must have a better way of dealing with secondary legislation. The old tradition that secondary legislation can never be changed or amended in any way should be re-examined. That is an important role for this House.

I turn now to composition. Views have been expressed on all sides of the House which are hostile to an elected element. Such hostility is unrealistic, considering what is happening in the Commons. Twenty years ago, very few Members of Parliament, in any party, wanted an elected element in the House of Lords. That has now fundamentally changed. It is clear that in the Labour Party many Back-Benchers believe that there should be a greater elected element than has been proposed. I have read newspaper reports of the meeting yesterday between the Lord Chancellor and the Leader of the House and Back-Bench Members of Parliament. The story was beautifully leaked. It was just like the old days. It was wonderful to read the drama of it all. The Lord Chancellor soon lost his temper—or they lost their temper with him; I do not know which way it went—but, in no time at all, the soft soap of the Leader of the House was needed to deal with it.

My point is that a substantial body of Labour Members of Parliament now want a higher elected element. A substantial body of Liberal Democrat MPs also want it; and if the Daily Telegraph is to be believed—I like to think that it should be believed from time to time—my own party will come out today in favour of 80 per cent being elected Members. That is a bold and adventurous proposal. The noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, who is in his place, will know that it corresponds to the view that Disraeli took in 1867 in introducing a measure of electoral reform which was even greater and larger than the Liberals had proposed. It became known as the "leap in the dark", and resulted in the following year in a substantial Liberal majority. The proposals from our Front Bench will be very interesting. I shall welcome them. In a

10 Jan 2002 : Column 726

moment I shall argue strongly for a substantial elected majority. However, I suspect that a figure of 80 per cent would be a position from which they could make a compromise. I believe that it is unrealistic.

When it comes to a new system of having elected Members in this House, one is certainly searching for legitimacy. Several speakers yesterday, including the noble Lords, Lord Neill and Lord Dahrendorf, talked about the nature of legitimacy. They were right in one respect: democracy is not the only way to carry legitimacy as a criterion for membership of this House. For 600 years, the main criterion for legitimacy was birth—heredity. It worked rather well. No one objected to it for 500 of those 600 years, and it allowed this House to take on the elected body of the House of Commons again and again. But that principle was supplemented and complemented in 1957-58 by the principle of appointment. But, had Harold Macmillan not introduced that principle, and had this House continued to be based on heredity, it would by now have been abolished. So the legitimacy of appointment emerged alongside the legitimacy of hereditary right of membership.

As the hereditary principle is now to disappear—I agree with my noble friend Lord Onslow that it will—it is entirely logical that another supplementary legitimacy through democracy should also come in. It is quite consistent to have legitimacy coming from two sources. That has been the case in this House for a number of years and the system has worked well.

When searching for legitimacy, why should we talk about democracy? There are other methods that could be used. I talk about democracy because this House has the power to change legislation that affects the life of everybody in our country. When a body has that much power, there must be some answerability to the people whose lives are affected. It is unrealistic to believe that an appointments system, which has already been strongly attacked on the grounds of patronage, could deliver that.

It is also naive to believe that this House is just a gathering of the great and the good who throw their counsel on the listening ears of the country. This House is about power and politics. The existence of this House cannot be envisaged without the nature of politics behind it. It would be naive to believe that politics will not continue to dominate the debates of this House and it would be carrying naivety to the point of vacuity to believe that the political parties are not going to have considerable influence on the future of this House.

The Government accept the democratic principle, as does the Royal Commission. Both accept that there should be an elected element. The question is how many. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor said 120 yesterday. That figure has been plucked from the air, but he said that it was justified on the grounds that in the transitional period there will be too many life Peers. As we appear to die at a rate of only 18 a year, it will be five years before 90 have dropped off the perch. He chided us for not being quicker in that regard to some extent. As everybody

10 Jan 2002 : Column 727

knows, there are a number of elderly and infirm colleagues on all sides of the House, as well as some Members who are inactive—some by nature and others just by the passage of time. They could be encouraged to vacate their position by a generous retirement scheme. I see the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor put up his hand—it is almost as though he were making an offer. I have not mentioned a figure yet and I shall not do so, but I hope that the Government will come forward with such a scheme, because that would raise the possibility of having a higher elected element at an earlier stage.

It is clear from the debate so far that there will have to be a compromise on the issue. In my view, the ideal composition of this House would be 50 per cent elected, 25 per cent Cross-Benchers and 25 per cent political appointees nominated by the leaders of the parties in proportion to their party's votes in the most recent election. Why the most recent? Why should there be any political appointees? Well, I was one, so, in the words of Mandy Rice-Davies, I would say that, wouldn't I? There is an advantage in an aldermanic Bench—people who have had experience of politics in local and national government. Those of us who have stood for elected office and served on councils or in the House of Commons have been bruised by reality. We know what is possible and what is not possible; we know what can be achieved and what cannot be achieved; we know where pressure can be placed and where it is impossible for pressure to produce a result. That is valuable to your Lordships' House.

Whatever the electoral system, closed regional lists should definitely not be accepted. If we are going to have an electoral system, the people of our country should know exactly who they are voting for. How those candidates are selected is a matter for the political parties and for the independents. The electoral system should be open, not closed. That would serve one important function. I think that it was the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, who said earlier that a system could be devised to ensure regional representation independent of elections. I invite him to consider the 267 Peers who have been appointed by Mr Blair, of whom 117 come from London and further 33 from the South East. That means that 150 have come from the South East of England. That is not proportionate to the national population. Only five have come from the North East and about six from the North West. An electoral system would redress that balance effectively.

I very much hope that the Government will not be discouraged from pursuing this reform. As the noble Lord, Lord Butler, said earlier, the time is right for reform. There is now a more open debate on the subject than I have ever known in my political life. It will require a great deal of courage and determination to carry it through. I remember an old folk song of Burl Ives that said, "From here on up the hills don't get any higher, but the hollows get deeper and deeper". I suspect that when the Government are preparing the Bill they will feel that the hollows are getting deeper and deeper, but I hope that they will not be

10 Jan 2002 : Column 728

discouraged, because the end purpose is to create a more effective House that will act as a check on a very powerful executive juggernaut.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page