|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Renton: My Lords, before my noble friend sits down, I wonder whether he would be so good as to reflect on the Select Committee in another place on which he and I both served, which recommended the creation of committees to cover every government department. Does he realise that that was one of the major factors in turning the life of a Member of Parliament into a full-time occupation? We should be very careful not to make such recommendations in your Lordships' House, because the value of this House would diminish if we became full-timers.
Lord Baker of Dorking: My Lords, I am not suggesting for a moment that in any combined system of appointment and election there should be full-time Members of this House. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford made an important point yesterday about the outside experience that part-timers can bring to the House. When the noble Lord, Lord Renton, and I were first in the House of Commons we were in effect part-time MPs. That does not diminish the need for strong departmental Select Committees. I should like them to have even greater powers.
Lord Smith of Clifton: My Lords, if this is not too heady a sentiment to express in your Lordships' House, perhaps I may say that I was thrilled by the thrust and analysis offered by the noble Lord, Lord Baker of Dorking, as I was to hear the remarks of the noble Earl, Lord Onslow.
In opening the debate, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor used the lawyer's ploy, taught in the first lecture on advocacy at law school: at the outset, seek to constrain the terms of the case as narrowly as possible and define its parameters as tightly as they can be drawn, then follow up by making a plea that, as reasonable people, the parties can come to a compromise within those conveniently narrow confines. Many of those who have spoken in the debate have eagerly accepted the noble and learned Lord's invitation. Consequently, much of the debate has been about the differences between the Wakeham report and the White Paper. As such, this is merely an exercise in Talmudic disputation. The debate must be cast more widely, as some noble Lords have argued and achieved.
We on these Benches, beginning with the example of the notable speech by my noble friend Lady Williams, have rejected the terms that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor had hoped to impose on the debate. The noble Lord, Lord Richard, did the same in his powerfully argued contribution from the Labour Benches. I, too, strongly share the view that we should be discussing the reform of the upper House in the wider context of both Houses of Parliament, the proper relationships between them and their role in engaging the electorate as a whole, particularly at this time of widespread public alienation from politics.
That said, I wish to concentrate on two particular aspects of the debate: first, the vexed issue of election versus appointment; and secondly the alleged need for expertise, to which so much reference has been made.
It is relevant to point to the position that the broadsheet press across the political spectrum has consistently adopted towards Lords reform in recent years. All have criticised Wakeham and the White Paper and almost all would endorse the proposition for a majority of elected Members.
When your Lordships discussed the Wakeham report on 7th March 2000, I read out the headlines from the serious newspapers, which were unanimous in their condemnation of its timid proposals. That chorus of criticism was redoubled when the White Paper was published on 8th November last. That criticism has been kept up relentlessly. In their leaders today, The Times, the Guardian, the Independent, and the Telegraph, reiterate their criticism of the White Paper. The majority of them endorse a large degree of election to the upper Chamber.
As the noble Lord, Lord Richard, remarked yesterday, public opinion has consistently led on the issue of Lords reform by overwhelmingly opting for an upper House based either totally or mainly on election. He also cited the results of a series of opinion polls in recent years in evidence of that. This week, the think tank Democratic AuditI declare an interest as I am closely associated with itpublished an ICM poll which it had commissioned last December that also confirmed that pattern of public opinion. The noble Lord, Lord Norton, I think, quoted rather successfully from the poll yesterday. The main findings were that 27 per cent wanted a wholly elected second Chamber; 27 per cent wanted a majority elected Chamber; only 14 per cent wanted a majority appointed; while a tiny 7 per cent wanted a wholly appointed House. In summary, therefore, 54 per cent want a majority elected House, with 21 per cent wanting a mainly appointed one. That is a majority of two to one in favour of election being the main operating principle for the second Chamber.
Pace the noble Lord, Lord Butler, whatever the deficiency of opinion polls, they are the best measures of opinion available, and they are certainly preferable to the dictum that the man in Whitehall knows best. I think that my noble friend Lord Jenkins was correct in his assessment that opinion has run ahead too far for merely tinkering with the present composition of this House. It is not an acceptable option.
It is therefore incredible, given the weight of public opinion and the relentless press criticism, that the Government found themselves able to come forward with a White Paper containing provisions for so small an elected element. The democratic impulses that motivated their stage one proposals have clearly atrophied in the past two years. An elected majority is the only basis for the way forward, as both the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, and the noble Lord, Lord Baker, suggested.
Part of the rationale for the Government's proposals, and one which has been common to many of the speeches in the debate, is the slightly exaggerated extent to which the breadth of expertise is said to characterise your Lordships' House. I would urge your Lordships caution in pressing that point too far, as the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, came perilously close to doing. Pushed too far, the logic would be for a stage three, in which all your Lordships bar one would be deemed redundant, and then the noble Lord, Lord Birt, could take on everything, as he is seemingly the omni-competent expert capable of tackling all issues, including broadcasting, crime, transport and who knows what else next.
More seriously, expertise, however else desirable, should not be the main organising principle for a second Chamber. As the noble Lord, Lord Richard remarked, a legislative Chamber is pre-eminently a political one. As my noble friend Lord Wallace of Saltaire effectively demonstrated, a good deal of expertise in all sorts of spheres is to be found among those who are party political. It is by no means the case, as the Convenor of the Cross-Benchers implied, that expertise is the sole prerogative of his colleagues and that special places should be reserved for former Governors of the Bank of England, the Cabinet Secretary, and heads of the Diplomatic Corps and the armed services. I find such a suggestion preposterous. The turnover in those positions is so frequent that the House would soon be swamped by such appointments.
Another problem with putting an excessive premium on expertise is that, especially given the pace of change in almost all walks of life, it has an increasingly short shelf life. Skills rapidly date. Regardless, expertise is not a synonym for wisdom, as is often suggested.
As an essay on constitutional reform, the Wakeham reportaccording to my very generous marking, as a former professorscored gamma minus. By the same token, the White Paper would have been classified a fail, and the Government, preferably in the form of the Leader of the House of Commons, should be made to re-sit the examination. The current White Paper is not the basis for creating a "joined-up" legislature. The Government must think again.
Earl Ferrers: My Lords, it may be trite to say so, but I think that it is correct that I should declare an interest in so far as, with 91 other people, I shall find myself disappearing in a cloud of blue smoke if the Government's proposals come into effect. I do not think too much of that. However, I congratulate both the Lord Chancellor and the Leader of the House on having stuck the course all of yesterday and all of today. They have not even bothered to go for a cup of tea now that I have risen to speak. They have been remarkably consistent. Those remarks should ensure that they also remain in the Chamber for the rest of my speech.
My noble friend Lord Onslowwho is not in the Chamberthinks that this Chamber should be elected. Not for the first time, as it is not difficult to do, I disagreed totally with what he saidalthough that does not mean that I do not appreciate what he said. I have also served in the Home Office as a minion of my noble friend Lord Baker of Dorking. Although I admired him enormously, and still do, I disagreed with almost every word that he said today. However, that does not mean that he is not right; he is very much more capable than I am.
It is a pity that the Government decided not to establish a Joint Committee of both Houses to consider the Royal Commission's report. That was a promise given by both the previous and the current Leader of the House, and such promises should be kept. If that type of promise is not kept by that type of person, what on earth is the point of having a promise? After all, it is not the Government's job to alter Parliament to reflect their thinking, but Parliament's job to alter Parliament to reflect its thinking. How can Parliament know what it thinks if the vehicle for deciding that has not even been allowed out of the shed? I think that it is a great mistake. I also rather fancy that the White Paper might have been rather different if such a Joint Committee had had a role in the matter.
The Government have always wanted to get rid of hereditary Peers, which I find enormously wounding. Although I cannot see what they find so abhorrent about us poor characters, we have to accept that that is what they want to do. They are, however, entirely inconsistent in the way in which they seek to do it. First, they said that all hereditary Peers had to go. Then, they said that they wanted to keep 100 of us; so we came back. Now, they say that they want us all to go; so out we go. It shows as much consistency as the Grand Old Duke of York when he marched his men to the top of the hill and then marched them down again. As your Lordships will recall,
So much for the Government's consistency in that. It is also funny that the only ones whom the Government want to remove are those of your Lordships who have been elected. The ones whom they want to keep are those who have been put here, if I may say so, by their friends. That does not seem to be a very democratic view to take.
The White Paper says that the link with the peerage should be dissolvedthat is a pretty fundamental wordand that membership of the House of Lords should be separated form the peerage. So being called a Lord will continue, but it will be just an honour, like being a CBE. Those who will be appointed to the second Chamber will, presumably, be Mr. Smith and
We cannot continue to have a second Chamber called the "House of Lords". As Mr Smith and Mr Jones will be the new Members of the second Chamber and they will not be Lords, they cannot be Members of the House of Lords. That is fairly obvious. So the name of the House of Lords will surely have to go. Perhaps we should call it the "Second Chamber" or the "Upper House". The initials would then be MUHMember of the Upper House. But not the House of Lords.
If the future of the House is to continue to contain an elected element, I cannot see how the Leader of the House, and indeed the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, can be in charge of the House as they themselves have not been elected. They will have no legitimacy (a word they love to use). We can all understand why that is so at the moment; it is what the law says. But if the Government's ideas were to become law, there is absolutely no reason why the Leader of the House and the Lord Chancellor should not submit themselves for election. After all, their names would go to the top of the list because it would be a closed party system and they would know perfectly well that they would get in. But it would give them legitimacy once they were here. The Lord Chancellor could retain his official title. He would be Mr Irvine QC, MUH, Lord Chancellor, and we would have Mr Williams QC, MUH, Lord Privy Seal, just as we have Mr Robin Cook MP, Lord President of the Council. That would be a great advantage to both noble and learned LordsI am thinking entirely of their interest, their legitimacy and their stature. It would ensure that they were both democratic and legitimate in the parliamentary sense. They would love that.
There is plenty of precedent for that. Those who have sat on the Woolsack have not always been Peers. Sir Robert Henley, the predecessor of my noble friend Lord Henley, presided over the House of Lords as a commoner for three years until he was elevated to the position of Lord Chancellor in order to preside over the trial of my forebear, the fourth Lord Ferrers, who was tried for murder. He was advised to plead insanity. But their Lordships considered he pleaded his case so well that he could not be insane. He was hanged. It is all very well for my noble friend Lord Renton to say, "If you are insane, you have to be expelled". All I can say is that my forebear was hanged for not being insane. As a matter of interest, he wore his white wedding clothes on the day of his death, not for any
So the Lord Chancellor need not be worried about that situation. There is ample precedent for him to follow the passage of Sir Robert Henley, provided he does not take it out on the present noble Earl; that would be very disagreeable.
If we introduce another House of Lords Bill, I hope that it will not refer to "a" hereditary Peer; it is "an" hereditary Peer. We witnessed the hilarious but rather embarrassing spectacle of the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House arguing and voting against something he knew perfectly well was right. It would be a pity if the noble and learned Lord were to embarrass himself yet again. I give him warning that he should make sure that the Bill is properly drafted.
But the real conundrum which the Government are facing is that they do not know whether they want a more powerful or a less powerful second Chamber. The Leader of the House, when he introduced the White Paper, said that the fundamental principle has been that reform should not undermine the position of the House of Commons and that it must not alter the respective roles and authority of the two Chambers. But that is exactly what it will do.
Power between the House of Lords and the House of Commons is finite; it is like a see-saw. If we give more to one, we take away from the other. If the second Chamber is to be reformed, it is bound to become more powerful. We cannot reform the House of Lords and expect it to be less powerful. How can we expect people to give up their jobs in the prime of their life, to come here five days a week, to be here late at night, to be paid nothing other than expenses, not even to be called "Lord", and then to achieve less than has already been achieved? We will not get anyone to come here.
If the second Chamber were to become more powerful, despite what they say, another place will simply hate it. They will not want a more powerful second Chamber. Imagine the antagonism there will be when your Lordships send a controversial amendment back to another place and say, "We have a perfect right to do this, and a much bigger right than we had before because we are now elected". The House of Commons will not like that.
There is only one elected Chamber. And that is the House of Commons. I suggest that your Lordships should not yearn nor seek to devise a second Chamber to be like that. The Government want a closed party list system for voting Members to the upper House. We will not be voting for Mr Smith or Mr Jones; we will be voting Labour or Conservative, or possibly even Liberal Democrat, and whoever the party decide to put at the top of their list will be elected. That is not democratic; it is appointment by another name, as one noble Lord has just said.
To run the House of Lords in the year 2000 cost £67,000 per Member; the House of Commons £405,000 per Member; and the European Parliament £954,000 per Member. What an astonishing contrast and what astonishing value for money we are. Under the new proposals the second Chamber will become more expensive, more aggressive, more assertive and more combative, and the House of Commons will hate it.
I abhor the numbers game. This situation does not call for a mathematical solution. Quite often the results are wrong anyway. But the Government want the membership of the House of Lords to reflect the results of the last election. Suppose the Conservative Party came back with a large majority at the next electionwe do not have to expand our imagination too far to know that that could happen. A whole lot of new Peers would be created to reflect that. At the following election the Labour Party might suddenly have a landslide victory. It would then have to make up enough Peers to reach the level of the Conservative Party and then more in order to reflect its new membership. What happens when we go through the cap? Does somebody get the sack? Who sacks them? Does the Conservative leader sack the recently appointed Labour Peers? The whole idea is derisory. That is why we cannot have a system that relies on numbers.
We use awful sounding words like "legitimate" and "professional". But do we want a more professional House, whatever that may mean? The main difference seems to be that when a person becomes a professional he gets paid. "Legitimate" sounds fine. Almost every single noble Lordincluding myself, though I think it is a horrible wordhas used that word. But it only means that one is operating within the law. If we change the law in order to fill the House with different people, it does not mean that they will be any more "legitimate" than those who were here legitimately before.
How can anyone argue that a House which is appointed is democratic? We do not like hereditary Peers, so we get rid of them. But let us stop trying to persuade ourselvesworse still, persuade othersthat we are making a more democratic House. We are doing nothing of the sort. And why get rid of the Bishops? What have they done to gather such opprobrium? The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford was quite right when he said that when they are away they are doing work for when they are here. Halve them and that will immediately throw twice the load on those who remain.
Why should we get rid of those who are over 75? The speech of my noble friend Lord Renton was absolutely masterful and he has made a great contribution to this House. Why do we want to put these artificial limits on people?
The Government even pride themselves on the fact that they are now going to be able to expel Members of your Lordships' House. Who on earth gave them that idea? Why should we start to expel people? Your Lordships' House is not like a political party which can throw out people with whom it disagrees; it is a Chamber of Parliament which has always housed a microcosm of life.
The real position is that the Government have sunk themselves into a quicksand with this reform, into which they are being dragged ever deeper. Getting rid of hereditary Peers is one thing; that is easy, but stage two is far more difficult and far more dangerous. It is not modernisation, it is a destruction of a fundamental part of our constitution without proper consultation or agreement, which I for one deplore. The Government have been good enough to say that they want to receive views. I hope that they will listen to these views and think again.
Lord Howie of Troon: My Lords, one of the great pleasures of being a Member of this House over the past 20 or so years is that I have been able to engage in debate with the noble Earl who has just spoken. However, he expressed some anxiety about whether that situation would continue.
In thinking about this debate I browsed through the relevant Commons Hansards of 1969 when an attempt was made to pass the Parliament (No. 2) Bill. That indicates to me that it is difficult to get this kind of reform through the Commons, let alone this House. The noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, may be present in this Chamber far longer than he thinks. I for one sincerely hope that that is the case.
I agree strongly with the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, in what he considered to be the proper functions of the House of Lords. I do not need to repeat his comments. However, I should say that the exercise of those functions depends on the composition of the House as much as anything else. That is what I mainly wish to comment on. If I remember, I shall try to suggest a compromise to the Government.
I believe that the argument for an elected or partly elected House was totally demolished yesterday by my noble friend Lord Gordon of Strathblane. Later, the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, trampled all over the rubble. And the rubble has been kicked about frequently in the course of today's debate. I believe that the case for an elected House is dead. My noble friend Lord Richard tried to give it strength by drawing attention to opinion polls. I do not want to comment on the usefulness of opinion polls, their accuracy or strength. I merely say that whereas a majority of people have expressed a desire to have elections to this House, experience at the general election, the elections to the Greater London Authority, the European elections and the recent local elections indicates that although people may want elections they do not seem to want to vote. Therefore, I do not think that we can put too much weight on that expression of opinion.
The argument in favour of election seems to me somewhat confused in the sense that "election" appears to be used in many speeches in connection with "democracy" as if the two words meant the same thing. Noble Lords talk about a democratic House being an elected House. However, it does not necessarily follow that those two words mean the same thing. I remember that Mr Stalin, who was keen on elections and got a good attendance as a rule, often obtained a good result from his point of view. Mr Mugabe seems to have a similar view of electionshe is keen on elections but cool on democracy. The two things do not go quite as hand in hand as some speakers have assumed.
Is our method of election all that democratic? I shall not discuss PR, which I support, or anything of that nature, or even closed lists, which I oppose. I shall discuss the selection of candidates. Voters are put in a position where they can vote only for those who put themselves up for election. Having put myself up for election in the past I should say that that is not always the best qualification. That is the problem. How do these candidates come before the electorate? They go through a selection process and are usually, but not always, chosen by a small coterie of political enthusiasts who are by their very nature unrepresentative of the community as a whole. They, therefore, tend to choose people of their own kind. People who put themselves up for election also tend to be political enthusiasts which is a qualification of only moderate use.
There are peculiarities in the method of selection. Noble Lords will remember a former Conservative Member of Parliament, Mr Shaun Woodward, who, quite rightly, decided to cross the Floor and join the Labour Party. In a twinkling of an eye he was transformed from a Member in a safe Conservative seat to a Member in a safe Labour seat. Does anyone detect a hint of jobbery there or something of that nature? Or did Mr Woodward so enamour himself to the members of the selection committee in St Helens that they were swept off their feet by his eloquence? I am sure that that must have been the case. What in essence happens is that the electorate are obliged to rubber-stamp the selection of an unrepresentative body of people and they end up with the other place as it now is which has been slightly criticised in our debate.
If we do not have elections to this Chamber, what should we have? We must have nomination, obviously, of which the noble Lord, Lord Baker of Dorking, spoke kindly, although he finally decided that he did not want it. I think that that is correct. It raises, of course, the question of patronage. I have never been opposed to patronage. I admitted that during debates in the other place in the 1960s. Patronage is widespread in public life and widely accepted.
Yesterday, the noble Lord, Lord Peyton of Yeovil, praised the quality of the Government Front Bench in this House. He was right to do so. But how did the members of the Front Bench get there? They got there by patronage. They were placed thereI do not say that they are placemen, as that is not trueby the
I turn to the White Paper's idea that at least part of the House should be nominated in proportion to the votes cast at the previousor some earliergeneral election. I am piqued by that proposal, which is not new, because it is a kissing cousin, one might say, of an amendment that I tabled in 1969 to the Parliament (No. 2) Bill, although my amendment went a little further than the Government's proposal.
In those days I was rash and radical and I proposed that the system should be devised in such a way that the government had a majority in the House. That is not the intention of the White Paper but the principle is the same; that is, that the number of Members of this place should be proportionate in some way to the votes cast at a previous general election, for a quite different assembly. The noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, demonstrated the problems that would arise with succeeding elections and at changes of government. The authors of the White Paper must be aware of those obvious problems. Interestingly, the debate on my amendment lasted for three hours and took up a sizeable part of the 10 days that the Bill suffered in Committee before it was eventually dropped into oblivion.
The late Enoch Powell opposed my amendment. He said that I had been in the Whips' Office too long and that, because of my experience there, I was intent on giving the government a rubber stamp. He was quite rightI was. I now think that I was wrong and he was right.
I see that my noble friend Lord Sheldon is in his place. He spoke lengthily in that debate and, with every other speaker, opposed my proposal, which was defeated, in the end, largely as a result of the intervention of the Home Office Minister, now my noble friend Lord Merlyn-Rees. His comments were conclusive. He said:
I briefly take up a proposition that my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor advanced the other day; namely, that we should suggest alternative proposals if we do not like the Government's suggestions. That I shall try to do; I shall put forward something in the nature of a compromise. The aim, in part, is to abolish the hereditary Peers. I am not terribly keen on that; I have nothing against them.
I have a suggestion that would solve all of the Government's difficulties very simply and at one fell swoop. The Government should abolish the 90 or so hereditary Peers, which they intend to do in any case. Having done that, they should give life peerages to about half of the Conservative former hereditary Peers and, perhaps, to a number of Cross-Benchers and possibly even to some of the Liberal Democrats. That would be a matter of arithmetic. It would strike two birds with one stone. The hereditary element would have been abolished and the balance of the parties would be pretty nearly what was wanted. If it was not quite right, there could be some fine tuning.
I finish with a brief comment. Should the Government get their way, why should Members of this House be called "ML"? I know what it means. The noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, discussed that. Older Members may recall that Tony Benn published a Fabian pamphlet 30 or 35 years ago suggesting a reform of this House. He based it, incidentally, on the Privy Council, but that is by the way. He said that a Member of this House should be called an "LP"a Lord of Parliament. I like that suggestion, should we come to that sorry pass. "MP" indicates that a Member of the Commons is a Member of Parliament. "LP" would indicate clearly that we wereas we arealso Members of the same Parliament and, in status, equal to them.
Lord Boardman: My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Lord, Lord Howie, because, I remember, many years ago, I traipsed around the Middle East in a delegation following him. I am in agreement with some of his ideas.
I shall try to be brief because so much has already been said in this debate, and said so much better than I could do. I want to touch on three issues. First, on the question of the 92 hereditary Peers, which have already been mentioned, I accept that hereditary succession to this House has gone and gone for everthat is inevitable. However, among those 92 Peers whom we have retained in this House, we have some of the most experienced, wise and dedicated Members. On average, I am sure that they are also the youngest. The average age of this House, I am told, is 69 or so, but that of the hereditary Peers is considerably lower. I find it difficult to understand why the Government should wish to throw them away; that would be an awful waste. The hereditary Peers should be offered life peeragesthat would allow them to stay with us and it would give considerable value to the House for years to come. The Government may say that they could be nominated at a later stageif the Bill is enactedas MLs. In view of their past service and their future value to this House, that is quite inadequate. They should be offered the right to a life peerage, and that should be done before any legislation restricts life peerages and creates MLs with many time limits.
My second point involves the role of the appointments commission. Its duties are fairly wide. They are to determine the House's sizeto bring it down to 600 Members over a period of 10 yearsand to maintain a political balance, which will reflect the votes cast in the previous general election. It will also ensure that 20 per cent of its nominees are women. If I have followed the White Paper's projections correctly, what has been called the turnoverthat is, the number of us who drop off the perchis averaged, no doubt by the Government Actuary, to be 18 per annum over 10 years. That can only mean that there will be approximately five ML appointments per annum under the proposals in the White Paper. I believe that that will be inadequate to secure the political balance which is sought.
I believe that it was my noble friend Lord Ferrers who referred to the problem of "swings" in the House. There is a large majority in the other place today but, come the next election, I hope that that will be remedied and rectified. Be that as it may, one must anticipate that over the years swings in the balance of power will require considerable adjustment in order to achieve the political balance which is sought in the White Paper.
The third point that I wish to raise relates to the election of Members. I suggest that to plan a House which consists of 80 per cent nominated and 20 per cent elected Members is, frankly, a nonsense. I am sorry to say that I disagree strongly with my noble friend Lord Baker of Dorking. His projection and anticipation of an elected House is one which I do not share in any way. If the proposals in the White Paper are accepted, there will inevitably be clashes. Those who are elected to this House will have some responsibility to their electorate. I am not sure who that electorate will be; presumably it will consist of people from the regions and others around the country. Those Members will have electoral responsibility. Yet their votes here will be equal to those of each of the nominated Members, whose responsibility is primarily to their conscience. They may claim party commitment, but Members of this House ultimately decide how they vote according to their conscience and not according to an electorate from whom they may seek another mandate in years to come.
A clash between nominated and elected Members is one thing, but I foresee a more difficult clash between elected Members in this House and elected Members in the other place. If the latter take a different view, they may consider that they have a legitimate right to attack the so-called "legitimate" elected Members in this House in a way that they could not attempt to do with regard to the nominated Members. Tolerance in the other place is not usually granted easily. That is especially so when the majority is small, as it will be from time to time.
Over the past 20 years I have abstained or voted against proposals from my party with which I have not agreed. I may do soI say this to my Whipsin future. But that is the freedom of a nominated Peer. It
Many have spoken against the idea of an elected minority. I refer to the splendid speeches of the noble Lord, Lord Gordon of Strathblane, from the government Benches, and to the splendid speech of the noble Lord, Lord Neill of Bladen. Indeed, there was also a splendid speech from the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, from the Liberal Democrat Benches. Each put forward far better than I could attempt to do objections to minority-elected membership of the new House. I was delighted to hear their views, which I entirely share. This afternoon we also heard my noble and learned friend Lord Howe of Aberavon and the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, express grave reservations about such an election as proposed in the White Paper.
If we were to do away with the idea of an elected minority, what would be the alternatives? One would be to have a fully elected Chamber, as put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Richard. I believe that that would be inappropriate and would cause massive damage. If it were to be contemplated, it would mean abolishing this House and setting up something in the nature of an American Senate or a second Chamber in some of the other administrations. I share the objections to it, which are, indeed, included in the White Paper. I hope that such a proposal would be rejected by a Joint Committee of both Houses, which it has been promised will be set up to consider such matters.
The Government should not claim that this "botch-up" of a scheme makes the House more representative and democratic. It does not do so. To say that having 20 per cent of its Members elected makes the House democratic and to claim that that eases the Government's conscience or the party's undertakings is, I believe, a cosmetic nonsense. We can best provide a second Chamber if it is appointed or nominated, whichever term is correct. The best way of achieving that should be discussed in more detail by the promised Joint Committee.
We had a very good illustration of the democracy deployed by this Chamber during the various debates that we had last month on the anti-terrorism Bill when the Government were defeated seven or eight times following Divisions. Those defeats were generally widely supported by the public and by the media, and therefore this non-elected House represented the views of the public on the various matters on which votes were held.
Time is not critical in relation to the White Paper. It is not critical to the country and it is not critical to this House. We are getting on quite well as it is. It may be critical within the Labour Party press or ranks, but it is not critical here. However, when changes are made, it is critical that they are right. We do not want a botched-up scheme that may satisfy some of the thoughts of those who are being harassed by parts of the media; but we do want a scheme which is considered and found to be workable. Therefore, I ask
Lord Dearing: My Lords, I have had the pleasure of listening in this debate to three Ministers whom I served previously; the noble Lords, Lord Boardman, Lord Peyton and Lord Baker. It is the way of Sir Humphrey to say, "Yes, Minister". But in spite of all the art and obfuscation which I had at my command, such are the differences that it is, I apologise to say, beyond my power to say that this evening. However, I have listened to the speeches with enjoyment and respect.
The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor charmed the House yesterday in opening the debate by taking us into his confidence and saying that he did not expect to achieve a consensus for his or any other proposal. I want to take the House into confidence on my own behalf on the matter of consensus by saying that, as I have listened to the debate, I have been unable to establish a firm consensus in my own mind, let alone expecting to persuade the House of my own views.
I speak with much diffidence. We heard the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, speak on the basis of 54 years in Parliament and the noble Lord, Lord Renton, of 56 years. I have had three years and an indifferent record of attendance too. Nevertheless, over my years as an aspiring Sir Humphrey, I learned to greatly respect this House, which is powerful in knowledge, in wisdom and in experience. It has earned my respect because it listens and is persuaded by evidence and arguments. Paradoxically, I feel that this unelected Chamber, in the face of a Government with a massive majority, has been a valued bulwark of democracy. We should cherish its future existence.
If I have one regret, it is that expressed by the Lord Privy Seal last year when he said something about his disappointment that the high quality of the debates in this Chamber was not adequately reflected in the reports of the media. That matters because a well-informed electorate earns a better government and earns a better civil society.
The one time we attract media attention is when the House dares to use its powers under the Parliament Act. It is a sadness, and indeed an anomaly, that at a time when the Government are proposing to increase the legitimacy of the membership of this House they should also be proposing to reduce its powers.
I have one quarrel with the Royal Commission. I go along with its view that a power in relation to subordinate legislation which has not been used for 30 or 40 years needs reconsideration. But it has gone too far in saying that the power should be reduced to the extent that it envisages. It will have no influence on the Government to have a delay of three months.
There is one more delicate matter in this business of representation that I raise with some hesitation. It is the reference to "elderly". If your Lordships turn to a bar chart near the end of the supporting documents it will be seenI hope that my memory is correctthat out of 551 life Peers there are three or four under 40. At the other end of the spectrum we have nearly 90 who are 80. If that is thought a little extremeI agree that a grandfatherly rather than a parent House is appropriate to a revising Chamber where experience and knowledge is so valuablewe do not have even 30 who are under 50. Our average age is 69.
When people see us on the telly and look at this bald head and elderly face, they may not feel that I represent the full participation of the younger age groups. If we are to be representative of society, I suggest that, while the House will necessarily, and rightly, be predominantly elderly, it would improve our legitimacy and the weight with which our views are received by those of younger years if they could see more of their members among us. That is another element of representativeness that the appointments commission might bear in mind.
I hesitate to move on to the ground of the balance between elected and appointed Peers. There is no consensus. My views are less valuable than most because I have been here so little time. However, we must recognise that there are two validly held approaches to legitimacy. One is based on effectiveness in technical terms, based upon experience, knowledge, disinterestedness, abandonment of personal ambition and concern with the public good. This independence,
In the last Session of the House before we rose for Christmas the House was dealing with the Sex Discrimination (Election Candidates) Bill. It was a routine piece of business in a thin House. Again, I listened with respect, for example, to the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Norton, and to the response by the Lord Privy Seal. So there is legitimacy.
On the other hand, there is the legitimacy in a democratic society; that people who are here on a political ticket are elected. The noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, referred to Mr Smith and Mr Jones. I suspect that they would feel that it is right for political people to be elected. What matters is not what we think is legitimatethat is part of itbut what society as a whole thinks is legitimate. My guess is that many of the Mr Smiths and Mr Jones think that political people should be elected because that is what they are used to.
Given that those are two valid bases for legitimacy, a good composition for the political Benches would be to recognise them both and to go for a fudgepartly elected and partly appointed. Why appointed? I argue for the appointed because I believe that this House benefits, as the noble Lord, Lord Baker, said, from the aldermanic contributionthose who have achieved distinction in the service of Parliament or in government, or both, who no longer want to accept the full-time commitment which I suspect will be required of elected Members if, for example, their constituency is regional. Those contributions, as I illustrated on Afghanistan or on the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Bill, are so valuable.
Secondly, many lawyers on the political Benches spoke impressively on the anti-terrorism Bill. There are noble Lords on those Benches who want to pursue their professional career. They are people of genuine distinction who are willing to give their time to this Chamber but who would not wish to be engaged in the rough and tumble of elections. We need them. It is legitimate for the government or opposition parties to say, "We must be well represented on our Front Benches and have a wider source than those who are elected". I have been very impressed by the quality of the Front-Benchers.
There are grounds for a substantial, appointed element, not on the basis recommended by the Government but by the Royal Commission: that they should be appointed by the commission rather than government.
We are nearing the end of the debate without a consensus. The ball will land back in the court of the Government. When they make firm proposals, I hope that as a caring government, deeply anxious for the well-being of democracyit depends on a proper balance of powers between the executive and the
I hope that there will be discussions, probably involving the other place, afterwards. To those on the Front Bench who will be involved in them, I say this. Please be mindful, first, that those behind you do not necessarily share your views; and, secondly, that your concern is with the effectiveness and legitimacy of this part of Parliament and not with the expedient conduct of the business of the government of today or of those governments which other parties aspire to lead in the future.
Lord Rees: My Lords, I listened with great pleasure to the eloquent speech of the noble Lord, Lord Dearing. However, perhaps I may take him up on one point. I should be happy to debate many others with him on another occasion. He suggests that the occupants of this Chamber, whether under this or some subsequent measure of reform, should be made more representative of the main bulk of our fellow countrymen. I suggest that that is the role of the House of Commons. They are the people elected by our fellow countrymen. If our fellow countrymen are unhappy with their age, outlook or background, they will not secure election. If they secure election the presumption must be that they are acceptable. It will be difficult to square all the other qualities that the Government suggest will be required of an upper House with making the occupants of this Chamber representative, broadly-speaking, of our fellow countrymen.
The genesis of today's debate goes back to the previous Parliament. We were told by the Government in 1999 that the first measure of reform was self-contained: the elimination of a medieval anomaly left over from 1911 which could be tidied away at last after a period of nearly 100 years and we could then get on with serious other business. As was pointed out at the timeit emerged very soonwe cannot pull from a very old structure, as is our constitution, a number of bricks and expect the structure to remain as solid as before. We now find ourselves advancing on a fairly large measure of proposed reform.
The British constitution is bicameral. There is a critical place for both elements in the House of Commons and the upper House. If any measure of reform to either component part is proposed, the effects on the other must be considered carefully. The composition and functions of both cannot be divorced. I say this with due diffidence to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor. There is very little reflection on the role of the House of Commons except to stress that nothing undertaken in this exercise should in any way diminish the pre-eminence of the House of Commons. "Pre-eminence" is a somewhat doubtful phrase. It sometimes suggests distinction;
However, let us consider the present situation. I believeI hope that it is not wishful thinkingthat there is not much serious criticism of the performance of this House. It is probably less than the criticism of the performance in many fields of the House of Commons. Of course there will be complaints by Ministers whose legislationpossibly it is ill thought out or not suitably draftedis returned to another place for further amendment and reflection. But leaving aside those critics who speak from a particular position of concern, I believe that the country as a whole has no real criticism of the way we perform our duties.
The gravamen of the Government's case is, "Yes, but here you continue to lack a legitimacy that is accorded to another place". In political circles that may be so. I do not know how justifiable that argument is. Whether it is a significant gap in our armoury I rather doubt. But I do not believe that the country as a whole is overly concerned about that. Perhaps we may consider the methods which might be adopted to remedy that gap in our armoury. The noble Lord, Lord Dearing, referred to making Members more representative. I do not think that the man or woman in the street really expects to find us next-door to him or her in the pub in the evening. He will find other avenues of approach to convey his views. If they are practical matters, he will probably turn to the House of Commons.
I am not certain how much legitimacy can be conceded to the House of Commons. Other noble Lords have pointed out that our electoral process is a curious one. The relationship, for example, between the seats achieved by the Government in the last election and the votes cast for them was not close. The turnout for the last election should give cause for concern to all of us involved in the political process. I wonder whether any of us can by that test be regarded as having total legitimacy.
I turn to the future. Of course we must consider both composition and functions. The debate on composition has reduced itselfthis is where I have found this debate extremely helpfulto a choice between some form of nomination and some form of election. I recognise that, having been a beneficiary, as it were, of the nomination process, I perhaps speak from a slightly partisan position. But the question on nomination is how to extract it from the party process or from the representatives of the executive. I recognise that that will not easily be resolved.
In view of the lateness of the hour, I do not want to enlarge on this point. But I do not believe that one can really devolve nomination to some entirely detached, politically neutered body that will bring to bear critical talents that might otherwise be denied and not have at least a partisan interest that may be attributed to someone derived from the party struggle. If that is so, I find myself in some difficulty. In fact, I should prefer a nomination process because it can bring to bear the
I turn to the question of election. Perhaps this has been concealed from us for too long, but it is interesting to see how sentiment in the other place and in the country seems to be moving toward a largely elected upper House. I am bound to say that, although I see election's immediate charm, if the upper House is a pale replica of the Commons, paid or unpaid, we will contribute little of real value to the political debate. I am not unique in holding that view because other noble Lords have given vent to such doubts.
What would be the functions of an elected upper House? Again, I find it hard to reconcile the concept of an elected upper House with the Government's injunction that the pre-eminence of the House of Commons should not in any way be impaired by the reform process now evolving. That is impossible. I make one slight exception. I see some case to consideralthough I am uncertain how far this would square with what is proposedtrying to involve the devolved institutions in our processes at Westminster, whether by some form of indirect election I do not know. At this hour I am not prepared to express my rather unformulated views on that, but there may be a case for having a small body inside the upper House that represents the delegated institutions.
I turn to the question of the functions of the upper House. As has been observed, they are revision, advice and examination. I should strongly deprecate any reduction in the powers afforded to this House. Already our position vis-a-vis the Commons and vis-a-vis the Executive has been weakened over the years. In particular, we must reflect on constitutional issues. We have had the advantage, which is now the disadvantage, of having no totally written constitution. It is absurd that a majority in the House of Commons should be entitledmaking use of the Parliament Acts if need beto force through a major measure of constitutional reform. That cannot be right. The upper House should therefore be given longer delaying powers and/or the power to require a referendum where a major measure of constitutional reform is proposed.
People will ask at once: how do you define a major measure? That opens up the whole question, touched on by some noble Lords, of whether we should have a constitutional courtwhether in some way we should transmute the Appellate Committee of the House of Lords into an independent constitutional court.
What is the way ahead? It has surely emerged from our debates, and I hope that the Government Front Bench will accept, that a much longer period of reflection and consultation is needed. I share the feeling of several noble Lords, in particular my noble friends Lord Denham and Lord Ferrers, that it was frivolous in the extreme to brush aside the proposal which they advanced earlier for a Joint Committee of Commons and Lords. That is the least that one could propose at this stage to attempt to reconcile the possibly conflicting views of those two bodies.
Finally, I should like to say, I hope with suitable diffidence and not offensively, that when the Prime Minister can deflect his attention from the fascination of central Asia and the Indian sub-continent, that I hope that he will reflect for a moment on why it was that four distinguished predecessors of his who were involved with varying degrees of directness in the debates of 1911Mr Asquith, Mr Lloyd George, Mr Baldwin and Mr Churchillshirked from re-opening the question after their experiences then. I hope that with a little modesty the Prime Minister and his Administration may take things a little more easily on that front.
The Lord Chancellor opened the debate with the fairly safe prediction that agreement would not emanate from this Chamber. He cannot in that have been disappointed as a prophet. However, he also said that he had some hope that compromise might subsequently lead to consensus. I must say that if that is his hope heor he and his colleagues, for it would wrong to affix any particular blame to him for thisset about it the wrong way.
I was impressed by the reminder that the House received yesterday from the noble Lord, Lord Denham, of the history of the discussionsin which, I must admit, I took part at an early stageof the prospect of having a Joint Committee of the two Houses to work out an agreed solution. I recognise that that would have been a difficult task. Perhaps there would have been no agreement at the end of that process, but there would, at least, have been a negotiated give-and-take of a kind that is impossible in a situation in which legislation on a matter that touches profoundly on the interests of both Chambers is tossed from one to the other.
These are not matters for rhetoric; they are matters for judgment as to the best way forward. However, we are now into the rhetorical period, alas, and I have no doubt that, if a Bill is produced, it will founder. I say that because of my experience with the Parliament (No. 2) Bill in 1968. That Bill was promoted by a Labour government with a majority a little smaller than that of the present Governmentbut not much. That Government had a substantial majority in another place, and there was at least as much determination then to reform the workings of the upper House as has been made manifest by the Government today. In fact, like other Members, I ask myself whether there is a genuine commitment to reform of the House emanating from the Government. I beg leave to doubt that there is. That is a pity.
The process of constitutional reform upon which the Government embarked in 1997 would have been incomplete if it had left this House untouched. It cannot be said that the House commands widespread admiration for everything that it does. It is fair to say that much of the detailed work that we do is commended and admired by those who follow our processes and workings with close attention. However, it will not do to sweep the matter aside, as several noble Lords, most notably the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell, have done. The noble Lord's speech positively dripped with sarcastic contempt for the democratic process. It was a remarkable performance. The noble Lord has so little continuing interest in the debate that he has largely absented himself from it. I regret that, for I would have preferred to make these remarks in his presence. In any event, the last word on how an upper House should be constructed should not fall from the lips of a retiredthough distinguishedcivil servant.
I found the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, considerably more sympathetic. He addressed the question of legitimacy and sought to find some in the present House, devoting a most interesting part of his speech to that question. If I could not follow him all the way, it was because I felt that there was some question begging in what he said. Although we can admire the work that is done here, see its usefulness and seek to build upon it, we must take account of the widespread public perception that, when push comes to shove, we have no right to say no.
The false argument that if we are to take to ourselves new powers, new legitimacy and new authority, we will, in some way diminish the House of Commons, has been deployed on several occasions. On that matter, I agree strongly with the sentiments expressed by my noble friend Lord Jenkins of Hillhead. No one would seek at this stage to reduce this House to the level of public esteem to which the House to which I belonged for 35 years has sunk. It is a false argument, for there are other powers that this House could use, if it summoned up the strength and sense of purpose, that would amplify the effectiveness of the other House and complement the work that is done there by doing work that, to some extent, cannot be done by the other House because of the evident overloading from which it suffers.
It is not entirely the fault of the present House of Commons that it is labouring at its task. There is a volume of ill considered, or unconsidered, legislation that is shafted through. That is the consequence of the way in which our Government choose to use the House of Commons. This House could have a very different role. It has been treated as a fact beyond argument that the function of this House is to revise legislation. I suggest that the House might consider a different approach and, instead, prepare legislation. That way, the emphasis of its work would be not the adversarial business of striking down preconceived propositions that have been cast in concrete by the government of the day but the addressing of the intractable and manifestly extensive problems that the Government
We have seen the failure of the privatisation of transport. Is it such a revolutionary concept that rather than weight all the responsibility for picking up the pieces on to the present Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions, this House should address that matter, if it is thought to be a most pressing question of the day, and explore the options in a preparatory way? Perhaps, it is too late in that instance. I accept that we could not do it for every department of state, but part of the judgment would be to identify the big issues that should attract our attention. However the House is constituted, we ought to be able to reach agreement about that.
I hope that, in our discussions, we will not confine ourselves as narrowly as the White Paper does to our existing functions and the ways of discharging them. I hope that we will consider more imaginatively how we can make Parliament as a whole operate more effectively, to improve the quality of legislation and the quality of the executive arm of government.
I have left to the last, because my views on the subject are well known, the question of the composition of this House for that wider role. I am simply of the view that the choice which my noble friend Lord Jenkins put before the House is right. Either we go along with something similar to that which we know and can see working effectively within its prescribed limitsthat is what we have todayor we go for a genuine, fully-fledged reform. One does take account of the experience of other countries. One does not treat it as totally foreign that the effective upper Houses throughout the rest of the democratic world are broadly elected.
I advocate an elected second Chamber. I do not believe that it should be a gargantuan body; it should be a much smaller body than this. It follows that it will be one different in type and therefore inevitably in function. That is roughly what I believe the British public expect. Or perhaps they do not because they know that we proceed in constitutional matters in this country by incremental processes, gradually and by degrees. Perhaps there are some who apply their minds to such mattersthat is what the opinion polls showwho regard election in a democracy as quintessentially what democracy is about. On one or two occasions today we have had indications that that simple 18th century insight has been lost sight of.
If we sought to represent the interests of our people other than by the choice of the people we should do so in vain. If we decided that there should be a doctors' representative in this House, would it be the president of the Royal College of Surgeons or of the Royal College of Physicians and if not them a paediatrician? Who is to make the decision? Are we really saying that the choice of the people should be put in commission on such an issue? I believe that that argument cannot be sustained for long in the 21st century. That argument has not carried weight in other countries
Lord King of Bridgwater: My Lords, I am pleased to follow the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, although not in what I thought were his unfair remarks about the noble Lord, Lord Butler. I have been in this House a little timeboth he and I have come from another placeand I have come to respect the tolerance and respect for other people's opinions that is a feature of your Lordships' House. One tradition of the House from which we came was that if one intended to attack another honourable Member, one would give him notice of that matter. I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, did so, but I believe that his comments were unfair.
In making a personal reflection, perhaps I may now associate myself with the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan. When I was considering becoming a parliamentary candidate, I walked into the great Palace of Westminster for the first time in my life and I sat in the Strangers' Gallery of the House of Commons. I was privileged to witness Mr Enoch Powell and Mr Michael Foot enjoying themselves debating the Parliament (No. 2) Bill. I did not even know what the business was when I walked into the House and I remember seeing the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan. The noble Lord, Lord Sheldon, was one of the major filibusters on that occasion and contributed to the government deciding to withdraw their legislation.
I was present in the Chamber during what may have been seen as a high point of parliamentary oratory when Michael Foot was deriding the suggestion of the powers of patronage that the new proposals in the Parliament (No. 2) Bill would involve. He spoke of parliamentary patronage by the Prime Minister, of political appointments, and of the political eunuchs who would be established on your Lordships' Benches and he described the falsetto chorus of political castrati which would be installed here. Having listened to the debate and knowing that there are a number of appointed Members, including myself, who feel entirely entire in that respect, some of those fears were not justified!
I noted that during the debate in February 1969 Mr Nigel Birch referred to Mr Asquith stating in 1911 that the issue brooked no delay. Fifty-eight years later, having brooked no delay, the Labour Party returned to the matter only to draw stumps in order to carry through the Industrial Relations Act, the consequence of In Place of Strife, which the noble Baroness, Lady Castle, will remember well. However, the determination and the flame burnt brightly because the 1970 manifesto of the Labour Party stated that proposals to secure reform would be brought forward. The scene shifts to 2002 and here we are again.
I am no expert on your Lordships' House, but I claim to be a modest authority on the other place. My knowledge of the other place and my assessment of it comes not only from my membership over a number of years but from the fact that I was also a member of the Nolan/Neill committee. I had the experience of taking evidence from a wide range of witnesses about their experience of Parliament, more particularly their opinions of the House of Commons, its membership and performance. We discussed possible poll questions.
It would be interesting to go out into the streets and ask people for whom they have more respect in the conduct of their affairs: Members of the House of Commons or Members of the House of Lords? Your Lordships will remember that the televising of proceedings was introduced into this House before the House of Commons. I remember favourable comments being made by a number of my constituents because they were extremely impressed by the quality of debate in the House of Lords. However, they were horrified when the House of Commons went on air and they were subjected to zoo and animal noises during Prime Minister's Questions.
I stand here to express my concerns about the proposals against the background of my extreme concern about the situation in the House of Commons. I am a politician. I respect the almost ruthless efficiency of the present Government in their management and control of business and their control of news. In many respects, I regret the fact that we were not equally competent and efficient. We were positively amateur in certain respects in our handling of the mass media. In the past four years those of us who were in the House of Commons had to endure an efficient and effective exercise of almost total power. I remember the reference of Lord Hailsham to "the elective dictatorship". It has come about, as was recognised yesterday by a noble Baroness. It has come alive in a very real sense in the past four years and it continues now in the House of Commons. The need for political correctness among the supporters of the present Government and the efficiency with which that is demanded and exercised makes the Government an effective political machine.
That is perhaps an advantage. It is an ill wind that brings no benefit. We are considering proposals for reform of the House of Lords and the role of the second Chamber against a background not of a highly democratic, well balanced and well functioning House of Commons, but against one that needs balance in the
At this hour of the night, I shall not rehearse the present proposals and my concerns in detail, which I am sure your Lordships will be relieved to hear. However, I am concerned about the hybrid nature of the proposals and have considerable sympathy with the point repeated by the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, in connection with the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, that there is a strong argument for either one or other system and that a half-way House is a dangerous place to halt. I believe that a hybrid approach involving some elected Members requires the protections that the Royal Commission correctly identified, especially relating to the method of election and the length of term.
We have had an opportunity to read the White Paper and consider the Government's proposals. The Lord Chancellor opened the debate yesterday in a frank and disarming manner and he was admirably brief. That was a great pleasure after some of the unnecessarily lengthy speeches that used to accompany the introduction of such measures in the House of Commons. He covered matters clearly. I add my appreciation also of the conduct of the Lord Privy Seal who has not yet opened his mouth in this debate. I am sure that he will manage to weave out from a totally discordant debate apparently complete consensus or some encouraging signs of growing streams of confluence of thought. The attendance of the noble and learned Lord has been admirable and much appreciated by the House. Even with his most optimistic presentation, he will have to accept that it is not going too well.
The question that must be exercising your Lordships' minds is: where do we go from here? I hope that the deadly and awful phrase about a compromise seeing the measure through will not be the decision made by the Government. That would be a great mistake. I have real concerns about the House of Commons and the need to reflect on its position and structure, but we must also consider the devolved Assemblies and the proposals for regional government. In that context, the arguments that have been made from these Benchesparticularly those of my noble friend Lord Denhamare very strong. Having thought previously that the need for a Joint Committee in both Houses could be avoided, surely it is now time to accept that it cannot. That is the route that we must now take. We need major consideration of the role of the second Chamber in conjunction with the role of the House of Commons and the interplay with the devolved Assemblies. We should draw from this consultation the need for serious and cross-party consideration of the best structure for the government of our country.
The fact that we are no longer an island but live within the European Union is a matter that must also be considered. Many changes are taking place and I profoundly believe that your Lordships' House, which I am proud to have joined recently, has an important role to play. That role should be decided jointly and
Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: My Lords, as the 62nd person to speak on House of Lords reform, I should be surprised if I had anything new to say. Perhaps your Lordships would be even more surprised if I were to say anything new. I shall steal the image described by the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, to nibble at a few bones with a promise to be brief.
The White Paper was presented to us as a discussion document, which I plan to accept as such. After discussion, we shall have improvement and change. I disagree with many things in the White Paper but there are a number of excellent ideas that need to be developed. There are issues of great importance that are either touched on too lightly or not discussed at all.
I start by saying generally that the opportunity to look at and reform ourselves does not happen very often. We should take the opportunity for introspection with enthusiasm knowing that we may not have one again for a very long time. It is essential that reform has the backing of as many parts of the House as possible. Party politics plays an important role in our affairs, but in the comparatively short time that I have been here it is crystal clear that this is much more than a forum for party political activity. I note the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Baker, about being rather naive. So be it.
Effective reform has to be the responsibility of us allnot only our Front Benches playing a positive or negative role. I do not agree that we are completing the reform or that we can look at reform in isolation. Both points have been well made in other speeches. An important job not mentioned in the White Paper is to reach out to our constituencies and convince them that the House of Lords has an important and vital role. I was very depressed by the media's reaction to the White Paper. Our excellent Library sent out a document headed, "Press Reaction to the Paper", stating that,
There are those who argue that that is because it is a bad White Paper. Leaving that argument on one side, I believethis comes through in the cuttingsthat the House of Lords is an institution that is all too easy to mock and represent as a stereotype of a vanishing political culture. Very little of what we do is noticed or praised by the press. A general view of the House among the media and, I suspect, the public appeared in an article in the New Statesman just before Christmas. I quote just one paragraph:
In the year of the Queen's golden jubilee, the monarchy has decided, quite rightly in my view, to reach out to the public and change and adapt itself to the 21st century. We have exactly the same task to perform. If we do not set ourselves that task as part of the reforming process, in this debate we shall simply be holding a two-day conversation with ourselves. I can almost hear noble Lords wincing at the idea of "marketing" ourselves, looking outwards rather than inwards. But that is one area where the ultimate justification for our future existence and legitimacy will come from.
I turn to procedures and the way we carry out our business. This important topic is dealt with in the White Paper in paragraph 34 on page 15 in two-and-a-half lines stating that a report will be published by end 2001. I have been a Member of your Lordships' House for just under two years and I am still confused and bewildered by many of the procedures of this place. I am told that this is a "self-regulating House", but from observation it would appear that no one person knows what are regulations. If there is one such person, that person is not in the Chamber all the time. I believe that there are huge areas for improvement here and I look forward to taking part in those discussions at a later date.
I was interested to note that the discussions on membership of the House of Lords take up most of the White Paper and, indeed, have taken up most of the time of our debate. To me that is strange. It is rather like looking at the board of a company or of an institution without discussing what the company does and how it does it. The role of the House and the way we achieve our goals should be of equal importance to the composition of the House.
I broadly accept the recommendations for membership outlined in the White Paper, but I should like to propose a simpler way of dealing with one aspect of the issue. As has been pointed out in the press and in this House during our debate, we are looking at an extraordinarily complicated way of constructing the membership of the second Chamber. Most of the
I broadly accept the outline given in the White Paper of how the Chamber should be composed in the near future, but I should like to suggest a way which might be followed before the appointments commission starts its work. One of the two issues that the White Paper does not confront head on is the size of the House, which is very much larger than any other second chamber in the world, with the exception of two countries, which, as Peter Kellner wryly remarked, are not normally advertised as models of parliamentary perfection. The German Bundesrat has 69 members, while the US Senate has 100.
The other issue that the White Paper skirts around is the most delicate one of age. The White Paper points out correctly that age should not be a barrier to membership of the House of Lords, or rather that an upper age limit should not be a barrier. I agree with that but, as a generality, a House where the average age is heading towards 70, with life expectancy growing every year, presents problems for any government wishing to make the House more representative in terms of age groups, gender and minority representation, a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Dearing.
I propose a three-phase approach to the two problems of size and age, which may reduce our numbers and thus introduce a strong element of flexibility to our discussions on reform. The first phase would be the disappearance of the remaining hereditary Peers. I plan to say nothing about that as the debates on the issue took place before I arrived. As a boy, I once put my hand into a hornets' nest and I have no desire to repeat the experience.
Phase two would be to offer a generous one-off retirement package, perhaps an extraordinarily generous retirement package, to those Members sitting in the House of Lords who may now wish to retire, taking with them a significant amount of moneymoney paid for much hard work and effort over a very long period. What I propose here, I must emphasise, is a purely voluntary initiative. My noble friend Lord Dubs said that he thought that such a proposal would be quite improper. I have to disagree with him. The settlement terms would be made available for, let us say, a two-month period. After that there would be no further opportunity for Peers to take advantage of such an arrangement.
During phase three the remaining Peers would be asked a simple question: "Do you wish to be a working Peer, or do you wish to be a Peer who attends on an occasional basis?". A working Peer would be expected to turn up on each day that the House sitsincidentally, why do we not work a five-day week?put in a minimum of hours, to be determined, in the Chamber and be paid for doing so. I would suggest a modest sum which could be called a salary, a fee or whatever. By "modest" I mean in terms of the earning capabilities of many Members of the House of around, say, £30,000 per annum. The working Peers would continue to claim their overnight allowances if they live outside London, but no other allowance. Those who choose not to be working Peers would continue to receive their allowances.
The final phase would be the appointment of the independent commissionwhich may have been appointed alreadyto start work once the composition of the new House was known. Although the commission should be totally independent, at the outset it would be quite appropriate for this House to give it directives.
Let me give an example. On the day before the Christmas Recess, there was a most interesting Second Reading debate, mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, on the Sex Discrimination (Election Candidates) Bill. During the debate on the Bill, which appears to have cross-party support, it emerged that 14 per cent of our House is composed of women. The White Paper proposes that 30 per cent of the people nominated should be women, with the hopeI underline "hope"that over time this will lead to a better gender balance in the House.
I do not think that this is either good enough or fast enough. It is not, in my view, an acceptable ambition. We have a golden opportunity here to do something in this area quickly. If the House has had, for hundreds of years, many of the attributes of a men's club, now is an opportunity to change that. In terms of one of the first points I made about the way in which this House presents itself to the outside world, this change is of crucial importance.
ClearlyI am not being ironicthere is a long way to go before we have a perfectly formed, or even reformed, House of Lords. In spite of the huge divides and disagreements that have emerged, if we all take as the only starting point the recognition of the importance of this Chamber in the parliamentary process and the need to get this across to the media, the public and the House of Commons, I am sure that we can make great progress.
Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, I have just noticed that there are not too many girls in the debate today. I am not sure what conclusion to draw from that, but I am rather glad I am taking part today rather than yesterday.
At the start of his speech, the noble Lord, Lord Evans, speculated upon why the White Paper is getting a bad press. Whatever the reason may be, over the last day or two the effect of the heightened discussion and a better understanding of the White Paper, combined with the Government's continuing reluctance to seek consensus across Parliament, seems to be producing a somewhat unexpected situationthat is, there appears to be a possibility that either the Government will be stuck with the status quo and fail to implement what, to them, are key commitments, or we shall move to a wholly elected second Chamber, which would only work in our kind of Parliament, with our kind of carefully worded and detailed legislation, if the House of Commons reformed itself too.
My noble friend Lord King and others referred to the anti-terrorism Bill. It must have been clear for all to seenot only those in this Houseduring the passage of that Bill that as long as it is possible in this country for a government with a big majority to force a dangerously flawed Bill through the House of Commons after scant scrutiny there, the second Chamber needs among its Members legal expertise, legislative experience, experience of the subject matter of a Bill, the independence of committed Cross-Benchers, and political people able to act as free spirits, if the necessary job is to be done and the Government and the House of Commons persuaded. That kind of expertise and ability is, by definition, unlikely to exist in sufficient quantity in an all-elected House. For such a second Chamber to work, the House of Commons will have to be very considerably reformed.
As to the White Paper, most of the arguments have been deployed already and I shall be very brief. Two points have not been much discussed, both of which can apply whatever the composition of the House may be. The first point concerns the breaking of the historic link between the membership of the second Chamber and the peerage. The time has come when that is absolutely right. It is right for the Monarchy and right for the second Chamber, whatever form it takes. But, in passing, why go on calling it the House of Lords when it will not be a house of Lords. I believe that "Senate" would be a better name and that its members should be "Senators".
The second point concerns the power of the second Chamber in relation to secondary legislation. The White Paper contains an extremely good idea which began in the committee of this Houseone of which I am now a member but of which I was not a member when the committee made the recommendationand
But the White Paper also suggests abolishing the second Chamber's ability to reject orders. That would be extraordinarily unwise. One could quote other examples of the dangers, but again the anti-terrorism Bill is the most recent. Noble Lords will remember that, in that Bill, the Government proposed the establishment of new crimes and new penalties in this countrysome of which would involve prison sentences for our citizenssimply by putting orders through Parliament. Those particular crimes would have been negotiated between our Home Secretary and the other justice ministers in Europe and would have been unscrutinised by the European Parliament at any time.
But if a reasonable, responsible government such as this one could propose for their own convenience something so undemocratic, what might a less responsible government do? The power to reject secondary legislation must be retained by the second Chamber, and powers to amend such legislation, to delay it and to refer it back to the Commons for further discussion should be added to it. Those changes could be made whatever the composition of the House.
Those are not small points, but they are briefly made because your Lordships know the issues. I hope that when the Leader of the House replies to the debate he will be able among all the other matters on which he has to replyto comment on the possibility of keeping the power to reject orders.
Lord Phillips of Sudbury: My Lords, in the spirit of the independence that this House is supposed to exemplify, I shall pay two brief tributes which have not yet been paid. The first tribute is due to the hereditary Peers who departed this place in a rather admirable fashion. I reflect on the fact that only one in 10 voted in the last vote when abolition of their class was considered by the House.
A tribute is also due to the Government. There has been some serious misrepresentation about what they are proposing in this reform in terms of surrendering power to pack the Lords, as some call it, by limiting the powers of political patronage to 60 per cent of the House and, crucially, by apportioning that 60 per cent between the three major partiesnot on the basis of the seats won at the previous election but on the basis of votes garnered. The telling figures given by the noble Lord, Lord Ampthill, indicate the way in which, during the Thatcher years, the already huge in-built Tory majority was added to by the appointment of twice as many Tory life Peers as Labour life Peers, and scarcely any from my own party, and they require reflection.
That said, if I were to be convinced that more of the same party machine dominated politicsexemplified by the current House of Commonswere what people really wanted, I might be persuaded to go for a fully or largely elected House. If I felt that all that Parliament needed in order to recapture public allegiance and to revive democracy was less independence, less experience and less expertise in this place, I might rethink my position. If I believed that the shambles of the railways, the demoralisation in our schools, the crisis in the NHS, the shame of our rampant crime and of our bursting jails, the increasing divisions in our society, and so on, would be improved by an elected, more politicised second Chamber, I would think again. If I sensed that we had contrived a new division of powers between two elected Houses so as to make them functionally complementary, I might contemplate that prospect.
Thus, although I broadly concur with the opening analysis of my noble friend Lady Williams of Crosby in terms of the crisis of confidence in our democracy, I do not entirely share her analysis of the remedy. I align myself with my noble friend Lord Dahrendorf. Perhaps I may say that the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, who unavoidably cannot take part in this debate, has asked me to associate him with that position as well.
I admit that my instinct in contemplating reform of this place is to resort to that unrivalled vehicle of democracy, elections. To argue anything else, as the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, reminded us yesterday, is an uphill struggle in terms of the broadsheets and informed public opinion. We could easily end up adding to public disaffection with politicsthe very disaffection that we seek to assuagewith the inevitable charge of "turkeys being unwilling to vote for Christmas", of party leaders being unwilling to give up patronage and of our contempt for the public. These are weighty considerations. I have been interested in what noble Lords have so sagely said in the course of the debate.
Why do I incline firmly against electioncertainly under the present circumstances? First, the proposed mixed House would be neither fish nor fowl. It will be likely to prove less effective than an all-appointed, and fairly appointed, House. Many of the problems to which the hybrid option will give rise have not been thought through.
Let us take one example. Although we have a variegated House now, that hotchpotch of Peers is mostly sanctioned by centuries. The 120 elected Members would be different in kind, democratically speaking. Although they would be well advised not to claim superior legitimacy, I suspect that others outside this place would give it to them, and that in time they would assume it.
Furthermore, it is unrealistic to expect such Members not to be full-time. In the course of standing for election, even of getting themselves selectedoften by small party caucusesthey will have to commit themselves to that, or risk losing out to others who will. That will add to the force of their presence here, given that many other Peers cannot be anything like
In terms of a wholly or mainly elected second Housefavoured by the majority, but by no means all, of my own partyI do not find it conceivable that such a proposal would stand any prospect of getting through the House of Commons. In any event, it could only follow sensibly, it seems, on a new constitutional settlement between the two directly elected Houses with which we have not begun to grapple. What may have evolved in other countries cannot simply be transplanted here.
Perhaps I may comment on the issue of public opinion and where it sits. We have heard contributions on the matter from a number of speakers, including the noble Lords, Lord Smith of Clifton, Lord Richard, Lord Ampthill, Lord Butler and Lord Wakeham. The Royal Commission had a limited number of public meetingsnine, I believewhich a fraction over 1,000 people attended. The commission put out a questionnaire to which fewer than 1,000 citizens responded. Although that was a grotesquely inadequate consultation for such a hugely important public matter, none the less it represents the only deliberative consultation that has so far taken place. I cannot put any weight, as the noble Lord, Lord Richard, did, on the various quick-fire pollsthe latest being the ICM random telephone poll of 1,000 people just before Christmas. Of all the issues on earth that are not susceptible, sensibly, to that treatment, this surely is it.
It is worth noting that the strongest reply to any of the questions on composition in the Royal Commission questionnaire was on whether people of independence and experience should be in this place. Over two-thirds responded in favour.
I held a public meeting in my own home town on the issue of reform which was attended by 90 people. After a vigorous and intelligent debate, they voted 4:1 in favour of an appointed rather than an elected Chamber. It is still not too late for us to contemplate a proper public consultation. The very fact that we have no reliable base to tell us what the public truly think about these complicated issues seems, even now, to shout in favour of undertaking just such a consultation. Part of the public disaffection with politics in this country is precisely that we have inadvertently drifted away from the public in terms of consulting them, in terms of their feeling that they are consulted. The lack of that essential relationship between the elected and appointed legislators and the public leads to the present situation, which is worse than many Peers realise.
The 59 per cent turnout at the last general election was the worst in our history and the 24 per cent turnout at the European elections was by far the worst that we or any country have ever had, but even those figures omit the crucial fact that a full third of potential voters aged 25 and under have not registered to vote. If that statistic is cranked into the equation, we find that only one in three of the under-25s voted at the general election and not more than one in 10 did so at the European elections.
Party membership is plummeting. Many charities have a greater membership than all the political parties combined. More people voted in the "Big Brother" television vote than voted in the last election. Young citizens in particular do not identify with what we do. Among the public at large there is a simultaneous sensation of being put upon and ignored by Westminster and Whitehall, which increasingly garner power to themselves when not transferring it to Brussels.
People see party politics as over-controlled, party self-interested, destructive, regimented and generally unsympathetic. They find it difficult to identify with politicians who appear to have surrendered their independence and, as some would see it, their political honesty to their party Whips and to preferment. It is impossible for most of the public to relate to a House of Commons in which the Labour Government have not lost a single one of the more than 1,000 whipped votes since they came to power in 1997. At least in this place we manage to defeat the Government once in every four or five votes, but not a single vote has been carried against the Government in the Commons in nearly five years. The public do not understand that and it should not be the case. Unless we deal with the broader underlying issues, nothing that we do here will be sufficient.
That shows plainly that trying to deal with the problem by adding to the party political representation in this House is counterintuitive and counter-common sense. I say that with great reluctance, because, I repeat, my whole tenor is to give faith to the elective process. As others have correctly said, including the noble and learned Lord the Lord
I shall say a quick word about regional lists. My noble friend Lord Wallace suggested that if we had open regional lists, we might encourage small splinter parties and a widening of representation in the House. I believe that that is wishful thinking. The proposed closed lists would be a double disaster, but even with open lists the constituencies are far too big for people to be able to identify with candidates, or even to have a passing knowledge of them, as we saw at the European elections. The almost inexorable tendency, therefore, is simply to follow the party line and the party candidate priority list.
The other main tendency, I fear, is not to vote at all. The public of this country will not vote for people of whom they have no knowledge and whom they have never seen and will never see. The noble Lord, Lord Richard, was far more phlegmatic than I am about the declining voter turnout.
My time is up. My final comment is that I would be amazed if we allowed the proposed removal of our already extremely limited powers over secondary legislation to proceed. That would be a catastrophic mistake. If ever anything was needed, it is greater power to deal with statutory instruments.
Lord MacGregor of Pulham Market: My Lords, since discussions on this subject began in 1997, I am greatly disappointed that so little attention has been given to the role and powers of this place and so much to composition. I very much agree with the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, and my noble friends Lord Baker and Lord King, that those topics should have come first before we looked at composition. I shall say a bit more about powers later if I have time.
The role and powers of the House are highly relevant to its composition. I start, however, with composition, mainly because there is a powerful wind blowing down the corridor in the other place in favour of a wholly or largely elected second Chamber. My noble friend Lord King complimented the Lord Privy Seal on attending nearly all of the debate. So do I. My noble friend said that the noble and learned Lord would have to be a master magician to be able to draw a consensus out of the debate, or even to find much support for the Government. As a bit of a magician myself, I offer him one crumb. I shall be highly unusual in complimenting the Government on a major aspect of the White Paper and supporting them on it.
I am an out-and-out supporter of the supremacy of the House of Commons. I was highly privileged to be a Member there for 27 years. I greatly regret the decline in the power of the House over the executive and the bypassing and steamrollering of the House that has happened particularly in the past five years. I also greatly regret the decline in the esteem in which that House is held. However, those are points for debate another day. I also relish elections. I have been
However, from that basis and experience, I challenge some of the assumptions and arguments for a wholly or largely elected House. It is too easy to say, somewhat glibly, that in a 21st century democracy only elections confer legitimacy and to cite opinion polls in support of that view. I strongly agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, said. I find it highly interesting that more Liberal Democrat Members have spoken against a wholly or largely elected Chamber than have spoken for it. The noble Baroness, Lady Williams, is the only Liberal Democrat to have spoken powerfully in favour of the idea. I very much agree with some of the arguments that have been put forward from those Benches.
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page