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4.26 pm

Lord Brittan of Spennithorne: My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that the significance of the energy decisions taken at the European Council is enormous in that they show that the European Union, for all its cumbersomeness, is able to take major decisions that affect intimately every citizen in the European Union? Will she further agree that that shows that the European Union is able to take decisions that are in the interests of this country as well as those of the European Union as a whole? Will she agree also that it is only by the European Union acting in this way that we stand the remotest chance of having the influence on the rest of the world that is essential if our own decisions are to have a proper impact on the global problem that we need to address?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, I agree with all of those three propositions and that is precisely why the Government have focused on the importance of engaging with and influencing our partners in the European Union. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Brittan, who has had a tremendous history in dealing with these European matters, that I hope he can persuade members of his own party that this would be an important way forward in terms of engaging with the Union and the Commission on these issues.

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, does my noble friend recognise that real progress on climate change was made at the Council, but would she also outline, rather more than she has done, what the Council and the Government will do about the recalcitrance of America, China and India at this moment?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, we hope that two things will happen. One is that we hope the fact that the European Union has shown leadership in this area will encourage other countries to do the same. Secondly, we hope that when the discussions on setting in place an international framework to replace Kyoto begin in December this year, the fact that the European Commission has shown leadership, and has indicated that it is prepared to commit to a more ambitious target if other countries will do the same, will help countries such as the United States and China to move forward.

Lord Hannay of Chiswick: My Lords, will the noble Baroness the Leader of the House accept my congratulations to the Government on giving wholehearted support to Chancellor Merkel and the German presidency in an agenda which was very much in this country’s interest, as it was in Germany’s? Perhaps I might be so bold as to express the hope that the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition in this House will surprise himself by repeating his support for the Government’s performance at the European Council on the next and further occasions.

Having said that, can the Minister confirm that the references to nuclear power in the conclusions refer not only to France, which spent a great deal of time insisting on them, but to all member states with civil nuclear industries, so that any decision taken by the UK to build new nuclear plants will also be taken into account when considering member states’ contributions to achieving the EU’s target for renewable energy resources?

Secondly, can the Minister expand a little on the difficult problem of getting the main developing countries to sign up to the objectives, which the European Union rightly is now giving a lead on? Does she not think that inviting some of these countries along as a kind of add-on to the G8 summit is hardly likely to appeal to them, and should they not be full, equal members of that grouping or of any grouping of a restricted kind which is trying to deal with, and give a direction on, climate change? Can she also say what the basis is for the Government’s optimism that the President of the United States will arrive at Heiligendamm in June prepared to make such a commitment?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hannay of Chiswick, for his initial comments. I confirm that the references to nuclear power in the conclusions refer to all member states with a civil nuclear capacity. With regard to the major developing countries, the noble Lord will know that Gleneagles, where climate change was at the top of our agenda, was a meeting of the G8+5, and that will continue at this year’s G8 meeting. Of course those major developing countries need to be included in the discussion and debate, but it is also important that groupings such as the European Union take forward their own agenda as an incentive for developing countries as well as our developed-country partners.

The noble Lord may recall that at the last EU/ China summit the European Union was committed to building a near-zero emissions plant in China to demonstrate not only that the technology could work but that it could have an influence on carbon emissions. My understanding is that the five developing countries will be invited to participate at the June summit.

Lord Ezra: My Lords, I am very grateful both to my noble friend Lord McNally and to the Minister for their kind references to my continued espousal of the cause of clean coal. I am of course delighted at the decision reached in Brussels. I feel that it is of great importance not only to the energy future of the EU but also much more widely—particularly in China and India, which will inevitably be using much more coal, and it is vital that they do so without harming the environment.

The Lord President referred to 15 plants which the EU has decided should be installed by 2015. Can she indicate the number that the Government would like to see in the UK? I believe that at least three or four projects have been put forward. Will the Government be giving them a fair wind?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, for his general comments. I think that I mentioned 12 plants. I am desperately trying to find the right reference in my notes, but I think that it is 12 plants, not 15. We are at far too early a stage to be able to indicate how many plants we would want to see in the United Kingdom, and of course there is the issue of cost. The European Union, is also committed to having an additional plant in China as a way of demonstrating that clean-coal technology can work, bearing in mind the number of coal-fired power stations being opened in China on a regular basis.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, during the discussions on climate change and the contribution that CO2 is apparently making to that climate change, was any cognisance taken of the other points of view, of which there are many, particularly the body of opinion which believes that solar activity, rather than CO2, is likely to cause, and is causing, climate change? Secondly, on what I think was a decision to phase out normal tungsten bulbs, was any cognisance taken of the additional costs of replacing those bulbs and whether people will be assisted financially to do that? Finally, on the 78 pieces of legislation that are to be repealed, the Minister will appreciate that that is a drop in the ocean compared with the total amount of legislation that has been passed. Is there a plan to speed up that process, which we would all welcome?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, I think the science is pretty clear and has been agreed across the world. On the phasing out of tungsten light bulbs, yes, there was discussion of the additional costs. How that will be dealt with has not yet been decided. The 78 pieces of legislation referred to in the Statement are a part of the start of the process of forming an action plan on deregulation.

Lord Maclennan of Rogart: My Lords, the statement of the presidency is immensely welcome. It is vital in pressing the EU to put in place an integrated policy on energy, combining factions at national and European levels, and the differentiated approach between the member states mentioned is important. Do the Government agree that that is not an invitation to opt out of responsibility at national level in reaching the targets? Does the Minister recognise that institutional reform is important, particularly as energy is not even a prescriptive competence of the European Union, in achieving the goals and targets that the summit has enunciated?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, I agree that an integrated approach to climate and energy policy is absolutely vital, as the noble Lord has indicated. The differentiated approach is also important as different countries in the European Union are at different stages of development. However, it is not about some countries being able to opt out without making an effort. It is about recognising the different stages of development; it is about ensuring that countries learn from each other; and it is about the overall commitment that each country has given to reaching the targets.

House of Lords: Reform

4.38 pm

Debate resumed.

The Lord Bishop of Chelmsford: My Lords, listening earlier to the noble Lords, Lord Strathclyde and Lord McNally, talking about the independence of the Members behind them in relation to the issues in front of us gives me hope for the Church of England. We on these Benches accept that in the institutions which we represent we have been entrusted with the spiritual well-being of the people of this country, a trust that we share with many others. That is why we are here as Lords Spiritual and not Peers of the realm. Over many centuries, it has been thought and practised that, in shaping our laws and customs in the character of the governance of our country, Parliament should take account of our spiritual inheritance.

So I hope the House will forgive me for reflecting on the meaning of the presence of Bishops in Parliament as well as addressing the broad issues at stake in this debate.

We do not see our role in these debates as being to defend privilege or necessarily to maintain the present arrangements. We are certainly not like our forebears in 1832, who seemed to be resisting democracy and the road of change. However, we have a duty to press some fundamental matters of principle into this debate. Throughout my ministry, I have challenged what I believe to be the misguided, tired and out-of-date mantra that politics and religion should be kept apart, that the government of the country should be left to the politicians and religion to the churches and faith institutions and they should be kept well separate. The classic example of that constitution is on the other side of the Atlantic, but who would dare to suggest that powerful and not always helpful religious interests are not nevertheless embedded in the heart of American politics? We cannot escape the need to recognise that deep movements and interplay of languages are between religious belief and political visions and values.

Are we not beginning to wake up to the important and powerful cultures shaped by people’s beliefs that have a deep impact for good or ill on our public life today? Let us think of the issues we have faced: terrorism, religion and violence; religion in the public context of education; the role of religious agencies in social care; and troubled issues concerning the beginning of life and its end. The 21st century has seen an awakening of consciousness in public life of the importance of religion, faith and belief in the pursuit of the common good. Many voices, including some crucial religious ones, need to be heard in the shaping of our public life. The political task cannot be done completely today, for the benefit of the people, in the absence of those many voices. That means that our unitary understanding of our constitution in Parliament is coming into its own in the 21st century.

At a time when local communities—we on these Benches speak for many local communities—are increasingly talking the language of partnership, I suspect that government, local and national, and churches and religious institutions are struggling with that. At national and international level, people are increasingly confused and concerned about the place of religion in our common life. This is not a time for dismantling those relationships; it is rather a time for building on them. I believe that the church needs to be accountable in public for its life and work and the presence of Bishops here is a sign of our seriousness about that, so I hope the House will allow me to say that I also think that Parliament has a duty to consider how religious institutions work for the common good. That is a collective responsibility that is laid upon us at this time. We on these Benches will do all we can to assist in the process of ensuring that the many voices of the faiths and the churches are heard in this place. We will do whatever we can to assist in that, by building on what we have and adapting it, not destroying it on the basis of a little-thought-out mantra about the separation of religion and politics.

I say one more thing about the Bishops. If your Lordships’ judgment is that the contribution made from these Benches is appropriate, welcome and should be continued, it will be important in considering any changes that things are not proposed that would make that impossible. I do not think that there is anything there that cannot be dealt with in conversation and by negotiation, but it needs to be said.

On the wider issues at stake in this matter I have more questions than answers. One thing I am clear about is that the idea that you can have a wholly elected second Chamber, with broadly the same conventions and powers as this House currently has, is a delusion.

Where are we beginning in this process? Is it with the concept of election or with the desirability of maintaining the fabric of our present arrangements? More specifically, are the Government still committed to their White Paper, which I believe is a bold attempt to get us all into the issues and to find a consensus and an agreed way forward, or are we back at the beginning and do we need to put these proposals to one side?

Last Saturday I had my diocesan synod. In informal conversation I mentioned that I would be here for three days this week on this issue. People bent my ear. They asked, “Do they really think that we want to see the Lords handed over wholly to politicians?”, “Are we to lose the voices of those in the Lords who bring deep professional experience to bear on our public life?”—I did not ask for these comments; I got them—and, “Have they no understanding of the low esteem there is for much political life today?”.

Whatever is decided about the balance between elected and nominated Members—and we have to face that issue—it is time that we ordered ourselves so that there is no question about the legitimacy of nominated Members being here. The public need to be sure that people are here because of the excellence of the contribution they make to public life and the well-being of our country.

I agree with the Lord Chancellor and others: this is not a time for drawing up the bridge; we need to press on. The task will be difficult but, in seeking a solution, we must ensure the integrity and the strength of this House, as we are beginning to develop it, is not compromised by any proposed reform.

4.47 pm

Lord Irvine of Lairg: My Lords, I have not spoken for some time, and so to ensure that my contribution is not too great a shock to your Lordships’ systems, I shall be brief.

I read the White Paper with gathering dismay because it recommended a hybrid, 50:50, part-appointed, part-elected House—neither fish nor fowl. Such a House, with two different classes of Members, is fundamentally wrong since all Members should be and should be seen to be of equal status. No Member should be able to claim for his opinion or vote greater legitimacy than another.

In our debate of January 2003, I claimed that the true choice lay between all appointed or all elected, and in common with the great majority of your Lordships I favoured all appointed. So the startling decision of the other place in favour of all elected is—of course I concede—tenable, but I condemn it on its merits. Commentators are united in describing the decision as “historic”. It is also an error of historic proportions.

I have two basic reasons for saying that. First, the present balance between the two Houses ensures the continuing primacy of the other place, undisturbed by a rival elected House. Our stable system of parliamentary democracy rests on a single tier of accountability of the Government to the House of Commons and through it to the people. That is the context of the consensus that the basic role of this House should remain as a revising, scrutinising and deliberative Assembly with the power to delay but not to seek to veto legislation. That limited but exacting role is best served by an appointed House, which has an appetite for it in a way that the other place does not. It is because of the nature of its membership that this House performs its core functions well and so adds distinctive value to the parliamentary process. In the other place, there are more and more professional politicians whose jobs prior to their election were often closely related to the goal of election, so that they bring less and less experience of the whole range of the world of work to the other place.

The composition of this appointed House brings, at very low cost, expertise across a broad range of experience outside politics to bear on the critical evaluation of complex legislation—through, in no particular order, businessmen, farmers, scientists, academics, heads of the armed services, faith leaders, doctors, nurses, journalists, trade unionists and even lawyers, alongside highly experienced former MPs, Cabinet Ministers and civil servants. I do not claim to be exhaustive.

It is the appointed nature of this House that best equips it to fulfil its core role. There can be no rational case—certainly, I have heard none—that a second elected Chamber could possibly fulfil that role as well, far less better. The White Paper itself makes a compelling case against an all-elected House. The one and only real argument against an appointed House performing the core role and functions that it does is the assertion that it is illegitimate. It is, by definition, not elected, but I do not accept that it is therefore illegitimate. The argument must be that all appointed Peers are illegitimate. However, the Government must believe that the 50:50 hybrid House that they propose would be legitimate. I share with the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, an inability to understand how appointed Peers are legitimate in a hybrid but not in an all-appointed House.

I say that I see nothing illegitimate about an all-appointed House subordinate to the elected House, bringing huge collective experience to the benefit of Parliament as a whole and restraining the Executive by its penetrating revising role, but not becoming capable of rivalling the House of Commons by being equally—arguably, more—representative if the method of election, PR, could be claimed to be superior.

No one would deny that we are a well functioning parliamentary democracy today merely because this House is appointed. I can see only the potential for perpetual conflict between two elected Chambers. Assurances to the contrary I reject as head-in-the-sand politics. An elected House is uncharted territory. The Government should not embark on this as if it were a voyage of discovery but only as a journey to a predetermined destination. I invite the noble and learned Lord, when he winds up, to advise us whether he contemplates, for a wholly or substantially elected House, specifying the powers of each House in statute and prescribing the primacy of one elected place over another. How would that be enforced? Is what is contemplated an embryonic written constitution enforceable in the courts?

Many other questions must be answered by the Government in detail. If a different method of election from first past the post is appropriate for election to this House, why is not equally appropriate for the other place? Will the rationale and appropriateness of the Parliament Acts be reconsidered in the context of two elected Houses? “All elected” literally means no life Peers, no independents, and no Bishops. Can the noble and learned Lord say unequivocally that the White Paper’s undertaking still holds good and that existing life Peers will continue to be entitled to remain for life? When a White Paper and Bill are brought in, will they be accompanied by costings of the proposals? Surely elected Members of this House will be entitled to remuneration, expenses, support facilities and accommodation equal to those for Members of the other place.

I know that the cash-for-peerages allegations have besmirched this House, but those who advocate an elected House should not get away with the wrong conclusion; “Let’s get away from this allegation by going for all, or mostly, elected regardless of the overriding merits of all-appointed”. The right conclusion is to retain all-appointed, but to legitimise appointments by putting the Appointments Commission on a statutory basis, with all appointments made under criteria laid down by Parliament, with the commission deciding the number of party and independent nominees at any time, and in compliance with criteria that any batch of party nominees, both collectively and individually, represent.

At a time when the public are losing faith in conventional politics, the body politic may already have a surfeit of elected politicians in the other place, in the European Parliament, in local government, in the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly. The last thing that the electorate may want is yet another tier of elected and well-remunerated politicians. I submit that they would be content with this House as an appointed, low-cost auxiliary to the other place, provided that it is transparently appointed under criteria approved by Parliament.

4.57 pm

Lord Wakeham: My Lords, the noble and learned Lord has made a powerful speech. We waited for it for a long time and it was worth waiting for. I guess his only regret is that he will not be able to sit there with that wise smile on his face for the next few months without making further contributions to our debates. We would all welcome that.

I am a great admirer of Jack Straw, who was a good Foreign Secretary. He should not have been moved, but he was, and as a result faced the problem of Lords reform. The problem, as we all recognise, seems to be becoming more difficult, not easier. He knows that no one will get just what they want. He also knows that proposing a compromise, which is what he has done, will not get him many brownie points. However, he was right to try, and I certainly support his efforts. He had three broad choices before him. First, he could have proposed a wholly appointed House. I suspect that that might have been his first choice and that of the Prime Minister. That would certainly have secured my support and, I suspect, that of a good majority in this House. However, we know that that would not have won the support of anything like a majority in another place.


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