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However, there is increasing dissatisfaction with the democratic process. Other noble Lords have mentioned turnouts at parliamentary elections, which hover at around 60 per cent. In European and local elections, they are nearer to 30 per cent. A lot of reasons are given for that apathy—some have been rehearsed today—but one is undoubtedly the wholesale and, on occasion, somewhat unthought-out constitutional change introduced by this Government since 1997. There has been a proliferation of non-elected bodies with budgets but no accountability. Regional development agencies, partnerships and assemblies are answerable to no one. In addition, power has been devolved to the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh and London Assemblies. Devolution in itself has virtues, but not if it is embarked on with no clear idea of the consequences, especially for the clarity of accountability, which is the essence of the democratic process. As Dr John Reid said:

Quite so. The cumulative effect of that hasty, even if enthusiastic, approach to devolution has been to obscure, but not to enhance, accountability. In London, for example, people are asked to vote for a borough councillor, two kinds of London Assembly member, the mayor, a Westminster MP and an MEP. Yet people in London still do not know to whom to turn for a hole in the road, which is the acid test of accountability. Constitutional change for the wrong reasons, or without careful thought for the consequences, does not enhance the democratic process if accountability is blurred.

That is exactly what we are being asked to consider today. That there is dissatisfaction with the state of our democratic process is undoubted, but is it to reform of this House that we must look to make it better? The Government have made it clear in their pronouncements on these matters that they believe that the primacy of the House of Commons is of paramount importance—it is interesting to note that the primacy appears to apply to one of the votes there last week, but not entirely to the other, but there we are. If that is the Government’s belief, they should begin by asking themselves whether what they have done to the House of Commons since 1997 has contributed to that primacy—for example, the truncating and stifling of debate by rigid timetabling, the announcement of important measures, such as the independence of the Bank of England, not to Parliament but by press conference, and the habit of sofa government. If they wish to take sensible steps to correct the democratic deficit, they could do worse than begin with the House of Commons.

However, if the Government are determined to proceed with reform of this House—and I accept that there are manifesto commitments—they really must consider the consequences for our democracy and for people's understanding of it first and not afterwards. Moreover, they should begin by setting out clearly what they believe should be the functions of this House, and its constitutional relationship to the House of Commons, once there are elected Members in it. If they really want to confer elected legitimacy on this House, they have to realise that the PR system is simply appointment by another, more opaque system; they must accept that a single 15-year term of office would confer absolutely no accountability on the elected Member; and they must get real and understand that, if people are elected to this House, by whatever means and in whatever proportion, they will eventually challenge the primacy of the Commons, because that is what happens.

Before the Government ask themselves whether any of the above would actually improve the House of Lords, they should ask themselves what complaints they have received about its current functioning—apart perhaps from appointments to it—the effectiveness of our committees, the standard of debate, our very often non-partisan approach, and the expertise on which we can call from within the House to inform what we do. These qualities could be lost in the rush to confer some kind of legitimacy on this House. The only justification for any constitutional change is that it will strengthen the democratic process by enhancing accountability and people’s confidence in the system.

We were urged earlier by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, to have as our priority in these deliberations the interests of our country and our democracy. We should think long and hard before taking this House, our nation and our democracy to an unknown destination.

6.42 pm

Lord Roper: My Lords, I confess that I have argued with myself for some time on this subject. I begin by saying how much I have learnt to appreciate the work, the tradition and the friendship of Members of this House in my seven years here. Having said that, I feel committed both by the 1911 pledge of my party and by my basic view as a democrat.

I have a good deal of sympathy this evening for the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor because, having listened to the debate, I think that it will be difficult to find a consensus or to take forward this process of reform. I will concentrate on one or two points of detail rather than repeat some of the larger arguments that we have heard so effectively stated but which I do not feel are likely to persuade people on either side.

This is a debate to take note of the White Paper. Unfortunately, to some extent the votes last week in the House of Commons have made the White Paper a little less white; I am not sure that it is grey yet, but it is certainly not as white as it was. Much of the White Paper, as has been made clear by a number of noble Lords who have spoken, will now have to be reconsidered.

At one stage, I read in the press that the Leader of the House of Commons suggested that the Cunningham committee might be reconvened to look at the implications of the new situation. Is that likely to be the case? Like a number of others who have spoken, I believe that, as I said in our debate on the Cunningham committee’s report on 16 January of this year, a change to 80 per cent or even 100 per cent elected will require us to consider very carefully the need for a written constitution. That is a much more substantial exercise. I am not convinced that it would necessarily mean bringing the judges into action, but a clear definition of the respective powers of the two Houses would be needed if they were both elected or overwhelmingly elected.

Last week’s decisions have led me to think more carefully about the choice between 80 per cent and 100 per cent. The arguments against a fully elected House have been put fairly carefully, but there are also arguments against hybridity. If the 50 per cent, 30 per cent or 20 per cent solutions in the White Paper had led to agreement between the two Houses, it would have been worth putting up with those arguments for hybridity, but now that we may be coming to an 80 per cent elected House, it is worth looking at those arguments again.

It is not altogether clear, despite what has frequently been said, of whom the 20 per cent would consist. Under the proposals in the White Paper—and with 50 per cent elected—those Members would have been Cross-Benchers, but now presumably, as has been suggested, some space will have to be provided for government nominations of Ministers, for Bishops, for the Prime Minister’s nomination of holders of high office on retirement and possibly for nominations by other party leaders. It is not clear whether the whole of the 20 per cent in that situation would necessarily totally be available for the Cross Benches. That is one of the matters that will have to be clarified in the months to come. The number of Cross-Benchers in a House reduced to perhaps 450 might be only 50. In those circumstances, is the case for a hybrid House so strong and might the logic of 100 per cent not increase? That is something that we should at least consider, although we would have to take into account the costs, which were made very clear to us by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford.

I raise a second issue in considering what is frequently described as the most essential function of this House; namely, its function of revising legislation. I had a chance while I was Chief Whip to see a lot of the work done in committees in this House, and I have been reflecting on the fact that some of the most effective Members of this House in the detailed consideration of legislation are those, as my noble friend Lord Wallace of Saltaire said, who had experience in local government before coming into this House. It may very well be that a natural place for political parties to look in choosing their candidates will be among the senior members of local authorities, which would mean a continuation of people with that sort of background and that particularly useful capacity.

However, I have always been attracted by the system of indirect election to a second Chamber, as in the French Senate or in the confusingly named First Chamber of the Netherlands Parliament, by an electorate built up from local and regional government. Election by, or selection of, regional or local government provides a second-order democracy, but also ensures an important differentiation between the two Chambers and the primacy of the directly elected House. I realise that arguments for indirect election have not been particularly popular in early discussions, either in my party or in the wider debate, but I now wonder whether, if we are to go to a wholly elected House, the question should not be re-examined—I was particularly interested in what the noble Lord, Lord Trimble, said about how the Northern Ireland Senate was elected between 1922 and 1971. I should make it clear that having a system like that in France or the Netherlands does not imply that all those elected come from local government, although a number do; in such systems, the electorate are from a regional and local government base. It may be that a proportion of the House could be indirectly elected in that way, if it was thought that otherwise there would be too much bias towards local government.

We shall certainly return to the subject, but I wish the issues that I have raised tonight to be considered by those taking the matter forward between now and the next time we discuss these matters.

6.49 pm

Lord Butler of Brockwell: My Lords, I served as a member of the royal commission chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham. We spent a year of our lives thinking deeply about the role of this House and taking a wide range of evidence about it. I supported and continue to support the royal commission's conclusions. Overall, those recommendations did not get a very good reception when they were published—especially, if I may say so, from those who had thought less deeply about the issues than we had. But at least in some respects experience has brought people round in favour of them. The most obvious example is the method of appointment to your Lordships' House.

The royal commission recommended that the final decision on all discretionary appointments to your Lordships' House, including party-political appointments, should be in the hands of an independent, statutory Appointments Commission. We recommended that the Prime Minister should no longer play a role in appointing members of the second Chamber. We made that recommendation because we recognised that, while the power to make appointments remained in the hands of the Prime Minister and other party leaders, the suspicion of corruption could never be removed.

There were no takers for that recommendation at the time. Now, for reasons that are not very hard to discern, all parties seem to have come round to it. The noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, quoted Mark Twain. I am reminded of another quotation from him:

I just want to make one simple point today. There is a deep division in the other place among those who voted for an 80 per cent elected and a fully elected House. As other noble Lords have remarked, the option of 100 per cent was opposed not only by the Leader of the House but by the leadership of the Conservative Party. They voted for a 20 per cent appointed element to ensure the continuance of a non-political element that would prevent any party from gaining an overall majority in this House.

This is not just a matter of degree. I believe that, with 80 per cent of this House elected, the important aim of the Leader of the House of Commons and, apparently, on the basis of today's debate, of all parties in this House could not be achieved. The Father of the House in another place put it succinctly and very well. He said:

Of course, that is certain to be true if the whole point of the reform is electoral legitimacy. If I may say so, that seems to me to be the fundamental flaw in the position of those who favour an 80 per cent elected House.

Most of those who voted for a 100 per cent elected House wanted something different; they want a fully political Chamber. The right honourable gentleman Kenneth Clarke, whom I greatly admire, said that,

That may or may not be true, but it is not the situation that we face. We are not a new state. We are a very old state which has developed its constitutional relationships over a long period. With respect, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine, said, those relationships are subtle, they are not ridiculous and they work.

I firmly believe—and I think that much of the population believes—that this House does a valuable job. With my colleagues on the royal commission, I believe that we can survive a small element of hybridity for the specific purpose of ensuring that some in this House can speak for regional interests in the country with the confidence that comes from being elected by them. If we go beyond that, the inevitable consequence is a fully party-political House, which, as other noble Lords have said, will not be content to be a subordinate partner to the House of Commons.

Those who want an independent element in this House must make a choice. They will not get it with an 80 per cent elected House—even less with a 50 per cent elected House. This is not a matter of being willing to compromise. It is a matter of thinking clearly about what will work in the national interest. It is a matter of producing a House that is fit for its revising purpose. I can vote for a 20 per cent elected element or for a fully appointed House, but I cannot vote for a larger elected element than that.

6.55 pm

Lord Hoyle: My Lords, I am often amazed at this House. I listened with great attention to what is being said, but a number of speeches completely ignored what happened last week. One cannot ignore what happened last week. I am sorry about that, my Lords, but we now have a different situation. When there is talk of democracy, I am reminded very much of the Reform Act 1832, on which there was talk of the dangers that lurked if one went for democracy. That was about introducing democracy to the House of Commons. That seems to be repeated here again.

The other thing that puzzles me is the number of Members of this House, including me, who have always depended for their career on being elected and being part of a democracy who, when they enter here, turned their back on democracy and argue what a bad thing it is when it is applied to this House. Yet the whole of their career has depended on the will of the people. I say again that there is nothing better than trusting the people. I am quite certain of that. I believe in a democratic House. Whether it is properly elected, 80 per cent elected or any percentage elected, there must be legitimacy. I agree that once you have introduced democracy to the House at whatever level, the demand for it will begin to grow.

I have heard costs mentioned. It is not a question of cost; it is a question of having a democratic Chamber. That is what it is about. If you have a Chamber based on di amica, of course it will cost less. We must think about the situation in which we now find ourselves. This House can speak from a position of strength. We can say, “Yes, we recognise what the Commons has said. Let us see what agreement can be reached between the two Houses”. Or we can go on ignoring what has happened there and, at some time, face the consequences of that action. Many things need to be decided. If it is to be a democratic House—if there are to be elections—what sort of House do we want? If we want a reforming House, should Ministers be in this House or should they all be in the other place? Should we be completely a reforming House looking at legislation pre and post its passing? There is a lot of work to be done. In a real democracy, that work must be done.

Just burying our heads in the sand is not an answer to the problems that we must face. If we go for elections, we must consider what kind of elections we want. I believe that they should be based on regions. As one who has always been for first past the post, I think that there is a case here for PR. That would lead not only to a different Chamber but to a different kind of Member elected to it. On a regional base, there will be no conflict between Members of the Commons and Members of the Lords in elections. They would be completely different animals, as they are in European elections. We must also decide when we want the elections to take place. Do we want them when there is a European election or should we not have them when there is a general election, when more people are likely to partake in it?

If we adopted a different, open-list system—I say open-list because the electorate has the right to select the people of their choice—we would get different results. There is also a case to be made that smaller parties would be elected through that kind of system. We would be getting to the root of democracy if we went down that road. There is much to be decided and much to be done. If we turn our backs on what was decided last week in the House, we will not get much further forward. This House might suddenly find that it is not the perfect House that it imagines itself to be. If I took some of the people here into the bar of my local pub, they would be amazed at what the locals had to say about what they believe they do. It is simply that people very often do not consider what is being done. That is why we need to look again at where we are going.

I do not think that the Cross-Benchers are perfect, either. I think that they provide a valuable service, but they come from a narrow section of society. Is that really the way in which we want to go in the future? I can think of a lot of people who could be real independents and who could sit on the Benches and contribute to the work of this House. And where are the ethnic minorities represented on the Cross Benches? There is just the odd one. I am glad that the noble Lord put his hand up; there are not many more. When we talk about numbers in the House and how many of us there are, how many people actually run this House? If we look, we find that the House is run by about 380 people—give or take a few. The number is just below 400, in any case. There is a way in which we could almost immediately reduce the number in the House. Could we not look at those who do not attend? Why should they not be struck off the list?

There are many ways in which we can move forward. All I am suggesting are one or two things that we should be thinking about. I hope in the vote on Wednesday that we recognise the step that was taken last week and agree with it. I have always said to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, that only the two of us believe in proper democracy. Not many people on the Benches around him do so. One rarely hears a speech from the Benches opposite that actually supports the position that he has taken when he talks of voting for 80 per cent. How many of his colleagues will join him? Noble Lords might say six. Well, there we are; that is rather more than I thought. Nevertheless, we at last have a chance to deal with an eccentric anachronism and to get rid of the amateur from our society once and for all by having a Chamber with a majority of elected Members. Let those who denounce democracy not forget that many of them are here because of democracy. Many of the others will turn around and say that we will have only people who have been elected. I know that many of them have tried to be selected for election and have ended up here. That does not make them second-class citizens, either.

7.03 pm

Lord St John of Fawsley: My Lords, if anyone had doubts about the value of this House, those doubts would have been allayed by listening to this debate. It has been an extraordinary occasion. Noble Lords have spoken with extraordinary conviction and sincerity. Yet there has never been a moment of rancour or party-political point scoring; the issues have been discussed and considered on their merits. The quality of the debate has also been quite extraordinary. I think of the heavenly twins who have been sitting in front of me: the noble Lord, Lord Lawson of Blaby, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe. What a duet we were treated to, one after the other. I think of that amazing speech of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, the star of stars. I do not know where he has gone. Perhaps he has gone to recover, but I thought I saw him there a minute ago.

What do we look to this House for? First, we look to it for discussion of great issues. Secondly, we look to it as a revising Chamber, in which revision is thorough and competent. Thirdly, we look to it as a warning Chamber, so that we can give the House of Commons a warning when we think that it is wrong. All these things are being done. What on earth more do people want? The one thing that on the whole was lacking from the debate until the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell, introduced it was an historical perspective. Yet that is vital for appreciating this House.

I shall quote from a great constitutionalist from the 19th century. Perhaps it will come as no surprise that the name of this person is Walter Bagehot. After all, I spent 20 years of my life with him when I wrote those 15 volumes. We must, said Bagehot, always act carefully, slowly and by agreement when dealing with our institutions, because all important English institutions are relics of a long past:

Those words are as applicable today as they were when he wrote them.

My second point is this: we are in danger of becoming obsessed with the question of Lords reform, which is leading us into a constitutional cul-de-sac. This is preventing any constructive way forward on the major constitutional issue of our time: how this Parliament can control an overgrown and over-powerful Executive. That is what we should be discussing. We made a start in the House of Commons with the Select Committee system, but one department—I use that word advisedly—was left out: the Prime Minister’s department. If there were to be a Select Committee for the Prime Minister’s department at No. 10, that would be a major constitutional advance. If that committee had existed at the time of the cash-for-peerages scandal, which is what it was, the scandal would never have happened. Nothing annoys me more than to hear people repeat like parrots that it has besmirched the reputation of this House. It is nothing to do with this House. If there is one body of people who have had nothing to do with it, it is us, so why should anyone say that we are besmirched by the sins and omissions of other people?


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