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The third change is more recent. It has been agreed that no one party should have an overall majority in this place. That is a new development and it is an agreement. The irony is that the last of those two gains will be lost if we go for an elected Chamber, because there could be no guarantee that the fine balance of the parties would be maintained by an election. That would be up to the electorate, not an agreement among the parties in this House. The primacy of the Commons would be more difficult to defend. In fact, it could not be put better than it was by the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, last year when we were dealing with ping-pong. He said:
We have concluded that, in our judgment, it would be wrong for us as an unelected House, having faced two repudiations from the elected House, to send this back one more time. If we were an elected House, I am sure that our decision would be different.[Official Report, 7/11/06; col. 654.]
When colleagues of mine in the other place say that I have gone native, and if they mean by that that I have learnt from my 10 years experience in this place, I plead guilty. One of the problems we have is image. Members of the House of Commons, among whom I include myself, do not know very much about what goes on here and how the place works, until they arrive here themselves, when it is quite a revelation.
Overpriced institution? There is no need to argue about the theoretical figures of the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, which have been bandied about; the figures are in the new book which has just been published about working in the House of Lords. The figures from last year showed that each Member of the House of Commons cost the taxpayer £726,000 and that each Member of the House of Lords cost £149,000. In other words, the taxpayer is getting a revising Chamber at a very low cost, and the proof is in the annual accounts approved by Comptroller and Auditor-General.
We also have enormous expertisemuch has been said about thisbut I could not understand the argument of my noble friend the leader of the Liberal Democrats. In the other House, the person who is most mentioned as an expert is the noble Lord, Lord Winston. He is not a Cross-Bencher; he happens to sit on the Labour Benches. It is one of the glories of this House that it does not really matter which Bench one sits on; people are respected for what they have to contribute to the debates. That is one of the Houses great distinctions from the other place. My noble friend, who made such a powerful speech in favour of an elected Chamber, then said, Oh, but we must keep the Cross-Benchers. Why? If we are going to have an elected Chamber, let us have an elected Chamber. If there is something wrong with an elected Chamber, let us not have an elected Chamber. The idea that we have some sort of hybrid is an abomination.
If we are going to press ahead with an elected Chamber, let the other place and this place do so with their eyes open. I think that there will be five consequences. First, the careful party balance here that has been agreed will not be guaranteed. Secondly, the primacy of the Commons will be less able to be defended clearly. Thirdly, this place will become a refuge for those who do not get elected to the other place, the Scottish Parliament or the European Parliament, especially in the party list system. Fourthly, there will be elected Members who interfere with constituency Memberswe thought that that would not happen in the Scottish Parliament, but I am sorry to tell noble Lords that it does, and that I spent a lot of my time as Presiding Officer dealing with complaints from Members of the Scottish Parliament, constituency MPs in Westminster and local authorities about the activities of regional Members. We never thought that we would have offices for regional Members scattered throughout Scotland at great public expense. That has happened, and I am afraid that it will happen if we have an elected Chamber here, whether one believes it or not. The fifth consequence will be the extra cost of an elected Chambernot just the cost of running it, but the cost of the elections as well. All of these issues need to be taken into account. It would be preferable to go ahead with a reform package for this place on the basis on which there is such widespread agreement already.
Lord Palmer: My Lords, it is a pleasure to be the third resident of Scotland in a row to speak, most especially after the powerful speech of my neighbour, the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood. I am also only the second elected hereditary Peer to speak today or, as one of my colleagues so tactfully put it, to put my head above the parapet.
It seems extraordinary that whenever the Prime Minister is in trouble, he appears to put reform of Your Lordships House back on the political agenda. To the vast majority of the electorate, reform of this House is of no interest whatever. I believe that if a random poll, asking, What are your views on the reform of the House of Lords? were carried out, the pollster would be looked at in utter disbelief.
It is interesting to note how the press savaged the White Paper on its publication. It was a half-baked scheme for the Lords, according to the Financial Times.Why bother changing the Lords? asked the Independent. Labour reforms for the Upper House are a costly mess, stated the Sunday Express. I could go on with endless quotes, all of which, without exception, continue in the same vein.
The noble Lord, Lord St John, asked about the use of the Parliament ActI am sorry that he is not in his place. I have made extensive legal inquiries and have been reassured that the Parliament Act cannot be used where any reform of this House is concerned. I, too, look forward to hearing what the Lord Chancellor may have to say on this.
I reckon that I have a dozen or so friends in the other place, of all political persuasions. Only one of them has admitted to having received any correspondence from his constituents about reform of the House. That was one, very short e-mail.
I fully support the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne. The idea of another election for the electorate to have to encounter is a farce beyond belief. At the previous European elections, the turnout was below 40 per cent. I often wonder how the police would be able to man the barricades at the polling stations for an election for Members of this House. I feel certain that the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, would agree with that.
Many of your Lordships who served in another place have often told me that, until they arrived here, they had not the slightest idea of what was done in this House or of its role. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, alluded to this most forcefully, as did the noble Lord, Lord Steel.
I have always believed that our job is to be a revising Chamber, as many other noble Lords have mentioned. I also believe we do it extremely well. I shall give one small example. The noble Baroness, Lady Barker, called a Division during the Mental Health Bill. She won by 103 votes. If this House is to be a rubber stamp, there must be a strong case for its total abolition. However, as a resident of Scotland, I live in great fear of a unicameral Parliament and believe that, in its present form, this House has a very valuable contribution to make to the political process.
It is often said that one of the strengths of the House of Lords is its committee work; I agree wholeheartedly. I have the privilege to sit on Sub-Committee D of the European Union Committee. We published a report on the EU strategy for biofuels on 20 November. I find it insulting that, after all the hard work that went into producing it, there is still no date for the committees report to be debated. In this case, the biofuel movement is changing, literally, daily, while our report gathers dust. As a result, the United Kingdom will be left lagging behind its European partners.
The White Paper suggests a reformed House of 540 Members. That simply is not enough if the committee work is to continue. There are roughly 405 committee slots. I admit that some of those slots are duplicated, by which I mean filled by the same Peers. I, for example, sit on three different committees of Your Lordships House. If the new House is restricted to 540 Members, there will be hardly anyone left in the Chamber to scrutinise legislation.
Baroness Quin: My Lords, it is with pleasure that I follow the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, whom I meet not only in this Chamber, but very frequently on east coast main line trains as we make our way to and from this House each week. I speak with some trepidation, partly because of the excellent quality of the debate so far, but also because I sense that, if the weight of speeches is anything to go by, I shall be in minority in this House in my views.
As a Member of the other place, I was a member of the first committee on House of Lords reform, presided over by the noble Lord, Lord Cunningham of Felling. During my time on that committee, I favoured, and still favour, the option of a wholly or substantially elected House of Lords. I have not changed my mind, notwithstanding the great respect that I have for the way in which this House conducts its business. However, the basic reason for my favouring a largely or wholly elected House is simply that, in a democracy, the authority of Parliament and government derives from the people, the electorate. The way in which this House is currently composed denies people any say and any sense of ownership of it.
This would not be a problem if we were simply an arms-length advisory body, giving opinions to Parliament and government in the same way as do economic and social councils and committees in other countries. However, I believe that it becomes a problem when we are an integral part of the legislative system and of the parliamentary scrutiny of the Executive.
When I put my name down to speak in this debate, I did not imagine that the outcome of the votes of the other place would be as it was. I am surprised and pleased by the outcome; I note that some have claimed that those who voted for a wholly elected House included some cynics about the process but, if that is true, they have simply made a big majority into a near-decisive one.
How should the Government move forward? First, I should like them, despite the fact that their 50:50 preferred option was rejected, not to abandon the many good and detailed provisions in the White Paper. I believe that the provisions in the White Paper went a long way towards securing two important objectives: first, that a reformed second Chamber should not be a clone of the House of Commons and, secondly, that it should be largely complementary to it and not a rival to it. The provisions concerning the timing of elections, the length of terms of office and the barring of re-election, the cooling-off period in the rather unlikely circumstance of ex-second Chamber Members wishing to enter the House of Commons and the career route into government clearly remaining through the primary Chamber are all very helpful features, to which I hope the Government will hold fast.
Reading previous debates in your Lordships House, I find there are frequent concerns on which I would like to express my view. There is rightly a concern to retain expertise in the second Chamber. However, there is sometimes behind this premise an assumption that elected politicians are incapable of being experts. I hope that we do not think that that is the case because, in fact, many former and even current elected politicians often have years of expertise behind them. Furthermore, although the presence of experts in this House is very welcome, given our varied legislative programme for much of the time experts here are voting on issues which are not related to their expertise. I urge the Government, in taking these arguments and the issue forward, to look to ways in which to involve experts, particularly in the relevant committee work in the future of this House, and harnessing expertise in a more targeted way than perhaps has been the case up to now.
The cost of a reformed Chamber was raised most recently in the debate by the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, and the point has been made that the House of Lords does its job effectively but cheaply. Indeed, this point is always mentioned when the expenses of MPs are published. But it is fair to say that we are not comparing like with like, since MPs have constituency offices to run and a great deal of local commitments to be involved in. I am sure that I am not the only ex-MP in this House to notice a very big reduction in workload as a result of no longer having constituency responsibilities.
A third concern frequently made in debates on this subject, including today, is that an elected second Chamber will automatically demand and get new powers. This was forcefully argued by the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, in the debate that we had in January 2003. But an elected second Chamber, even if it wants more powers, cannot give itself those powers. I know of no second Chamber in the world which can unilaterally grant itself powers; indeed, in all countries such changes can be sanctioned only with the approval of the primary Chamber, and usually it has to be by a substantial majority. Furthermore, one encouraging aspect of the situation that we are in is that there is an impressive consensus already across the House about what the powers of a second Chamber should be. I urge the Government to build on this consensus in the coming months and years.
A point of agreement in previous debates that has been mentioned somewhat infrequently today has been the importance of better and fairer representation across the countries and regions of the UK. I was very interested in the document which, I am sure, other noble Lords have seen, that was prepared by the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon. In some ways the figures in his document about the variety of regional links that Members of this House have were valid, but some others of his figures worry me a great dealfor example, that there should just be one Member with a definite connection to Merseyside and 24 from Sussex, or 125 from Greater London and only three from Tyne and Wear. I think that the noble Lord said that there was only one the noble Lord from Tyne and Wear, but by my calculation there are three. As a north-easterner I feel very concerned about regional representation in this House. Elections would solve this problem by automatically ensuring representation from across the UK.
I urge the Government to move forward along the lines of the White Paper so as to correct the unsatisfactory aspects of the way in which we are constituted while retaining the maximum number of our strengths. Of course, that is not easythe devil is in the detailbut I do not see why the devil should win. Jack Straw was right to insist that we should not let the best be the enemy of the good. There is no perfect system, but we need to identify the better of the many alternatives. I, for one, hope that the Government will not run away from reform and from responding to the vote in the other House. I hope that they will confront the challenges ahead and not be daunted by them.
The Duke of Montrose: My Lords, unlike the previous speaker, whose dedication I admire, I have not recently spent many hours considering House of Lords reform, perhaps because the irreverent side of my nature says that reform is a bit like busesif you miss one, there will be another one along in a while. However, I found it educational to read the Official Report of the proceedings of the two days last week in the other place. Like the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, and other noble Lords, I was struck by the antiquated views that seemed to be held by some Members there. It struck me how many Members of another place seemed to think that this House was made of belted Earls, or something similarhence the embarrassment of the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker. I confess to myself being a belted Earl, among other things, but the number of Divisions on which Earls have swung the vote recently would not go beyond the fingers of one hand.
Anyone spending any time looking at this place would realise that being an Earl is far from the qualification that has brought most of your Lordships here. Until the creation of the Appointments Commission, life Peers were all appointed by their very own politicians. The Library tells me that we have 13 here who took their seats under Harold Wilson, three under Heath and so on in increasing numbers until we reach 336 under Tony Blair.
The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor mentioned that the tension that we create makes us unpopular with some in the other place. I have heard it said that every young man who goes for officer training likes to think that he has a field marshals baton in his knapsack. By the same token, there is always a danger that every young man or woman elected to the other place thinks that he has an autocrats baton in his or her briefcase. One role of this place is to ensure that those who begin as democrats never become those autocrats.
Paragraph 6.25 of the White Paper makes the point that the Government would like representation of the regions and nations to be inbuilt, but wishful thinking to that extent might not be enough. Noble Lords may understand if I go back to our deliberations in 1999 on reforming this House, when we considered certain things to do with Scotland. Amendments were debated to establish if there were restrictions based on Scottish membership of the House laid down by the Treaty of Union. When the Government had rejected these, in a final exercise my friend Lord Gray of Contin had a Motion passed in the House to refer the issue to the Committee for Privileges to see whether the Treaty of Union was likely to be breached. The three noble and learned Lords who sat in judgment were all of the opinion that there was no conflict as long as Scotland received adequate representation in Parliament, but listening to the reasoning in their case, as it was presented to them, makes interesting reading.
The outstanding comment of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, is that the implication of the then House of Lords Bill, as opposed to any Acts that preceded it, is that there is no longer any guarantee that a Scottish Peer resident in Scotland will be a Member of the House. It was agreed that the treaty, with its conditions, existed even though the legislation that referred to the appointment of Scottish Peers in the two Acts from which it had been constituted had been annulled, but that apparently cannot take away what is in the treaty. I raise the issue merely to alert those so keenly promoting election to this House that it may be all very well to say that we believe that all Peers should be elected, but triggering an elected system that does not guarantee an element for regions, or particularly for Scotland, could run into trouble with the Treaty of Union.
The idea of hereditary Peers is, of course, completely counterintuitive to modern society. Our philosophy has become the disposable society: use once and consign to the rubbish bin. But I should like to dwell briefly on the contribution of the hereditaries.
I am sure it is not so long ago that being British was not just about accepting certain concepts and philosophies for today but was also to do with owing allegiance to a whole history, good and bad. I get the feeling that some would like the history to which they claim allegiance to reach back to a point only about 50 years ago when, in their mind, they would feel they were always on the side of the angels. Speaking in this Chamber, one feels there can be no doubt that the Victorians wished future generations to be conscious of a vast array of history so that even the barons of Runnymede and Magna Carta continually look down on our deliberations.
The presence of hereditary Peers in this House has also ensured that history was a living tradition, because there were people walking about not just supporting the names that conjured up both the fame and the infamy of the past, but contributing the view that that particular background gave them. I venture to suggest that it added an extra dimension to our considerations. If the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, finds the method of re-election and replacement of hereditary Peers irksome, dare I suggest that it might be possible to change the method of election?
Judging from the deliberations in another place, one might think that a hereditary component has no place in the minds of our present-day politicians, whatever solution they eventually consider they have found. But whenever they do, if it really does mean that there are no hereditary Members, I hope that at least the barons of Runnymede will still look down on this House. But there will be increased responsibility on the academics and historians to remind politiciansas Garl Russell did so frequentlyof the road we have travelled and the lessons we have learnt along the way.
Lord Hannay of Chiswick: My Lords, as a rather neophyte Member of your Lordships' House I have not hitherto spoken in any of the debates we have held on reform and other constitutional matters such as our conventions. But, having now served for nearly six years in the House, I hope that a short intervention by one of the first generation of Members appointed on the nomination of the existing non-statutory Appointments Commission might not be thought amiss. I shall focus mainly on the rationale and the role of the Houses independent Members, of whom I am one. While tempted to address the outcome of last Wednesday's debate and votes in another place, I shall resist that temptation other than to remark that the more favoured of the two preferences they expressed looks to me like one of those decisions reached in haste which then have to be repented at leisure. Meanwhile, I will confine my remarks to the Government's White Paper.
First, I have a few general thoughts. I do not find many of the arguments advanced against a wholly appointed House particularly convincing. If one accepts, as I do, the present balance of powers and influence between the two Houses as broadly right, for this country at least, then it seems to me far from sure that one needs to or will benefit from moving away from a fully appointed House. So when that option of a fully appointed House is put to the vote later in the week, I shall vote for it.
Secondly, however, neither do I find some of the arguments against a hybrid Housepart elected, part appointedparticularly convincing. I note that the strength of the language used against a hybrid House, as so often in my experience, seems to reflect a certain weakness in the line of argument. I suspect that the strong culture and conventions of this place will ensure that a House elected and appointed in this way would function effectively and satisfactorily; but if we are to have a hybrid House, then I believe we should aim for a model that has stability and durability built into it. So I will vote for the Government's preferred option of a 50 per cent elected House, but I will not support the other options, including that of a wholly elected House, all of which I would regard as inherently unstable.
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