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8.36 pm

Lord MacGregor of Pulham Market: My Lords, one of the problems in speaking at this stage of the debate, when so many have already spoken—and it will be much worse tomorrow evening—is that many of the points that one would wish to make have already been powerfully made. I shall not rehearse all the arguments for the position that I take, and that I took some years before I left the other place, that debate and decisions on the role, powers and functions of this House should come first, with decisions on its composition coming afterwards. If no change in the role and functions is recommended, I would strongly favour an all-appointed House. After all that I have read and listened to, I have not changed my view.

I spent a happy Sunday yesterday reading the Hansards of the debates in the other place, and I wish to offer three reflections on them. First, I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, that there is no demand in the country for Lords reform. No votes in any election will be made on the basis of Lords reform. For a number of reasons, there is great ignorance of how the House of Lords works, the relationships between the Houses and all the issues that we are discussing today. I entirely agree with my noble and learned friend Lord Howe and the noble Lord, Lord Steel, that there is also great ignorance of this House and how it works among most Members of the other place. I certainly reinforce the point by saying that in all the years that I was in the other place—I was a Minister for many years and Leader of the House—I hardly ever came to this House, nor had I any need to.

It is striking that so many who have come here from the other place, especially in the past five years, have been impressed by what they have found when they have understood the nature of this House and how it has changed in its seriousness and the amount of time that it spends on matters; those people have become among the most powerful and trenchant advocates of an appointed House. That message has been striking in today’s debate. Why? It is because we see the differences between the Lords and the Commons; we see the added value of the Lords; we understand now the complementary nature of the Lords; and we see the dangers, to the House of Commons and to MPs in their constituency capacity, of an elected House of Lords. The House of Lords would of course change if it were all or largely elected. There would be demands from the Members, once they were elected, but, well before that, there would be a big issue in relation to the Bill itself. I shall return to that point later.

Last week, many of the shrewder and more realistic speakers in the other place clearly recognised that point, including the Father of the House, Alan Williams, to whom the noble Lord, Lord Butler, referred. That brings me to my second, crucial point. The main point that advocates of a largely elected House constantly make—indeed, the whole basis of their case—centres around “democratic legitimacy”. That was the constant refrain in last week’s debate among all the advocates of an elected House. Here I follow the question asked by my noble and learned friend Lord Howe and the noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson: how would the functions and role of the House of Lords, which even the advocates of reform accept and do not wish to change, be improved by elections? What value is added? No one in the debates last week answered that question and, like my noble and learned friend Lord Howe, I have never received an answer from anyone to whom I have put it. The mantra “democratic legitimacy and accountability” is simply repeated. Here, I follow the noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson. What is democratic about an election for a fixed term of 15 years, no re-election and partially open lists? We all know that that is virtually a system of party-political appointment. In fact, it is appointment by another name. I notice that, because there had been criticisms of the system, Jack Straw said in last week’s debate:

Frankly, I do not think that that is a ringing endorsement of the partially open-list system. Admittedly, he said that there had been serious objections to this system which the Government would have to take into account.

We all know why the once-only, 15-year term was suggested. It was to avoid concerns about rivalry with Members of Parliament. But a 15-year term and no re-election mean that none of the elected Peers is democratically accountable. In the Commons, the crucial point is that the elected MP has a constant relationship with his constituents and is accountable to them, as is demonstrated at each election. None of that would apply to an elected Member of the Lords.

So I conclude that, in an attempt to make the elected Lords Member different from the Commons Member, to prevent the Lords from becoming a clone of the other place and to protect the constituency function of Members of Parliament, the principle of democratic accountability is destroyed. I also agree very much with my noble friend Lord Wakeham that the proposed system would mean that the quality of candidates was likely to be much lower. I think he said that it would be far too low, but certainly it would be much lower.

That brings me to my final point. I disagree with what my right honourable friend Kenneth Clarke said about an appointed or elected House, but I very much agree with him on one thing. He said:

I agree, although I might have used a different word from “fascinating”: it will be tortuous. There will be many different views on many of the issues that are still to be properly debated. My noble friend Lord Strathclyde referred to a number of them in his opening speech. They include the method of election, which, judging by the debate, now has few friends in the other place and, I think, very few here; the timing of the elections; the size of the constituencies; the fixed-term issue; the transitional period; the proportion of appointed Members; the basis and purpose of selection of the appointed Members; and, above all, the role and function of the House and the relationship between the Houses.

I thought that, in his opening speech this afternoon, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor sent us some subtle messages about that. I may have misunderstood but I thought that there was an innuendo there. He was keen to stress that, whatever option was accepted, the powers of and relationship between the two Houses should stay the same. He implied that this was most likely to be achieved by an elected proportion of 50 per cent or less, but he went on to say that the ramifications of adopting an all-elected or even an 80 per cent elected system would need to be carefully considered. I think he said that a detailed and accepted definition of the relationship between the two Houses would be needed—a point that has just been made by the noble Lord, Lord Plant. I agree, and I think that it would have to be in the Bill. There will certainly be many attempts to include it if the Government do not.

That is why I very much agree with my noble friend Lord Strathclyde and the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, that before we see the Bill we should spend a considerable amount of time exploring in detail all these issues, which have not yet been properly discussed. I think that my noble friend Lord Strathclyde said that we should spend the rest of this Parliament doing so, and I do not disagree with that.

The current White Paper has been substantially up-ended, if not destroyed, by the votes in the other place. However, in his foreword to the White Paper, Jack Straw recognised that broad agreement on the changes and the need for their introduction over a long period was,

There is still a long way to go.

8.44 pm

The Earl of Sandwich: My Lords, I apologise to all noble Lords for coming late to the House today. It was due to illness in my family. Four years ago, troops were pouring into Iraq and we were debating the pressing issue of Lords reform. And here we are again. We all know that, sadly, this will not be the last time.

I register my disappointment with the votes last week, as I shall in the Lobby. It may have appeared to have been a clear majority, but it was muddied by tactical voting and showed a bewildering lack of understanding among MPs of what we do. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord MacGregor: if a few more could take the trouble to visit us, and not wait to be summoned by Black Rod, we might have a fairer result.

The probability of disagreement at every stage, even in the Commons, seems certain to run the Bill into the sand again. My guess is that the three sticking points will be the form of elections, the number of independents and the timing of the departure of the hereditary Peers. Those issues alone will cloud the whole debate and prevent any consensus between the two Houses.

On the other hand, Mr Brown, as a practical politician, whose ideals are positioned somewhere above and beyond the future of our House, may yet see the light. He will have calculated the amount of parliamentary time available; and he will have taken in the cost implications because that is his job. He could have the common sense to adopt a modest set of proposals for reform that really does have the hope of passing into law because they have the elements of agreement between the Houses. Those proposals are set out in what we call the Norton Bill, and I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Norton, for all that he has done. His group has demonstrated that a growing number of Peers are genuinely concerned to move on, to remove the residual rights of hereditary Peers, to ensure the survival of independents and to make the sort of reforms that are both feasible and urgently needed.

Let us examine Conservative motives. Some Conservatives profess democratic ideals for this House and they actually believe in elections. But for Members like Douglas Hogg, who is a very old friend of mine, and his colleagues, including my own MP, Oliver Letwin, there is another agenda. They want us to strengthen their opposition to an overbearing Executive. They seem to have given up on the Commons altogether. The Lords are seen as the new democrats, galloping over the hill to the rescue. That is surely absurd, wishful thinking. They should be talking of reform of the whole of Parliament, not of the Lords. Democratically elected Lords would be bound to challenge the present conventions, as has been said so many times.

As for the Government, who originally had their money on 50 per cent, I can think only that the excitement of getting such a deceptively clear result has blinded them from all the unforeseen consequences that lie ahead. One such consequence will be that a radical constitutional change could not possibly be achieved in one or two moves and will require further interim stages of reform. The balance between the Houses is bound to alter. The more representative the Lords become, the more representative they will want to be. I wonder whether some of you heard Mr Alan Williams putting it very well last week when he said:

I foresee every sort of problem for the Commons, and delays in their own legislation. That is why the Prime Minister opposed elections in the first place.

I am also concerned about the disregard for the Cross Benches, expressed through the 100 per cent and 80 per cent solutions. After nearly 12 years in the House, I respect the role of the Cross Benches, not just as individuals, but as a political force, and I think many people have recognised that outside the House. They have often made all the difference in many of those critical Divisions, for example, on human rights, which have attracted public interest. I doubt that the Government, after so many assurances and protestations of faith in the Cross Benches, from the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, to the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, to our present administration, really want to throw them out, but anything is possible in the present climate. Preserving only 20 per cent of the present House would be the thin end of the wedge, because it would exclude the Bishops and the Law Lords. I favour a much more independent Appointments Commission, and a re-examination of gender, diversity and regional balance—a point that has been made very well—but neither of those is possible with just 20 per cent.

Some MPs even argued last week that there is enough expertise in the Commons already, although they admitted that generals and admirals were hard to reproduce. However, I quote from our excellent new booklet on the work of the House:

and so on. The Second Reading debate on 12 May last year on the Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill attracted 90 speakers including lawyers, judges, doctors, scientists and members of charities and religious bodies. How on earth could an elected House ever achieve that level of expertise or have the time to achieve it? Are we to throw all that away?

As a hereditary Peer, I recognise that our time is up again, and I have said before that I am ready to vote for abolition if the Government are serious about reform. I have supported many of the Government’s reforms over the past decade. However, the 100 per cent solution belongs to a make-believe world and will never happen. Until the Government fulfil their undertaking to the Cross Benches, think more seriously about the consequences of elections and recognise the value of what we already have, I will be unwilling to support them in the lobbies.

8.50 pm

Lord Dubs: My Lords, I have enormous respect for this House, I value many of its conventions and traditions, the high calibre of many of its Members and, above all, its traditions of tolerance. I think that by the time I sit down, it will be the tradition of tolerance that I shall most want to hang on to. In the years to come, we shall look back on this and similar debates about reform and wonder not how we ever came to change things but why it took so long to get there. After every major reform, when we look back, we say that it was so obvious that it was amazing there was any discussion. A number of noble Lords have asked what the added value of the change is. If that question had been asked in 1832, 1911, when life Peers were first introduced or when many hereditaries were taken away, I wonder whether anybody would have answered it or whether the answer was so obvious that nobody bothered to ask it.

I shall address two issues in particular. The first is why we are here. We are here because we are part of Parliament and we want it to work well. Why is Parliament here? It is here to serve the people. If the people of Britain want us to stay as we are, that would be an argument. I appreciate that this is not the burning issue that people are talking about in pubs all over the country, but in so far as ordinary people are consulted, they overwhelmingly tend to want us to be elected. They opt for that in opinion poll after opinion poll. In an ICM poll taken about a week ago, 63 per cent of people wanted the Lords elected and 26 per cent did not. That is the most recent poll I have. The other reason for no change is if the House of Commons says that there shall be no change. That is what happened four years ago, and nothing happened. This time, the House of Commons seems to have said clearly that it wants changes. Either the people of this country or the House of Commons want change, but if neither of them does, we should not change things. However, they are both relevant. If we had no powers, it would not matter very much. Some people argue that we have no powers, but we do have some. We have exercised them, and it is therefore important for us to come to terms with how they are exercised and whether they are exercised in the right way by the right people. I shall probably vote for all the options from 60 per cent to 100 per cent elected.

I noted what the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, said about my right honourable friend Jack Straw. I think that Jack was worried that the Commons would reject all the options like last time, and he worked hard to persuade people that they should vote for elected options. In the event, he was much more persuasive than he had expected to be. While this House must make up its own mind, and will do so, I hope we shall still take note of what the House of Commons did last week because we ignore it at our peril.

We want this House to have a healthy independence from the Executive. That will be helped by ensuring that no one party dominates in a reformed House. However, it is curious that, if I felt unconvinced by the Government’s arguments on an issue, I would find it easier to break the party Whip if I had the backing of local people or my local constituency party. One has much more strength in ignoring a party Whip in that way than if one simply says, “Well, I feel like it, so I am not voting the party line”. At least, that is my experience of both local government and the House of Commons.

We have a party system here. Anybody who gets a weekly Whip will see what it means. We must have a party system if Governments are going to get their legislation through. Our job traditionally has been to make the Government think again—I hope not again and again.

I would argue that we already are a hybrid House. We have the Cross-Benchers who play a valuable part in our deliberations. Then there are those of us who are involved in election campaigns for our parties and after a general election we come back here. Some of us have been campaigning and knocking on doors and have the battle of election ringing in our ears, while others wonder what all the fuss is about. Obviously, they were on holiday while we were doing that.

Some years ago there was a parliamentary by-election. I went and spent the day knocking on doors. All day I was assailed with arguments about housing, jobs, schools, hospitals, transport and planning. When I returned to the House in the evening for Divisions, I reflected that while I had been subjected to all this, as had some other Members of this House, there were many people who had not had that criticism. It may not have made me a more effective Member of this House, but it certainly gave me much pause to think about what ordinary people were saying, from which we are rather sheltered.

I agree with my noble friend Lord Tomlinson in one respect: I do not like closed lists. They give party machines too much power over the individuals on them. That is wrong; it would be against the traditions of this House; and it is unhealthy. I also favour smaller constituencies as they give local people more chance to select the people they want to stand for them. If their constituencies are as large as is suggested in the White Paper, I fear that the party machines will dominate. Again that is not healthy. I also wonder about a 15-year term. I believe in accountability; and a 15-year term with no further re-election is not really accountability. It is a neat way of doing it, but I do not think it is right.

My most important argument is that I believe in accountability. Being accountable makes people into a different sort of politician. Anyone who has represented a constituency at a local or national level will be aware of the relationship with ordinary people who put them there, and the need to justify why one votes in a particular way. One may not vote the party line, but one needs to justify why one has done what one has done. Here we do not have to justify it at all. We can go home; we have done it; and so on. The process of having to justify how one votes to local people—whether to one’s local party or to the local electors—is a key element of democracy. It is, after all, what distinguishes democracies from other sorts of country. Because we make decisions which involve ordinary people’s lives, it is right that we should have that accountability. Therefore, I believe that an element of election—a pretty large one—is the right way forward for this House, for Parliament and for the country.

8.58 pm

Baroness Cox: My Lords, I will speak with extreme temerity and great brevity as the many points I would wish to make have of course already been made by those with far greater political experience and wisdom than I will ever attain. I wish to put on record my deep commitment to the case for an appointed Chamber on three interrelated principles: first, the teleological argument; secondly, the complementarity principle; and, thirdly, the principle of legitimacy.

First, the teleological argument—that structure should be derived from function—was very well emphasised recently by the noble Lord, Lord MacGregor. Given that this House is a revising Chamber, its composition must ensure the spread and depth of experience and expertise essential to ensure that proposed law will be good law in every aspect of society affected by such law. Such spread and depth of experience and expertise cannot be guaranteed by the lottery of elections.

Secondly, there is the principle of complementarity. Given the immutable primacy of the House of Commons as the democratically elected Chamber, the House of Lords must fulfil an alternative and complementary function. Many noble Lords have emphasised the inadequacy of the other place’s role in detailed scrutiny of proposed legislation. Therefore, I see no point in replication with an elected clone of the House of Commons.

The principle of complementarity is also supported by the relative political independence in the House of Lords. That was exemplified for me by the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, when, as Prime Minister, she asked if I would be willing to consider a place in your Lordships’ House. She could not have been fairer or a more honourable example of the principle of relative political independence in your Lordships’ House. She said to me:

That could not have been more fair or more honourable. I accepted on that basis and came as such a novice into the political arena that I was the first Baroness I had ever met.

More seriously, the freedom to be able to speak and vote on the basis of expertise and conscience, without having to look over one’s shoulder at whatever narrow section of the electorate put one here, whichever it may be, is an invaluable attribute of a revising Chamber.

That leads me to the third issue: the issue of legitimacy. That issue has been raised again and again, perhaps most eloquently by the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, when she said that legitimacy and legitimate authority are derived from a job well done. I believe that an elected Chamber would inevitably and inherently reduce the ability of your Lordships’ House to do that job well, with the invaluable contribution to the parliamentary democracy that it distinctively makes and which, it may be noted, also commands international respect.

That is why, given the appropriate procedures to ensure a membership that can fulfil the exacting responsibilities of a refining and revising Chamber, I strongly—passionately—oppose the option of an elected second Chamber; and, equally strongly, support the principle of an appointed Chamber as teleologically sound, complementary to the other House and legitimated by its ability to make its distinctive—indeed, unique—contribution to our national democracy.


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