Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

9.01 pm

Lord Lucas: My Lords, we are on our own on this. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor spoke tellingly of our long partnership with the Commons—a partnership, it seems to me, born of a mutual disregard, if anything, but many marriages are like that. It has been an effective partnership and one that has lasted a long time, but the Commons has now thrown it into the waste-paper bin. It is very unclear what it means by its vote for 100 per cent elected; exactly what kind of Chamber, with what kind of powers and what kind of system, is clouded in mystery. The one thing that is certain is that it does not want us—not even the noble Lord, Lord Dubs. That has consequences.

We have a comfortable life here. We are looked after by our parties and by the usual channels. Both of those props have been kicked away from us. Our parties all believe in the 80 per cent option—or indeed in something further, the 100 per cent option. The usual channels are, quite properly, the servants of our parties and the servants, in effect, of another place. That is the way that it has to be. That leaves us on our own and we must take our duties and responsibilities seriously and learn—a lesson long forgotten—what it is to be a House of Parliament without, in this regard, the domination of party.

The first decision that we shall be faced with is what form the consultation will take after our debates. Will we leave the choice of those who will represent the House of Lords to party machines that are already set on a totally or largely elected House of Lords, or will we seek to influence that choice in a way that properly represents the balance of our views? That is a terribly important question. I very much hope that the usual channels will respect that position and seek to consult widely before they nominate people to the committee, whatever form it takes. I am sure that that would be the best way to do it without having any open rupture, but they must recognise that in this, they are not in a position to take a decision and expect that we shall treat lightly the selection of people who do not in a broad sense represent the wishes of this House. We go deeper than that. However optimistic the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, may be about nothing coming of what is going on in the Commons, I disagree. There is a real sense down there that it wants an elected House of Lords and that it will push hard to get us a Bill with that in it. In those circumstances, we have to decide where we stand, what we will defend, and where our Thermopylae is. Do we think that we will take the issue of an elected House of Lords to the Parliament Act? I do not believe so. In the end, we have to respect the House of Commons on a matter such as this.

What will we stand for? What will we defend? We have heard a good deal about that today. We want Parliament to be stronger vis- -vis the Executive. We want individual Members of this House to be stronger vis- -vis their parties. Those are the tests that we will apply to any Bill from the Commons. However, we must decide this among ourselves. There is a great diversity of views, but we must come to a view as a House. We must give ourselves the time to come to a view as a House and not be over-ridden by party business managers who may say, particularly in the later months of a parliamentary term, that there is no time. They have chosen this time, and we must take our responsibilities seriously. We must set aside the comfort that we have all become used to, and we must not let our responsibilities and duties go by default.

9.06 pm

Lord MacKenzie of Culkein: My Lords, there are many strong views in this matter, and we have heard many of them today from all parts of the House. My strong view is this: it is necessary to make change only if there is clear evidence that such change will improve the work of this place and therefore of our Parliament. There is no such strong evidence. In the speeches made in another place last week, there were many assertions about elections that would bring about effectiveness, legitimacy and more accountability and that would be more representative. There were many assertions, but there was not a great deal of evidence. Nor was there a great deal of evidence in the White Paper. I do not believe that a wholly elected, or partially elected, House will necessarily be more representative of the people of this country than the House as presently constituted. Indeed, no matter how much all the political parties seek to refer to their manifestos at the most recent general election, none of them called for a wholly elected House.

This House has undergone considerable change in the past few years, and it is close to common ground that there is a need to complete the matter of hereditary Peers sitting in the House. However, I take the view that this can be readily resolved by ending the system of election for vacancies and therefore allowing the remaining hereditary Peers to continue to sit as if they were life Peers. With that and putting the Appointments Commission on a statutory footing, we will have done a great deal. In fact, we should then leave the matter well alone. We are all aware that politicians may not be as highly regarded as they ought to be. Save for the fact that we in this House are invariably shown by the media, including the House Magazine, as always dressed in our robes, I do not believe that it is this House that has contributed to the state of affairs regarding the public’s view of politicians.

I have lived in Dumbarton for a number of years, and no one there has ever told me that they want another set of elections or that they want me to be replaced by an elected Member. Rather, some of them complain about a surfeit of layers of democracy—with councillors, MSPs, MPs, European MPs and the attendant costs. I support a Parliament in Edinburgh, so I do not completely agree with that line of thinking, but it is much more real to most of the population than any demand for full-blooded reform of this place. Whether in Dumbarton, Downpatrick, Durham or Denbigh, people are not lying awake at night worrying about reform here.

Nor do I know of any Members of another place who find people queuing up at their surgeries to complain about the make-up of this House. Nevertheless, MPs of all parties are certainly exercised by the issue. Sometimes that is because of history, and sometimes because of political advantage. Sometimes it is because of personal views or human prejudice.

One of my daughters said to me some years ago that when the Commons gets around to saving foxes, it will get around to getting rid of me. I thought that she was being cynical, but she was probably prescient. I want to make it clear that my opposition to anything other than a wholly appointed House is not driven by enlightened self-interest. The White Paper proposals seem to provide sufficient and reasonable safeguards for most existing Members. These safeguards may be torn up now as a result of the votes last week, but no matter—I do not change my view. Neither is it, as newspaper columnists want to put it, that those of us who support an appointed House have grown used to the feel of ermine. I venture to suggest that those of us who argue thus do so because we think that it is right.

We are told that an elected element will confirm legitimacy, which will, in turn, increase confidence in our work. We are told that it will lead to a House more reflective of different groups in society and that this elected House will somehow start to reflect multi-faith Britain. There will have to be some planned democracy if elections are to do better than an appointed House. Like other speakers, I have little time for the list system, but at least it allows for planned democracy. My party’s machine, and every other party’s machine, is unlikely to allow otherwise. For those at the top of the lists, it will be in effect a shoo-in and an appointment for a career of 15 years or thereabouts.

We have many clever women on all Front Benches of this House. There are two outstanding black women Ministers, one of whom is Leader of the House. I do not have any comparative figures to show how this House fares with another place on representation of the different faiths, but I venture to suggest that we are as well or better placed than down the Corridor. The paper by the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, appears to bear out my views, although I accept that we have some way to go, but that could be assisted by a statutory Appointments Commission.

Elections, of necessity, do not confer legitimacy—otherwise we would need to follow the United States example of electing all sorts of public officials. No one suggests that judges in the United Kingdom should be elected. No one questions their legitimacy or that of many other holders of high office. On accountability, if Members are to be elected for something like 12 to 15 years, what does that mean? Are we looking to people to give up a career at perhaps the age of 45 to 50 to stand for a once-only election? Even if there is a very high salary on offer it is unlikely that there will be a huge rush of talents. As we have already heard, there may be a rush from many of those who have failed to get into the Commons, the Scottish Parliament or the Welsh Assembly.

If we have a hybrid House, what will happen, beyond peradventure, is that elected Members will take the view that they are more legitimate than appointed Members. The press pundits will gleefully report on the balance of elected versus appointed Members, particularly in government defeats. Elected Members, whether able to seek re-election or not, may interfere in constituency matters because they will get correspondence and will want to act on it. They may disagree with their MPs because they come from different political parties. They may just want their photograph in the local paper. The dog’s breakfast of list MSPs in Scotland tramping around the patch of constituency-elected MSPs, as well as the propensity of many Members of the Scottish Parliament who want to get involved in matters reserved to Westminster, should serve as an apposite illustration of problems to come.

It will not stop there. A partially elected House will, certainly in the medium term, prove to be unsustainable and, as sure as night follows day, will become a fully elected House. Any House with elected Members will not leave the powers between the two Houses as they are. There will have to be change, as the committee chaired by my noble friend Lord Cunningham of Felling has said. What about the costs? The White Paper is silent on these. Elected members will want sufficient funds for support. They will want salaries and pensions for their staff and for themselves commensurate with their duties and responsibilities. They will also require accommodation. There are various estimates, all of which are costly. If the estimates given by my noble friend Lord Lipsey are even remotely accurate, certainly my friends in Dumbarton will not be contemplating whether these can be justified.

If we want an informed debate about what the people really think, we have to put evidence on how this Parliament can be improved and the estimates of these costs into the public domain. No doubt one or more of the tabloids will tell us how many members of my profession—nursing—could be employed for that sum of money. I am not against elections per se. I have stood in elections: I have lost some and won some, including being elected unopposed. But in my world it was only on the wilder shores of Trotskyism that it was claimed elected people were the only sources of legitimacy. Therefore, I will vote for a wholly appointed House and I will vote against all other options.

9.15 pm

Lord Reay: My Lords, the question I should like to pose is this: should those of us who would like to keep an appointed second Chamber now modify or abandon our position in the light of the vote in the House of Commons last Wednesday? I think not. First, how robust is that vote? Surely there is some unreality in the House of Commons voting to establish a second Chamber in the form most likely to challenge its own authority, so there is at least room for doubt whether the vote would be maintained when it came to votes on actual legislation. But we are in any case a very long way from being presented with legislation. It is quite easy to imagine scenarios in which legislation never does get presented. Neither major party now knows how to craft proposals that will ensure the support of its own Back Benchers. Will a Government with a small majority attempt to introduce legislation on so contentious and peripheral a subject? Are a fresh Conservative Government really likely to begin their career fishing in these unpromising and unnatural waters? With the future so clouded, it seems quite wrong for those who believe in an appointed House to throw in the towel at this stage.

I turn to the merits of the case. I cannot see the point of incurring colossal expense for the sake of creating a second Chamber that is very likely to challenge the primacy of the House of Commons and in no way likely to do a better job of legislative revision than the present House. The fact is that we have now very much the sort of second Chamber that the Government and most other people say they want. Indeed, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor today could hardly find a bad word to say about the present House of Lords. It has wide expertise and a high degree of independence among its Members. It is not dominated by any one party. It is complementary to, not a duplication of, the House of Commons. It has continuity of membership. Even the question of its representativeness has been addressed by the Appointments Commission, which has also acted to clean up the process of Prime Ministerial appointments. It has the confidence to challenge the Government on details of legislation, but the good sense and experience to abide by the conventions and not press things too far. It functions very well as a political House of Parliament, with the opposition parties and the House as a whole able to call on the Government to explain and defend their policies on a daily basis. The only thing wrong with it is that this admirable and widely desired result has been reached apparently by the wrong means. The House of Lords is working fine in practice, but it does not work in theory, so it must be replaced. But of course, in trying to replace it, you risk producing quite a different result.

It is in the nature of a second Chamber that it walks a tightrope, if I may put it like that. Too little legitimacy, and it fails to be a sufficient challenge to the Government of the day. That was the weakness of the pre-1999 House of Lords. The issue was addressed by this Government and this House has manifestly more legitimacy and functions as a much better check on a Labour Government than the unreformed House could ever have done. But give it too much legitimacy, as an 80 per cent or 100 per cent elected element would surely be bound to do, seems to be a recipe for constitutional chaos, and for that to be handled it might well require a written constitution. The Commons votes last week also make a nonsense in other respects of the Government’s White Paper. With a House that is 100 per cent elected on party lists, there would be very little expertise among the membership, no independence of party whatever, no role at all for the Appointments Commission, and no place for the great and the good. In an 80 per cent elected House, there would be a little of all that, but the 20 per cent would have to accommodate whatever Bishops room could be found for and whatever other faith leaders it was found necessary to balance them with, and every other worthy candidate for appointment, including the ministerial appointments. Also, I very much doubt whether a House of Commons calling for a House that was 80 per cent or 100 per cent elected would have the patience to permit life Peers to continue here for as long as they wished or as long as they lived, a process which would span itself out over the next 50 years.

I do not believe at all that the push for legislation is proceeding from a demand by the general public for more say over the composition of this House any more than I hear calls for the election of judges, company chairmen, newspaper editors, television producers or radio interviewers. Yet many of those figures can acquire huge political influence far more than most Members of your Lordships' House.

I hope that the Appointments Commission will not be given powers—or, at any rate, exclusive powers—over party political appointments. Vetting for propriety is one thing, and the commission has been effective in that area, but it seems a step too far to propose that ministerial appointments should be made by the commission rather than by the Prime Minister and other party leaders. Surely it is they who should decide who should speak and act on their behalf in this House.

To conclude, those of us who would like to keep an appointed House—devotees of pragmatism, not dogmatism—should take heart. We should remind ourselves what a very long road there still is to travel before any further major “reform” is likely to be attempted, let alone enacted. We should signal very clearly on Wednesday that it will happen only in the face of the most determined resistance by your Lordships' House.

9.21 pm

Lord Lyell of Markyate: My Lords, last week’s vote in the Commons is a challenge. I have long supported the idea of a substantial elected element in your Lordships' House, but 80 per cent, let alone 100 per cent, is too radical and will surely lead to a challenge to the supremacy of the House of Commons. It will also destroy much of the strength of your Lordships' House, both in wisdom and experience in making the Government of the day think again, and as an effective revising Chamber. We need change—we need fresh blood—but it must be carefully thought out, evolutionary change.

In their White Paper, the Government were beginning to make what seemed good progress in building a sensible consensus. It is quite right that no party should have a majority in this House. I also believe that it was broadly right to canvass a 50:50 split. On this basis, I set out my views.

First, change should be evolutionary. No one should be removed from this House now. Existing Peers, whether hereditary or life Peers, should be able to continue to serve for their lifetime. Both categories have shown service and dedication; both are a repository of wisdom and experience. Time is needed to introduce the elected element on a rolling basis. One-third should be elected in each Parliament on the day of the general election to serve for three Parliaments. Since 1945, this would have meant terms of an average of 11 and a half years, with a minimum of eight and a quarter and a maximum of 14. They should be elected by proportional representation but not on a party list basis.

Elected Peers certainly should be entitled to stand again, otherwise there will be little continuity or incentive to make a long-term career in the upper House. Long careers should be encouraged, if endorsed by the electorate. The chance for re-election also enhances accountability to the electorate.

We need the source of fresh blood that elected Peers will provide. With rather too few exceptions, this House is an ageing, if not an aged, House. Based on the statistics for 2005, more than 60 per cent of your Lordships are over 65 and 25 per cent—more than 180 Peers—are over 75. Only 20 per cent of Peers are under 60. A substantial proportion of elderly Peers, of whom I make absolutely no criticism, do not come very often, and some never do.

The 50 per cent who are and will be appointed will continue to play the valuable role that they play today—the Cross-Benchers, the mandarins, the leaders of our Armed Forces, academics, doctors, lawyers, journalists and other professionals, leading scientists and leaders from business—as will former Cabinet Ministers and a proportion of others with long and distinguished political experience. There are currently around 40 former Conservative Cabinet Ministers. The Lord Chancellor will forgive me if I look forward to the day when there are a good many ex-Labour Cabinet Ministers in the House. There are also the former Law Lords, the Bishops and representatives of other faiths. All play a key role in the strength and prestige of this House.

As to the size of House, the proposal for around 540 Members may turn out to be about right, but it should be allowed to evolve. A House with very senior appointed Members should allow for a proportion of wise but infrequent attenders. Precise numbers are not important provided that no one party can command a majority. Before 1999, when the theoretical size of the House was more than 1,300 Peers, the bulk of the business—I looked at this very closely at the time—was done by around 300, of whom more than 100 were hereditary Peers, hence the wise compromise of the 92. I have not seen formal statistics, but my impression is that, today, the bulk of the business is still done by 300 Peers or possibly fewer. Some 40 per cent of current Peers attend comparatively infrequently. It is not necessarily a weakness. When they do come, some make very fine contributions. However, as I have stressed, there is a need for a source of new blood.

Some people argue that elected Peers will generally be of poor quality: allegedly, just those who fail to find a seat in the House of Commons or the European Parliament. I do not accept this argument. I believe that people of real calibre will stand and will serve. It is a huge privilege to be a Member of this House, and, without the pressure of constituency representation, elected Peers, like Members of the other place in an earlier era, will be able to combine membership of this House with a real existence outside it. Once again, we shall see leaders of business and the professions, lawyers, doctors and academics willing to stand for election as they used to do for the other place. Many will go on to serve in governments of all parties. They will rapidly blend to our traditions. Many details are yet to be worked out, but the hybrid solution—the combination of elected and appointed Peers—will provide a way ahead which, far from damaging the House, will sustain and enhance its reputation for some generations to come.

9.28 pm

Baroness Deech: My Lords, I am a relative novice in this House, but I have the temerity to speak because the fresh eye of a novice may be worth something and because, in a previous existence, I taught constitutional law, which I shall address.

Perhaps I may first set on one side the argument about scandal and sleaze. To argue that the House of Lords should be radically reformed, or rather that that reform should be pushed forward, because of an alleged cash-for-honours scandal is rather like saying that the House of Commons should be radically reformed whenever there is a voting fraud or too much money is spent on an election. The shame, if any, is personal; it is not institutional. In the brief period available to me, I shall refer to how recent constitutional reforms have fared and to what is really required in a democracy.

English constitutional law works by evolving practically. Over the centuries, it has changed as required, without too many sudden jolts. It has always been distinct from virtually all other countries’ law. In the rest of the world, they tend to change their constitutions in a manner as radical as the one under consideration tonight by violent shifts, usually because there has been or is about to be a revolution. That has not been our way. In the past 10 years or so, we have suffered some rather sudden constitutional changes. I put it to your Lordships that the results of some of them have been surprising—or, perhaps, not thought through—and have not always turned out as well as they might.

I shall give a few examples. First, on devolution and the possibility of break-up, if the nature of your Lordships' House changes, the West Lothian question will turn out to be child’s play in comparison with what is to come. The process of judicial appointments is fairly new, but it has not been very efficient as yet. The removal of the judges into a Supreme Court outside your Lordships' House has brought about much trouble and controversy at the moment, but we shall see how it works. Postal voting, as your Lordships know, has led to fraud and some undermining of belief in our voting system. On the changes in the position of the Lord Chancellor, it is too early to tell, but, obviously, there are many questions to come in that regard. Now we are faced with the possible break-up of the Home Office because of recent troubles. Who knows how that will turn out in due course?

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page