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So we are neither representative of the people nor the peoples chosen representatives, and we now have the opportunity, at least in part, to change that situation. I shall therefore vote for both the propositions that were accepted by the House of Commons and I shall oppose all others. Like many other noble Lords, I should have preferred it if we did not focus quite so much on composition; I should have preferred it if we equally, and possibly as a priority, focused on the role and function of this House. There is a lot to be said about that and, of course, the two issues are relatedif we change the composition, the balance of power changes, as many noble Lords have said.
Under the current proposals, we would become more legitimate but we would not have quite the equivalent legitimacy. As my noble friend Lord Tomlinson said in his polemic, accountability is also part of democracy. This House will undoubtedly be more legitimate if it is elected and, although we may not be accountable in the sense of having to seek re-election, it is no part of democracy to say that those who have been elected should have no respect for their democratic credentials simply because they will not be re-elected. On that basis, the most powerful elected politician in the world would at present have no legitimacy. Although the presidents legitimacy has been queried in certain respects, his democratic credentials have not been. So the balance of power would change. We also need to change the conventions and to build on the work done by the Cunningham committee in setting out those conventions to see how they would apply and how they would need to be modified for a wholly or largely elected body.
There are a number of other issues relating to a fully or predominantly elected Chamber that the White Paper does not adequately address. That is largely because the White Paper was written in the expectation that we would have a 50:50 or a 60:40 hybrid House. The outcome of the Commons votes is likely to be somewhat different from that. We need to return to a number of those issuesfor example, size and composition. The figure of 540 was chosen to reflect, in part, the degree of hybridity. I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Palmer: I think that 540 is far too high a number. In fact, this House is run with a maximum of 350 people, and that is all that is needed for it to do its job.
I am glad to see some right reverend Prelates in their place, as the contentious issue of the position of the Bishops of the Church of England also arises. I have a hereditary position on this matter. My grandfather, good socialist though he was, ranted against the House of Lords not because of the fox-hunting landowners or the grasping plutocrats represented here in 1910, but because of the representation of the Church of England. He was a Methodist before he was a Marxist, and I run in that same dissenting tradition.
We should perhaps also query whether we will need Ministers in the House of Lords under the new proposal. After all, there will be no appointed political hacks such as me and my noble friend on the Front Bench; all Members will be elected. If we want a slightly different sort of House that does a somewhat different joba job that entails scrutiny and revision and asking the Commons to think againrather than it being a ladder to political appointments and ministerial office, will we need Ministers? I think not. We will need business managers but will we need executive Ministers? It would help the proceedings of this House and the relations between the two Houses if Commons Ministers were required to come and explain themselves here. That might be something that we could address during the course of the reform.
There is also the question of whether the elections should be held in precisely the form suggested in the White Paper. There are many objections to that. You could have a PR system based on regions smaller than the standard ones but not on a closed system and not even on a partially open system, as proposed in the White Paper. Some of these issues need to be revisited.
So although I fully approve of the general direction that the Government are taking and will support in terms the decisions taken in the House of Commons, a number of key issues need to be returned to. To that extent, I agree that we should review them and reconvene the various bodies that have been looking at this matterboth the cross-party body and the Cunningham committee or something very like it. This is an opportunity to make this House more representative. In those circumstances, I do not think that the guarantee for life, for those of us who sit here now, will be valid, but we should support, not oppose, a gradual process of change to a more representative House.
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, there is a suspicion that the Government thought that this was a good time to bring forward a White Paper on proposals for House of Lords reform in the hope that the cash-for-honours scandal would somehow bring the House of Lords into disrepute. I hope that is wrong because this House is certainly not disreputable; it is those who are under suspicion of misusing the appointments system to reward their friends with seats in the House of Lords in return for substantial donations to the Labour Party, who are disreputable.
This House has been doing its job increasingly well while, over the years, unfortunately, the House of Commons has not been doing its job as well as it should have been. This House has been doing the real job of scrutiny and correcting the mistakes of the other place and the Government that have arisen from ill judged and badly prepared legislation and it has turned back highly questionable policies, especially in relation to human rights and individual freedoms.
The original recommendation by the Government was for 50 per cent appointed and 50 per cent elected Members in this place. That was a silly and unworkable proposition. Members of the House of Commons rightly saw it as such, threw it out and opted for a 100 per cent elected House of Lords. That was a perfectly rational thing for them to do; they were saying, Either leave it as it is or make it fully elected. Those are the only two real alternatives.
Having done that, the House of Commons cannot expect to retain its primacy. A fully elected second Chamberthis has been said time and again but it is worth repeatingand the constituents of that Chamber will demand that power and sovereignty is shared between both Houses. Like it or not, that demand will have to be met because those who are represented in this House will demand that, if they are electing people to this House, they must have some power. It will not be good enough for them to sit here as it is, with no power, and for all the power to be vested in one elected Chamber.
At presentI do not know whether the House of Commons understands thiswe have a unicameral system masquerading as a bicameral system. The House of Commons can legitimately claim that it must, as the elected Chamber, have primacy and the last word. As I and others have said, that cannot and will not continue if the House of Lords is fully elected. That must be understood. All history tells us that that must be understood. The Senate of the United States was once appointed. When it became an elected House, it demanded and got power and is now the senior House in the United States Congress. People should really read their history and see what happens with a fully elected House. To think otherwise is silly and short-sighted.
Looking at Parliament in the broader sense, I wonder whether the House of Lords is the right target for reform. As many noble Lords have said, it has been doing its job well and has gained respect over the past few years. But that is not so in relation to the House of Commons. Respect for it has been declining and trust in MPs among voters has fallen to about the same level as trust in estate agents. The deplorably low turnout at general elections reflects that loss of confidence in and respect for parliamentary representatives. Furthermore, the House of Commons has been failing in its job of holding the Government to account. Indeed, it has allowed the Prime Minister to undermine many of our institutions, including the Cabinet, which he apparently does not feel he needs to consult, and Parliament itself, which he often treats with contempt. The House of Commons has allowed the Prime Minister, who should be only primus inter pares in a cabinet-type government, to run a presidential system without the proper checks and balances necessary for such a system. Furthermore, the role, power and duties of the House of Commons have changed and have been reduced in large measure. Devolution to Scotland and Wales, and shortly to Ireland, has reduced the workload considerably and since 70 per cent of legislation and regulation now emanates from the EU, the influence of the Commons and its opportunity to scrutinise are further circumscribed.
In the light of such changes, is there still a need for 646 MPs? It is clear that their parliamentary workload has declined and that must be reflected in their constituency workload as well. So could we make do with, say, 500 MPs or perhaps only 450? It would be much cheaper. It is also vital to examine whether the House of Commons should have better means of controlling the Executive and whether individual Members should have increased power and influence in relation to political parties and the party Whips. There are many other reforms that ought to be made to the House of Commons, including the timetabling of all Bills. Timetabling was the most undemocratic thing, and the greatest loss of power that the Commons could have had, yet it allowed it through.
I recommend that the whole institution of Parliament should be reviewed and reformed before anything is done with this House. Such a review would involve both Houses, the relationship between them, the role of each House and, indeed, whether we should have a bicameral system at all or should have a unicameral system. Such things should be examined in detail. I hope that the Government will think about all this again to see whether we can have a proper examination of what is needed in our parliamentary system.
Lord James of Blackheath: My Lords, I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Steel, who referred to the muddy field in Runnymede as the first point of origin. I do not think many noble Lords have been here for all 792 years, although at this hour of the evening, it may seem like it.
The impact of those years is not necessarily just the physical presence. We have an extraordinary assembly, which in its own very real way has been here for the whole time as this is one of those unique institutions which carries forward collectively its experience and traditions from one generation to another in an absolutely inseparable web. That is what has given the great strength to this House, which is a great asset and a great virtue, and which will be very hard indeed to maintain in any major transitional phase.
I have to ask how such a gathering, which is divided so that there is 20 per cent of the old gathering mixed with 80 per cent of a new one or even more, will have the ability to carry on the training of the new 80 per cent with such a small base as 20 per cent. Over what period of time can the tradition and continuity be passed on? I would be deeply sceptical of that. That is an institutional and traditional factor, which many places have found to their cost is very hard to achieve; and I think that the matter needs great care and thought.
One of the first things that occurred to me when I came to your Lordships House was the incredible impact of the teamwork and the way we all bounce off each other in our ideas. This is not a political House. It is a matter of a powerhouse of ideas and the inter-relationship of ideas which knows exactly when to react, and to react collectively on a cause on which we unite. This is not a political thing; it is where principle overrides everything. It is the most impressive feature of your Lordships House.
Another factor greatly concerns me as I look at what may now be proposed. To a very large extent it seems to me that your Lordships are already all very much elected by the very best constituency available to anybody, which is that you are elected by your real peersthe people with whom you have worked, who have seen you in close contact and who know the virtue, the quality and the abilities that you bring. That is what has brought you here in the first place. It is extraordinary to think that the same system could be applied to the looser electoral process which is now suggested and that it could bring in the same quality and concentration of talent and ability that has served this nation so well for so long. I would have a real concern about that.
On the principle that something is going to happen, let us give some thought as to what might be done to preserve the great benefits of the continuity of the House and to maintain it at the same level of ability, which is its greatest jewel and pride at this time, or should be. The House as it stands today is an amalgam of a great numberI have worked it out as 17of separate constituencies from which the bulk of the House is drawn, something like 84 per cent on my calculation. Those constituencies embrace the lawthe lawyers separately and the Law Lords as onethere is a military presence, a significant presence of medics, as well as a very large and separate one of medical administrators. There are trades union representatives and people from local government and the police. It has all these elements together. Is it possible that the right way forward would be to think in terms of mandating the statutory Appointments Commission to authorise each of these to create an electoral college of their own. They in turn would provide a list which would effectively replicate the same criteria by which all of your Lordships have come here, because it would be peer-group selection for their memberships to select and vote on. It would not be a general election but effectively a much more precise electiona laser-guided election you might call itwhich would bring in comparable quality to that which we have today.
Think of the great virtues of savings that would flow from this. We would first of all not have the costs of a major national election. We would not have the problem that has been so well trawled today that the election for our House would become an overlay on the elections in the other place. We would no longer cause offence to them because it would not be a territorial overlay. There would be professional acknowledgment by the peer groups that they were getting exactly what they wanted. There would probably be a complaint that these were not direct elections, but they could be made direct elections if each electoral college called on its membership for their own vote.
We also have the delicious prospecton my list I put the right reverend Prelates in as one categoryof the right reverend Prelates clustering around a bucket into which they have put all the Order Papers and are trying to ignite them to see whether they can produce enough white smoke to announce that they have actually arrived at a decisionor is that a little too ecumenical for you, gentlemen?
The only point of variance that I have with one earlier speakerwho is, unfortunately, not in his place at the momentwas with the noble Lord who said that we are on our own and that we should not let responsibilities and duties go by default. I should like to assure that noble Lord, when he reads Hansard tomorrow, that I have no intention whatever of letting my responsibilities and duties go by default. When I walk through the Division Lobbies on Wednesday, I will feel not alone but that I am in the presence of the citizens of this country, whom this House has served so well for so many centuries and, I hope, will continue to do so. Therefore, I will go with the process of staying as we are.
Lord Soley: My Lords, I intervene in this debate to focus only on one issue: the issue of the hybrid principle and practice. I have been around all the tracks about fully elected Houses and fully appointed Houses but, in recent years, I have come to the conclusion that the principle and practice of a hybrid House is exactly what we need in the United Kingdom, which does not have a written constitution. In our situation, the case is strong.
I want to make that case because one problem that has bedevilled our arguments both here and elsewhere for many months has been the assumption that a hybrid principle is somehow, on the one hand, a fudge or a compromise or, on the other, a stepping stone to a fully elected House. My view is clear that the principle is right. A number of other countries, great democracies, have hybrid HousesIndia and France to take two for example. They do not drift towards fully elected Chambers, so the assumption that that must happen is wrong.
I also take the view that, as long as the fully elected first Chamber, the House of Commons, can over-ride everything that is done by this Chamber, there is no question of democratic legitimacy. Where I disagree with my noble friend Lord Whitty is that if you go down the purist principle and say, Any influence on the legislative process must mean that you should be elected, you must also elect judges. Judges have an enormous effect on peoples lives and interpret the law with far more latitude than we have in here. So we move towards the situation whereI understand the principled argument in favour of thiseveryone in public sector jobs of that type must be fully elected.
I think that a fully elected first Chamberthe House of Commons, in our caseand an appointed second Chamber is good. But there is something missing in this Chamber: the hybrid part. I want to talk about how that could be done in practice to benefit the structure and functioning of the United Kingdom. Just before I do that, I say that one of the great principles bound up in this would be that this would have to be the second Chamber. Anything that is hybrid is bound to be less legitimate than the fully elected Chamber. Therefore, we would always have that secondary role. The principle of hybridity makes it clear that we are the second Chamber, not the first.
I also make the point that the great strength of this place is, as many Members have said, that many of those appointed here are appointed not just as experts but also as genuine voices of a wider community. They are very valuable in their own right. That is a great source of strength. That adds to the democratic principle because it informs the legitimate, fully elected first Chamber.
The other side to the problem of having general voices who are appointedI noticed this as a recently appointed ex-MPis that you do not hear the voice of the street as effectively as you do in a fully elected Chamber. Nothing brings you up to the hard-edge issues like knocking on people's doors and asking for their votes to get elected again.
The Countess of Mar: My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord. May I ask the two people on the Front Bench to quieten their voices so that the rest of the Chamber can hear what the noble Lord, Lord Soley, is saying?
Lord Soley: My Lords, the other side of the argument is that this leads us to the idea that the hybrid principle can in fact be valuable by adding the power that I just described to the voice. What should the elected part be? Again, this is one of the issues that we have not fully addressed. The assumption that has been made in all our discussions is that an elected part is a stepping stone to a fully elected House or is some sort of fudge to get a compromise through, but that ignores the question of what the elected sector should do. There has been little doubt in my mind for at least a couple of years that the elected part of the second Chamber, which I hope will be a hybrid Chamber, should represent the regions of Britain. I cannot emphasise that enough, because the regions of Britain will grow in power as we devolve more power. This is not the only Government who will devolve power; other Governments will also do so. Given that the second party, the Conservative Party, is weak in Scotland and Wales, the case for the devolved parts of the United Kingdom being represented here again is very strong. Those regional representatives would be the voice of those regions. One of the great weaknesses of Britain compared with the continental European countries is that we do not have a regional structure. By having such representatives, we would to a considerable extent help to put that right. It would give those regions the sort of voice that we need, particularly if we structure it in the right way andI do not have time to go into this nowwithout being a challenge or a threat to the elected Members in the first Chamber.
The strength of such diversification in the constitution is important. Because we in this House can appoint, we have the big advantage of being far more representative of ethnicity and disability than the House of Commons is. The House of Commons will catch up fairly soon on gender, but it is not there yet. This can be done in an appointed Chamber, which is a big plus. The other issue which it is very important to take on board is the question of whom you represent. The noble Baroness, Lady Deech, made a very effective point about one of the great constitutional strengths of this second Chamber that cannot be over-ridden by the first Chamber; namely, the right to have a general election so that the first Chamber, having been elected, cannot stop a subsequent general election. That is very important for this reason: sometimes noble Lords and honourable Members in the House of Commons make the assumption that democracy is a safeguard against authoritarianism. It is not, actually. The law and various other things are safeguards. Democracy is part of that, but it is very important to remind ourselves, particularly in the European area, that both Hitler and Mussolini were elected. It is often worth reminding ourselves that such people are elected at times of acute economic distress and social and political disturbance. That is when they win, and it is quite useful to have people who are not dependent on the street to vote.
It is a complex area, but I shall wrap this up by making the plea not to throw out the principle of a hybrid House because it is thought to be some sort of stepping stone or fudge. It is not; it is a very good principle for a country that does not have a written constitution and that would have to write something very much like a constitution if it went down the road of a fully elected second Chamber. To avoid that, we must draw on our strength to be able to appoint, but to appoint to a part of the legislature that can always be overruled by the elected first Chamber. The one golden rule is that the first Chamber cannot over-rule us on protecting the right of the people to have a general election. The strength of the hybrid principle has been understated. It is strong, and it is why I would prefer about 40 per cent to be elected and 60 per cent to be appointed. I agree with my noble friend Lord Whitty that this should be a much smaller House, as should the House of Commons. That principle could be very strong and could take this House on to many other greater things.
Lord Northbrook: My Lords, the other place has voted strongly for a fully elected House and less convincingly for an 80 per cent elected one. But has it really thought through the consequences? I wish to focus on five key areas: first, the powers of the reformed Chamber; secondly, the composition; thirdly, the form of election; fourthly, the cost of the change; and, finally, my personal reform thoughts. I do not agree with the other place or official Conservative Party policy that we should have a fully or predominantly elected upper House. The excellent Cunningham report on Conventions, as the noble Lord, Lord Cunningham, said earlier, made the following point clearly in paragraph 61. If the composition of the reformed Chamber changes to an elected House, the Members would wish to review its powers. Elected Members of a reformed Chamber would want more powers than the existing House. This whole subject of powers should be part of any Bill to reform the composition before the reformed Chamber gets going, otherwise there will be major scope for deadlock between the two Houses.
If we are to have an elected reformed Chamber, does the other place realise that it may become much more assertive, like the US Senate? Elected Members could well demand major changes, such as the removal of the Salisbury convention, abolition of the Parliament Acts, the ability to amend orders and to vote them down more regularly, more aggressive behaviour in regard to ping-pong and greater powers in connection with Bills starting in the Lords.
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