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Do Members in the other place realise that elected Members of a reformed Chamber could well focus on increasing their powers with respect to financial legislation? In the USA, the Senate is equal to Congress with regard to money Bills. As Woodrow Wilson wrote:
The Senates right to amend [money Bills] has been allowed the widest possible scope. The upper house may add to them what it pleases; may go altogether outside of their original provisions and tack to them entirely new features of legislation, altering not only the amounts but even the objects of expenditure, and making out of the materials sent them by the popular chamber measures of an almost totally new character.
I can see many advantages of the USA political process with regard to finance Bills and would like to adopt them in the current House of Lords. We have the ludicrous situation in the UK where many parts of our Finance Bills are not scrutinised by either House, which makes for bad law, and a change to this system is overdue. But would the other place be happy with that, because it might well happen? Elected Members might wish to increase the reformed Chambers power by following another US Senate convention. The US Government, as I understand it, are not able to ratify treaties without the Senates consent. Perhaps we should extend that to ratifying overseas wars. In the USA, the President cannot make important appointments such as ambassadors, members of the federal judiciary, including the Supreme Court, and members of the Cabinet, without the advice and consent of the Senate.
On composition and associated issues, in table 7 of the White Paper, the current figure for the House is 732 Members. The table assumes that no fewer than 299, or 41 per cent, of Members will have retired, resigned or died by 2014. Given that the average annual number of deaths since 2000 is, according to my noble friend Lord Selsdon, 20, that figure extrapolated means160 will die by 2014. The Government are expecting the remaining 140 or so to resign. Is that realistic and what do the Government plan to do financially for those who resign? Should that not be extended to those who lost their seats under the House of Lords Act 1999? Let us assume that none of the 140 mentioned above wishes to retire, which is a strong possibility. We could still have a reformed Chamber of over 700 Members for a long time to come.
Another issue with regard to composition that concerns me is how the proposed new elected Members represent their constituencies. Under paragraph 7.95, the White Paper says that the simplest approach is to use the regions used for elections to the European Parliament. We have currently 78 MEPs. We will have 540 elected Peers under the White Papers 100 per cent elected proposals. Doing the mathematics, for example, for the European south-east region of the UK you will have 69 Members of the reformed Chamber. But who are they representing? Will MPs be happy with 69 new Members stomping around their constituencies? The Scottish experience, as disclosed by the noble Lord, Lord Steel, tells us that local MPs are distinctly unhappy with MSPs overlapping on to their territories.
The 100 per cent elected option has failed to mention the Bishops. Can I ask the Minister what is the position of the Church of England if all the Bishops are removed? If there is to be a changeand is this really necessary?I believe that the 26 should constitute more of a multi-faith mix, and this number should be appointed.
The problem of the nature of who the new Members represent is compounded by the form of election preferred by Jack Straw. It is the partially open regional list system. However disguised, this is an electoral method that strengthens the hold of political parties on the Chamber. The partially open list system proposed allows electors to make some changes to the order of candidates, but most electors and even the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor on the Floor of the House recently, find understanding the system difficult. Indeed, I see great scope for disagreement on the form of the voting system in the other place. The people who would be put forward for election would be on party lists and would not necessarily be those with the greatest ability. To replicate the Commonss lack of experience outside politics in the reformed Chamber would in my view be a big mistake. Are the electorate really going to give their vote to any candidate to be in a legislature for 15 years? I would like to be proved wrong, but I cannot imagine a very high turnout. This does not appear to be an obvious recipe for generating a mandate that will enhance popular confidence in the second Chamber. Some commentators have suggested that a better proposal might be the Danish list system which allows parties to choose between closed, semi-open and fully open lists. By leaving it to each party to decide which option to use, it would be seen which party is most willing to let voter choice over-ride party management.
I turn now to the subject of cost. According to a press release from the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, he estimates that the cost of the proposed reform of the House of Lords will be more than £2 billion. Unlike the Governments dismissal of his figures, I find them eminently plausible. The assumption that each Member of the reformed Chamber will cost one-third less than a Commons Member seems sound. He takes into account the saving on fewer life Peers, redundancy packages and the cost of additional accommodation. Does the Minister agree with these figures, and if not, can he give the Governments forecast?
My personal solution for reform is generally not to make major change. I feel the current Chamber works very well. One small improvement would be to have ex officio the heads of commercial, industrial and service industry organisations in the House, so that in a non-partisan way their expertise could be made use of. The House is a little weak in these areas as a lot of business expertise was lost as a result of the House of Lords Act 1999.
The other place has expressed its view. It believes that the reformed Chamber will be more democratic. This in itself is doubtful. As I said at the beginning, it has not thought through the consequences of what it has done and has failed to realise that it could weaken its own power. Is that what the other place wants, and is it right for Parliament? I know that our Back- Benchers on this side of the House will for good constitutional reasons strongly oppose a Bill for an elected House, as will many from the Government Back Benches. I remember that the House of Lords Act 1999 only just got through, and my soundings on these and the Government Back Benches suggest that that was a piece of cake when compared with any Bill for 80 per cent or 100 per cent election. Let both Front Benches be advised of this.
Viscount Falkland: My Lords, my Chief Whip has just told me that, on the face of it, I have an hour and a quarter in which to talk to your Lordships about the matter before us. I assure you that I shall not.
Most of the points that I want to raise were made in the excellent speech of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, with whose views I have a great deal of sympathy. I came into this House as a relatively callow youth, in House of Lords termsI was about 50and with little experience of Parliament. I sat on these Benches, where I sit now, but I was a member of the SDP, so I disengage myself from the implications of eccentricity made about Liberals by my Chief Whip.
At a very early meeting, there was a request for a volunteer to speak to one of the remaining grammar schools in Essex about our bicameral system. That evening I had supper at my club, where I met a well known Tory Minister who asked me how I was getting on in the House of Lords. I said that it was all right, that I had got engaged in the business of the House and that I had friendly and agreeable companions. When I said that I was thinking about talking to a school, he said, You must. You wont be able to take your part in political life adequately unless you speak to different audiences. So I went and spoke to schools until the curriculum changed. I do not know whether it was because of the subject or the way in which I presented it, but I was asked back to several schools. They were helpful to me and I was helpful to them. We went over our parliamentary democracy, why it worked and what improvements could be made, particularly to the House of Lords.
When I was talking to sixth-formers and other groupsindeed, I once spoke to some academics at Oxford, which was a very daunting experienceI cannot recall anybody ever saying that the House of Lords was not legitimate and that it needed to legitimise itself by becoming an elected Chamber. I am at variance with my party on this, but I have always been in favour of an appointed House. I learnt in my early days, and it was reinforced by the people to whom I spoke, that the most important thing about our bicameral system is that it is a check not only against the abuses of democracythe Americans recognised this when they created the United Statesbut on the Executive. We have done that extremely well in this House, and very seriously.
One of the things that may have moved the Government to have this in their manifesto and to produce it in the form in which it is in the White Paper is that the public and the media view us in a strange light, almost deriding what happens in your Lordships' House. For example, whenever there is a Lords debate of any interest on television, they flash up the same picture of Peers sitting in their robes. I have even met people from the House of Commons who thought, until they came here, that we sat in our robes on a regular basis. Perhaps they thought that it was for secondary legislation. But there is an extraordinary ignorance about what we do in this House.
I came here to hide from a broken marriage and the possibility of changing my job, but I stayed, although I need not have done, because it was so fascinating. I was so impressed at the work done by others in the House that I became interested; my colleagues were kind enough to put me on the Front Bench, perhaps to stop me voting against my party, as I probably will this week. It was an experience that I am honoured to have had. I still have a very high opinion of this House and of the relationship with the other Chamber. It is a subtle one which is not fully appreciated.
The cash-for-peerages scandal has done immense damage. It shows the contempt in which some peopleno names, no pack drillhold this House if there is any truth in the allegations that people have offered a seat here in return for money. I cannot for the life of me see why anybody who has made a great deal of money in their life and who is facing a comfortable retirement would want to come here and be a working Peer. I can only assume that it is to buy the wife something that she has not gotshe has everything except the privilege and status of being a Peers wife. That is the only reason I can see for paying. If I were a rich man, I would not pay £1 million or £2 million to become a Member of your Lordships' House, but my wife might like it.
This is a respectable votelet us not listen to all the gossip about a rigged vote to kick the issue into the long grass, although there is undoubtedly an element of thatbecause an elected House, however it is engineered, is likely to be a threat to the other place. The weakness in the White Paper is the 15-year term. Fifteen years seems to be nonsense. If one is to have an elected House, let the term of office be five or six years, or the same amount of time for which people are elected into the House of Commons; then the electorate can elect them again. But 15 years is ludicrous. Professor Ackerman, professor of law and political science at Yale University, although he approves of change in our system, stated in an article in the London Review of Books that all that the proposals will produce is mediocre people, or people whom he calls media hounds, who feel that they cannot do anything and so become media celebrities. There is some truth in that.
The cheapest and best way of proceeding in the short and medium term is to maintain an appointed House, but a properly appointed House: a House that is appointed by a body that is separated from the Prime Minister or others who wish to use it for other purposes. That is the easiest of the problems facing us. It is much easier than creating an elected House which will mirror to some extent, however much one tries to avoid it, what goes on in the other place.
Time is running short. I think that taxis have already gone, so I have probably not pleased the staff of the House, but I cannot help that. Somebody messed around with the speakers list: I was No. 24, then found myself No. 53; I now find myself in the Cinderella spot.
We should not talk about legitimacy; I never like the term legitimate theatreit means absolutely nothing. Legitimacy in Parliament means absolutely nothing. Legitimacy as far as I am concerned means lawfulI think that that is what one means. I was lawful when I came here with a writ as a hereditary Peer; I am lawful now as an elected hereditary Peer. Whether I shall remain lawful for very much longer, I do not know, but if I stay here any longer, I shall enjoy it and contribute as best as I can, if rather less than I have done in the past.
I have heard some wonderful speeches in your Lordships' House. We have already shown in this debate what we are: we are a serious House, dealing with serious problems and trying to produce a proper resolution of them. It is difficult. I hope that it does not go on too long. I suggest fine-tuning and keeping an appointed House.
The Archbishop of York: My Lords, I apologise for taking your Lordships time, but I am bothered that cash for honours has been raised a number of times. There is a police investigation; nobody has been charged; and if anybody is charged, they will still have to go through the legal processes. For this House to use it in this debate bothers me, so may we please leave it out and simply debate the case on which the White Paper is based and its merits?
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