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I agree wholeheartedly with those who say that most—indeed, one might say all—constitutional reform should be, to use the word of the noble Lord, Lord Lea of Crondall, incremental, or should, as the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, said, proceed by stages. This is an admirable stage in the process. As I say, it pre-empts nothing. I do not intend to get involved at all today in the argument about what should follow this. I have some sympathy with the view expressed by my noble friend Lord Baker that achieving stage two may take rather longer than some of those who are looking to it as the next stage say we should wait for. The noble Lord, Lord Richard, was one of those who said that the Bill was simply mischief-making. I am glad that he has come back. I am greatly reinforced in my views on the Bill by realising that he is on the other side. We have been sparring partners for 40 years in one House or the other, and the fact that he opposes the Bill is a comfort. As I say, my noble friend Lord Baker has indicated that he thinks that this process of achieving consensus and reform is likely to take longer. The noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, said that it was obviously going to be a difficult process. There is no doubt about that.

In the mean time, given that there are four reforms on which almost everyone agrees, we should go ahead with them. I have considerable respect for the views of my noble friends and others about the position of the hereditary Peers, but we really must recognise that it has been more than 100 years since it was acknowledged that that system could not survive. It has taken a long time to get there, but the longer the present interim position goes on, the less defensible is the process of the elections following the death of an hereditary Peer. Although I sympathise with that view, that clause is right. I support the Bill and, if there is a vote, I shall vote for it.

12.15 pm

Lord Parekh: My Lords, pending consensus on the composition of the House and whether it should be 80 per cent- or 100 per cent- elected, we certainly need to tighten up the appointments system. In so far as the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Steel, does that, I welcome it. I do, however, have four or five small and large reservations about how the Bill attempts to do so. First, the Bill suggests that the members of the Appointments Commission should be appointed for seven years. That is too long. I cannot think of many organisations to which people are appointed for as long as seven years. University heads of department are appointed for about five years, as are chairmen of quangos. A period of seven years does not allow

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sufficient rotation of the membership or new ideas to emerge. There is also the danger that the members of the commission can over time build up a kind of power base and create suspicions about the process of appointment that needs not occur.

Secondly, if we are really going to tighten up the appointments system, this commission, like all other commissions, should be required to submit an annual report to your Lordships’ House, explaining how many people had applied, the breakdown of the applicants, how the appointments were made, and whether in the light of the process of appointment the commission thinks that some changes need to be made. If all other commissions regularly report to your Lordships’ House, I see no reason why this commission, which is so important to the structure and operation of this House, should not be required to do the same.

My third reservation has to do with the criteria of appointment to your Lordships’ House. The Bill mentions two: conspicuous merit, and the capacity and willingness to contribute to the work of the House. I am not entirely happy with the words “merit” and “conspicuous”: conspicuous to whom, and what does merit mean in this context? Does it include a nurse or a trade union leader? What are the criteria by which we decide? Who defines merit and whether someone meets that criterion? I have even more difficulty with the second criterion: the capacity and willingness to contribute to the work of the House. If someone has the merit, he obviously has the capacity. Capacity seems to be implicit in the idea of merit and therefore redundant. Nor does the Bill do anything to spell out what willingness is. What does it mean to ask someone, before he or she is appointed, whether he or she is willing to contribute to the work of the House? One of the things that one might ask is whether they are prepared to attend the place fairly regularly. If that is too demanding in certain circumstances, a minimal commitment to attend at least a fifth or a quarter of the sittings of your Lordships’ House should show in earnest whether someone is willing. Unless we spell out these things, either in this way or some other way, there is a danger of misunderstanding.

I am also a little uneasy about the fact that a person who has been sentenced or ordered to be in prison for more than one year may be eligible after a lapse of time. If someone has been in prison, the legitimacy of the House and public confidence in it requires that that person should not be considered for appointment.

I also have unease about the overall membership of the House. The commission says that its membership should not exceed that of the House of Commons, but that does not tell us anything. It does not tell us what the maximum membership of this House should be, which should be decided on what this House is expected to do.

A further difficulty is that the House of Lords has 100 Members more than the House of Commons. The commission says that that number should be reduced in eight years. It would mean that there should be about 12 fewer appointments each year, which would

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be considerably fewer than at present and bound to deny new blood as well as frustrate talent. Reducing the number to 100 is important, but rather than simply requiring that over eight years 12 fewer Members should be appointed, we should encourage more Peers to take permanent leave or to allow retirement.

My final point is partly conceptual and partly linguistic. The Bill states that Members who have taken permanent leave of absence shall no longer be Members of the House of Lords. I think that only Members can be on permanent leave; an outsider cannot be. If I am on leave, I am on leave as a Member of this House, by virtue of being a Member of this House. Therefore, I would formulate the wording slightly differently. I suggest that those Members who are on permanent leave of absence should not be “active” Members or should not be “considered” Members of the House of Lords, rather than simply saying that they are not Members of the House of Lords.

12.21 pm

Lord Cobbold: My Lords, like other noble Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Steel, on the promotion of this Bill. It is a genuinely workable solution to the much discussed second stage of House of Lords reform. It does not compromise the supremacy of the elected House of Commons and it maintains this House as a fully appointed revising Chamber with its unique reservoir of experience and expertise. It is an approach that we should all support and fight for in the months and years to come. In the short time available, I should just like to raise a few issues which need to be discussed.

First, on the choice of members of the statutory Appointments Commission, I agree that there should be nine members and that members of the commission should be formally nominated jointly by the Speaker of the House of Commons and the Lord Speaker of this House. But their decisions should be based on one nominee each from the three major parties in both the House of Commons and the House of Lords, with the remaining three members to be nominated by the independent Cross-Benchers in the House of Lords. One of the Cross-Bench nominees should be appointed chairman.

This arrangement would create a commission composed of six Peers and three MPs. Unlike the present commission where there are two outside members, there would be no outside members, which is right. Outside members might harbour ambitions to join the Upper House, which it would be difficult for them to realise. The same is partly true for MPs, but as political party representatives, they would need to persuade only their political backers. There is also the issue of whether members of the commission should be Privy Counsellors. The Bill states that at least four should be, which is probably about right.

The Bill requires the commission to,

a subject which has been raised by other speakers. Given the fact that we are all living longer, it will be difficult to achieve this while still making a reasonable number of new annual appointments. This difficulty

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could be remedied by instituting a retirement age of, say, 80, or a fixed period of service of, say, 15 or 20 years. Of those alternatives, my preference would be for a fixed period of service, which should be set at 20 years. If a Member were making a significantly valuable contribution at the end of his or her 20 years, it could be made possible for him or her to claim a further, say, five years, to be decided by a secret poll of fellow Peers.

The introduction of a 20-year fixed period of service would need to be spread over a number of years to avoid a mass exodus of long-service Members from the present Chamber. I believe that there are 191 Peers with more than 20 years’ experience—or about 25 per cent of the total. I fully accept that the arrangements for the 92 hereditary Peers are an anomaly and that the present system of election to fill vacancies should be ended. However, for historical reasons, a special case should be made for the Earl Marshal and the Lord Great Chamberlain.

Part 2 is entitled “Exclusion of Hereditary Peers”. This title is a bit harsh and could be changed to “Future of Hereditary Peers”. The section should include a clause specifically stating that hereditary Peers will not be excluded from future nomination by the Appointments Commission. I fully support the Bill and trust that it will become the accepted second stage of House of Lords reform.

12.25 pm

Lord Lucas: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Richard, was wrong to say that if we pass this Bill we shall be spitting in the face of the House of Commons. The noble Lord and I share a conviction that a 100 per cent- elected House is the right way to go. I am sure we also share a view that it is right that the Commons should have primacy. But to say that this Bill challenges either of those things is not right. It is an attempt by this House to improve itself in the reasonable understanding that, although the Commons may eventually get it together and express its views in legislation, precedence suggests that this may take rather a long time. This Government will have had 12 years at least of very large majorities in which they could have made such a change, and a large conviction among their ranks, particularly in the other place, that these changes should be made. And they have not and will not do it.

It is clear that if we have a hung Parliament or a Conservative Government there will not be any changes for a long time after the next election either. There is no reason why the other place or this place should tolerate deficiencies in the way that this House is put together. They can be easily remedied with consensus on all sides and to the improvement of the body politic generally and, in particular, to the way that this House runs. We can all argue with the terms of this Bill and doubtless we will in Committee. It does not seem to me any more badly put together than the average government Bill, the difference being that I hope very much that the sponsors of this Bill will have their ears rather more widely open than the average government Minister. I except the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, from that.



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I do not see, for instance, that if you are convicted in the Sudan of calling a teddy bear Mohammed and sentenced to a year in prison, you should be deprived of membership of the House of Lords. I am sure that there are some rather wider changes that we might want to make, but that is for the Committee stage. I urge the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, to take this Bill seriously. We should look at the effects of particular clauses to see whether they represent a real advance for this House. We should look at whether the changes being made would make it a better place and, if not, whether we can amend the proposals in a way which would prove satisfactory to all parties. I would be delighted if the Government would approach the Bill in that way. I would be delighted and very surprised if my Front Bench would look at it in that way. Its history in this has not been honourable. It should recognise that looking after the interests of this House should come before party political gains.

Lord Trefgarne: My Lords, to accuse the Front Bench of dishonour is not in order.

Lord Lucas: My Lords, I am sorry if I accused it of dishonour. I feel strongly that our views in this House have not been accorded the weight that they should have been in the deliberations of our party. I very much hope that this will change. It distresses me greatly that that should be the case.

I return briefly to the Bill. I also support it because I see it as an excellent first stage in getting towards an elected House. To move from where we are now to a substantially or fully elected House would be an enormous change. When you make an enormous change to the constitution, it is extremely difficult to predict the consequences. We cannot do much to ameliorate that, but we can move this House towards the sort of status and arrangements which it might have as an elected House, and this Bill seems to do that. It gets rid of a lot of the anomalies and brings us very close to an elected House. The transition to election need not be that cathartic if we pass the Bill, and it would greatly lessen the chance of future conflict between an elected House of Lords and an elected House of Commons if we make the changes proposed and are used to being, as it were, a more representative Chamber but performing the role that we perform now in relation to the Commons. We would not find that it raised the questions. Doing this now would make the change to an elected House much easier in five or 15 years’ time, whenever it comes.

12.30 pm

Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate: My Lords, I start by saying that it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, who is a good example of the contribution that some hereditary Peers make to this place, and I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Steel, on his introduction of the Bill. I came to this House in 1998 from the world of law enforcement, and I did not realise then the major contribution that law enforcement would make to politics in the future. At that time I knew really very little about what this place did or how

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it was made up. I was, to coin a phrase, a simple policeman. In those days there were many more Members, with a full complement of hereditary colleagues still entitled to sit and to speak. I was surprised to learn that some never attended, and that some attended but did not speak. I even met some who had never even made a maiden speech even though they had been in the House for several years. Clearly that could not continue in the new millennium, and of course it was changed.

The Government’s last manifesto made a commitment to do something about hereditary Peers, and this Bill achieves that. If it is passed, our remaining hereditary colleagues obviously will remain, but the election process means that no replacements will be made. As has been mentioned once or twice, we saw the embarrassment of the “cash for honours” inquiry start to develop, with the eventual involvement of Scotland Yard. I always felt that nothing happened under the Blair Government that had not happened under many previous Administrations of all shades going back decades, but that still did not make it right. It is for that reason that I predicted right at the outset that there would probably be no criminal proceedings in respect of the inquiry, and of course I was proved correct. There is no doubt, however, that the system is faulty, and I always believed that it needed changing. I therefore welcome the noble Lord’s Bill as a simple means of achieving that by setting up a statutory Appointments Commission.

When I first sat on these Benches all those years ago, I was given some advice by a wise old owl who unfortunately is no longer with us. He said, “Never speak on something about which you are not certain because you have experts on everything in this place”. Over the years I have come to realise that he was absolutely right. I have witnessed your Lordships’ valuable contribution to national life, as well as your role of scrutinising, amending and initiating legislation. Whenever I speak publicly about the workings of your Lordships’ House, which I do frequently, the response is generally favourable. People usually say, “Let’s hope it doesn’t change too much”. You would not get the same calibre of Member in your Lordships’ House if they were required to stand for election—but that is a matter for future debate. What the Bill really seeks to do is to make the House acceptable and workable during the interim period. It is a good housekeeping measure, if you like, and a very important one. A statutory independent Appointments Commission is essential to ensure that people of high quality are appointed for the right reasons. The House places a high value on its independence, due in no small part to the large number of Cross-Benchers not allied to any particular party. It is essential that that situation continues.

Unlike in another place, the political parties in this House do not have much control over their own Members. As we are here for life, we can exercise a great deal of independent thought and action, and that is extremely important. I remember being told a few years ago that being a Whip in the House of Lords is a bit like mowing the grass in a graveyard: you have a lot of senior citizens underneath you but nobody takes any notice. There is probably something in that, and in many respects it is a good thing. Long may noble Lords retain their independence of thought, word and

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action. The strange thing is that I am invariably told by members of the public that the House of Lords often reflects the public mood more than the elected Chamber does.

It is also right that Members who do not attend for long periods should be excluded, as should Members who are sentenced to more than 12 months’ imprisonment or indefinitely for criminal offences. I was interested to hear the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, oppose that provision, but he did not declare an interest. He will correct me if I am wrong, but I read that one of his ancestors was actually tried for murder in this House and then executed. That is an interest which he did not really let us in on.

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, the noble Lord is perfectly correct. But that was my ancestor, not me.

Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate: My Lords, I agree, and I am delighted that it was not the noble Earl. It is another way of excluding Members and I thought that he might pick up the point. I have always found it difficult to explain to others why a Member who is declared bankrupt could be named and shamed in this House but that one who goes to prison could not. For that reason, the position needs clarifying.

I am running out of time, so I say simply that I commend the Bill to your Lordships.

12.36 pm

Lord Norton of Louth: My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Mackenzie. As Edmund Burke recognised, change is sometimes necessary to enhance that which already exists. Your Lordships’ House performs a number of functions, and in my view it does so extremely well. That is because the House has proved to be a functionally adaptable body. It has adapted over time to a changing political environment, complementing the elected Chamber and adding value to the legislative process. What is the test to be applied to proposals for change? The test is quite simple: will they strengthen the second Chamber in fulfilling the functions ascribed to it? I believe that the provisions of this Bill will strengthen the House in terms of both how it is seen and its capacity to fulfil its functions of legislative and administrative scrutiny.

Parts 1 and 2 of the Bill are inextricably linked, a point rather missed by my noble friend Lord Astor. Providing a means of bringing hereditary Peers into the House has meant that some Members continue to enter the House independent of prime ministerial nomination. In practice, of course, the constraint on prime ministerial patronage is limited. Prime ministerial nominees can and do easily outnumber any Peers coming in through the by-election procedure.

The Bill limits prime ministerial patronage—or, rather, the potential for abuse. The Prime Minister can continue to nominate people for membership, as indeed can the Leader of the Opposition and others. It does not necessarily mark a distinct shift in that respect. What it does do is create a structured and protected process, one seen to be independent of the Prime Minister. This, I contend, will enhance the position of

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prime ministerial nominees as they will be seen to be subject to an independent process of scrutiny and adjudged to be people of conspicuous merit.

Once this process is in place, the principal rationale for the existing by-election procedure ceases to have effect. Does this mean that hereditary Peers will cease to be brought into the House? It does not. I follow the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold. Several hereditary Peers already sit by virtue of holding life peerages in recognition of their individual merit. To argue that hereditary Peers will no longer enter the House if this measure is passed is to argue that they lack the conspicuous merit necessary for membership—and I, for one, do not believe that to be the case.

Enabling Peers to take permanent leave of absence will ensure that the active membership of the House comes close to the actual membership. It will also ensure that some who have given long and conspicuous service, but who feel unable to continue, are able to apply for permanent leave. I stress the word “apply” as it will be for the House to decide what criteria will govern the granting of such leave. Introducing such a provision will, as we heard, also contribute to reducing the size of the House.

The combined effect of the provisions will thus be that there is a smaller House, with an active membership that will be variously replenished with people of conspicuous merit selected through an independent and transparent process. Does this undermine the capacity of the House to fulfil its functions? Not at all. Does it enhance its capacity? I believe it does. Does it help to deliver what the public wish to see in a second Chamber in terms of independence and knowledge? I believe that the answer is most certainly yes.


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