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The first has already been referred tothat is, the publication, just before we rose for the Christmas Recess, of the report of the House of Commons Select Committee on Public Administration. This report originated from concern about the cash for peerages question. I wish to quote two parts of the summary at the beginning of this 85-page report to indicate how important it is to our deliberations. The report states:
Its primary purpose would be to put the independent House of Lords Appointments Commission onto a statutory footing, and empower it to take decisions on the size, balance and composition of the House against agreed and explicit criteria. A mechanism is also needed for peers to resign from the House.
Our recommendations build on principles to which the major parties have already signed up. We hope that the experience of the last two years will provide the impetus to make them happen, and with a proper urgency.
I think that puts the whole of our debate today in a completely different context from that which we discussed at Second Reading because a Select Committee in the House of Commons, which has
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The other point of interest is that the Prime Minister himself appeared before the Liaison Committee in the other place and was asked a direct question about his attitude to the Bill. He repeated that he and the Justice Minister, Mr Straw, would look at it. He expressed concern over the legislative timetable in the other place, which is quite natural, but said that the measures in the Bill are not so contentious.
So here we have a Select Committee of the other place urging that these reforms take place and the Prime Minister indicating that the Government would at least be open to considering these proposals if we were to present them to the other place. It is therefore my contention today that, while we are perfectly willing to accept many of the amendments without the need for much debate and to discuss others with their promoters and debate them on Report, there are none the less a raft of amendmentsof which this is onethat fall quite wide of the narrow purpose of the Bill. They are what I call extraneous amendments.
Of course, we could debate those amendments ad infinitum. If we were having a debate on the name of the House, I would agree with the noble Earl that it should be called a senate. However, the Bill does not attempt to deal with all these issues. It does not attempt to de-link serving in the House from an honour, nor to deal with the number of Bishops in the House or with those issues covered by some of the amendments on todays Marshalled List. Given the time constraints in the House, we must decide at the beginning whether we are going to proceed though all the amendments, including those that have nothing to do with the Bill as it is narrowly drawn, or whether we are going to stick to those that relate to the Bill itself and meet the wishes of the Select Committee in the other place. It is my great hope that we will agree to do the latter.
I do not think we will see the debate on an elected or unelected House for many years to come. I am reinforced in that viewwe dwelt on this on Second Readingby the report of the Conservative Partys task force under Mr Kenneth Clarke. He is a senior and well respected parliamentarian and a strong advocate of an elected upper Chamber, and yet he reported that they would wish to have a statutory appointments commission. When asked why he would do that when he believed in an elected upper House, he said, Because I dont expect to see that in my lifetime. Now, I wish him an enjoyable, cigar-laden lifetime, but I think he may be right. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Richard, that if and when I come to his memorial servicewhich is going to be less interesting than if he had all those other attributes in his lifeI very much doubt that we will have an elected House by then.
We are faced with the decision today on whether to go through all these amendmentswe will not get through very many of themand therefore in effect
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Lord Strathclyde: We have just heard from the noble Lord, Lord Steel, a brilliant exposition of the frustration of what it is to be a Minister of the Crown. Any of us who have been Ministersand in this House there are many who have held ministerial officeknow just how often one thinks of a good idea for new legislation that is naturally supported by everyone who is sensible and right-thinking; one then makes a proposal to Parliament, and those wretched parliamentarians have the temerity to come forward with amendments to it. I have known countless examples of Ministers who wanted to bring forward perfectly sensible proposals, only to discover that other people in this House and in another place have an entirely different view and wish to debate the issues. That, of course, is the point of these two Houses of Parliament.
I join the noble Lord, Lord Richard, in this tremendous sense of déjÃ vu. He and I have been debating these issues for donkeys years, and I expect that we will continue to do so. In fact, your Lordships have been discussing this issue since the party of the noble Lord, Lord Steel, championed the whole idea of an elected House in 1911. If it was so easy or so obvious we would have solved this problem years ago, but it is not. It is so fiendishly complicated and extremely difficult that, even when the noble Lord and his friends try to promote what looks like a Bill of limited ambition, we create 200 amendments. I do not know whether that is a record; perhaps the Minister can tell us.
To think that I foolishly accepted the burden, as Leader of the Opposition, of leading from the Dispatch Box on this Bill! My dear wife, when she realised that I would have to give up all my Fridays for the rest of the year, was rather appalled; she was delighted, however, when the noble Lord, Lord Steel, decided to bring the Committee forward to a Thursday afternoon. That noble Lord also made an excellent point about the Select Committee report in another place, because something has changed since we debated this at Second Reading. It is an important report, not just because of the difficult issues that it dealt withthe potential scandal of cash-for-peerages, and the workings of the Appointments Commission chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson of Coddenhambut because it came forward with various proposals for change, some of which I am not entirely sure that I agree with.
What the noble Lord, Lord Steel, did not say is that this report has yet to be debated in another placeI do not think that that has occurred. Given
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In all this, I have not actually mentioned the amendment itself, which I come to now. That was just a little introduction to all these amendments. Now, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Caithness for having introduced this amendment, and indeed to the noble Lord, Lord Richard, whose Amendment No. 2 is tied to it. It is entirely fair that we should consider the name of the House. In fact, I rather hope that my noble friend will consider accepting the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Richard, which I slightly prefer to that of my noble friend. I certainly hope that my noble friend will not press his to a Division, but will consider the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Richard.
The name of the senate conjures up certain important parallels for me. It is not just the Senates of Rome or Venice, which were in their time hugely influential bodies. We also have Senates in the United States and in Italy, and those two chambers have the most significant powers and authority of any Upper House in the world. In the past, my party has advocated the use of the word senate to replace a House of Lords. This is not the most essential item that we shall be discussing in this Committee, but it would probably be better to have a senate rather than the House of Lords if we are to change the method of selection to this House. That is partly because it conveys a sense of authority, and what is the purpose of all this disruption and reform if not to create a more powerful House, more able to help the other place to do its job properly, and help it to hold the Executive to account?
It also reflects the fact that the House which we have now is already very differentin many ways arguably better, and in some ways worsefrom the House that we used to have. The House that we should want to create will also differ from the House that we have now. What we have now is no longer a House of Lords; it is a House of some Lords, because, in 1999, more than 650 Peers were excluded from the House, so we have Peers outside the House and Peers who are not Members of the House of Lords.
Although it is not grouped with Amendment No. 1, the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, has tabled a most interesting amendment, Amendment No. 6, which we will no doubt discuss later. That takes the logical step of separating the peerage from membership of this House. The noble Lord does not go the extra inchor perhaps I should say centimetre to the modernising noble Lord, Lord Dubsand stop calling your Lordships House a House of Lords. Instead, he suggests that he should be Mr Dubs ML, which I find deeply unconvincing, but that is a debate to which we shall come later.
Lord Strathclyde: The point of the Bill is that it removes the ability of the 92 hereditary Peers to continue by removing the by-election. That was the point that I was trying to make, which I hope that my noble friend Lord Higgins has understood.
I suppose that the problem with the House of Lords is that it is a 13th-century description in a 21st-century reform. It smacks rather of wanting to throw away your cake and then eating it. If we are to have a reform, it should be based on a new name and a stronger House using its powers to the full, with the full authority and confidence that that would convey. I therefore agree with my noble friend that a senate, a body that can look the other place in the eye, should be our aim, and I hope that we will consider more in debate the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Richard, though I do not know whether he expects to press it this evening.
Lord Howarth of Newport: The noble Earl ignored in his genial remarks that there is urgent need for certain specific reforms in the interests of the dignity, reputation and good functioning of this House. The dignity and reputation of this House are in jeopardy in consequence of events with which we are all melancholily familiar, and, consequently, so is the good functioning of the House. There is widespread consensus on the suitability of the four reforms itemised in the Long Title of the Bill as tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Steel. It would be sensible to get on with implementing those changes. The reforms proposed in the new clause tabled by the noble Earl and the whole variety of amendments that other noble Lords have tabled are interesting and important, but I venture to suggest that they are not urgent. We should get on with those matters that are urgent. We should with reasonable expedition send a properly considered Bill to the other place so that we can offer it a way in which the functioning of this part of Parliament can be improved, and the other great matters on which there is not yet consensus and which certainly will need to be addressed should take their time in due course.
Viscount Bledisloe: I, too, support what the noble Lord, Lord Steel, said, and I hope that the Committee will not be distracted from doing so by what I might describe as a knockabout comedy speech by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, in his inimitable manner.
This is a very carefully crafted Bill, which the noble Lords, Lord Steel and Lord Norton of Louth, have prepared with great care to deal with several short-term problems which virtually everybody accepts need to be dealt with now. We do not wish to be distracted from pursuing that useful aim by vast numbers of red herrings, which have to be tackled some time, but which are not apt to be tackled now. One example of how dangerous it is to go down this route appears in Amendment No. 72, tabled by the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, in which he contemplates that the commission will recommend people not only for membership of this House but also for the bare honour of peerage. If so, why does it not do the same for knighthoods and all other honours? A peerage will then become an honour and have nothing to do with the commission or this House. Do let us get back to the bedrock of this Bill. These amendments and a large number of others deal with interesting topics but not with the substance of this Bill.
Viscount Astor: The noble Lord, Lord Steel, quoted from the House of Commons Public Administration Select Committee report. However, he was selective in his quotesas I will be too. On page 56 of the report, paragraph 181 says:
The report makes that entirely clear. The legislation is not actually necessary to implement the majority of the recommendationsand all the important onesin the report. Your Lordships should not be bounced into dealing with this Bill faster than we normally do just because of a report that does not say legislation is necessary and which has not been considered properly by another place. I remind your Lordships that it is an extremely useful report, but it is only made up by a committee, which includes six members of the Labour Party, three Conservatives and two Liberals. That is hardly a report which has been endorsed by the other place as a whole.
If the Minister had said that they hoped to produce the White Paper shortly, we would know that that was a number of months away. If he had said it was imminent, we would know that it was probably six months away. However, he did actually say it would be produced in the new year. Therefore, it is possible that he meant that. I am sure he thought he meant it, even though events might have thwarted him in the mean time. It is important that the Minister tells us what the Governments attitude is.
My final point is that the noble Lord, Lord Steel, said that there were a number of points that have nothing to do with the Bill. I think that they are all to do with the Bill. It is now extremely difficult in your Lordships House to put down amendments that are not to do with the Bill. The Clerks, quite rightly, are very precise on that. All these amendments are to do with the Bill. They may not be in the narrow world that the noble Lord wants them, but they are all part of the debate that we ought to have as this Bill proceeds through Parliament. I am very happy to sit behind my noble friend and the noble Lord, Lord Steel, every Friday afternoon for as long as it takes, to go through and debate all the issues that are brought up by the amendments tabled today.
Lord Desai: I missed, by some accident, the Second Reading of the noble Lords Bill. However, I support the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Richard, which I like very much. The noble Lords Bill has all the makings of what I would call an English compromise, which is one that confronts a major problem and proposes a solution which does not solve the problem but makes the solution to the problem less urgent. Everyone then forgets about it and we move on. That is why I support my noble friends amendment.
It is quite clear that the supporters of the Bill are somewhat desperate. The noble Lord, who was a distinguished Member of the House of Commons previously, and a democrat, proposed something in the nature of the guillotine on this Bill. I do not think that that is permissible. Nor do I wish to be told that a Select Committee in another place has told us something which we should stop all other business to implement. They can do their business and we shall do our business.
Lord Tyler: Like the noble Lord, Lord Desai, I support the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Richard. I am delighted to hear that Members on all sides of the Chamber seem to have real concern about the amendment proposed by the noble Earl and the group attached to it.
The noble Earl is in some haste to make considerable progress in a backwards direction. We should be careful about moving as fast as he appears to wish us to do. Some people might say, Whats in a name?but surely in the House it is clear that names are very important. This whole building is about semantics. Sometimes we hear people complain that a matter that we discuss here is a matter of semantics, but words are important. I remind the Committee of the occasion when the Post Office decided to change its name to Consignia, which some of us thought would mean that it would actually modernise its practices and offer a better service to the country: far from it, nothing of the sort. Very soon afterwards, the Post Office had to revert to its
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Reference has already been made to the report by the Select Committee in the other place, and the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, rightly drew our attention to a particular paragraph. I endorse a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde: this is an issue of considerable importance to this House. Not only has the other place not discussed this report yet and not only has there been no response to it yet from the Government, but it is hot off the press with regard to this House. I wonder how many noble Lords, if I asked them, could say that they had read all 150 pages of the report and evidence; I suspect that some of us would have to admit that we have only skimmed through it. It is obviously premature that we should look at that issue raised in the report, even when it is not intended that it should comprise legislative proposals, merely small changes. The noble Earls amendment, Amendment No. 72, talks in terms of a divergence of the membership of this legislature from the peerage. That is a completely new issue that is totally outwith the Bill proposed by my noble friend Lord Steel, and I very much appreciate what he said just now. It would be extraordinary if we went down that path without a great deal more careful consideration in this House.
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