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We have exemplified what the Italians have a word for: aggiornamento. That means building on the past but innovating as you need to. This we have continually done, otherwise we would have become a museum piece; we would have vanished years ago. Let us look at life Peers. I do not know whether it was Bagehot or me who first proposed them-it could not have been me, because he made the suggestion in 1861, but having read 13 volumes of Bagehot I find it difficult to tell which of us is speaking. It was Harold Macmillan who implemented the proposal, which has been a very great reform. I was delighted to hear that we are to have more Select Committees in this House. I shall not go on about that, because I had some small part to play in them in the olden days.
We need self-restraint. We want to observe the conventions. You learn that with wisdom and experience in this House. This House knows where to draw the line. Noble Lords know when to push things and when to stop. That is an art that you can learn only from experience and by being here. It is vital to know.
I have nothing against the alternative vote, but let us keep the link with the constituencies. That is the most vital thing, which is lost through proportional representation. If we are to have a system, let that link be intrinsic to it.
Now let us concentrate on the economy. That is what concerns people. There is no virtue in being rich and there is no virtue in being poor. What one wants is enough. Greed is not an attractive quality and we have had quite enough of it. I once had a conversation with a judge who said that the difficulties of the people with whom he had come into contact were mainly that they had followed the advice of people whom they did not know about documents that they had not read to buy goods that they did not need with money that they did not have. That is exactly the sort of position that we are in today.
That grossly underestimates the British people, but there is such a tendency, which has risen and grown and, like a horrible monster, is threatening this country. That is why we want to provide something to meet the spiritual starvation as well as economic prosperity. You cannot have spirituality if you are struggling all the time to survive. My advice to the Government would be to leave the constitution for the commissions to get to work on-it is very complicated-and to concentrate, concentrate, concentrate. That is even more important than educate, educate, educate. They should concentrate on the economy and get that right and, after that, go on with their constitutional reforms. I speak as a retired constitutional expert.
Lord Howarth of Newport: My Lords, I add my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Bichard, on his maiden speech. I was a Minister in the Department
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The British constitution is not a trophy to be grabbed by any Government, let alone a plaything to be handed to the junior party in a coalition-a party that won 23 per cent of the vote. It is a trust to be held with care and respect by those who for the time being serve in government. Most people would have preferred less triumphalism and more humility from the coalition as it addresses its responsibilities in relation to the constitution.
Constitutional change is continuous in our country. One of the virtues of our unwritten constitution is that it enables an appropriate adaptation to happen. The Conservative Party at least, if it remains heir to the thinking of Edmund Burke and Michael Oakeshott, will understand that constitutional change should be approached with caution and tact, empirically and incrementally. Every proposition for constitutional reform needs to be examined thoroughly, open-mindedly and without partisanship. It is perfectly appropriate to examine topics such as the number of MPs, the voting system, lobbying, the second Chamber and the devolution of power. Fixed-term parliaments and the recall of MPs might more wisely have been left alone-but we could add to the list the issues for our country arising from Germany's determination to rewrite the treaty of Lisbon to enable Europe to integrate national budgetary and fiscal policies-that will be an interesting test for the coalition. The Prime Minister's crude threat to use the veto was perhaps not the best opening gambit.
It is a good idea to set up commissions on such issues, but it is not a good idea to prejudge them or to take them in a rush. One should allow the commissions, rather, to educate the nation on these important matters one by one. "Wholesale, big-bang" legislation, and "our very own Great Reform Act", to quote the Deputy Prime Minister's somewhat bombastic language, would be both imprudent and improper. Liberal Democrats and Conservatives rightly complained about wholesale legislation in the previous Parliament, with the Coroners and Justice Bill, the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill, which the House of Commons hardly pretended to scrutinise and the House of Lords had enormous difficulty in considering adequately.
The time may indeed have come to examine options for changing the electoral system. Turnout at elections has fallen over decades, with only a disappointingly small upturn at this last closely contested general election. In 1951, only 3 per cent of votes were cast for parties other than the two main parties; in 2010 it was 35 per cent. In first-past-the-post elections, a tiny minority of voters in marginal seats determine the electoral outcome for the UK, and large numbers of people now feel that their votes are of no account. But the Labour Party and the Conservative Party have been wrong to rush to conclusions and wrong to horse-trade electoral options. It is doubtful whether the alternative vote would be the right remedy, liable
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No doubt, the proponents of an elected second Chamber will reflect on whether a second Chamber elected by PR might not claim more legitimacy than a House of Commons elected on AV or FPTP. For my part, I want the primacy of the House of Commons to be preserved. Let us look and see whether the democratic credentials and capacity of the House of Commons can sensibly be enhanced by electoral reform and procedural reform. The question then will be whether what is needed is yet more elected politicians in the second Chamber or to maintain and improve the second Chamber's capacity for searching and expert scrutiny. It is not anti-democratic to note that the British constitution has been admired historically for its checks and balances, but that under the modern party system the House of Commons has become ineffective as a check on executive wilfulness. I favour reform of the House of Lords, but so as to improve its legitimacy and effectiveness as an appointed House. A House of Lords, appointed through the good offices of a statutory appointments commission, containing a wealth of experience and expertise systematically recruited from across the national life, relatively independent of party and media pressure, deferring ultimately to the authority of the elected House of Commons, will be able to do a better job than a second elected House in advising how to get legislation right and from time to time challenging elective dictatorship. The question that the enthusiasts for an elected second Chamber ought to answer is how the change they favour would improve the performance of Parliament.
I would welcome the coalition's new localism if it meant the renewal of elective local self-government-if it meant, in fact, the rediscovery of old localism. I cannot welcome it if the new localism and the big society are to mean a further marginalisation of elective local government through the encouragement and funding of unaccountable populist groups-the incubation of a British Poujadism or Tea Party-pursuing idiosyncratic and self-interested projects through local referendums, vetoes, rights to take over services and self-granted planning permissions. It is right to diminish central and local bureaucratic interference in schools and strengthen partnerships with the private sector. It is wrong that the Government should strip local education authorities, whose role is to provide good education for all the children in their communities now and for the future, of their best performing schools and divert taxpayers' money to new so-called free schools in state-subsidised social division. Nor should policing be made vulnerable to individuals and political groups with aggressive agendas of their own.
Unfortunately, the new localism has fallen at the first fence with the coalition's lamentable commitment to abort the restoration of unitary local government to Norwich, the city in which I live, and Exeter. This is a significant symbolic issue as well as a very important practical one for the people of the cities whose lives will be affected. It is a petty and mean-spirited denial of the opportunity for two proud and historic cities to
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On the part of the Conservatives, it is the old bullying politics at its worst-winner takes all-exploiting a parliamentary majority for no other reason than to serve a party interest. Their assertion that this will save money is bogus. They cannot claim their manifesto commitment as justification since the people did not endorse their manifesto. The Select Committee on the Constitution of your Lordships' House may wish to consider the constitutional impropriety of this legislation, plainly devised to impact on two particular communities rather than to be of general application.
In any case, there is far too much in this Queen's Speech. In this time of severe national difficulty, the Government would do better to set aside self-indulgence and ideology and seek to unite the country in addressing-and addressing well-a limited number of issues that we can all agree should be the national priorities.
Lord Thomas of Swynnerton: My Lords, with this speech, I hope to join a distinguished club-that of people who thought that they had a solution to the problems of the House of Lords. It is now an old club with traditions stretching back at least 100 years. In 1930, Somerset Maugham, brother of a Lord Chancellor, wrote, in a brilliant novel, Cakes and Ale, that:
Barons would be responsible for drama and journalism. Fiction would be the domain of Earls, a field where they are already expert. Dukes, thought Maugham, would write poetry. A little later, the poet Auden suggested that all Members of Parliament should be chosen by lot.
My solution is not as imaginative as those schemes. I would ask the Lords reformers to examine the present House and see why, in the last 10 or 20 years, it has essentially done so well. For it has been a success despite the qualifications mentioned very appropriately by the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, and some remarkable speeches have been made, and some great debates held as rare and worthy of account as any in the past. Surely that is because primarily we have an astonishing diversity of talent, as the noble and learned Lord,
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We have, therefore, heard some astonishing speeches, which probably could not have been made in another place or by a House made up of elected Members in a simple way. Many of us remember that great speech of the noble Lord, Lord Alli, in favour of hunting, not to speak of the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, on the same subject. Many of us vividly recall-even if we did not necessarily agree with-the speech of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, when he questioned the need to renew Trident and the insistence of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Walker, that the covenant between the Armed Forces and the nation needed repair.
I also remember the late Lord Kennett questioning whether it was wise to retain NATO in its old Cold War form in the new world order. The late Lord Jenkins of Putney made a compelling speech about Kosovo. I remember, too, how the late eloquent Lord Annan, in his last speech, compared the then Lord Cranborne to Comus as he led his admirers, the surviving hereditary Peers, deep into a pathless forest. I recall the brilliant speeches of the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, questioning the need to go to war in Iraq. If I may be forgiven another reminiscence, I also recall the late Lord Sherfield's speech in the Maastricht debate explaining how when he was in the Foreign Office he had been critical of the idea of the European Common market and how he had changed his view afterwards.
Since I have a long memory, I can remember wonderful speeches by the late Lord George Brown and the supreme competence of the late Lord Callaghan. We have had great cricketers in this House, such as Lord Cowdrey, Lord Constantine, and the late Lord Bishop of Liverpool, and I dare say that we should have had footballers. We could do worse than having some singers. Those debates that kept us so long into the early morning about whether it was right to extend the number of days when a suspect could be held without charge were fine parliamentary occasions even if, characteristically, the media seemed more interested in the Peers' cornflakes at 8 am than their views.
Those are great memories and might not be repeated in a simply elected House. I believe, therefore, that we need a benign, corporate approach to elections to this House. We may have to accept that there has to be an elected House, but who will be elected? It should be stipulated that there would be a certain number of trade union leaders, a few vice-chancellors, some ex-chiefs of staff, ambassadors, two or three poets, certainly, some ex-Cabinet Ministers of course, as well as some historians, please, some bankers, industrialists and publishers, such as the apparently immortal noble Lord, Lord Weidenfeld. Each would serve a special time, varying perhaps from profession to profession.
We should continue to have friends of Israel and Arabists. We should have friends of Europe and critics. We could specify a few hereditary Peers who, we have all learnt, are still a far-from-negligible element in our society. All could be elected from wider groupings. Take the vice-chancellors. There may be 100 of them in this country. We might choose five of their number on a regular basis. Let us retain Bishops, although perhaps not so many as now. The Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster should be with this and so should the Chief Rabbi as a matter of course, as well as some appropriate Muslim leader. In a sense, I am advocating that all of us learn from how Bishops have come here in the past. We could try and arrange to have the same kind of House as we now have, or better, to ensure, by design, what we now have by chance.
Lord Tope: My Lords, I begin by declaring an interest. Three weeks ago today, I was elected councillor for the London Borough of Sutton for the 10th time. More importantly, on the same day, the Liberal Democrats were elected for a seventh term to run the London Borough of Sutton with a greatly increased majority. Contrary to what some have said, Liberal Democrats are used to being in Government. Liberal Democrats are used to making difficult decisions and they are used to doing so under much greater public scrutiny and with much greater public accountability to those most directly affected by those decisions than can ever be possible at national level.
Indeed, it can be said that Liberal Democrats probably have more experience than any other party in making coalitions work. At local level, successful coalitions have two things in common. All of them are based on policy agreement and policy compromise, and all of them are for a fixed term with no get-out clause or option to go to the electorate early. So we have much to learn, but also some experience to share.
I very much welcome the appointment of my noble friend Lady Hanham as the CLG Minister in your Lordships' House. We were London council leaders together throughout the 1990s. Perhaps more important for this Parliament, we were for many years together UK representatives on the Committee of the Regions, which represents local and regional government in the EU's decision-making process. I say "for this Parliament" because the Lisbon treaty gives greater power and recognition to what I will abbreviate as "sub-state government" in monitoring subsidiarity, as well as to national parliaments and devolved assemblies. I therefore hope that, together, we will be able to bring to your Lordships' attention both the relevance of the European Union to local government and the relevance of local government to the European Union.
Cynics say, with some truth, that devolution of decision-making is always much easier when the decisions are likely to be difficult and unpopular. That is true. However, I strongly believe that it is all the more
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Of course, there cannot be the fundamental shift of power sought by the coalition agreement unless and until local authorities have the greater financial autonomy that it promises. It promises a review of local government finance. I understand why it had to be worded that way but, in reality, we do not need yet another review that takes years and ends up being parked for ever on the "too difficult" shelf. There has been no shortage of reviews, from Layfield to Lyons. There is no shortage of academic and political material available on the various policies. There is ample experience of different local government financial systems all over the democratic world.
We now need a commitment to implementation from the coalition Government. This is not the time for me to suggest what that system should be, if indeed I had the temerity to suggest that there was a simple system. There manifestly is not: it is full of complex and difficult decisions. There are many alternatives, including some interesting proposals from the Local Government Association, in the wider context of Total Place, that I hope the Government will look at seriously.
I hope, after nearly a lifetime in local government, that, by the next general election in five years' time, we will have a system of local government finance that enables local authorities to raise a greater proportion of their funding locally and be less dependent on central government grants; a system that is far more transparent and understandable; and a system with a much fairer relationship between levels of expenditure and taxation. Without that, we will not truly have a radical devolution of power.
Turning to particulars, in common with almost everyone else in local government, I welcome the abolition of the Government Office for London. Indeed, it is remarkable that it is still there 10 years after the creation of the Greater London Authority. I particularly look forward to hearing the new arrangements for liaison and communication between central government and London government in all its forms. Are we to have a Minister for London? What will the communications channels between central government and the various levels of London government be?
In many ways, what happens with the Government Office for London will be the first practical test of the Government's commitment to radical devolution of
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Finally, I turn to an issue that is not in the gracious Speech or in the coalition agreement, much to my surprise and regret: electoral reform for local government. I always used to believe that local government would be the first sphere of government to be elected by proportional representation. In many ways, it is ideally suited to proportional representation. We already have multi-member constituencies; we call them "wards". We have a system under which we would get a much fairer representation of voter choice than at present. Now, however, local government in England and Wales may well be the only sphere of government left with the first-past-the-post system. That makes no sense at all, and I hope that this is an accidental omission from the coalition agreement. I feel sure that it must be an omission and that, in the localism Bill later in this Parliament, we will perhaps be able to show that it is and that electoral reform will indeed extend to local government in England and Wales, as it already does in Scotland.
Lord McNally: I knew we should have paid a big transfer fee for the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington of Ribbleton. She would have handled this much better than me. The guidance of the Chief Whip was seven minutes-
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