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All members of the groups acted in a personal capacity-everyone makes that absolutely clear-and their reports were sent to the party leaders and committee members in March. I would like-we may be able to get this-to have those reports considered properly by the relevant committees of this House. They should look at the recommendations-nothing is perfect and they could be changed-and, whether or not they accept them, the reports should come back to this House for it to decide whether it wants to make any changes; it should not be a question of a committee saying, "We are not going to put this to the House because we do not agree with it". There will be plenty of opportunities to do this.
The noble Lord, Lord Filkin, and other Members who participated in the process have also raised these issues today. If we really want to strengthen Parliament, the ingredients and the menu have been provided. The reports are not secret; they were placed in the Library well before the date of the election. I am gratified to learn that the chairs of the three working groups have been invited by the Government to have discussions about this. I wish them well and I hope that we will get a positive outcome.
I follow very much what the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, has just said. Discussion of House of Lords reform seems always to concentrate on how its Members should be chosen. Surely we should first be discussing, as a prior question, what a reformed House should do and what its role should be in the constitutional system.
In today's legislature, the House of Commons has primacy. This House has useful functions as a revising and debating Chamber and in holding the Government to account, but, in the end, the will of the House of Commons is sovereign and can be made to prevail. Your Lordships accept that degree of subordination because Members of the other place are chosen by periodic election on a universal suffrage, and we are not. Whatever the shortcomings of the electoral system, this is seen as conferring a uniquely democratic legitimacy on the House of Commons such as to justify its primacy within the legislature.
If the second House were to be wholly or mainly elected by universal suffrage on a system of proportional representation, but its functions continued to be as they are now and it continued to be subordinate to the House of Commons, how successful, as the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, suggested, do we suppose that the process of election would be in attracting suitable
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For how long would a second House elected by proportional representation on a universal suffrage be prepared to accept constraints on its functions and being subordinate to the House of Commons? It would surely, sooner or later, begin to feel its oats and assert its rights. It could be expected to insist that it was no less democratically legitimate than the House of Commons-perhaps even more democratically legitimate if the Members of the House of Commons continued to be chosen by a system so unproportional as first past the post or even the alternative vote.
The role and functions of the second House would have to be reviewed and enhanced. It would deserve, and expect to be given, something much nearer parity of esteem, constitutional power and responsibility with the House of Commons. Is that what we want? Is it what Members of the other place want? I do not know the answers to these questions, but they need to be asked and answered when we are thinking about House of Lords reform.
I suggest that election by universal suffrage should not be regarded as the only means of conferring representative legitimacy on a parliamentary Chamber. It would not be beyond the wit of man to devise a system whereby Members of a second House could be chosen by processes of indirect election to represent the various social and economic groups and activities which make up the fabric of national life. Such a system would at least meet the requirement of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon, that it be different.
There could be groups of Members chosen to represent, for instance, manufacturing industry, service industries, commerce, banking and financial services, the trade unions, the public services in central and local government, the medical and health professions, the legal professions, the educational professions, the universities, the arts, the churches and so on.
There could be a system of quotas of Members to represent each group. The quotas would be of varying sizes, to reflect the significance of each of the groups in the body politic and economic. Your Lordships will therefore see that the system that I have in mind would be not only representative but also proportional.
In each group, the representative Members could be chosen in whatever way seemed appropriate to the constituent members of that group. This could, if it was thought advisable, be combined with a system of quotas for representatives of political parties chosen by party leaders, with a view to ensuring whatever was thought to be the appropriate balance of party representation in the second House. We could even continue to have a group of independent Cross-Bench Peers, perhaps a little smaller than it is now.
The size of the various quotas would depend on the desired size of the second House. It would be necessary to define the length of terms for which Members would serve. The process could be co-ordinated through an independent statutory appointments commission. Candidates for membership could be recommended to the commission, which could confirm the suitability of candidates recommended to them, perhaps register their political affiliations and ensure a balance of representation from the countries and regions of the United Kingdom within whatever size of House was prescribed.
Such a system would enable the second House to be equipped with a wide range of expertise and experience which would inform the quality of its work and enable it to be effective in bringing forward proposals for legislation as a revising and debating Chamber and in holding government to account.
The second House would therefore be broadly and proportionately representative of the main interests and activities at work in the United Kingdom and in its component parts. It would have a high degree of representative legitimacy, yet it could continue to be ultimately subordinate to the will of the House of Commons, representing the will of the people as established from time to time by universal suffrage.
I urge that the terms of reference of the body-we do not yet know whether that body will be a Cabinet committee, a departmental committee of inquiry, a Joint Committee of the two Houses of Parliament or a royal commission-be drawn up widely enough to allow it to examine the merits and advantages of a system of the kind which I have had time only to adumbrate this afternoon.
Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, there is an old Chinese curse: "May you live in interesting times". Well, we all are here now. The one thing that Members of your Lordships' House on all sides can say is that none of us voted for the present situation.
What we witnessed in the five days after election night is but a foretaste of what we can expect if the country turns to proportional representation: days of beer and sandwiches-type haggling and the wholesale abandonment of manifesto commitments made to one side or another. Five days is nothing. In future, it could easily be more. Germany took 40 days to form its current Government, while Belgium was without a Government for six months.
In the recent events, we also saw the Liberal Democrats announcing in advance that they had the moral obligation to negotiate with the Conservatives. Then, at the last minute, they entered into secret negotiations with Labour. I had visions in those hours of my party being humiliatingly jilted at the altar. The words of the old music hall song came to mind, although I will not sing it:
That brings me to the first of my two questions on the present situation as it affects your Lordships' House, as it is still called, at least for the moment. The noble Baroness, Lady Royall, touched on the first one in moving the Motion on the adjournment on Tuesday when she pointed out the strange bedfellows that a coalition makes. In the past, I have referred to Members of the Liberal Democrat Benches as "the noble Lord" so and so. In the rose garden, the Deputy Prime Minister referred to his "colleagues" and to a "partnership". Am I supposed to say "my noble colleague" or "my noble partner"? Actually, it has been made clear by my noble friend Lord McNally that "my noble friend" will do. That at least sounds nicer. However, I must point out one thing to my noble friend, which the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, also pointed out-the less than supportive attitude that my party and its policies have often received from the Liberal Democrats in the past. A Member of the other place beat me to it by voicing the same question on Tuesday. I was going to consult the Leader of the House or the learned Clerk, but I shall take my noble friend's advice and leave it there.
There is another major and far more serious, indeed basic, constitutional measure about which I have great reservations-the requirement for a majority of 55 per cent to secure a Dissolution of Parliament before the expiry of the proposed fixed term. I do not believe that a centuries-old democratic convention can simply be demolished by Parliament without a referendum or some discussion, especially by a Parliament in which no party has a majority and no party included the suggestion in its manifesto. The convention is basic: a Government who cannot command even a simple majority of Members of the other place have to fall.
As Leader of the Opposition, the Prime Minister rightly and insistently, but fruitlessly, demanded a referendum on the Lisbon treaty because it gave away so much of our national sovereignty. Yet here he is preparing to legislate away a major concept of parliamentary supremacy-the unfettered power to dismiss a Government with a minimum majority vote. I remind your Lordships that, with a 55 per cent rule in place, Chamberlain could have claimed to have morally survived the vital vote just 70 years ago, on May 7 1940, because he had a 58 per cent majority. Even if this arrangement is sanctioned by an Act of Parliament, which I predict will have a difficult passage in your Lordships' House, I point out that one Parliament cannot bind its successors and cannot even be bound not to repeal a law that it has itself recently passed.
I have to ask what credibility a lame duck Prime Minister would have if he lost a vote of confidence by even the "one is enough" described by Disraeli 130 years ago. Also, what influence would a Prime Minister have over his own fractious Back-Benchers, or in this case also a mutinous coalition partner, which came third in the recent election, if he abandoned the power to request the Dissolution of Parliament? The composition of the other place is such that the joint votes of the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats can barely muster the 55 per cent between them. Even if the Lib Dems do not abandon ship for some reason in, say, year four, it will take only a couple of Back-Benchers
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The Prime Minister has also announced that Mr Clegg will be consulted on ministerial appointments and sackings. What happens if Mr Clegg does not like the changes or objects to one of his nominees being sacked or moved? There is plenty of scope for disharmony in the present superficially cosy partnership. The unfettered power of patronage to appoint and dismiss Ministers, to promote those worthy of advancement and to replace those who fail is a most important instrument of prime ministerial authority, as well of good government. Now it is being severely constrained, to say the least. These proposed constitutional changes bring to mind the aphorism used in his resignation speech by the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, to whom the Prime Minister was once an adviser:
These problems have been created because of a shotgun marriage between the two parties, which was clearly cobbled together in frenetic negotiations over a couple of days in a conclave held in the Cabinet Office, without the benefit of the advice of constitutional lawyers. As the old adage says, "Marry in haste and repent at leisure".
Speaking as a party activist, and a Whip when we were last in Government, I would sometimes have to remind voters-and even MPs on occasions-unwilling to support part of our programme that being a Conservative was not like going into a restaurant and choosing from an à la carte menu. The manifesto is a table d'hôte. I would tell them that that is what they had to do: they had to swallow the whole package. Following my advice, in my 17 years as a Member of your Lordships' House, I have never voted against my party's Whip. However, in common with other colleagues with whom I have spoken in recent days, I feel that it will be a struggle to support some of the constitutional matters at issue at present.
Your Lordships will notice that I have confined my observations to the constitution, which I love. Some of us on the Conservative Benches are derisively and condescendingly referred to by the media as the "party faithful". I wear that badge faithfully and proudly. But I am also faithful to the constitution and the constitutional conventions of this country and Parliament and I will not see them lightly diminished.
Lord Gordon of Strathblane: My Lords, after that speech by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, I should immediately say that I warmly congratulate the noble Lord, Lord McNally, and the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Jones, on their appointments and that I recognise that the coalition is the best solution possible given the result that the electorate delivered us. Indeed, I frankly would like it to be a tripartite solution, because this country faces economic problems that will require almost a unanimous view in Parliament if the measures that are taken are to be acceptable in the country at large.
Alistair Darling said that the cuts that would be coming would be more severe than anything under Margaret Thatcher, so, if we are honest, we can safely say that three-quarters of the cuts proposed by the coalition would have been brought forward by a Labour Government anyway. The quicker that we recognise that, the quicker politicians will regain the respect of the public, who know that things are tough and that quantitative easing, necessary though it may be, is methadone economics and does not solve the problem in the long run.
From time to time, I have mused that, much as I love the pomp and ceremony of the State Opening of Parliament every year, there might be a case for having it only after a general election and setting out a programme for a five-year Parliament. I wondered whether the coalition Government had privately decided to do that, because there are 25 Bills. That is an ambitious programme to achieve in five years, let alone just one quite long Session of Parliament.
I am particularly concerned about the state of play in Scotland. The media and the political class in general had not really caught up with the devolution legislation that had been enacted until the health warnings in the prime ministerial debates, which said, "By the way, what you are about to hear does not apply in Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland". It may not have escaped noble Lords' notice that Alex Salmond has opted to delay public spending cuts for a year. To give him the benefit of the doubt, there may be legitimate economic reasons for going more gently in Scotland. However, it is also the case that the Scottish elections are due next year and I would not like to think that Scotland will face double trouble, perhaps under another Government immediately after the election, where we might have had slightly less pain if we had introduced the cuts more gently this year.
We have a problem in Scotland-I regret that a lot of my fellow countrymen would like to blame someone else for their problems. The reason why I think that there is a case for giving greater fiscal responsibility to the Scottish Parliament is that it would presumably end that, although I have heard SNP spokesmen blaming Westminster for the crisis in the Royal Bank of Scotland, which defeats logic. In Scotland, if you can blame someone else and the other person is English, you score double; if they are English Tories, you hit the jackpot.
I am also glad that we have a coalition with substantial Liberal Democrat representation in Scotland. Again, without being too cynical, if I were David Cameron, Scotland contributed one MP to my total and getting rid of Scotland left me with probably a safe Conservative majority in England, I would find it tempting to cobble together a deal with Alex Salmond. The Liberal Democrats would have much more to lose if that happened, so I hope that they will exercise a restraining influence. Like all Scots, I value the Union, if only because we Scots need something bigger to run than Scotland.
I also draw attention to the fact that in 2015 the five-year Parliament here will end and there will be Scottish government elections. We will therefore be faced with the electorate in Scotland having elections to Westminster under one system, elections to the
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That brings me, naturally, to the House of Lords. I do not believe in an elected House of Lords, but I recognise the validity of a lot of the arguments put forward for it. You certainly can have an elected House of Lords, but do not try to make it subservient to the House of Commons. As the noble Lords, Lord Rooker and Lord Armstrong, both said, if the House of Lords were elected by proportional representation, which the Liberal Democrats passionately believe is a superior system, how would it not be at least the equal of, if not superior to, the House of Commons? You cannot say to a House of Lords that is elected, "You can have nothing to do with the Budget, with supply and everything else". It will demand the powers and take them gradually. If not given them, it will threaten a total strike on all legislation until it is given them. That will happen ineluctably.
The second argument that I would put against election is to ask whether the public really want a second set of MPs. I doubt that they do. Are we going to pay an elected House? If we are going to pay and it is partly elected, do we pay the ones who are elected or do we pay everyone? If we pay everyone, how popular is that going to be with the public? It would mean great expenditure at a time when the rest of the nation has been asked to make sacrifices, all to achieve a political principle of how we put people here, not to change fundamentally the nature of the job that they do. The other point that I would make about an elected House has already been made by the noble Lord, Lord Rooker: there is no accountability if you are elected for a single term, because you are not responsible to anyone.
There are problems in this House. I am sure that we can do better and we must never be complacent, but, honestly, when you look at the two Houses of Parliament dispassionately, which do you think is in more need of reform? I am sure that even the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, would admit that it is the House of Commons; it is the more important House and it is certainly more drastically in need of reform. After all, do the electorate elect a member of the Government or someone to control the Government? One-third of the majority party or the coalition are in government and therefore have a somewhat vested interest in looking after it, while at least another one-third want to be in it and therefore will not be too hard on the Government in the hope of preferment in the future. The only people on the government or coalition side who will really be scrutinising the Government are those who will have been kicked out after the first reshuffle and will have nothing to lose. We have things to change in Parliament as a whole, but the first priority is at the other end of the building.
Lord Avebury: My Lords, unlike the noble Lord, Lord Gordon, I particularly welcome the commitment in the gracious Speech to replace the present undemocratic House of Lords with a wholly or partially elected House based on proportional representation, as long as the system chosen is the single transferable vote,
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Everybody knows about the increasing burdens that are being laid on the NHS by the misuse of alcohol. Without effective means of combating this self-harm, further significant increases in spending will be needed in the future to cope with alcohol-related ill health. One of the main reasons why the prisons are bursting at the seams, as my noble friends Lord Thomas of Gresford and Lord Dholakia pointed out, is the large number of people who are there because they committed offences related to alcohol misuse. The only measure in the gracious Speech that I can see which deals with this problem is the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill, which is aimed at alcohol-related violence and anti-social behaviour. Surely it would be far better to discourage people from drinking irresponsibly first, than to deal afterwards with the problems they cause. The interim analytical report on alcohol harm of 2003 hit the nail on the head when it said that the two main supply-side levers that influence alcohol use are price and availability. That advice was ignored, so the problem got worse over the past seven years under the Labour Government.
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