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The third circle has been referred to by several colleagues already. That is the question of the conventions between the two Houses, which, as the Cunningham committee reminded us, if we move to an elected upper House, will have to be completely rewritten. I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Richard, when he ended his interesting speech by talking about needing to have power and saying that we would have power only if we were elected. I do not think that this House is about having power. That is a mistake that some people make; it has a very different function.
I suggest that two other circles have to be squared before we have even a draft Bill. Our coalition is committed to reducing the size of the House of Commons.
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The fifth circle that will have to be squared is this. I read the speech by my right honourable friend the Deputy Prime Minister in the Commons in introducing these proposals. I admire his reforming zeal. He said that one of his objectives was to reduce the cost of Parliament. How can you reduce the cost of Parliament when, as we heard only yesterday from the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, we, existing on minor expenses, would be replaced by an upper Chamber which is salaried and which will need offices and secretaries? That will not reduce the cost of Parliament.
All of those issues lead me to agree with the noble Lord, Lord Richard, that this will take some time. I very much doubt if we will see an elected Chamber-or even proposals for an elected Chamber-passed through this Parliament before we reach the end of this five-year coalition. What are we going to do in the mean time? That is why I tabled my Resolution, as one cannot amend a take note Motion.
Members will have noticed that the four items I mentioned in the Resolution are the four items that have been twice discussed in the Private Member's Bill which I introduced to the House. I have said repeatedly in previous debates that my objective was not to pass a Private Member's Bill-it is not a suitable subject for that-but to bring pressure to bear on the Government to act on the issues. To some extent, I was successful, because, as Members will remember, Jack Straw had a deathbed conversion and, at the last minute, produced three of the four items in the Constitutional Renewal Bill, which was washed out in the wash-up. I am not surprised, because we could hardly be expected to do in 24 hours what we had failed to do for several years, but that is what happened.
In a sense, we have gone backwards, because whereas the previous Government had grasped three of the four items in my Bill, today the new coalition has taken only one. Let me say right away that I welcome the announcement of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, that he agrees that we ought to have a system to enable Peers to retire and that he will set up a committee to deal with that. I welcome that very much; I just wonder why he does not go the whole hog and take the other three items which were in my Bill. Why is he so wedded to continuing the hereditary by-elections? Why do we not, as in the House of Commons, remove those who are convicted and receive a jail sentence of more than one year? That happens automatically in the other place and should happen here.
The one item that neither Government have accepted is the appointment of a statutory commission, even though the noble Lord, Lord Jay, as chairman of the present commission, has argued for a statutory commission. The argument was that we do not need one because we are going to have an elected House. Since then, we have had 57 new appointments, we are
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We have before us the scandalous case of Lord Laidlaw, who said to the Appointments Commission that he would give up his tax exile status. It had no powers to make him do that and, in fact, he has done precisely the opposite. In the best Lloyd George tradition, he has effectively bought a title with no responsibilities whatever. It is publicly unacceptable that that goes on. That is the case for having the Appointments Commission on a statutory basis.
These four reforms that I keep pressing on successive Governments were approved by the Commons Administration Committee, so they have a lot of support at the other end of the building. The question is: what is going to be done about them? When the Straw Bill failed to carry, I sent an e-mail to my noble friend Lord McNally, the leader of my party. I said that it was a great tragedy and we must do something about it. He replied and encouraged me to retable my Bill in the new Session of Parliament, which I have done. [Laughter.] Wait for it! I then wrote to him in his new position and said, "Dear Minister, my leader recommended that I table the Bill. I have done so. What about government time?", to which I got a reply saying, "Dear David, your leader is a very wise man", which did not really address the question.
Frankly, my Bill is not going to go anywhere. I recognise that. Let us be realistic. That is why I tabled the Motion in the hope that the Government would enable Peers to vote separately on the merits of these issues and would introduce their own wording so that it would be government wording, not a private Member's wording. I think that is a sensible suggestion. Whether I move the Motion later tonight-I certainly do not want to start a second debate after we finish this one-depends on the reaction of Members in the rest of this debate.
Lord Bilimoria: My Lords, at a time like this we need to be extremely careful as we move forward, because a step in the wrong direction will have far-reaching consequences not just for us but for future generations. As Winston Churchill once said,
What the coalition Government propose-to rush through wholesale reform of the House of Lords-is sheer folly. The upper House is the principal check and balance on the Government. This House is, in many ways, the guardian of the nation. Nothing should be done to modify this role of the House. An appointed House brings together, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, said so well, diversity, objectivity, experience and, as the noble Lord, Lord Denham, illustrated, world-class expertise and, perhaps most importantly, thinking that is independent of party politics.
Should we appoint our Members or should we elect them? That is what we are all talking about. I believe that this is where instead of being right, a lot of people
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We have a House today that is functioning well, be it in attendance, the quality of the debates, the exceptional value for money-as the noble Lord, Lord Steel, mentioned, it costs one-fifth of the cost of the House of Commons-or the independent nature of the House, which ironically makes our unelected House the cornerstone of our democracy. What is needed is further evolution, not revolution. For example, the Appointments Commission, which is doing such a sterling job, could be made into a statutory appointments commission, as suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Steel.
We are not very good at communicating our strengths to the public. The general impression is that the public feel that for the House of Lords to be legitimate it needs to be elected. I believe that if there was wider understanding of the role and functioning of this House, the public would agree that to have an elected second Chamber would dilute the quality and qualifications of this House. Would we risk diluting the credentials and qualifications of any other cornerstone of our society via an elected system? Would we elect our Army chiefs, our top civil servants, our judges, our surgeons or our university vice-chancellors? Do we question their legitimacy on whether they are elected or not? No, we judge these professionals on the quality of their work, their service to the people and the content of their character.
When we talk about the general public not feeling a connection to this House, I find it astounding that there are those who suggest electing Peers through a system of proportional representation in the mould of the European Parliament elections. MEPs in this country have no connection whatever with their constituencies or their constituents. The vast majority of people cannot even name their MEPs. Do we really want to go down that route? But whatever happens we must maintain an appointed, independent Cross-Bench Peers section of this House, as electing this valuable subsection of the upper House would never work. However, if we are living under a coalition Government who promise freedom, fairness and responsibility, as the noble Baroness, Lady D'Souza, and so many others have stated, where is the fairness in having a committee on House of Lords reform with no Cross-Bench representation? This is absolutely appalling and completely unfair.
Let us for one moment imagine what it would look like to have an elected second Chamber. As the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, said, we could kiss goodbye to the balance of power between the two Houses as we know it. An elected House of Lords would ultimately challenge the primacy of the House of Commons, leading to conflicts, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, said, between the two Houses over rights, laws and constituencies. We would begin to resemble
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If we want to go all the way, let us just do it. Let us have a wholly elected membership and increase the level, power and authority of this House, like the American Senate. I do not believe that this country needs that or that the people of this country want that. This is not a case of turkeys not wanting to vote for Christmas. This House is very much at the beating heart of democracy in Britain. It has been for centuries and long may that continue.
In conclusion, as I have said before, let us not shake these great foundations. We need always to remember that when you try making changes to a house, you can change the layout, you can even move a few walls, but if you try to change the foundations, there is always the risk of bringing it down.
Baroness O'Cathain: My Lords, I must apologise for being absent for most of this debate. Unfortunately, I had to go to a meeting of the EU Select Committee, but at least I have truncated my speech. I hope that what I will say will not be too repetitious. The Motion on the Order Paper is:
I believe that there are three options. The first is to leave this House as it is. The second is to make some changes to structural procedures, such as reform of an evolutionary nature. The noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, is right that we should go for an evolutionary process. Reform implies evolution in terms of reforming something which exists and making it better, and we hope not to make it worse. When you chuck out everything and change the whole basis of the constitution-what it does and its relationship with other things-that is revolution. It is not reform.
Looking at the three options, I refer first to the option for leaving the House as it is: that the tasks undertaken add value, not least because of the body of experience and expertise. Moreover, as others have probably said, we have more time to consider issues because Members of the other place have serious constituency duties which do not permit them to undertake the same level of scrutiny as we can. In the last Parliament, there was an appalling situation of a House of Commons Bill where in only three of its seven stages had it been scrutinised even marginally before it came to us. That is one of the things we do, but I am not about to back this option.
We are in danger of being seen to be wasting time considering all sorts of options when people in the world outside this place are horribly burdened with managing their finances and wondering if their jobs are going to disappear. The amount of time we have already spent on this issue and the amount we are going to spend on it will, I suspect, be far greater than
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I turn to the second point, that of evolutionary reform. The burgeoning size of this House is clearly a cause for concern. Although we have recently lost some very distinguished Members, their number has been more than offset by the creation of more than 50 Peers, with talk of more and more coming through. There are practical resource implications, not least in terms of accommodation, and political implications in terms of how we are seen by those outside the Westminster village. We are caught between a rock and a hard place. If Peers do not attend, they cannot claim allowances, so there is no burden on the public purse, but none the less it conveys a poor impression if we operate on the basis of a certain proportion of our membership being able to come here or stay away willy-nilly whenever they want.
We now have a dedicated and transparent House of Lords Appointments Commission. I support my noble friend Lord Steel and I firmly believe that it should be put on a statutory basis. That would bring us into line with what electors expect in terms of the appointments process, and in effect would guarantee independence for the process. Perception is all, and as a matter of principle we need to enhance our powers to deal with Members who break the law, or indeed who break the spirit of the law. Our powers are far too limited. I also favour changes to some of our existing practices and procedures for the purpose of strengthening what it is that we do. We should make greater use of evidence-taking committees when a Bill originates in this House, we should play to our strengths in establishing a committee for post-legislative scrutiny, and we should press further for the greater use of pre-legislative scrutiny. In short, we could, should and must build on strength as an evolutionary process.
What I am totally opposed to is the third option, which constitutes the exact opposite of building on strength. The Government's proposals for an elected House are a recipe for wiping out the strengths of this House. Why would elected Members of a second Chamber devote their time to detailed scrutiny that has little potential to attract the attention of the media and their constituents? I do not think that I have ever heard of a Member of this House issuing a press notice when he or she is about to make a particular point in a speech, or has done so. That is a feature of what happens in the other place.
Moreover, what would elected Members in this House bring to bear to enable them to engage in these tasks? They would be here primarily because of their political skills and not because they have a particular expertise that is likely to be of value to the House. Despite some of the claims of the previous Government, an elected House would not be a House of Lords in a different guise. The reality of who would stand for election to a second Chamber was conceded in the last Government's White Paper. After serving a single fixed term, Members of the second Chamber would, for a period of five years, be debarred from seeking election to the House of Commons. In other words, the group established by Jack Straw conceded that
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Who would vote for the Members of a Second Chamber? The Government appear to believe that an elected Chamber would not have any more powers than the current House. However, turnout in elections is likely to be low-one suspects it might be lower than that for elections to the European Parliament, which now has considerably more powers than this House. Again, the Government appear to concede this by wanting to hold such elections on the same day as those for the House of Commons. In short, the Government's proposals effectively concede that the new House would lack popular legitimacy.
I fail to see that the case has been made for the third option. They need to go away and think about it, not rush ahead with ill considered legislation. In fact, they should not even consider it. If they really want to see reform, they should take what we have got and go part of the way I have suggested in an evolutionary process.
Viscount Eccles: My Lords, I suppose we are hoping that, whatever the outcome may be, we are going to be better governed. Perhaps to some extent we should go back to first principles because there is always a danger, when something has been going on for a long time, that we stop thinking strategically. There becomes a certain inevitability of outcome that may disregard the circumstances. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Richard, put very powerfully in his speech the argument for stopping the dialogue and just doing what to him and many others has seemed obvious for a long time. My noble friend the Leader of the House referred to "public confidence" and the matter of whether people's expectations are fulfilled, whether they are good or not so good.
There is a deep lack of confidence among the public because people believe increasingly that Parliament is not in a good position to deliver, and worse than that, that it is unreasonable to expect it to do so. Why are the public coming to this conclusion, which certainly requires that we should go back to first principles? If you say that you have ways of ending boom and bust and it turns out that you do not, that is not a good start. The story, which started in 1911, has a much longer history and began with the erosion of confidence in politicians and in politics itself. The public know that much of what has happened-and much of it is extremely good-has been driven by science and technology. People know that such improvements are not driven by the political system and that developments in the global economy are not driven by the political system of a single nation state, so they are becoming increasingly aware of the fact that Parliament is not easily able to design or even to describe end results. It is increasingly less able to keep up with the unfolding details of events such as the BP experience or the challenge of climate change.
Political leadership now lies much more in establishing directions of travel than in a commitment to detailed end results through legislation, but if we are to pursue successful directions of travel, we need to deepen the
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Lord Lea of Crondall: My Lords, the fundamental flaw in the approach in the Statement made by the Leader of the House yesterday is that we are playing at demotic politics without the demos. For years we have been carrying on as though there is an issue in the country but, wherever else there is an issue, it is not in the country. We have therefore had to invent a demos who want something, which we then have to give them. A moment's thought suggests that that is an erroneous starting point. There can be many other starting points, but I wish to clear that one out of our subconscious first.
This leads directly to the second fallacy in the line of proceeding. Someone has said that we must have a committee with a limited remit-build a Trojan horse. If you want to build a Trojan horse there is not much more you can do other than build it. I cannot think of someone saying you should put down an amendment if you want to build a Trojan horse-you have got to get on and build it. My metaphors are often hard to keep running, but this one would result in a process whereby it would be hard to look at anything other than building the Trojan horse.
Can all the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Steel, and many of the points made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester-who made an interesting contribution, as did the noble Lord, Lord Low of Dalston-be brought within the building of, or even inside, the Trojan horse? That will produce a difficulty for many of us; it is an impenetrable remit that will prevent us getting to the practical and philosophical points that lie behind it.
Therefore, to use the vernacular that has been used more than once, it would be nice if we could take literally, objectively and honestly the famous aphorism, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it". However, what is it that is broke? Let us say, "Okay. This is not a perfect place. Something is perhaps a little bit broke. Let us look at it". There is a gap in the range of people who come here. The noble Lord, Lord Jay of Ewelme, who is not in his place, said in his evidence to the Constitution Select Committee-this was drawn to my attention by the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth-that there is a danger that we are appointing too many people in
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In the Labour Party there is certainly scope for getting the National Executive Committee and the conference to look at the appointments system. This is a reform measure and, as the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, said in an excellent speech, the Labour Peers' Group is a practical reforming group. A majority of the group-indeed, it was a consensus-wrote to the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, in answer to his suggestion that we should put forward any ideas, and said that we wanted these four points considered. I am not saying that the noble Lord, Lord Steel, did not have an idea in his head until that moment in history, but he picked up on that principle and no one at any stage has ever said that there was anything other than genuine reform in it.
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