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The House of Lords clearly needs reform, but the way not to reform it is to introduce the elected element. What will happen is that the bulk of the candidates-and here I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell-will see standing for election to come here as a second best choice to the House of Commons, as they do, to be frank, with the European Parliament now. The elections will be taken over by the parties whether we like it or not, and the elected Members will be taken over by the Whips. I say that with the authority of a former Government Chief Whip. The widespread expertise- which is the glory of this House-will be confined to the appointed Cross-Benchers, and that would be a tragedy.
However, the House needs reform and we have a good start with the Steel Bill. I like the phrase of the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, who said, "Let us have sensible reform, not destruction". Much has been said about the growing numbers. If we go on like this, it will be within the lifetimes of some of the younger Members of the House that we shall get to 1,000. We are already seeing the possibility of the Conservative shortfall in membership compared with the Labour Party likely to be corrected by the treadmill of top-up, as I call it. We need to move to a much smaller House-400, 500, it is arguable-which should be subject to a cap where the membership cannot go above that figure.
Over the weekend I was with American friends who have strong connections with the United States Senate. When I told them that I thought the membership of the House of Lords should be reduced from getting on for 800 down to 400, they were astonished and said that if the United States can manage with just over 100 in its upper House, why do we need 400?
However, the membership of the House should be flexible after each general election. I wish to ask a question of my noble friends on the Front Bench. I hope my noble friend Lord McNally might refer to this when he winds up because I have said it all before here and have never yet got any kind of an answer-partly because I do not think there is one. What would happen in this House if a party came from nowhere at a general election and became the Government, or a significant part of a coalition, with virtually no presence in this House? It happened not long ago in Turkey and Italy. I remember, and other Members, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, will remember the surge of the SDP in the 1980s when it got to almost 30 per cent or maybe more-I forget, but around that figure-in the opinion polls. It was not sustained but it is not impossible that a surge of that kind could happen. It would be impossible here if there were a surge of that kind and a party came from nowhere and had no representation here. If we are to reform the House, let us take into account the chaos that would arise in that kind of eventuality. It is vital to deal with it now.
It would be important in the formula I suggest to adjust the House of Lords membership in the short time after a general election. The problem then is how you adjust the membership to reflect a change in government. I do not support an age limit; I do not support a set term of service. There are many around the House who will remember those who served for
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The best way to adjust membership after each election is to leave it to the membership of the particular political party to decide which of the party members in the House will leave and which will stay. That was done very satisfactorily with the election of the 92 Peers who stayed on. Colleagues know their colleagues well, and they can be relied on to elect the most active and the most wise.
We need a formula that comes into effect after each election, so that within the cap of 400 or 500, as I say, you can allocate the membership totals to parties following the general election to reflect broadly the results in the House of Commons. Of course we would still need 20 per cent to 25 per cent of appointed Members on the Cross Benches, with all of their expertise, but whether you have an appointed or an elected House, in my view the two main parties should have more or less the same percentage. That percentage is currently around 30 per cent, and maybe each of the two parties would need rather more than that. You would leave the balance of the membership to the other parties.
This is a good time to consider House of Lords reform, for two reasons. The first is that we have a coalition Government. Any party in government thinking about reform of this kind is almost inevitably going to see how it can obtain party advantage. The great thing about having a coalition of two parties is that, with a bit of luck, they may be able to keep each other reasonably honest.
The second reason is that this is part of a wider debate about parliamentary reform. As has already been said on a number of occasions, we cannot deal with the way that a second Chamber is composed or operated without reference to Parliament as a whole, because of the independent nature of its components. In that context, it is important to appreciate that we cannot prescribe by statute how a chamber of a parliament actually works. Since 1999, we have seen how this Chamber has gained considerable political self-confidence, and it has a kind of political impetus behind it that it did not have a decade ago.
I spent 10 years of my life in the European Parliament; indeed, I think I represented my noble friend Lord Jopling, who obviously felt that he might have had a better representative; I do not know. I remember the way that, regardless of what the precise constitutional position was, because we had been directly elected we slowly clawed more powers towards ourselves. This is the point that my noble and learned friend Lord
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We cannot shackle the future, just as Parliament cannot bind its successors. If you look at the way that the European Union has evolved, you see that it was in a series of steps, each one of which was a settlement, but each settlement contained within it the mechanisms for change. If change takes place in accordance with the appropriate procedures, there is nothing that we can do about it. We can start by spelling out how the powers of a second Chamber may be exercised, but if a reformed second Chamber generates its own political impetus, there is nothing we will be able to do to stop it trying to acquire more. We should not be remotely concerned about that; we should cross those bridges if and when we reach them.
I turn to what I might call "soft points". I will not necessarily offer any answers to the questions that I pose but they are important, albeit that they may not have been widely canvassed. First, I believe that Parliament as a whole is excessively metropolitan. Inevitably it is going to be London-focused because of where it is, but I happen to live and work outside London, and that makes it a great deal more difficult organisationally to play a part. I am particularly on my guard when I hear reference to "family-friendly policies" in Parliament. That normally means that you are going to have to spend all evening by yourself, and the temptations of the stews of Soho will no doubt be ever more in one's mind as the evening goes on. They are not family-friendly at all; they may be attractive to those who live in London, but for those of us who do not come from London they are diametrically the opposite.
Secondly, the basis of the allowances that we receive appears to be that Members of this House are financially self-sufficient, through outside earnings, inheritance or pensions-I do not for a minute suggest that I am not. However, many people in this country are not in that fortunate position. While I would not go so far as to say that membership of your Lordships' House is means-tested, that proposition has an echo of truth in the background.
Perhaps I may use the "A" word: age. The truth of the matter, whether we like it or not, is that this is a pensioners Parliament. The average age here is just under 70. I think that I have been in the youngest decile here for the 20-odd years that I have been a Member. I have nothing against people being old-indeed, I very much want to be old myself one day, albeit subject to St Augustine's strictures about chastity-but the second Chamber should no more be a gerontocracy than be a shrine to youth.
As someone who has to go out to work-I have not yet reached retirement age, which seems to be disappearing over the far horizon-I come here as a Back-Bencher and I play a part-time role. I suppose that, in a life where portfolio activities are becoming increasingly prevalent, that is not necessarily perceived as being dilettante or amateur, but we need to decide how Back-Bench Members of this House should organise their time and what commitments are expected of people.
We live in a country where evolutionary change is the technique as we go through time. We have a flexible constitution and we do not wait for the pressure cooker to build up so it explodes. We adjust to forces of change before that happens. Whatever the rationale for the processes under way for reform of the second Chamber, we must not forget that the composition of the House of Lords is not only a matter for us who are Members here or for Members of Parliament as a whole but is also a part of the constitution and belongs to every British citizen, who has a legitimate interest in what is going on. What matters most about the work which the committee that will look into these matters will conclude is not whether there is consensus in committee, not whether there is consensus in Parliament, but whether what is proposed is acceptable to the country as a whole. We can see from reading the newspapers that there is a wide range of disagreement about what should happen in the second Chamber-it seems to draw almost every crank in Britain into the letters pages, and you see some extraordinary as well as some extremely wise contributions.
Political legitimacy does not depend on systems of appointment or Acts of Parliament. It depends on acceptance by the wider body politic, which may or may not in turn form its view based on it. The ultimate test of legitimacy is whether, when a decision is taken with which you disagree or which personally hurts you, you accept it as being fair and reasonable. If you do, it is legitimate. To achieve this, hearts and minds have got to be engaged; you cannot simply do it as a top-down administrative process. Acts of Parliament do not engender hearts and minds. You have only to look at, for example, the Act of Union with Ireland, which collapsed because the Irish simply were not prepared to put up with it; the same, I fear, could happen again with Scotland. The European Union's biggest problem is that it has not won the hearts and minds of the citizens of this country and a number of others.
If proposals for a reform of this Chamber come forward, it is important that they have general acceptance across the country. I have no objection to radical change, but my own preference should not necessarily determine the way in which I vote. There is not a right and a wrong answer-there is a whole series of ways of skinning this particular dead cat-but it is important that we know what the country wants for the second Chamber. For the time being, I am in the dark about that.
Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, I am sorry that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, the Leader of the House, has temporarily left his place, because I was going to start by congratulating him on the way in which he opened the debate. It was, typically for him, a smooth and polished performance. I felt that if he were to visit a turkey farm in November he would have no difficulty in convincing the residents that Christmas was really a time for rejoicing and that all of them should be grateful for the humane way in which they were going to be dispatched. However, he is not here, so perhaps his Chief Whip will pass that comment on to him.
I had hoped that the new Government would have tried harder to achieve a consensus on Lords reform. When my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer of Thoroton was Lord Chancellor, he made it clear that Members of your Lordships' House were to be part of the consensus which would deliver change. That made particular sense in the aftermath of the votes in the other place in 2003, when no majority could be assembled for any of the options on offer.
That approach was shattered, which made me sad, following the votes in the House of Commons on 8 March 2007, and from then on the views of Back-Bench Peers were largely ignored in the discussions about our future. Quite why the 2007 votes mattered so much, and why the failure to agree on any option in 2003 was of so little consequence, has never been satisfactorily explained to me. The noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, referred to this matter in his speech. I have a strong suspicion that, had a Bill been published before the recent election, it would have contained provision for the eventual expulsion of all existing Members as we moved to an all-elected House. I do not know how many of your Lordships are familiar with the TV game show "The Weakest Link". I suspect that the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, may be, because he seemed to suggest that noble Lords should vote other noble Lords out because they were not contributing enough-very much the theme of that programme, as noble Lords will know if they are familiar with it.
Let us be quite clear about one thing. Those of us who are opposed to an elected House are not against reform. This House has already demonstrated that there is very considerable support for the measures contained in the Private Member's Bill introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood. It is very regrettable that its merits were not recognised until it was too late in the last Parliament to do anything about it. If the noble Lord, Lord Steel, wishes to press his Motion to a vote later, I shall certainly support him. His Bill goes a very long way towards modernising this House, as the previous Government recognised in their Constitutional Reform Bill. One of its immediate benefits would have been to reduce the total number of Members, to which a number of noble Lords have referred, as they took advantage of the provisions for retirement. Until now we have had to rely only on the Grim Reaper as a means of reducing our number. Unless something like the bubonic plague were to make a reappearance, the Grim Reaper would not be able to keep up with the lists of new appointments that seem to come through week after week at the moment. So I wish the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Wirral, well with his group, but I think that the provisions in the Private Member's Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Steel, will be an essential part of any new arrangement for retirement.
I have a great deal of respect for the point of view that elections confer legitimacy, but I argue too that elections are not the only way in which legitimacy can be achieved. The role of this Chamber, which is primarily to scrutinise legislation and hold the Government to account, derives its legitimacy from the way in which we do that job and from the people who carry it out. It would not be enhanced if every Member, or nearly every Member of this House, were elected. It is necessary
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I hope that honourable Members in the other place will read very carefully the words of the noble Earl, Lord Onslow. As we heard this afternoon, the noble Earl is a great enthusiast for elections. But the reason why he is such a great supporter of them is that he wants this House to be really powerful and to challenge the will of the Commons. I hope that the House of Commons will come to terms with the fact that many more Members will take the same view as the noble Earl. It seems to me that there is barely a glimmer of understanding of that in the other place. They seem to believe that opposition at this end of the building to an elected House is motivated purely by self-interest and will somehow melt away if we can be bought off by some vague offer of grandfather rights for existing Members, which I have to say I find pretty insulting. The great majority of us are opposed to a predominantly or entirely elected House because we believe that the effectiveness of the second Chamber will be irretrievably weakened if it is replaced by an elected body from which Cross-Bench Peers are absent and whose Members are chosen by the party machines.
It would be invidious to name individual members-mostly, but not entirely, they are on the Cross Benches-whom we would lose if they had to stand for election. Yet who can imagine how groups such as former university vice-chancellors, eminent scientists, distinguished medical practitioners, retired police chiefs and permanent secretaries, generals, air vice-marshals and admirals-with the possible exception of my noble friend Lord West of Spithead, who I can see on the hustings-would offer themselves as political party candidates in elections to this place? They would disappear and the character and effectiveness of the House would change totally.
I wish that when we discuss these matters we would use the English language accurately and truthfully. What is being proposed is not reform, it is abolition. It is the replacement of what we have now with something totally different. Anyone who questions that has only to read Mr Clegg's rhetoric. I cannot believe that the overwhelming majority of noble Lords on the Conservative Benches, who voted by margins of almost 6 to 1 in favour of an appointed House in 2007, are going to allow their temporary coalition partner to destroy an institution in which they so strongly believe and to which they make such a powerful contribution.
Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, for whom I have considerable respect. I also think that I agree with every single word that he has uttered. As someone who has lived through some 50 years of continuous, evolving reform of Parliament-admittedly, a great deal of it somewhat vicariously as the spouse of my noble kinsman when in the other place-I am certainly not opposed to necessary, continuing reform of your Lordships' Chamber. Indeed, probably my only claim to speak on this subject is that I am a product of one of the more recent reforms of your Lordships' House: Parliament's decision to set up a House of Lords Appointments Commission to encourage a more widely drawn composition of the Cross-Benches, within what had already become a more representative and politically balanced House with the removal of most hereditary Peers.
As one of the first 15 so-called, rather arrogantly, people's Peers selected, my baptism was immediate. Like all my colleagues in that first batch of appointees, we quickly became aware of the vast range of experience, expertise and, above all, independent-mindedness among those we had just joined. I do not need to go through all the characteristics because the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, has already kindly done it for me. That description certainly includes the remaining hereditaries, whose presence has also ensured the maintenance and quality of well-behaved self-regulation. Indeed, in our current Parliament we have what I would call a typical British accident-above all, an accident that works.
Necessary reform of your Lordships' House probably has the backing of most of us, but that is not what our coalition Government have in mind. Again, I could not agree more with what so many of your Lordships have said: rather, it is the abolition of the Lords as we know it and its replacement by a completely-or almost completely-elected rather than appointed second Chamber. How much more sensible to proceed with something such as the Steel Bill, which would continue the evolving reform process by making the Appointments Commission statutory; ending the process of replacing hereditary Peers; enabling Members to retire; and taking whatever other sensible measures make sense at the time. When you consider the alternative-the upheaval and sheer cost at an economic time such as this-that a completely elected House would involve, it really does not begin to make sense.
There is no likelihood that elected Members will settle for the kind of minimal expenses and working conditions that today's Lords receive. It is not just parity with the pay and expenses that the Commons receive that would be required, but the additional expenses and accommodation for their staff. Voting powers of equal strength, too, would certainly be demanded, unlike the benefits of the current system where the Lords can secure only strictly limited delay. What happens then when a clash between the two Houses occurs? How will that situation be resolved? Again, nobody has addressed these questions in the practical way that would be required. I return to the Lords' proven track record of business experience and expertise in every field under the sun, particularly, as has been said, on the Cross Benches. This will become
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However, there are certainly areas in your Lordships' House where democratic reform could well and truly be introduced right now. I give one example. The usual channels may have their uses but they are hardly a democratic institution. In this respect, the other place has already begun to set us an example, with its change of rules to enable Members to vote for the chairmen of their committees, rather than Ministers being able to make these influential appointments. A similar change in your Lordships' House would certainly inspire far more confidence.
We may be at the beginning of a real debate on this whole issue. I was particularly inspired to see that our marvellous House of Lords Library has today produced two wonderful examples of what it does to keep us all up to date. These draw the wider public's attention to just how important the present role of the Lords is to the effective working of our basically democratic parliamentary processes. With that in the background, there is much more to look forward to in the debate, including the involvement of the wider public in the future. I hope the Government will find a less contemptuous and more democratic way of processing their plans, which involves membership of both sides of your Lordships' House and not just a convenient section of it.
Lord Naseby: My Lords, I have a pretty cynical view of this debate, not least the word "reform", which we all know is not what it is about. It is, as the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, has said, about abolition or-to put it in fairly crude parlance-butchery. It is not about democracy; it is, frankly, about expediency, power, short-termism and control. I am sorry to say this, but I have been in politics, in marginal seats, for long enough to know a stitch-up when I see one. This is a blatant piece of gerrymandering. Let the Back-Benchers talk among themselves for hours, probably beyond midnight. In the mean time, the Government have their own committee that will exclude the Cross-Benchers and Back-Benchers, and in the end they will force through a Bill.
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