§ 3.17 p.m.
§ The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Jay of Paddington) rose to move, That this House takes note of the report of the Royal Commission on the reform of the House of Lords A House for the Future (Cm 4534).
§ The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I open this debate on the Royal Commission report, A House for the Future, with great enthusiasm, confident that 911 because of it we will make progress to achieve full-scale reform of this House far more rapidly in this century than we did in the last one.
§ Perhaps I may begin by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, and his distinguished commissioner colleagues for their authoritative and detailed consideration of a very wide agenda. I am sure that I speak for the whole House in congratulating them. Furthermore, I am delighted that the noble Lords, Lord Wakeham, Lord Butler and Lord Hurd, and my noble friend Lady Dean, who all served on the commission, will be taking part in the debate today. Obviously, they will add uniquely to our first discussion of their new programme for reform.
§ The Royal Commission has delivered, on time, a report that addresses all the elements in its terms of reference in a comprehensive and coherent fashion. It has delivered a unanimous report. I believe that that unanimity should be emphasised. The different commissioners began their deliberations from different political and constitutional positions but, in the end, they were united in their recommendations. In producing a unanimous report, they have established a very firm platform on which we can all work for further reform. The issues have been thoroughly analysed and clearly set before us. The first principles have been agreed: that stage of the process has been completed.
§ I do not intend in this debate to respond in detail to all of the 132 recommendations of the report or, indeed, to any of them. I imagine that that will be the position of most contributors. Some speakers may want to make a case for a particular proposal—others may wish, as I do this afternoon, to give a broad overview of the report and our response. I look forward to what I am sure will be a stimulating and open debate. I hope very much that it will be a positive debate. Throughout the history of attempts to reform your Lordships' House, too much emphasis has been given to the negative, to the problems with any proposed reform. The Government intend to take a positive attitude to this report, and I hope that others will do the same.
§ We think that one of the strengths of the report is that it is evolutionary. As such, it is firmly within our tradition of constitutional and parliamentary change. When we look at history, it is rare to say that a Rubicon was crossed in that process—a Rubicon that changed everything overnight. Perhaps the Great Reform Act 1832 was such an occasion, but even that, looking back, was modest in its effects compared to the universal adult suffrage now enjoyed which was reached over the following century in successive steps.
§ The Royal Commission's report takes your Lordships' House, as it is now, and builds on it. It suggests a fresh approach to the terms of membership of the bulk of the Members. It introduces a new element in the form of regional elected members. Both of these elements can be evolutionary. It does not, for example, exclude the possibility that, over time, the elected element could increase in number and importance if that proved necessary for the continued 912 effectiveness of this place. In that respect. it is like the introduction of life Peers in 1958. It also leaves open the possibility that the role of the second Chamber itself could evolve—perhaps with more specialist functions, perhaps emphasising the role of the nominated body whose membership would reflect the significance of those specialist functions.
§ However, these hypothetical visions of the longer term do not mean that the Government will consign the Royal Commission's report to a dusty top shelf. We do not intend that to happen. I am well aware that there has been detective work in the press; for example, trying to read the entrails of the wording of the advertisements for the interim appointments commission and attempting to calculate the date of the next general election, all aimed at showing that the Government intend to kick the report into the long grass. That is all speculation. The Government's record on reform of this House speaks for itself: it is that we say what we intend to do, and then we do it. We plan to proceed in the same way in the future.
§ So today perhaps I may say it clearly. The Government accept the principles underlying the main elements of the Royal Commission's proposals on the future role and structure of this House, and will act on them. That is, we agree that the second Chamber should clearly be subordinate, largely nominated but with a minority elected element and with a particular responsibility to represent the regions. We agree that there should be a statutory appointments commission.
§ The principles that underlie the Royal Commission's recommendations, and the Government's acceptance of them, are these. First, the second Chamber must be clearly that—a second Chamber, subordinate to the House of Commons. If both Houses were of equal authority that would be a recipe for gridlock. Secondly, it should have the powers and the authority to act as one of the checks and balances within the constitution. It should be equipped to make a significant and distinctive contribution to the legislative process. It should foster independent judgment. Thirdly, following devolution, it should provide a parliamentary voice for the nations and regions at the heart of the nation's affairs.
§ The noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, and his colleagues, rightly, first addressed the question of the roles and functions of the second Chamber. Both he and we have rejected the extreme approach represented by unicameralism. We start from where we are. The most important role of the second Chamber is to scrutinise, and, if necessary, revise legislation. But it must do so as the subordinate Chamber. The Royal Commission's report recommends that as the second Chamber is to remain a subordinate Chamber, the principles underlying the Salisbury convention should also be retained. The Government agree.
The elected Chamber and the Government must have an expectation that legislation that has been proposed and approved by the other place will get
through. I know that that is also the position of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, who, in his well-known constitutional lecture last autumn, said:
The House will always accept the primacy of the elected House. It will always accept that the Queen's Government must be carried on".
§ The Royal Commission's report makes a number of specific recommendations in this area, particularly with regard to secondary legislation. It raises the question of whether the second Chamber should have the right to reject, or only delay, secondary legislation. This is, of course, a recently topical question. The Government have not denied in the current debates that at present the House of Lords has the power and therefore, in one sense, the right to reject secondary legislation. Formal changes to this power would necessarily have broad implications for the other place and the balance of authority between the Houses. This is clearly a very important area where detailed consideration of the far-reaching proposals in the commission's report must be given by the whole of Parliament.
§ The Royal Commission makes some interesting proposals to extend the role of this House, which would not undermine the position of the House of Commons. The Government are attracted by the recommendations for a special constitutional Select Committee. This would consider the constitutional implications of legislation and monitor the continuing effects of the changes that are introduced. Another attractive proposal is that there should be additional functions for your Lordships' members of the new Joint Human Rights Committee. These proposals are all consistent with a scrutiny role and would enable this House to act on behalf of Parliament as a whole.
§ Following the recommendations on the role and functions of the new Chamber, the Royal Commission's report then considers its membership. What would be the chief desirable characteristics for a membership to fulfil the functions that it describes? How should that membership be best selected? It concludes that the second Chamber should be authoritative, confident and representative. Members should have a breadth of experience outside politics but be politically aware, and they should have the ability to bring a moral, philosophical or spiritual perspective to bear on the issues before them. The second Chamber should not be dominated by one political party or by party organisations. The list is undoubtedly a formidable one both as regards qualifications and characteristics. The Royal Commission concluded that all of them, except a regional voice, would best be delivered by a careful nominations system, operating within a framework of rules about the overall political balance of the second Chamber and with a continuing explicitly nonpolitical element. The Government find those arguments persuasive. They are drawn logically from what the second Chamber should do, and how it should add value to the governance of the United Kingdom.914
§ However, there are also other, equally important, arguments drawn from what the second Chamber should not be, which were persuasive to the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, and his colleagues and are persuasive to Ministers. One has only to look at the cornerstone of the unified parliamentary political system in this country—the clear expression of the will of the people in a general election. Through that election, they decide who will form a government. They also elect someone to represent them individually in the House of Commons. Both those features seem to us fundamental factors that reform of the second, subordinate Chamber should not interfere with. For those reasons, the Royal Commission suggests that any proposal totally to elect a second Chamber under the mistaken view that it would increase the democratic base of Parliament would in fact undermine that democracy.
§ The Government agree with that analysis. It is an unassailable principle that the right to govern depends on maintaining the confidence of the House of Commons. If the representatives of the people withhold their consent in a vote of confidence in another place, the people are deemed to have withdrawn their consent. The Government fall and another general election follows. This is clear; it is democratic; and, so far, it is unchallenged. If a second body of people were also elected, perhaps on a different franchise, the clear voice of the people through the present system must, necessarily, be obscured and perhaps, paradoxically, democratic responsibility weakened.
§ The challenge to those who press the case for a totally elected second Chamber is to explain how they respond to that fundamental point. It may be said that the people should only be governed by those they have elected. That is true, but it does not support the case of advocates of a totally elected second Chamber. The second Chamber does not, and should not, govern us. We are not a federal government but a unitary parliamentary democracy.
§ The siren voices who have urged the Government to reject the report of the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, as undemocratic have been loud. But, again, I challenge those who disagree with the conclusions of the Royal Commission to say whether they think that it is the analysis of the role of the second Chamber which is wrong, or the conclusion that a totally elected Chamber would not properly fulfil it. In either case, or, indeed, in both, they should offer positive alternative ideas on the role of membership of a second Chamber. The Royal Commission, after careful analysis, reached unanimous, cross-party conclusions. I suggest therefore that this is not a question to be answered by an opportunistic or partisan political view.
§ Lord Strathclyde
My Lords, I hope that I may interrupt the noble Baroness before she leaves this important and fundamental part of her speech. There appeared this morning on the front page of the Telegraph a report, which appeared authoritative, stating that the noble Baroness had ruled out the most democratic option of the Wakeham report: that is, to 915 elect some 190 Peers to a House of over 500. Will the noble Baroness either confirm or deny the contents of that article? Will she also say—as this was slightly obscure—whether she accepts the principle that there should be an elected element in this House?
§ Baroness Jay of Paddington
My Lords, as regards the noble Lord's final point, I am afraid that I have obviously not made myself clear. I specifically said that the Government accept the principle of a minority elected element in this House. As regards the Daily Telegraph, I regret that I have not seen the report the noble Lord mentioned. I have certainly not spoken to the staff of the Daily Telegraph and, as far as I know, no one has spoken to them on my behalf. If they have done so in the terms the noble Lord suggests, they were inaccurate in that respect because I have given no opinion on that subject.
I continue with my remarks on the Royal Commission and party politics. The Royal Commission said that while the second Chamber should not be dominated by party politics, nor can it be divorced from them. The Government agree. There should continue to be overt political representation. We also agree that no party should seek a majority in the second Chamber and that the balance of political representation should be determined according to the votes cast in the preceding general election. Noble Lords will recognise that this builds on our own commitments in respect of the transitional House.
The Government have always agreed that there should be a continuing non-political element. We accept the argument that the presence of those who have no overt party affiliation has helped to keep the House of Lords less partisan and that this characteristic is a valuable one which should be retained.
We also agree that a statutory appointments commission should form part of any permanent arrangement. This proposal again builds on what we have already undertaken, on a non-statutory basis, for the transitional House. We shall want to consider carefully exactly what the statutory appointments commission's powers and functions should be. Those who recall the debates on what was then the House of Lords Bill in the previous Session know that this is a complex issue. We had a variety of proposals at different stages of the Bill for a statutory body, none of which attracted universal support, and none of which, I believe, is the same as that proposed by the Royal Commission. But for long-term reform the Government accept the principle that a statutory commission is the way to proceed.
One relevant question in which your Lordships are particularly interested, and on which we would be interested to hear your Lordships' views, is that of the link with the peerage. As your Lordships know, the Royal Commission says very firmly that the peerage and membership of the second Chamber should be separated. As your Lordships will also be aware, there has been confusion in the past—this arose during our discussions on what was then the House of Lords 916 Bill—about whether a peerage is intended primarily to confer membership of this House, or to confer a particularly prestigious honour.
The Royal Commission proposals clearly eliminate that ambiguity. This again is a complex issue involving serious questions about the prerogative, but it is clearly relevant to explore decoupling membership of the second Chamber from the peerage. Obviously, in the circumstances which the Royal Commission proposes, being a Peer would not preclude someone being a Member of the second Chamber, any more than being a knight of the realm precludes membership of another place. I am sure your Lordships will not be surprised to hear that the views of current Members of this House on this matter will carry great weight with the Government.
I want to turn now to what the Royal Commission says about a minority elected element. I hope that my comments will help the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. The terms of reference asked the Royal Commission particularly to look at the role the second Chamber might play in the evolving constitutional settlement represented by devolution and to look for a clearer voice for the regions. We agree with its proposal that this would best be done by the introduction of a small elected element. This would not undermine the link between individual MPs and their constituents because the role of these elected persons would be, and would be seen to be, quite different. Nor would their numbers be sufficient to undermine the distinctive character of the proposed second Chamber. The Government intend to listen carefully to discussion and debate on the commission's options and any other permutations—I imagine that the various proposals were not universal—which may be put forward during this debate and at other times. No doubt the other place will have strong views on this subject. But I want to emphasise this afternoon that the Government accept the principle of a minority of elected members.
The Government have always said that we hope to proceed to the next stage of reform by consensus. That is why we are not today advancing cut and dried conclusions on anything except the overall approach. One of the main purposes of this debate is, I hope, to begin to build a constructive consensus.
As I said earlier, we are encouraged by the fact that the Royal Commission's report was unanimous. All political parties were represented on the commission. So at least prima facie it seems sensible to suggest that a way forward which is consistent with its conclusions should have a good chance of commanding wide agreement. My noble and learned friend the Attorney-General and I, and my right honourable friend the President of the Council in another place, are currently undertaking informal consultations to see what the basis for a consensus might be.
I have already had preliminary conversations with the Conservative and Cross-Bench leaders in this House. We have also discussed the report with representatives of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. We are in contact with the Church of England and other denominations over the proposals on 917 religious representation. We shall also want to listen to what the other faith communities say. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, is happy to make himself available to discuss the details of the report's proposals, and I am sure that other commissioners would probably do the same.
The aim of gathering these views and voices is obviously to try to formulate broad agreement, at least on the principles of the commission's recommendations. If this can be achieved, the details of the proposals and their implementation will then require careful consideration. Much of the reform agenda will affect both Houses of Parliament, and needs to be considered by both Houses. In their White Paper, the Government proposed a Joint Committee to look at these issues. Inevitably the timing and nature of further, formal proceedings to elaborate the commission's proposals will depend to some degree on the extent of prior agreement on principles. The Government hope that by making clear their position to support the framework at this stage, it will be possible to move soon to detailed discussion.
I hope that there is no one either in Parliament or outside who is sceptical of the Government's intentions to act further on reform. If nothing else, the fact that we have not yet completely achieved our 1997 manifesto commitment in respect of the hereditary Peers is a powerful incentive. The Royal Commission report seems to us a good basis to build on. We agree with its overall approach to the issues it was asked to consider. Obviously, there is a great deal more work to be done on the detail. Nothing I have said today indicates that the Government accept any particular one of the report's detailed proposals. We shall be working on these during the months ahead, we hope with the active co-operation of others. But this is where we will start from in delivering on the second stage of reform. We agree with the broad thrust of the conclusions the Royal Commission has reached. It is evolutionary; it ties in with our constitutional history and principles.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, at the beginning of the struggle to change this House, Winston Churchill wrote:Most men expected that gradually, as things happen in the history of our country, the House of Lords would pass peacefully and painlessly away".At the beginning of the twenty-first century, by contrast, this Government have achieved one historic step of reform, and today we have a Royal Commission's recommendations which will enable this second Chamber to develop as the constitutional settlement evolves. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That this House takes note of the report of the Royal Commission on the reform of the House of Lords A House for the Future (Cm 4534).—(Baroness Jay of Paddington.)
§ 3.40 p.m.
§ Lord Strathclyde
My Lords, in her opening words the Leader of the House said that she was enthusiastic 918 about the debate. Looking at the long list of speakers before us, I hope that she will feel equally so when we get to the end of it.
We on this side of the House are grateful for the chance again to debate the future of this House. The report of the commission chaired by my noble friend Lord Wakeham is a remarkable accomplishment, particularly given the short time allowed by the Government. We are glad that the Wakeham Commission was set up; we asked for it continually since the general election and it has produced a good report. It will go down with, among others, the Bryce Commission, the Home Report and the Mackay Commission as a major contribution to thinking about the second Chamber.
But it is not the Holy Grail. It is the view of an eminent group of people about options for the future of the House. They did not decide on a specific set of proposals. They may have been ultimately united, but what united them were different opinions on the form of election to this House. They have rightly put this issue back to Parliament, and it is in Parliament that the discussion should now be carried forward.
We will not, of course, support every detail of the report's proposals, but there are many things with which we are in agreement. We are only half-way through change to your Lordships' House. We always contended that there should be no stage one without stage two; I am still convinced that we were right. We always suspected that the Government had blundered into constitutional change more by accident than design. As a result, we are floundering in a constitutional morass. One has only to look at what is happening in Scotland, Wales and the on-going farce in London and the brutal truth is obvious: in none of these areas has the Government remotely thought things through.
Returning to the subject before us, is it not extraordinary that, after three-and-a-half years of debate, the only force in the land about whose ideas for the future of this House we know nothing is the Government? Perhaps the real problem is not that we do not know what they want but that they do not know what they want.
The Prime Minister has torn up a subtle, open, flexible and functioning constitution that had protected us from the civil conflict seen in every other major country in the past 350 years. That constitution was midwife to the industrial revolution, to the rule of law, to the cradling of parliamentary democracy and to the achievement of enormous prosperity in parallel with dramatic social change. But this Prime Minister has torn it to shreds. He is like a child in a constitutional toy shop, dismantling everything without a clue about how to put it back together.
Now we are told by Mr Peter Riddell of The Times that the Prime Minister is not really interested in the constitution at all. Thank you very much—at least we now know where he stands. He is not interested: we need not wait for his ideas. The noble Baroness confirmed that when she said that the Government's 919 response today was not an authoritative one—she said that it was not one that dealt with every specific proposal or, indeed, any of them—and she went on to say that when the Government decided what to do, they would go ahead and do it.
§ Baroness Jay of Paddington
My Lords, I hesitate to interrupt the noble Lord. I know how difficult it is when one is following a speech by listening and not by reading it in Hansard, but I think that the noble Lord has misrepresented entirely what I said in that respect.
§ Lord Strathclyde
My Lords, I hope that by the time the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General responds to the debate he will be able to tell us the timetable for the second stage and whether it will happen before the general election; or, if the Labour Party wins the election, whether it will come in the first Session of the next Parliament.
These are the kinds of issues that not only people in this House and in another place want to know, but also the people of this country want to know what will happen within their Parliament. If I have misunderstood the noble Baroness, I am sure that the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General will give the answer.
It falls to this House to build something anew, something better than we have lost. I believe that we stand at a cusp in the history of parliamentary democracy; we stand at a point where the changes forced on this House by the House of Lords Act 1999 enable this House to begin to rebuild a long-lost political authority to set alongside the moral authority it has always retained. That may not have been the Government's intention, but it will certainly be its effect.
The Leader of the House has argued as much in what I have called the "Jay Doctrine". She has said that the new House would be more legitimate, more effective, more authoritative and more influential on the Government. It is true that the Government have not always listened—as shown by the Home Secretary's deplorable attempts to revive his jury trial Bill—but more and more cross-party votes in this House will make them listen.
I believe that as this House rebuilds its authority it will help to rekindle a spirit of independence in another place. We may see the rebirth of a stronger Parliament, in which this House and the other place, in partnership, can check the overweening ambitions of the executive. A stronger Parliament is, and will remain, a central objective of my party's policy.
We on this side of the House do not fear a stronger Parliament. If a government carries confidence in a free, independent and respected Parliament—one not cowed by patronage or by party whips—then that government is the more authoritative and respected. What destroys respect for any government is backstairs' arm-twisting, trading of favours, a culture of cronyism, the bypassing of Parliament and the handing of power to unelected and unaccountable advisers.
920 That is why I welcome the rejection by the Wakeham Commission of a central contention in the Labour Party's evidence to the Commission—namely, that the powers of your Lordships' House should be reduced. My party would be implacably opposed to a further reduction in the powers of any part of Parliament to control the executive. That is why I welcome the support given by the Wakeham Commission to our contention that use of the powers of patronage by a prime minister should be controlled by an appointments commission, backed by law. I very much welcome the statement given by the Leader of the House in this respect. I hope that the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General will tell us when this appointments commission, backed by law, will be set up. I shall return to that matter in a few moments.
I said that the Wakeham Commission was right to return some questions to Parliament. How then are we to proceed to collect the wisdom of this House and of the other place on the best way of strengthening this House? So far the Government's handling of the issue has been a model of how not to proceed. They have been secretive, partisan, non-consensual and lacking in any long-term vision whatever. Now the noble Baroness asks for consensus.
Constitutional reform should be advanced openly, with cross-party agreement, full public debate and with clear, agreed aims in view. It is high time to bring consideration of the future of this House onto proper lines. The noble Baroness has spoken about talks between parties. I am not opposed to that. But, like the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, I am doubtful whether talks between the parties are the only way forward.
If there were any sense of urgency in the Government's thinking—if perhaps we had been told today when a Bill would be put before Parliament—then perhaps I could see a case to have only those talks. But that is not what we have heard. All that we have heard points towards a Bill in the next Parliament. On that timetable, what possible argument is there for dropping the Government's manifesto commitment to a Joint Committee of both Houses to look at possible ways forward? Is it not time to allow Parliament a say on Parliament's future? I think that it is. It is time for Parliament to enter the dialogue, and that is why we favour the creation of a Joint Committee with broad terms of reference. It would be a productive way to clear ground in a period when the Government do not plan to introduce a Bill. That is why we also reject the view that it should be limited to look only at the parliamentary aspects of implementing change.
We prefer the line in the Labour Party's manifesto—the "holy writ", perhaps penned by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor—that a Joint Committee should,conduct a wide-ranging review of possible further change and then bring forward proposals for reform".That is a sensible way forward, and a Joint Committee should have a wide remit. There is a good case for doing so. There are differences of opinion about how best to strengthen this House and they run across, and within, all parties, including my own. The Front 921 Benches do not have a monopoly of wisdom; nor do we have a right to dictate to Parliament. A Joint Committee would give us the chance to draw out the thread of thinking within both Houses and explore the scope for common ground. It would also give everyone, including the Government, the opportunity to clarify their ideas. I very much hope that we can go down that route.
Perhaps I may refer to the specifics of our own thinking. We have said that we are opposed to a wholly appointed House. We have said that we are likely to want a larger elected element in a reformed House than was proposed by the commission. That would increase the authority of the House. We do not believe that there is anything to fear in election. We should also reexamine the option for a largely elected House put forward by my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern in his authoritative report. His proposals deserve to be at the heart of any discussion about the future.
The way forward cannot be imposed by a Front-Bench deal. The experience of 1968 taught us that. It must be sought through parliamentary dialogue. I hope that the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General will tell us where the Government's ideas now lie in regard to a Joint Committee of both Houses.
Perhaps I may make four positive suggestions on the way forward. There are certain ideas in the report of the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, that could be accepted. Many could be implemented now, with no need for any further delay. First, we could agree that there should be no reduction in the powers of this House vis-à-vis the other place, and no change in Parliament Act rules. We could also review the idea of entrenching the Acts for the future. Do the Government agree that the present power to reject a Bill should remain; and will they allow this House time to debate these important issues?
Secondly, we could agree the case for exploring a way in which this House could amend, as well as reject, secondary legislation. Noble Lords on all sides of the House agree that too much is now done by all governments under unamendable secondary legislation, and the recent battle on the orders for the London election indicated that. I agree with the wise words of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, who pointed out with some force yesterday that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, was wrong to challenge the House's right to reject secondary legislation. I agree also with the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, who said that,The power to reject statutory instruments is one that must be exercised … cautiously, but there are times when it can and should be used".—[Official Report, 29/2/00; col. 483.]A power to amend is a valuable safeguard. So will the Government unequivocally endorse the right of this House to reject regulation? Given their majority in another place, will they therefore also consider facilitating discussion on how powers to amend could be taken?
Thirdly, we could proceed to implement a constitutional committee in this House, without direct legislative power but with authority to summon 922 Ministers, to inquire and to report. I sensed that the noble Baroness agreed with that proposal from the commission. As centrifugal forces in our constitution grow, surely a function of the Lords might be to hold some constitutional threads together. There is wide agreement that this House might emerge as a special constitutional authority. When I see noble Lords of the authority and experience of my noble friend Lord Hurd of Westwell, the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, and the noble Lords, Lord Richard and Lord Dahrendorf, I have every confidence that a constitutional committee would soon acquire such authority. Let us consider the example set by the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee of this House. That Select Committee did not exist 10 years ago but it now holds an irreplaceable position in the scheme of things. So will the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General confirm that the Government agree to support the establishment of such a committee?
Fourthly, there is the question of a statutory appointments commission. Again, the noble Baroness indicated that it will happen. But we need to know when it will happen, and whether it is necessary to wait for the whole Bill to be introduced to bring in stage two.
In passing, perhaps I may say how delighted I am to read—also in the newspapers, so it may not be authoritative—that so many of our former hereditary friends and colleagues are apparently to be sent back to this place by the Prime Minister. I had thought that he considered hereditary Peers to be the lowest of the low. I now learn that, so short is New Labour of working Peers, that a group of former Members are being boomeranged back here for another spell of what the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General once acidly called,sheltered employment for the undeserving classes".If that is so, we look forward to those colleagues returning.
My noble friend Lord Kingsland recently published a Bill that would set up a statutory appointments commission. I very much hope that the Government will join with us in seeing that that provision is placed on the statute book.
Some people, including the Prime Minister, hoped that the 1999 Act would strengthen the grip of the executive over this House and weaken the House. They thought that they were clearing a few old leaves from the kitchen garden, and that they could then plant their own neatly clipped seedlings in their place. But nature and politics have a way of running out of control. The task of real reform of this House has not yet started. What we have seen is the political phase, the settling of old scores, the evening up of numbers, the unedifying campaign of scorn for the hereditary principle. All that is now done. We cannot, as some people in Millbank seem to hope, just "rev" it up and replay it, throwing out the elected 92 hereditaries and replacing them with a token elected element, chosen by means of closed lists.
923 The time for playing politics with this House is now past. The crucial task ahead is much greater. It is about constitutional stability and parliamentary rights. It must encompass examination of the whole role, powers and composition of this House, not just a small part of it as did the 1999 Act. It must address the balance between the power of the executive and the power of Parliament in this country.
If the Government can agree to that as the start of a consensus, if the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General, when he comes to reply, will agree that a stronger Parliament is the aim of government policy too, then that will be much the most significant thing to come out of today's debate.
§ 3.57 p.m.
§ Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank
My Lords, despite a speech of substance and interest from the Leader of the House—I must confess that she said more than I had expected in regard to the report and the Government's attitude to it—we are debating a report that is cautious rather than radical. Most of the arguments contained in it are familiar to this place; and some difficult decisions have plainly been ducked.
Despite its title, the report is not really a blueprint for the settled future of this House. In many respects, the House of Lords that it envisages would be quite like the House that we know today. The House would still be called the "House of Lords", although the link between this House and the peerage would be broken. In order to bring about change, we should have to evolve into something else; "evolve" is the word used by the commission. We should still be too large a Chamber, especially in the transition period. No doubt we should have "Weatherill Peers Mark 2", or perhaps "Craig of Radley Peers", in due course, to keep alive the hereditary principle after all. We should certainly have the Law Lords, although agreement on the separation of powers is held across all parties in this House. Powerful evidence was put to the commission, notably by the noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Weedon.
We should also have the Lords spiritual, even if the spirit is more ecumenical and extends to other religions. They would reside in what would be, to all intents and purposes, a temporal House. Above all, it is clear to all of us that this would be an overwhelmingly unelected Chamber, always capable of being diminished by the government of the day because we lacked accountability.
Most of this is cosy, comfortable and not unattractive to most of us here, including myself. I always enjoy hearing the Law Lords and greatly welcome the presence of the right reverend Prelates, particularly in good numbers. But many outside Parliament will see this as a sadly missed opportunity to reach a new constitutional settlement which would enable this Chamber to strengthen Parliament in its role as a check on the abuse of executive power.
924 Whatever view we take, we should not deny that there is a difficult central dilemma. The terms of reference of the commission begin,Having regard to the need to maintain the position of the House of Commons as the pre-eminent chamber of Parliament".That preamble is indisputable—at least I have not heard it seriously disputed here. No government would want to take away the pre-eminence and primacy of the House of Commons, even if that Chamber would allow it; and no government like to be defeated here.
Until the reform of last year a Labour government, often with justification, would blame defeat on hereditary backwoodsmen. I was not alone in thinking that they would be slower to rush to judgment if they were defeated in a House that they had themselves created, Weatherill amendment and all, but not a bit of it. We know that when they were defeated on the Criminal Justice (Mode of Trial) Bill on 20th January, the Leader of the House, without hesitation, said that the Bill would be reintroduced. There was no suggestion of deferring to this House or seriously considering whether the Bill should be dropped. It was quite like old times, although we were supposed to be living in a different kind of House. We have made some progress by agreement on the Representation of the People Bill and on the Greater London Authority orders, and that is very welcome. But it would be a great mistake to assume that the Government have had a change of heart and that we are now in a new era when the voice of this House is listened to on major issues as never before.
This is not distinctive behaviour. The present Government are no worse than any other, except that they now face a House of Lords that they have themselves reformed. But it follows that no government will ever listen to this House without impatience, believing it to be wrong, as long as it is overwhelmingly nominated. Only a predominantly elected second Chamber will be acknowledged as the wholly legitimate half of a bicameral system that carries the authority that the Government cannot diminish.
Does this mean that the Wakeham commission has been a pointless exercise because it has missed the big deal which is open to it? That is not my view. I cannot approach the report with the enthusiasm of the Leader of the House; there is no song in my heart. Nevertheless, the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, and his colleagues have produced a report of substance and many of its separate recommendations merit serious attention. The fact that it is not the last word on reform of the Lords need not mean that it cannot help us forward.
We on these Benches strongly supported the Government when they called their 1998–99 Bill "stage one" because we believed that without stage one there would be no reform at all. I am open to persuasion that the Wakeham report could lead to a useful stage two as a further, but not final, step towards a more complete and satisfactory reform at a future date. In 925 that sense, I believe that the expression "evolutionary", which was used by the Leader of the House, was appropriate.
There are 132 recommendations in the report and there is merit in a number of them. I take just a few at random: Recommendation 8 on the resolution of differences between the two Houses, and Recommendation 9 on pre-legislative scrutiny. As to Recommendation 21, I agree with the Leader of the House—the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, may have missed the point—that, if these Benches are included, there is unanimity in the belief that there is a role for a constitutional committee. I also believe that there is a role for a committee on human rights. There is an enlarged role for this House in a number of important respects. I also welcome Recommendations 46 and 47 (relating to what we now call the European Union Committee) where the commission supports the call for more resources. The argument throughout the report is for greater resources for the work of our Select Committees, which has been a very strongly expressed view in this House of late.
Your Lordships will be glad to know that I do not intend to go into all of the recommendations. Many of them deserve careful attention as they are sensible and do not depend on further legislation. I see no reason why they should not be considered by the House at an early date. I would expect support for them from all quarters. Let us get on with anything that the Wakeham report recommends which we can reasonably do without delay.
I deal next with the views of the Leader of the House on Chapter 6 which is concerned with,Giving a voice to the nations and regions".Whatever form that may take, and whether or not there is disagreement on the particular point, we on these Benches welcome the emphasis in the report. We are also in broad agreement with a number of the recommendations. I have said that any government will not listen seriously to this House, and will always resent its right to disagree, as long as it is nominated. To set that argument aside, as long as this remains a mainly nominated House there is much to be said for an independent appointments commission with wider powers than the commission shortly to be appointed under stage one reform. Perhaps I may claim some modest parentage for that idea which I first put to Her Majesty's Government four years ago, although it was laughed out of court by the Government and Opposition Front Benches at that time. Minds move, and I am always glad when they move in my direction.
Turning to the case for the appointments commission, it is intolerable, and quite contrary to any accepted constitutional principle, that the Prime Minister of the day should be able to determine as a result of patronage the political composition of this House. There is no point in saying that it was ever thus if we are considering what the role of this House should be in modern times and what it should be in future. During 18 years in government, after 1979 Conservative Prime Ministers used their patronage to put 173 Conservative Peers into a House that was 926 already overwhelmingly Conservative. It was wholly out of line with the balance of opinion in the country. The under-represented opposition parties had 123 new Peers. During less than three years of Labour government, Tony Blair has put 83 new Labour Peers into the House, with 59 from the opposition parties.
I believe that the huge increase in Labour Peers in the past three years can at least be justified on the ground that in the Tory years Labour was starved of its entitlement. I have no complaint about that. The Government also adopted the reasonable aim of broad parity in numbers with Conservatives in the interim House, but the House will be aware that the Prime Minister has been selective in implementing his commitment to political balance. Virtually no progress has been made to achieve political balance in so far as it affects these Benches. As the price of fulfilling their own pledge on proportionality, the Government have asked for a pledge of good behaviour on our part in return. Some might render that as seats for votes, and part of good old-fashioned politics, particularly when it comes to squeezing a third party. But others might argue that it is a manipulation of the system inconsistent with respect for this House and for parliamentary government.
I welcome the proposal for an independent appointments commission charged, among other things, with ensuring the overall balance between political parties in this House by reference to votes cast for each party at the previous general election.
§ Lord Strathclyde
My Lords, if I may stop the noble Lord, when the Government made him this offer, did they explain to the noble Lord what they meant by "good behaviour"?
§ Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank
My Lords, I do not think that I want to enter into the privacy of those bilateral discussions. The noble Lord and the House can draw their own conclusions. Indeed, I made it as plain as I could within parliamentary language.
§ Baroness Jay of Paddington
My Lords, can the noble Lord help us further by saying by whom these points were made?
§ Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank
My Lords, I could indeed do that. I have a piece of paper in my pocket now which I could read out to the House. It might be something regarded in a court of law as an affidavit. However, I think that it is in the interests of the Government Front Bench that I do not do so.
§ Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank
My Lords, I undertake to show it to the noble Baroness the Leader of the House and, if she agrees, to arrange to put it in the Library of the House.
§ Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish
My Lords, has the noble Lord not heard of the freedom of information movement? Surely we should all share in this knowledge.
§ Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank
My Lords, I understand that the Government's proposals restrict 927 the freedom of information in a way that many of us would hope for. On this occasion, I have been considerate towards the Government Benches, if they only recognised it.
I shall say no more about the appointments commission except that it makes good sense. It will help to rebalance the House after each election. My only doubt is whether it is wise and in keeping with the hardheaded nature of the report to expect the nominations of party representatives, party nominations, in this House to be chosen by the commission. Although it is attractive outside the House, it is unrealistic to believe that those who are not members of a party should play any part in choosing who should come here.
One of the proposals could be implemented without delay. I hope that in the further discussions which may take place there will be a proposal to turn the present stage one appointments commission into an appointments commission on the lines of that proposed by the Wakeham report. There is no reason why that should not be done at once.
If there is to be a comparable debate in another place within the next few weeks, and this side of Easter, there is no reason why a Joint Committee of both Houses cannot be set up by the end of May, or soon after, and begin meeting before the Summer Recess. Its terms of reference cannot be limited to the recommendations of the Wakeham commission although no doubt the report will provide a useful agenda. I assume that the terms of reference and the composition of the Joint Committee are matters to be settled by agreement between the parties. We shall play our part in that after consultation with the Cross Benches in this House.
However, I am somewhat confused, as I understood was the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, by the noble Baroness's suggestion that there would be another form of bilateral or multiparty discussion, not with a view to setting up the Joint Committee but to agree on a joint view of some of these issues in advance of the commission being established. If that is the proposal, I hope that the Attorney-General will explain it more fully when he concludes the debate. It is not a proposal we have previously had. Without rejecting it out of hand until we hear the details, we must look forward to the appointment at an early date of the Joint Committee.
I am sorry to disappoint the noble Baroness the Leader of the House, but I at least remain deeply sceptical about the likelihood of any further significant Lords reform requiring legislation within the foreseeable future. But I should be happy to be proved wrong.
§ 4.14 p.m.
§ Lord Craig of Radley
My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, and the other members of his Royal Commission on their comprehensive and readable report. As they so rightly say in their envoi, the Royal Commission was not set a simple question and the report does not provide a simple answer. There are several key points it did not 928 fully resolve: for example, the elected element: the future for life Peers; and the name for the new second Chamber; nor do I think that the independent strength proposed in the report will be adequate, as I shall explain in a moment.
Today's debate will not solve the more complex issues such as the model for election, but I hope that the Government will seek to give a clear lead in searching for consensus on many of the issues. It should be an aim to get early agreement on a number of the specific recommendations in the Royal Commission's report.
The House and the Joint Committee will then be able to concentrate on the more complex and controversial issues, knowing how much of a foundation has already been established across the House. Let me touch on a few of the points on which it might be possible to achieve agreement. These are my own thoughts. I do not speak on behalf of others on these Benches.
Recommendations which seek to retain or strengthen the existing arrangements of your Lordships' House seem a good first place to look for agreement. In my list I include the recommendations which seek to protect the constitution, the existing role of the Law Lords and their judicial functions. To these I would add the recommendations that the second Chamber should seek to continue the House of Lords' tradition of open procedures and self-regulation, thus preserving the essential character of what exists at present.
The House has lived through a traumatic period. I sense at times that enough is enough if we are not to lose the special features of this Chamber which also distinguish it from another place. I welcome the view—I think that it is shared on all sides of the House—that this place does not want to end up as a mirror image of the other place. The Royal Commission believes that the new Chamber must be "distinctively different" from the other place.
With so much else in flux there will be temptations, even an anti-traditionalist view, that this place must be modernised and change its ways and manner of working. I fervently hope not. Whether it is the style of introduction, assuming that there will still be such a ceremony, or the modes of address, or adherence to the Companion rules and to Standing Orders, I hope that your Lordships could agree that the new House should set about its business much as it does now. The Royal Commission makes this point succinctly in Recommendation 68. It states that the House,should preserve the relatively non-polemical style of the present House of Lords".The intention of the Royal Commission that the 92 hereditaries should all be axed together, at a time when there is a large, new, elected intake will make it difficult to fill Deputy Speakers' lists and the Select Committees and other committees of the House where experience is called for. The hereditaries' collective knowledge of the workings of this place will take time to replace.
929 Even membership over 15 years may not seem long enough. I have been here nearly nine years and there is still much for me to learn, even with the additional push of being the Convenor of the Cross-Bench Peers to hasten my grasp of all the ways of this House. There is a world of difference between cutting back to the 92 hereditaries, as happened last November, and replacing them all suddenly with a new intake. Most of the 92 who remain are regular participants in the workings of your Lordships' House. An abrupt departure could destroy many of the best features of the present House. Perhaps if a number of the present and former hereditary Peers were recycled by renewed appointment, this problem would not be so great.
The Royal Commission proposes that the independents (less the Law Lords) should be 20 per cent of the membership. In a total Chamber of 550, that would be 25 fewer than the current Cross-Bench strength without the Law Lords. The Royal Commission has stressed the value of non-political independent Members because of their special knowledge and expertise, even if their attendance were only part-time. But at present, committee work does not dovetail well with the programmes of those who are also in full or near full-time employment.
I do not favour Members being paid salaries, which would detract from the sense that attendance is a duty and not a response to payment. It would also equate this House perhaps too much with the other place. For those reasons, I do not believe that 20 per cent of a 550-Member House will adequately ensure the strong, active, independent element which is required. If the concept of a strong, active independent element is to mean anything, proper representation on all committees is essential.
Cross-Benchers, including the 30 hereditary Peers, fill the existing allocation of Deputy Speaker and committee positions. If the Royal Commission's recommendations on additional Select Committees are taken up, I anticipate that there will be a need for more than 20 per cent to ensure adequate independent representation. Recommendation 91 would allow for such adjustments; that is, if the very strong, entrenched independent appointments commission, as proposed by the Royal Commission, were to be accepted. I hope that we shall have all-party agreement to that very soon.
I welcome the Royal Commission's proposals for additional Select Committees. In principle, they are very sound and could add to the respect and authority of the new House. But there are difficulties which will have to be addressed. Resources, both in terms of rooms and Clerks, must be found, as well as appropriately qualified Members willing and able to make a considerable number of hours available each week for committee work.
The relevant House authorities, with the strong encouragement of the noble Baroness the Leader of the House, should be tasked to make proposals of what more must be done to provide resources and high quality support for such committees.
930 What future should there be for the Salisbury Convention? Should it remain unchanged? The Royal Commission, broadly, says, "Yes". I believe that a case can be made to reserve it for, say, only the first two or three Sessions of each new Parliament.
The original driving rationale was to prevent an inbuilt majority in this place obstructing the manifesto intentions of a new democratically elected government. If there has been a major swing and change of party in government, it may take the independent appointments commission two or three years to readjust the balance of membership in this House. But, thereafter, there should be no risk of a single opposition party majority. The House should be free to deal with its business as much as possible without any sense of convention restraint. Similar considerations might be applied to statutory instruments.
I welcome the Royal Commission's recommendation on the role for the Convenor of the Cross-Benchers in its independent appointments commission. Apart from any party members who decide to leave their Benches and become independent—and I hope that there will be no bar to such changes of allegiance—every new independent Member will have been selected by the appointments commission.
Ensuring that the independents have a wide range of backgrounds and all the other characteristics favoured by the Royal Commission is only a part of the process of identifying what skills are required. The actual attendance and difficulties existing independent Members have—or may have—in regular attendance should also be considered by the appointments commission as it looks for new Members. The Convenor is well placed to provide such advice. The Royal Commission's arrangement to involve the Convenor should be adopted for the interim appointments commission, which is in the process of being set up.
The Royal Commission was unable to make a unanimous recommendation about the future for life Peers. I support its majority view that existing life Peers should remain for life, with an option to retire. However, Recommendation 103, that Life Peers created following the date of the publication of the Royal Commission report,should be deemed to have been appointed to the reformed second chamber for a period totalling 15 years from the award of their life peerage",may involve retrospective legislation and is therefore unsatisfactory, even if only a few individuals might be caught in this way. I hope that tonight the Government will be able to make their views clear on the future for existing life Peers and those who will be created after the publication of the commission's report.
Finally, I was disappointed that the Royal Commission was unable to recommend a name for the new Chamber, or the title by which Members would be known. I do not believe the answer is that it should be left to "evolve". It certainly will not evolve unless 931 discussed. My choice would be to retain the existing name, "House of Lords". Despite changes in composition over the centuries, the name has stood the test of time. It is familiar across the world.
Retaining it would chime with the view that the best features of your Lordships' House should be retained. If so, Members might be known as Lords in Parliament, with "LP" after their names. Outside the House, unless they were hereditary or life Peers, they would be known as Mr, Mrs, Dr, Professor or whatever their appropriate title. The comparison with the use in the other place of "honourable Member" and "right honourable Member" only within the Chamber and not outside could be drawn. In debates in this Chamber, references to the honourable Lord, Lord X, or the right honourable Lady, Lady Y, and the existing form for those who are Peers, could be used. Other phrases such as right reverend Prelate, noble and learned and even, sparing my blushes, noble and gallant, should also continue in use. Such courtesies help to engender an air of mutual respect and good manners across the Floor of the House and contribute to the self-regulatory way in which the House goes about its work.
I hope that the cool forces of modernism will not consign such phrases to the dustbin. They all contribute to the atmosphere and ethos of the finest second Chamber of any Parliament in the world. The nation and all Members of the future second Chamber should be proud to continue with the present name. I hope that there can be agreement on that.
§ 4.28 p.m.
§ The Lord Bishop of Durham
My Lords, I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate from these Benches. The Church of England, like others, is inevitably digesting the Wakeham commission's report. What I have to say is to some extent provisional. It is good that we have been given this relatively early opportunity to take stock and to get a steer on the Government's mind.
The report deserved a better press than it received immediately following its publication. The issues it addresses are fundamental to the health of our democracy. On many, although not all, of these issues, its conclusions and recommendations are right and provide a good basis for evolutionary change.
It is important to start from first principles. However, the key is whether the proposals will enable Parliament to serve the people better. The report is right to say that a reformed second Chamber should complement the House of Commons. It should not seek to challenge that House's democratic primacy. None the less, the second Chamber should not be a mere cipher. It must have powers to amend legislation, to force reconsideration and to hold the Government effectively to account. In a number of senses, the role of the second Chamber is to provide a different and yet complementary system of representation to that provided by the House of Commons. No doubt, even from these Benches, others will seek to develop that in the course of the debate.
932 However, given that understanding, we on these Benches welcome the commission's proposal for a part-elected but mainly appointed House. We also welcome the proposed separation of the honours system from membership of the House and the proposal to reduce substantially the Prime Minister's patronage through the establishment of an independent appointments commission.
The report is also right in recognising that the spiritual and religious aspects of our society should be reflected appropriately in the composition of the new Chamber. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, who gave us encouragement to think positively on this issue. We make that assertion not on the basis of history or of constitutional understanding, although both would support such a claim, but on the fact that any Chamber which purports truly to represent contemporary society must not and cannot ignore that dimension. We stand fully alongside the distinguished evidence made to the commission by the Chief Rabbi on this point.
In our own evidence, we agreed that the time had come to extend the contribution made by spiritual leaders of the Church of England to include leaders of other Churches and, indeed, of other faiths. Therefore, we welcome the commission's espousal of this point and we look forward to working with our faith partners in making it a reality.
We are grateful for the report's recognition of the contribution made to this House from these Benches. Bishops have been in the House of Lords since medieval times and the beginnings of parliamentary institutions. Contrary to what some assume, Henry VIII did not put us here. However, the report falls into a major trap in describing that contribution as having been made by Bishops as representatives of the Church of England. We do not see ourselves as representatives of a sectional institutional interest; rather, we have been and are in this House because of the position we hold in relation to the whole community in the dioceses we serve.
In speaking in chapter 15 of the representation of religious faiths, the commission uses, no doubt, a convenient shorthand but risks offering a model for the future which would reduce the contribution of spiritual leaders to the representatives of particular religious institutions. That is a model which my colleagues and I would resist vigorously. The presence of Bishops in Parliament can point to an abiding validity of the Christian tradition to public doctrine and ethical norms. It is the national ministry of the Church of England "by law established" that makes this role possible. Through the dioceses and parishes, through a small army of clergy and licensed lay ministers, through church schools and chaplaincies to many kinds of institutions, the Church of England has a vast constituency of pastoral contact which extends far beyond the core of committed churchgoers. The expression "national church" is not an anachronism.
With regard to these Benches, there is also the danger that what the commission has given with one hand, it has taken away with the other. I refer to the 933 proposed reduction in the number of Church of England Bishops in your Lordships' House from 26 to 16. We appreciate that the commission and the Government naturally will be concerned to ensure a proportionate representation of Bishops—proportionate, that is, to the reduced size of the House as a whole. However, given the diocesan, national and, in the case of the two Archbishops, international responsibilities, of those on these Benches, we are gravely concerned that a reduction to 16 will prevent us making an effective contribution to the work of the reformed Chamber.
Conversely, if Bishops are to make such a contribution—and in an episcopally led Church many will argue that they should continue to do so—their involvement in their diocese and wider community (one of the key contributions that we bring to this Chamber) will be unhelpfully curtailed.
In paragraph 15.27 of its report, the commission recognises that,our recommendations will create considerable difficulties for the Church of England".It goes on to recommend that the Church should itself review the options for filling the places allotted to us. We have already begun that process, although it is too soon for me to report the outcome. However, I would not want your Lordships to underestimate the difficulties that we face, the potential detrimental impact on the traditional role of a diocesan Bishop or the contribution that we are able to make in this place.
I emphasise that our concerns are not about the preservation of vested interest or privilege; they reflect our wish to give the most effective parliamentary service that we can to the nation. Other concerns, which I can mention only in passing but which I know we share with our ecumenical partners, focus on the report's use of baptismal membership as the basis for allocating seats and on the effect of the suggested 15-year rule.
In mentioning some of our concerns about the Royal Commission's report, I do not want to undermine our broad support for many of its conclusions and recommendations. The noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, and his colleagues are to be congratulated on the depth as well as on the speed of their work. It is indeed good that the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, is to speak next, and we look forward with great anticipation to what he has to say. In our judgment, the report of the commission provides a generally sound basis on which dialogue about reform can be developed. We look to play our full part in that. Indeed, we would hope to be represented on any committee of this House or Joint Committee with another place which considers these matters further.
Our aim is not to secure representation of a vested interest at any price; rather, it is to ensure that the evolution of the second Chamber is, by its very constitution, a servant of the people. The Christian contribution to the basis of our society is widely recognised and it is important that it is represented here as effectively as it is in the local communities that we seek to serve.
§ 4.38 p.m.
§ Lord Wakeham
My Lords, it was a great honour and a privilege to be invited to chair the Royal Commission on the reform of your Lordships' House. It turned out to be both interesting and enjoyable but it was also, as I am sure your Lordships will realise, a great responsibility. The process of reflection and analysis which we went through reinforced my original view that reform of your Lordships' House was a matter of very great importance.
Of course, we were not operating in a vacuum. One of the most notable features of our public consultation exercise was the widespread support for the work of the House of Lords and many of the characteristics of its Members. We were in the fortunate position of being able to build on the best traditions of your Lordships' House in drawing up a blueprint for the future.
I said that it turned out to be an interesting and enjoyable task. That was very much due to the qualities and personalities of my fellow commissioners. I am glad that so many of them are here this afternoon and speaking in this debate. Perhaps the most important point I can make about my fellow commissioners is that they were, collectively, exactly the people one would choose if one wanted to find a politically realistic and workable solution to a complex political and constitutional problem. We worked well together as a team. Because of that we went to considerable efforts to produce an agreed report and one which we could all wholeheartedly sign. We travelled a long journey to reach that point and it was not always easy.
We could not have reached agreement without everyone being prepared to reconsider their initial positions. That would not have been possible without the development of trust, confidence, liking and respect. All the members of the commission contributed to that. I should like formally to record my own appreciation and thanks to my fellow commissioners and I am sure that your Lordships would wish to be associated with that.
§ Lord Wakeham
My Lords, I turn now to some of the misconceptions that seem to have arisen since the publication of the report. I want to stress that our report is not anti-democratic. Just because the United Kingdom is a major democracy, it does not follow that the reformed Chamber should be largely, if not wholly, elected. Such arguments are, with respect, wrong and dangerous. It is because members of the Royal Commission support parliamentary democracy that we recommended a largely appointed House. The reformed Chamber should not ultimately be able to frustrate the will of the electorate as expressed in general elections. They confirm a government in power, or result in power being transferred to others. They give governments a mandate to govern and put them in a position to implement their manifesto commitments. I simply do not believe that it would he wise to create an institution with a democratic 935 mandate which could come to rival that conferred on the Government by the results of a general election. Whatever rules of pre-eminence one might write in, the political reality is that such an institution could very easily come into conflict with the Government and with the other place.
A serious second risk is that because elections can in reality only be won by organised political parties, a wholly or largely elected second Chamber would be no more than a clone of the other place. That would be in no one's interest. It would not add value to the parliamentary process. It would risk becoming a rubber stamp for government or an opportunity for the Opposition to engage in spoiling tactics.
Moreover—and this is the key point—by appearing to rely on its democratic mandate to justify its opposition to whatever the Government or Members of the other place want it to do, a wholly or largely elected Chamber would, in my view, be doomed to failure. In any trial of electoral strength, the other place would be bound to win. Even those who argue for a wholly or largely elected Chamber accept and make provision for that.
The Royal Commission's answer to that conundrum is to say that when the reformed second Chamber challenges the Government and the other place, as we believe that it should continue to do, it should do so by strength of argument rather than relying on an electoral mandate. We set out in paragraph 10.6 of our report a list of the alternative sources of authority on which a reformed second Chamber could draw. They are sufficient to ensure that the House will continue to be taken seriously.
A reformed Chamber, constituted in the way that we proposed, would add real value. That is much better than creating a pale and inevitably junior replica of the other place. The second Chamber should be distinct from the other place and operate in a way which is complementary to it, thus improving the ability of Parliament as a whole to hold the Government to account. That trilateral relationship is central to the long-term health of parliamentary democracy in this country.
I turn now to another concern which has been expressed. Our report emphatically does not denigrate the role of the political parties or the increasingly professional politicians who serve those parties in another place. They represent, and are equipped to carry out, the basic political choices of the British electorate. Far from criticising them, our report seeks rather to protect their position. We have gone to some trouble to ensure that the reformed second Chamber could not challenge the decisive political role of the other place and that individual Members of the reformed Chamber could not become electoral rivals to constituency Members of another place. In suggesting that the reformed House should be more broadly representative of British society, we are seeking a complementary basis of representation, not implicitly criticising Members of the other place.
936 Some have argued that our report represents an acknowledgement of the failings of democracy. That misses the whole point of our report as it deals only with one Chamber of a bicameral Parliament. In considering our recommendations your Lordships need to consider the operation of Parliament as a whole. We are not saying that Parliament should be largely appointed. We are arguing that, given the existing role and composition of the other place, with which we have no quarrel, the second Chamber should be largely appointed so that it can bring a distinctive and complementary perspective to bear on the consideration of proposed legislation and public policy.
There was initially some confusion over the fact that we put forward three possible models of composition for consideration. It was suggested that we were split or that somehow we had let the Government off the hook. The fact is that the commission's broad overall conclusions on composition, as set out in Chapter 11, are unanimous. Most of the specific practical recommendations on composition in Chapter 12 are also unanimous. We all believe that the reformed Chamber should be largely appointed by a totally independent appointments commission and include a fixed minimum proportion of Cross-Benchers; that the overall political balance should be set by reference to general election results; that there should be a significant minority of regional Members chosen in a way which reflects the balance of political opinion within each region; that the choice should be made in the margins of another electoral contest, using a proportional and party-based electoral system; and that directly appointed and regional Members should all serve terms equivalent to three parliamentary cycles, subject to the possibility of reappointment, and should not be eligible to be elected as Members of the other place for 10 years after leaving this House.
The three models were all variations on one aspect of this broad overall conclusion. By offering options we provided an element of flexibility which made it easier for the Government to announce—within hours of the publication of our report and confirmed by the noble Baroness the Leader of the House today—that they had accepted the principle that the reformed Chamber should have a minority of elected regional Members.
However, the real test of our report is whether its recommendations will be implemented. There is a proposal that some of the procedural suggestions—we have heard about that in one or two places and in the debate this afternoon—in the report should be implemented quickly and need not wait for decisions about some of the other recommendations. The establishment of a constitutional committee is a case in point.
I welcome the wide degree of support for the proposal. But I caution against cherry picking. Our recommendations are coherent and interrelated and cannot easily be separated. It would odd for this House to establish a constitutional committee and then find that a reformed House was unlikely to contain Members with the relevant skills, knowledge and 937 experience. My advice would therefore be to defer action on individual proposals of this kind until there is at least some measure of agreement on the nature of the second stage reform of your Lordships' House. Some such broad measure of agreement is obviously highly desirable in any event before it would be sensible to establish a Joint Committee to consider the parliamentary aspects of whatever is proposed.
I would not expect any party to sign up to all the 132 recommendations in the Royal Commission's report. Many of the detailed issues will, very properly, need to be considered with great care as the necessary legislation is debated. However, we need to offer the Joint Committee a point of departure, especially on the composition of the reformed Chamber.
My proposal is that the House should indicate its readiness as soon as possible to accept in principle the Royal Commission's broad overall conclusions on composition, as expressed in Chapter 11 of the report. This would leave the specific practical points dealt with in Chapter 12, including the choice among the three models of composition, to be resolved as the legislation is debated.
This proposal offers a fair balance between the interests of all concerned. There will be opportunities to revisit all the key judgments in this report and to debate all the detailed points at the time any legislation goes through. I believe that my suggestion would help to maintain the momentum towards a successful long-term reform of your Lordships' House. As we said in our report, one of the major risks is that if the interested parties hold out for what they would ideally like, the opportunity to achieve such reform may pass for another generation, perhaps another century. The prize of an authoritative, reinvigorated second Chamber is so great that, in my view, it would be wrong to delay.
§ 4.51 p.m.
§ Baroness Dean of Thornton-Ie-Fylde
My Lords, I, too, was honoured to be a member of the Royal Commission, a sense that I know I share with my fellow members of the commission. I am not sure that we all understood either the enormity or the complexity of the task that faced us in the very short time-scale that we had. We recognised very early on that we had differing views and different approaches to the issues before us. However, we were unanimous in relation to the fact that this was perhaps a once-in-a-generation, or more, opportunity to reform the House of Lords. If reform did not result, then it would be possibly many years before there would be another opportunity for such a review. We did not want a report which would be put on the shelf with so many others, gathering dust and making no real contribution to the reform that this House has called for.
Along with the written submissions that we received, the interviews that took place and the public meetings, there were very many private meetings of the commission members at which the issues were analysed, debated and our own individual views tested 938 by each other. Many of those exchanges were not easy discussions. I believe it is a credit to my fellow commissioners that we were able to build sufficient respect for the integrity of each other's views and, on occasion, to accept the logic of the opposing argument and, indeed, stand down from our own perhaps very strong view.
With its 132 recommendations, I suggest that it is an overwhelmingly unanimous report. Many of us who served on the commission were indeed pleasantly surprised at the degree of unanimity at the conclusion of the process. That could not have been achieved without the experienced guide of our chairman, the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham. I christened him our "pathfinder". There were many occasions when we witnessed his guile, timing and cunning approach to the issue of getting the business done. I pay credit to him and I know that my colleagues on the commission, many of whom are listening to the debate in this Chamber this afternoon, would wish to join me in giving him that credit.
Many people have said that the report is well written—I believe it is—and that the arguments are well analysed. Much of the credit for that must go to the members of our secretariat, who provided us with the very best traditions of good Civil Service support. They played a major part in the end product that your Lordships have before you.
Of course, the composition of the House was a subject of most interest to most people. It has probably been the topic which has already taken up the most time in our debate this afternoon. The commission's work did not begin there. Previous attempts at reform of the second Chamber had done just that. Instead, we began our work by considering what the role of the second Chamber should be, not merely in the context of the constitutional changes taking place, the full impact of which we have not yet seen, in my view, but also in relation to the remit set out in the White Paper itself. Then we moved on to consider what powers would be necessary to enable that role to be fulfilled. Both of those issues are covered in Chapter 3 and other chapters of the report.
We should not underestimate the role of this House, which is underpinned in the recommendations of this report, in the checks and balances in a democracy, in holding government to account and making government think again no matter how uncomfortable that sometimes is. This House has done that over the years. The report that we are debating today protects that role. Indeed, the uncomfortable decisions of this House with which this Government and previous governments have been faced will in fact not disappear as a result of this report. It will underpin that situation in many respects.
After we looked at the role and powers of the House, we then moved to its composition. Everybody was ready to talk about composition—everyone that we met and talked to at those 21 public meetings and, indeed, in the roughly 1,600 pieces of evidence that we received. The noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, has rightly covered the composition of the House in some detail. 939 I would like to touch on one or two areas relating to election, because it is true that election of Members and the varying degrees of that election featured in many of the submissions that we received.
Very few supported a wholly elected Chamber. The percentages varied considerably. Equally, there was a widely held view that an independent element within the second Chamber was an important aspect of the role of the second Chamber in complementing democratic government in our country. At the same time, it came across that the public did not want political parties controlling the second Chamber. Quite often, we had a genuinely sincere submission that on the one hand the House should have elected Members within it but, on the other hand, the political parties should not play any particular role in that election process. That is a conundrum.
The White Paper made it clear that the second Chamber must not be a clone or a rival of the House of Commons. That is true. In my view, that would be a recipe for gridlock. Much of the evidence before us supported that view. It was put forward to us at our public meetings and confirmed that the pre-eminence of the House of Commons within our own democracy was one that people expected to remain. I suggest that those who called for a wholly or a substantially elected second Chamber run the risk of creating gridlock.
All my life I have stood for election; that is, until I was made a Member of this House. In an election process, no matter what kind of an election process in which you are involved, you have a platform. You ask people to support you and, when you are elected, you are accountable. If I were elected, I would not accept that someone else elected to a different Chamber would have the right to say that their position was more democratic and more legitimate than mine. Therein lies the recipe for gridlock.
I know, too, that there are colleagues on this side of the House, and in other parts of the House and outside, who say that the report has ducked the real issue; that the real issue is to have a clean, clear policy of either election or appointment. I do not accept that argument and I suggest that many members of the public do not accept it either. It is possible to work within a system as put forward in the report of elected and appointed elements within the House.
Also, we have waited nearly 100 years to reform this Chamber. If one adopts an all-or-nothing approach, I rather suspect that we may end up with nothing. In my view, that would not serve the purpose for which the commission was established.
I turn to the question of present life Peers remaining for the rest of their lives, if they choose to do so. The report provides for retirement for those Members of the House who choose to retire. We tried to tackle every point which was raised. The work that we did in relation to this matter revealed that, if the present life Peers remained for the rest of their lives, by the year 2020 approximately 45 of those life Peers would remain. So with that process of evolution, we should arrive at a completely new Chamber.
940 I believe in the evolutionary approach. Equally, I believe that we should not underestimate the impact of the recommendations of the report. For example, the appointments commission will be charged with the responsibility of not only keeping the political balance but also the diversity of characteristics of the Members of this House to ensure that they fulfil the role attributed to the House.
The appointments commission will be bound to ensure that 30 per cent of the Members of the second Chamber are women. The appointments commission will have to account for that in its annual report. There should also be representation of ethnic minority groups in the Chamber, which should be at least proportionate to their presence in our community as a whole.
Those are not politically correct recommendations. Although this House has changed, and we can observe around us much of that change, it is still a long way from meeting Recommendation 1 of the Royal Commission's report that it should be broadly representative of the community which forms the United Kingdom today. That would be a major step forward.
I conclude by dealing with the issue of resources. Having worked for the past 10 or 11 months with the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, and having published our unanimous report, I hesitate to enter a voice of dissent on something he said. He talked about cherry-picking. In general terms, I agree with that. But there are some areas which could be dealt with before the work of any Joint Committee or legislation and which does not need legislation. I ask my noble friend the Leader of the House to consider the question of resources for the Members of this House.
In my view, Members are asked to carry out an almost impossible task with very few resources, whether they are Members like myself on the Back-Benches or indeed those on the Front Benches of the opposition parties. That issue cannot wait and it should be looked at immediately. It should be recognised that we are probably the least-resourced House of Parliament anywhere in the world for the work that we do. I am referring not only to individual Members but also to the work of the committees. I was particularly struck by the respect in which the work of those committees—the European committees, the specialist committees, the Science and Technology Committee—is held outside this House and, indeed, in Brussels. Therefore, those committees deserve the resources which are necessary to enable them to do their job to the full.
The noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, said that the real test will be whether the recommendations of the report are implemented. That is absolutely true. If we wait for the ideal to come along, I rather suspect that it never will. I welcome the clear statement made at the beginning of the debate by my noble friend the Leader of the House. None of us wants this report to be kicked into the long grass.
The Royal Commission was conscious of the poor record that we have, as a nation, in carrying forward the reforms which several commissions have suggested 941 over the past 100 years. The only way in which to make progress is to enable the House to evolve and continually to review where we are. It may well be that although the majority view within the report is that there should be a minority of people elected to this Chamber, that number can grow step by step. But we shall find out whether that is necessary from experience and as our constitutional settlement within our country matures and grows and we see the outcome.
§ 5.5 p.m.
§ Lord Ezra
My Lords, we are fortunate today in having before us a report which is eminently readable, well argued and logically developed and which contains a number of positive and constructive proposals. However, it is necessary to remind ourselves that it is a report prepared within very severe constraints. The first constraint is the maintenance of the pre-eminence of the other Chamber; the second constraint is the existing constitutional settlement.
I believe that within those constraints the report has gone about as far as it could. But it raises the question of whether this is the end of the road. I feel that it clearly cannot be. The noble Baroness the Leader of the House, the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, and my noble friend Lord Rodgers all referred to the evolutionary process. We should regard this second stage as a step in the evolutionary process but acknowledge that at some future stage we may well wish to look at the whole institution of Parliament, not just one Chamber in a bicameral situation. We may wish to look also at the relationship of the executive with Parliament.
There are many models in the rest of the world, as the report clearly shows, which adopt a different way of doing things. Under the terms of reference of the Royal Commission, its members were unable to let their minds wander too far. But the extent to which their minds have wandered has been most constructive and productive. The best contribution individual speakers such as myself can make is perhaps to ask one or two questions about certain aspects of the report, having put it in the context that this is an evolutionary process.
I agree with the proposal that there should be an extension of the activities of this House in constitutional matters and in human rights matters. However, because of the constraints, the commission has been unable to recommend any extension of powers in that regard. That may well come at a later stage but at least let us start tackling those problems.
It is recommended also that we should review treaties. Again, I presume that we should prepare reports on treaties and that it would then be for the other place and the Government to decide whether to take any notice of our views. Such issues should be considered at a subsequent stage.
The report basically divides itself into consideration of the functions of the House and the composition of the House. As to the functions, I believe that the 942 emphasis which the commission places on the present main task of this House—to review and scrutinise legislation—is absolutely right. I like its phrase that,it is our main task to make the other place think again".We must continue to do that with all the vigour at our disposal.
Perhaps the most innovative aspects of the report relate to composition. I believe a consensus exists that there should be a strengthened appointments commission. I say "strengthened" because it is proposed that it should be somewhat stronger than the appointments commission which the Government have in mind in relation to stage one. But I agree with my noble friend Lord Rodgers that there is some doubt about whether the appointments commission should select, as opposed to appoint, the political Members of a reformed House.
It could lead to considerable difficulty if Members selected and appointed by the commission were not acceptable to their party in the House. The members of the Royal Commission were conscious of such a possibility. On page 142, the report states:We recognise that ultimately the parties have the right to offer the party whip to, or withhold it from, individual members of the second chamber".To my mind, that conjures up an extraordinary situation in which a number of political appointees who would not take the Whip from their parties could join the House. Would we have two kinds of Conservative, Labour or Liberal Democrat Members—those appointed by the appointments commission who were acceptable to the parties in the House and those who were not?
I cannot see that working. The sensible course, once the appointments commission has laid down the criteria, numbers and timing of appointments, would be for the actual proposal to come from the political parties, with the appointments commission of course vetting the personalities put forward.
§ Lord Hurd of Westwell
My Lords, I am having some difficulty following the noble Lord. I should be grateful if he could clarify a point. In all parties, certainly in the two main parties and possibly in the Liberal Democrat Party, there are distinguished people who might well be an ornament and of great use to a second Chamber but who, for one reason or another—or perhaps only temporarily—are at odds with the party leadership on an issue. Is the noble Lord saying that the appointments commission should not be able to select such people simply because they are temporarily at odds with the leadership of their own party?
§ Lord Ezra
My Lords, I do not believe that the appointments commission should make the decision about who would be considered to join the reformed Chamber on a political basis. That should be for the parties to propose. If, in due course, those selected in that way—as at present—were to express different opinions, so be it. That is the normal course of democracy. But I see difficulties in the appointments 943 commission actually selecting, as opposed to appointing, Members of this House belonging to the political parties. That, at any rate, is the view I should like to express.
When it comes to the election of the regional representatives, one might ask a few questions. First, I believe that the electorate is growing rather tired of the number of elections in which it has to take part. I cannot see that an election for a minority of a second Chamber, which is basically an advisory Chamber, would excite a great deal of popular interest. If we went ahead with such a proposal and the turn-out at the polls was extremely low, it would be an unfortunate basis on which to start the reformed House.
Secondly, bearing in mind that this is a step in an evolutionary process, I cannot see why the arguments so eloquently advanced by the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, for the nomination of the bulk of the Members of the reformed House do not apply equally to the regional Members. For example, there could be regional appointment commissions which would take account of party nominations and collect proposals for independent nominations representing regional opinion which could be put forward in the overall context of the membership of the House.
I pose such questions on the assumption that this is an evolutionary step and that at some later date, when we have reviewed the parliamentary institution in its totality, we may well want to introduce an electoral element, either in whole or in part, to this House. But I believe that the House would be more cohesive—a quality to which the commission attaches a great deal of importance—if, at this stage, all Members were appointed on an objective basis and we reserved the option to review the situation in a wider context at a later date.
§ 5.15 p.m.
§ Viscount Cranborne
My Lords, there is at least one matter on which I can agree with the noble Lord, Lord Ezra. We both seem to agree that it would have been more sensible for any reform of Parliament to have begun with another place rather than here and to have set reform in that context. Unfortunately, as I believe the noble Lord acknowledged by implication, such an avenue of proceeding is not open to us. Therefore, we must make do with the rather restricted attack on the existing weaknesses of Parliament which the Government have allowed us. That is, in all conscience, narrow enough.
This will be an extremely long, although interesting, debate. I suspect that an exhaustive analysis of my noble friend's report would not endear me to your Lordships. Therefore, what I say is bound to be a little impressionistic. I apologise for any imprecision which may arise from that.
I strongly agree with a great deal of what my noble friend has produced. Although there is much I could list in that respect, I believe that my noble friend will accept that any dissent I express during the course of my remarks does not in any way undermine the 944 admiration I have for what he and his colleagues have produced and, indeed, for many of the extremely helpful and illuminating comments they have made.
Nevertheless, I should be less than frank if I did not say that there at least parts of the report with which I feel compelled to quibble. I applaud the fact that the commission began by asking itself what was the function of your Lordships' House. That seems entirely sensible for obvious reasons. As I have ventured to suggest to your Lordships previously in what seems to be an endless series of debates on the future of this place, it has always seemed to me that, apart from all the other things which your Lordships' House does so well and elegantly, it has one central and crucial role which on its own justifies the existence of the second Chamber in our complementary system: that is, if I do not put it too crudely, to make another place do its job properly.
One need only examine the events of the past 20 years under governments of both complexions to realise that the government of the day almost always controls another place. One direct result of that fact, particularly with the increasing professionalisation of the composition of another place, to which my noble friend alluded in his remarks, is, as many Members of your Lordships' House are wont to observe with almost excessive regularity, the enormous amounts of ill-digested legislation and the failure in another place to hold governments to account on non-legislative matters. As a result, it seems that the authority of governments suffers in the long term and that Parliament is increasingly held in contempt by the general public. Indeed, as power is stripped from Parliament and given to other institutions—to judges, the European Union and the devolved Parliaments—I cannot help wondering whether people will increasingly begin to ask themselves whether Parliament in its decline is worth defending at all.
Perhaps—this is perhaps indulgent and idle speculation—institutions are rather like lazy individuals. Perhaps they need to show their work to others in order to maintain its quality. I suspect that another place is like any other institution in that respect. If that is so, is it not also true that in our system your Lordships' House is the only institution available between general elections to which formally another place can show up its work? Above all, if we are to perform that task, as I believe my noble friend and his colleagues pointed out so ably, this House needs two characteristics: authority and independence.
Unlike the noble Lord, Lord Richard, whom I am delighted, but not surprised, to see in his place, I believe that the old House had independence, but in the view of the public and in its own estimation it no longer possessed the authority to exercise that independence. Despite what is now known admirably by the phrase coined by my noble friend Lord Strathclyde as the "Jay doctrine", I doubt whether the present House possesses that authority either. Although the noble Baroness clearly stated many times during the course of our debates on the House of Lords Act that the present House would have more authority, her own colleagues have equally clearly 945 disagreed with her if we are to believe their squawks two weeks ago about a non-elected Chamber when we ventured to disagree with them on what seemed to me to be eminently popular points.
Therefore, I was delighted that the Royal Commission recognised the importance of both independence and authority. I was equally pleased that it emphasised that the House should have a role as a constitutional longstop, as a quality controller of legislation, including European Union legislation and, as another place realistically cannot and cannot be expected to look beyond the next election, as a thinker about the medium and long term. I venture to suggest that in the past the House has played a distinguished and important role in that context.
My difficulty is that I cannot see either in the powers that it envisages for the new House or its membership that the Royal Commission endows it with enough authority to perform the task that it quite properly assigns to it. In view of the admirable objective that the Royal Commission posits of giving the House a useful role as a constitutional longstop, I find it difficult to see how any irreversible and major constitutional change can legitimately take place in our constitutional system unless it is endorsed in a post-legislative referendum. As your Lordships have discovered, a pre-legislative referendum is a way of emasculating parliamentary scrutiny, which is one of the reasons why this Government have been so addicted to that particular device.
The Royal Commission rightly sees a difficulty in deciding what constitutes a major change and who decides whether or not there is a major constitutional change in view. With the greatest respect to my noble friend, I venture to wonder whether it need have worried. Clearly, it cannot be a matter for another place to make that decision. After all, a number of your Lordships will agree with me that most of the time another place is controlled by the government of the day, who are not in a position, if they are promoting that particular constitutional reform, to be judge and jury.
I suggest a little special pleading—we are becoming used to that with this Government—that courage and common sense should put the power of exercising that judgment in your Lordships' House as the constitutional longstop. If we had the courage to do that, I suspect that the country as a whole would be grateful for our role in completing the circle in any major constitutional change so that a view can be taken about whether or not it that should be implemented after the legislation has been through both Houses of Parliament.
I could give your Lordships many other examples where I would make the same quibble. One is the suggested three-month power of delay for secondary legislation which to me does not seem to be strong enough. I venture to agree with my noble friend the Leader of the Opposition in his suggestions in that regard, but as ever I see, looking at the clock, that time is my enemy.
946 The authority that seems to be the characteristic that is so important to your Lordships' House, as the report makes clear, can come only from composition. Here, too, I agree with my noble friend's analysis, but I wonder whether his prescription is quite powerful enough. I wonder whether it is sensible to have quite so small and so circumscribed an elected proportion. My personal preference is for 50 per cent because it is easier to hold the figure at 50 per cent than to slide into an overwhelming majority of elected Members or to make the figure less than 50 per cent. That figure gives a nice equilibrium which is more difficult to assault with thin-end-of-the-wedge tactics. Equally, there is a danger that the elected element will become as much slaves of the Whips as are Members of another place, a point that has been made consistently during the course of this debate.
If the matter of election were simplified to a single 15-year non-renewable term, that would do much to alleviate the problem and would lighten the burden of the Whips on any party member. That would also make it more difficult for us to claim that we had a more recent mandate than another place, a point made by the noble Baroness who has just spoken.
I also accept that there should be a high proportion of nominated Members. Such Members would carry a different kind of authority, as many noble Lords have pointed out, from the elected membership. I believe that their expertise and experience would not reduce their standing below that of their elected colleagues, which I understand was something that worried some members of the Royal Commission. Indeed, it is perhaps disrespectful of me to say this about tribunes of the people, but from anecdotal observation I wonder whether one could not come to the opposite conclusion: that the authority of the elected Members may suffer in comparison with the performance and qualifications of the nominated Members.
I hope that the Government can be persuaded that the quickest way in which they can destroy the standing of the House after reform is to pay us, to give us enormous research facilities, big offices and staff. I suspect that that is one thing that has done more to destroy the standing of the House of Commons with its constant and undignified scrabble for increases in all such matters, ending with the greatest sign of a declining enterprise that I know of, a new building.
A number of noble Lords have suggested, if only to dismiss it, that all the work of my noble friend and his colleagues may be academic. People say that another place will not want to give us more power. They do not recognise the force of the paradox, as I certainly do, that for another place to be more effective, it must be checked effectively. Governments certainly do not subscribe to that view; and we would give them even more trouble than we do now if we were to do that.
We know that stage two cannot be implemented before the next Parliament, as I believe that the Government have implied. I regret that. It may be that for whoever wins the next general election, the will to do something will have evaporated.
947 The greatest difficulty is that identified by my noble friend Lord Strathclyde. With his usual candour, he made it clear that no single party—I was to make an exception of the Liberal Democrats until I heard the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, speak—can agree on how to reform the House. My party is split—if I have heard aright down the corridor—and I believe that the Labour Party is also split. The danger is that in spite of the incentive to the Government represented by the 92 hereditary Peers—I was delighted to hear the Leader of the House acknowledge them—nothing at all will happen. I believe, as I have always tried to make clear, that that would be a terrific wasted opportunity. We must try to keep the momentum going, without a stitch-up between the Front Benches of the three main parties of the kind suggested by the Government.
One way forward would be to set up the Joint Committee now with a wider remit than the one suggested by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, and we should use it as a matter of urgency with good will—certainly from my party—as an anvil on which to forge a consensus for progress. My only proviso is that the committee should sit in public so that those who are interested can see what is going on and help to influence it. I fear that unless something of the kind is done, we shall miss a golden opportunity to improve the performance not just of your Lordships' House, but of both Houses of Parliament, and so let our central, national, political institution sink further into contempt and perhaps even ruin.
§ 5.30 p.m.
Lord Butler of Brockwell
My Lords, I am grateful to have had the opportunity of serving on this Royal Commission. It was a privilege to be engaged on such a task and a pleasure to serve with such colleagues and under such a chairman. I have, of course, known and worked with the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, for many years. Even so, his wisdom, charm and skill never fail to impress me. I also endorse what the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, said about the contribution of the secretariat. Its work made me proud of the profession in which I served my career.
My sympathy with the Government's decision to reform your Lordships' House in at least two stages has been reinforced by the reactions to the Royal Commission's report. The commentators, understandably, start from first principles rather than from where we are. For some, the only legitimate basis for a House of Parliament is democratic election. For others, it is anathema to have a second elected House with the same claims to legitimacy as the first.
In the light of the reactions to the report, it is easy to see why previous attempts at reform of your Lordships' House failed to surmount in one leap the two hurdles of abolishing hereditaries and deciding how a successor House should be constituted. Indeed, there are logically only three bases for composing your Lordships' House—or perhaps three-and-a-half if one includes lottery, which I beg leave to exclude today. The three are a fully elected House, a fully appointed 948 House, or some mixture of the two. Just as some reject a priori an elected House, and others reject a priori an appointed House, yet others reject a mixture of the two on the grounds that it is, to use the fashionable phrase, a dog's breakfast.
Impaled on the horns of that dilemma—or perhaps I should say "trilemma"—the Royal Commission started, I believe rightly, by asking itself what value this House should be expected to add. Surely the House of Lords should add value by bringing a perspective not necessarily supplied by the House of Commons. The House of Commons is representative of all areas of the United Kingdom, but does it fairly represent, for example, the nation in terms of gender? Not necessarily, and certainly not hitherto. Does it represent fairly ethnic origin? Not necessarily, and certainly not hitherto. Is it representative of a broad range of interests in the country? As time goes on, less and less. Do its Members have sufficient independence to exercise their judgment free of party control? Whatever its merits, nobody can say that of the other House.
That broad range of representation and that independence is something valuable which your Lordships' House can add to Parliament. In practice, it can only be achieved by appointment. In theory it could be achieved by indirect election by interest groups. But the practical problems of indirect election rehearsed in the report—problems inherent in selecting the groups to be represented and ensuring election methods of sufficient validity for conferring membership of Parliament—in practice rule out that option.
I accept—the Royal Commission accepted—that appointment, however objectively carried out, however wise the appointees, can never confer as much legitimacy as a democratic ballot. But since it is also common ground that the second House should, except in a very few matters, ultimately defer to the elected House, that is not a decisive objection.
But there is another thing which the second House should do; something particularly important in the present fissiparous state of the United Kingdom. It should be a House in which all parts of the United Kingdom have a voice. That element does, in my view, need election so that the citizens of the different parts of the country can feel that they have had a role in putting in the House people to speak for their interest. There are examples of second chambers elsewhere in the world where the absence of such an element has led to disillusion.
That leads inevitably to a House of mixed composition and raises two further questions. How big should the elected element be? How can the danger of two classes of Member be minimised? As to the size of the elected element, I am among those who feel that it should be relatively small, at least to begin with. And that for three reasons.
First, as I said, it is there for a specific purpose—to enable all parts of the United Kingdom to feel represented and that, though an important role, is only one role of the House. The second and more pragmatic 949 reason is that it is always possible, as other speakers have said, subsequently to increase the elected element if that is found desirable. It would be impossible to go the other way. Thirdly, the presence of a relatively small elected element reduces the danger of commentators saying that the vote of elected Members on a specific issue would have produced a different and, they might say, more legitimate result than the vote of the House as a whole.
However, since commentators have made much of the fact that the Royal Commission produced three options, perhaps I can say that any number within the three options recommended by the commission—that is, between 65 and 195—would be acceptable to me and I believe to most members of the commission, though my preference was for a smaller number.
As to the problem that the presence of both elected and appointed Members may lead to two classes of Member, it seems to me essential that once people are Members of your Lordships' House, by whatever route they have arrived, they should be Members on terms which are as similar as possible. It is worth reminding the House that we are used to a situation in which Members of this House have entered it by the hereditary and life peerage routes and have co-existed happily together. So the commission recommended that new Members, whether elected or appointed, should serve for 15 years and both should only stay on if appointed to do so by the appointments commission. In other words, once they were here, their status would be the same.
There are many aspects of the report, but those are the essential points with which I wanted to deal. I finish with the questions that others have asked. Will the report be implemented? Will there be a stage two? There are many sceptics who say that, despite the clearest assertion that the Government intend to proceed to stage two (and we must all have been encouraged by what the Leader of the House said this afternoon) in the event the Government will not take reform any further. Indeed, current politics gives notable examples of people changing their minds.
As a personal view, I feel it is wise for the Government not to introduce legislation to implement the main elements of the report before the next election, for two reasons. First, I think that it is sensible to allow time for parliamentarians to think about and, I hope, to reach a consensus on the issue. Secondly, this kind of issue is best not dealt with in the run-up to a general election. But after the election, I hope that the Government will act on the report.
Everyone agrees, I think, that the present House is not satisfactory. The half-life of the hereditary principle represents unfinished business. Much of the rest of the report—for example, taking appointments out of the hands of the Prime Minister—is common ground. Stage two, as recommended by the Royal Commission, need not be the final stage, but I certainly believe that it is a step forward.
It would be very easy for all parties to agree that there should be a stage two—as indeed they do—and yet to forestall it by failing to agree on the details. To 950 achieve that agreement will require give and take. It will require statesmanship. It is reassuring and rewarding for members of the Royal Commission to hear so many voices today saying that the Royal Commission has given a good start. Now it is up to the parties to show that they can rise to the challenge in the interests of the nation.
§ 5.41 p.m.
§ Lord Hurd of Westwell
My Lords, it is always satisfactory when duty and pleasure combine. That is why I agree with my colleagues from the Royal Commission who have already spoken that we shall always look back with satisfaction at the time we spent studying for, and conceiving, this report. I hope that it will prove to be of substantial and practical interest. Although this has already been said, I should like to underline the tributes paid to the admirable and enviable skills deployed by my noble friend from the chair. On many occasions he filled us with admiration and I believe that we all learned a great deal from him about many aspects of parliamentary life.
It will not be possible to cover the whole field, so I should like to concentrate on the problem of devolution and, therefore, the problem of regional representation. I must say that I had hoped, when we worked on the Mackay report a long time ago—the report of the committee chaired by my noble friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern at the instance of the Leader of the Opposition and subsequently on the Wakeham Commission—that we might be able to find an answer of some kind to the glaring gap created by the present arrangements for devolution. It is a fact that four-fifths of the inhabitants of this kingdom live in England, but no English institution is in being or in immediate prospect which could wield power comparable to those in place in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. This is a huge problem and its neglect will run us into serious danger as regards our constitutional arrangements. However, we could not find, and I do not think that it is possible to find, a solution to that problem based on a second Chamber. The problem must be solved in the House of Commons. However, we did find ways in which we could have made the problem worse by our suggestions for this Chamber. I hope that we have avoided those.
With that consideration at the back of our minds, we then thought about an approach not, I believe, yet mentioned in this debate, but which we did feel bound to consider. That approach is now in the report; namely, the suggestion that we might try to bring members of the devolved parliaments and assemblies together in this second Chamber in an attempt to hind the kingdom together. I hope that the House will agree with the fact that we came to the conclusion that this was not a good idea. Logically, it was flawed. Members of the devolved parliaments are elected for a specific purpose which does not include membership of a second Chamber at Westminster. The dual mandate, although of course it exists in the House of Commons at the moment, creates huge practical difficulties of time management and a philosophical 951 difficulty on accountability. Moreover, such a solution would worsen the English question because it would introduce into Westminster a new band of legislators from the devolved institutions of Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland able to decide matters for England which English legislators are no longer able to join in deciding for the three devolved areas.
We abandoned that idea and moved forward to the suggestions made in the report for regional representation. Perhaps I may underline here a point already made by my noble friend Lord Wakeham. We received a strong impression from all parts of the parliamentary spectrum of powerful opposition in the House of Commons to any arrangements for direct election of members of the second Chamber which would enable those members of the second Chamber to use the publicity and resources of their local position to out-manoeuvre and perhaps eventually to replace existing members of the House of Commons. There is no doubt that this is a widespread and deep-seated fear.
Of course, it would be possible to argue that that is an improper fear; that it is indefensible and that it is an interest of existing Members of the House of Commons that they should in some way be ashamed to reveal. That is not my view because it seems to me to be a natural instinct. In any case, we must take account of it, because throughout our considerations one factor of which we were very well aware was that anything we proposed must be supported and carried in the House of Commons. We thought it inconceivable, regardless of the merits of the fear which I have just described, that any House of Commons would vote for a system which appeared to create rivalries for its Members at the point where they are most vulnerable; namely, not here in Westminster, but in their constituencies.
I should also like to mention a point that has already been described most vividly by the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers. On his Benches and also much more widely throughout the country, according to the evidence we received, there is quite a strong feeling in principle of being in favour of a directly elected second Chamber. However, quickly following on the heels of that feeling is a strong desire that it should be quite different from the elected House of Commons and a pining for a system of selection and election of candidates by the parties which would prevent what otherwise would be feared; namely, that a directly elected second Chamber would consist largely of people who had tried, but not succeeded, to enter the House of Commons. Those of us who have constituency experience fear that the search for such a system is doomed to disappointment. That was one of the main reasons why, in discussion, opinion began to turn against a wholly or even largely directly elected second Chamber.
We reached a compromise, of course, and produced three models for regional representation which aim to reflect that compromise. They are now three bonny infants presented for the choice eventually to be made by Parliament, following further discussion. I am glad that the Leader of the Opposition, my noble friend 952 Lord Strathclyde, quizzed the noble Baroness the Leader of the House and received from her an assurance that Model C, the one that suggests the biggest number of directly elected members, has not been, as it were, already banished and stood in a corner in disgrace. It is still among the options under consideration by the Government.
Perhaps I may remind the noble Baroness of a point which she did not make and which has not, I believe, been made so far in the debate; namely, that a substantial majority—that is the phrase we have used in the report—of the Commission, for the reasons given by the previous speaker, the noble Lord, Lord Butler, favoured Model B. That model does provide for direct election, but not like Model A, which opts for simply translating into seats in this House the votes cast in a general election for the House of Commons. Model B provides for a sizeable minority of directly elected regional members, though not as many as Model C. I hope that the noble Baroness and others will not forget that a substantial majority of the Royal Commission did favour Model B.
It seems to me that we have been trying, through this Chamber, to introduce, or reintroduce, into Parliament two qualities that have somewhat ebbed out of our political system; namely, independence and experience. Independence has already been much mentioned in this debate and I need not repeat what has been said. There have to be limits to independence in the House of Commons. My noble friend Lord Wakeham was a Chief Whip. We have all been in the business of sustaining a government of one party or another; that is part of the job of the House of Commons. As has already been said:The Queens Government must be carried on".That puts a limit on the exercise of independence by individual Members, especially on the government side. We have to accept that fact.
However, the second Chamber is not under that constraint. It does not have to sustain governments because it cannot destroy them. Therefore, whatever the system we choose—for example, the mix of appointment and election—those concerned can and should be independent to a greater degree than Members of the House of Commons. That is why we made our proposals for the elected Members to have a long term of office—they should not to be tempted by the immediate prospect of election to the House of Commons because that would be out of the question—and for the appointed Members to be appointed by an entirely independent appointments commission. That is why I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, for giving way to me earlier. I was slightly surprised by his objection because I believe it is important that the appointments commission should be able, as set out under our proposal, to appoint to this second Chamber people who are out of favour with the leaderships of their parties at the time but who, nevertheless, are part of their party and who the commission believes have a contribution to make.
I turn finally to experience. The House of Commons now lacks direct experience of walks of life outside politics. This change has come about in the past 953 20 years and is almost complete. It is a pity; perhaps it is inevitable, but it is a pity. Indeed, the whole Nolan philosophy seems to lead to the conclusion that virtue in a parliamentary body consists in being insulated from the ordinary pressures and interests of life outside politics. I do not believe that that is necessarily true. Again, there is no reason why the second Chamber should follow that lead. There seems no reason why there should be only people with past experience; there should also be people with current experience taking part in the work of the second Chamber. For example, if we had a debate on the National Health Service, we could have in this Chamber—indeed, this is already the case—speeches by distinguished surgeons or doctors who would actually speak out of direct personal experience of the working of the service.
Under our proposal, we would also have elected regional Members who would speak with the authority that that gives of conditions, say, for doctors and patients in hospitals on Tyneside or in the Midlands. We would have two kinds of people. Who could say which of those speakers would carry the greater authority? One would speak from direct personal experience and the other would speak as the representative of the region. It seems to me that bringing together these two kinds of authority is an entirely legitimate and admirable way of rebuilding the political authority of the House of Lords of which my noble friend Lord Strathclyde rightly spoke.
§ 5.52 p.m.
§ The Earl of Longford
My Lords, I join with other speakers in paying tribute to the work of the Royal Commission. It would be nice to be able to use the words of Macaulay when describing the trial of Warren Hastings and say that it was "massive, precious and splendid". But that might be going over the top. Therefore, without too much commitment, I shall just refer to a noble endeavour.
There are over 40 speakers on the list and I suppose that each one of us thinks that he knows best what ought to be done about the second Chamber in this country. Those who have served with much distinction in both Houses, like the noble Lord who has just spoken, will have special confidence in their own judgment. I must be forgiven for mentioning my own credentials. They are no more than anyone else's, but they still exist. I have been a Member here for 54 years. During that time I held various government posts, including the leadership of the House. I was also a Member of one of the Front Benches for 22 years. So, naturally, I have confidence in my own contribution.
However, I also have the qualification, which is not common in this House, of having taught politics for 10 years as a university don at Oxford. Therefore, from that point of view, I look at matters rather differently from those whose experiences have been derived directly from life or, very often, from politics. I look at matters from two angles: first, from the academic angle; and, secondly, from the point of view of my long experience here.
954 From the academic angle, one would reach conclusions that ignored the immense value of this House. Indeed, that is something that cannot really be put on paper and cannot be described in books. But I am sure that anyone who has served here for a number of years—and many have served here for a good many years—feels, as I do, that this House has rendered invaluable services to the nation. I do not believe that any second Chamber in the world has done such a good job as this House in the past 50 years. People may use those rather famous words and say, "Well, he would say that, wouldn't he?" That may be true, but I believe that my academic training enables me to look at the matter with some objectivity.
I would say that the debates in this House are superior to any debates known to me in other chambers. Even last week, after the reform of the House, we had notable debates on asylum seekers, on hospices and, indeed, on the question of non-food agricultural products. I do not believe that those debates could have been rivalled anywhere else. If anyone wants to intervene and point out that there were better debates elsewhere, I shall be glad to know. But I do not believe it. Such debates are enormously valuable.
At this point I should like to pay a tribute. It is one that I have paid more than once and I shall do so yet again. I pay tribute to the hereditary Peers—not to all of them, of course, because some of them may be doing awfully good work elsewhere. I am talking about the ones who have come here a good deal and have rendered faithful service either by speaking or by just listening. The latter have provided us with a audience; an all-important audience. I feel enormously sorry for them and, indeed, sorry for the rest of us because we are now without them. I suppose we all have our own favourites, personal friends or perhaps some Peers to whom we owe a special debt. For example, I happen to owe a special debt to the noble Lord, Lord Ashbourne, the leader of a very inspiring prayer group for many years. I am sure that everyone will have his own Barry Ashbourne.
However, reform had to come. Two-thirds of the 750 Peers seldom, or never, came here, so the place had to be reformed. I voted solidly for the government measure that has now passed into law. So we have this reformed House. So far, I do not think that anyone could say that the quality of debates has declined. But what is less certain is whether the atmosphere, the tradition, the decency, the civilisation and the underlying Christianity of this House will be maintained. I hope and believe that it will be. I try to believe that that will occur but it will not do so unless we make sure that we value this House. If we start from the assumption that something is wrong about the place, we shall be starting from the wrong end. We must start from the assumption that we want it to carry on the traditions and improve upon them.
So what about the present House? By and large, I would say that it is very praiseworthy and fully worthy of Britain. But there is one obvious defect; namely, that there is a built-in Conservative majority. No doubt that will have to be corrected and, indeed, 955 will be corrected in one way or another. But, apart from that defect, I certainly do not see any great advantage in talking about a hypothetical second stage of reform. That is rather a fantasy to me. When people ask me, "What do you want: what is your view on the future of the House of Lords?", I say, "The present one somewhat improved". I agree that something serious must be done about the way of appointing Peers, but I shall leave that to other speakers.
I must mention one other matter before I sit down and that is that I am, on principle, utterly opposed to any elected element here. It would make a nonsense of the place. I refer to two aspects of the matter which have been lightly touched on by previous speakers. First, the elected Peers could claim a democratic mandate and occupy a superior position to the others. That would constitute a dog's breakfast. Secondly, who would comprise these elected people? They would be "second raters"—people who could not get elected to the House of Commons, or people who could not even get elected to the European Parliament. They might comprise people who could not even get elected to the Scottish Parliament or to the Welsh Assembly. We would get the dregs. Therefore, as I say, I am utterly opposed to an elected element. That way, in my eyes, lies madness. We have inherited a noble legacy; it would be criminal to betray it.
§ 6 p.m.
My Lords, I take as my starting point what seems to me to be a real and increasing public concern that Parliament is somehow being downgraded, if not actually bypassed, by this Government. My noble friend Lord Cranborne referred to some of the reasons for that; namely, power being stripped from Parliament and given to the European Union, to the devolved parliaments and to judges. Further, sometimes government announcements appear in the press before they are announced in Parliament.
That highlights the importance and significance of the debate today on the future of the House of Lords and the second Chamber. I note with interest that in Scotland, where there is no second Chamber, the Parliament has not found it quite as easy to manage its affairs as it might have thought when the new constitutional arrangements were put in place.
I too wish to thank my noble friend Lord Wakeham and the Royal Commission for the report and for their work. Whatever one's views about the report as a whole, I find the early chapters, particularly Chapter 3, together with a great deal of the analysis which follows and the historical background, of great interest. They set out clearly the reasons why we are where we are, and are well worth studying. I am sure that we all find that valuable.
Believing, as I do, not only in a second Chamber but in one that is strengthened and able to hold the executive to account, it seems to me that we need to move ahead. Here I very much welcome the remarks of my noble friend Lord Strathclyde. We could begin 956 with some of the areas where there is agreement. I think of the debates we had on the then House of Lords Bill and the big issues that worried us. I was therefore pleased to see in Recommendation 20 that the quinquennial provision is to be kept and that the power of the second Chamber to prevent the House of Commons prolonging its life is to be retained.
I hope very much that we shall establish by statute an independent appointments commission. I listened with great interest to what the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, had to say on that point. I believe that that is an important matter on which there is much agreement. As I believe that we shall make better progress where there is cross-party support, I hope that we can move forward on that matter.
There has already been much discussion as regards a Joint Committee of both Houses to consider the future of the second Chamber. There is value to be gained in moving forward on that issue although I recognise the real difficulties that stand in the way. As has been pointed out, there is little agreement within the political parties on the best way to proceed. Different individuals have their own ideas on how the second Chamber should be constituted and on what its powers should be.
I was a member of the Conservative Party working party set up in the 1970s under the chairmanship of the late Lord Home to consider the future of the House of Lords. Our general conclusion at that time, which commanded much support, was for a part-elected, part-appointed and part-hereditary House. I believe that there should be some elected Members in the second Chamber. I believe that only by going down that route will the House be more democratic and have the authority which it needs to implement its powers. However, a problem arises—I do not believe that this has been touched on—once one has elected Members, and the problem increases the higher the proportion of elected Members; namely, whether they will be satisfied with the powers that the House has. One needs to reflect on that. I certainly agree with the commission as regards not being in favour of a fully elected House for the many reasons that have been advanced and not least because I think that it is most unlikely that the House of Commons would agree to that. It would, of course, be a recipe for gridlock between the two Houses.
I have noticed in the report and in previous debates that it is suggested that somehow appointed Peers are more democratic and more representative than hereditary Peers. It is extremely important to recognise that appointed Peers are neither democratic nor representative. They may be other things, but they do not have those particular qualities. However, when one considers the detail of the election arrangements and reads the Royal Commission's report, in conjunction with the report of my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern, it is possible to see how a future House could combine both elected and appointed Peers. I believe that that would constitute a stronger House. I welcome the concept of a 15-year term for both elected and appointed Peers. I consider that that would overcome some of the difficulties.
957 I believe that my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay made other suggestions, but this is an area that would have to be studied in considerable detail.
I turn to the question of appointed Peers. I am glad that the commission recognised the importance of retaining the expertise in this House. One of the valuable characteristics of the House of Lords—I share the point that the noble Earl, Lord Longford, has just made about the House as it is presently constituted—is that it contains so many people who have expert knowledge in their field. That lends an impressive quality to general debates and it lends an edge and a quality to the revision of legislation. As a former Minister who was quite frequently on the receiving end of detailed criticism on the part of experts on some matter of policy, I know how that quality of debate sharpened one's contribution to the debate and the quality of the debate. Whatever may or may not emerge from this discussion, we should certainly lose something of great importance and distinction if we did not retain the experts in this House.
I touch on Recommendation 34 on overseas territories, which interests me. This issue is unlikely to be raised by others. These small countries, which are the legacy of the Empire, are not directly represented anywhere and are not independent and therefore cannot speak for themselves. Nevertheless, they have their problems. One needs think only of Montserrat, the Falklands, Gibraltar or St Helena, to say nothing of the others, to realise that there is something to be said for considering representation on their part. I hope that the appointments commission will seriously consider this matter.
Time does not allow me to comment in detail on a great many of the other recommendations. However, I am not happy about Recommendation 70(f) which mentions minimum quotas of 30 per cent women and 30 per cent men. I have never been in favour of a quota system for anyone. I think it devalues those in the quota; it devalues the individual. All too easily quotas can become a maximum number rather than a minimum number. I am not sure that the end result is what one would want.
There is a great deal in the report which deserves close and careful consideration. I particularly welcome the proposals contained in Chapter 16 which build on the procedures of the House as we have known it. The House is unique in being a self-regulating Chamber and it has greatly benefited from it. Any loss of that status would be a great disadvantage.
I welcome the emphasis on a stronger House to do the work which is its main purpose—that is, calling the executive to account. The proposals concerning secondary legislation are important and I welcome the establishment of a constitutional committee.
Time does not allow one to go into all the detail that one would like. I share the views of other noble Lords that, if we are to move on this, we should proceed where we can—particularly in regard to the appointments committee—and consider these other matters. There are big problems to be resolved, but this 958 is very important. It will meet a promise that was made during the long and very painful debates that the House went through over stage one. We owe it to those hereditary Peers who were pushed out unceremoniously to ensure that a better House than the one we had before comes out of this. It should be our aim to create a House which has both the authority and the independence to call the executive to account. People are concerned today about an over-powerful executive; it is our job to produce a legislature to balance that executive.
§ 6.12 p.m.
§ Lord Dahrendorf
My Lords, if one thing has become increasingly evident today, it is that the Wakeham report provides an excellent basis for moving forward. I am pleased about that. It is informative, thoughtful, well argued and persuasive in most of its recommendations. That sounds like the kind of statement which is followed by exceptions—and it is. If I had the subtlety and wisdom of my noble friend Lord Ezra, I would say that it leaves me with two questions. The two questions coming from me—which are similar to his—may, however, sound more like statements to some noble Lords. But they are questions. Like many others—and obviously like members of the commission itself—I am not sure that I have thought everything through sufficiently to be entirely certain of my arguments.
It is right that the report should have begun with a discussion of the role of the second Chamber. That role is, in large part, a result of what the report calls "the constitutional context"—that is, the context in which we are operating. One can imagine a totally different context. I can even imagine—although I do not wish for—a context in which a second Chamber would not be necessary.
We are operating in a context characterised by two elements: first, the absence of a written constitution and thus, for example, the absence of a constitutional court; and, secondly—and I underline both words—the "strengths" and the "weaknesses" of the House of Commons, the other place.
So far as concerns the first of these contextual facts, there is therefore a need for a constitutional long-stop. That can, to some extent, be provided by the House of Lords, especially if the House is strengthened by a constitution committee and by participation in a human rights committee. I am a little more sceptical about the desirability of amending the Parliament Act in any way unless it is absolutely necessary.
So far as concerns the strengths and weaknesses of the other place, too little has so far been said about its strengths. Perhaps I am reasonably well placed, with a degree of comparative experience, to point to at least two major strengths of the House of Commons. It is stronger in relation to government than most other parliaments in the sense that government is largely recruited from Parliament, which supports and sustains that government. It is also a Chamber that holds government to account. Make no mistake, even Prime Minister's Questions—a seemingly small 959 feature in the weekly life of the House of Commons—is very different from most parliaments in Europe. I know of one Prime Minister in a not very small member state of the European Union who prides himself on going to his Parliament three or four times a year and having his Members of Parliament come to him. There is still in the Parliament of Westminster, and in the House Commons in particular, an element of direct exchange which involves a degree of control of Parliament which is not universal. The other place is also stronger than most parliaments in the way it links the political centre with the electorate through the constituency principle.
Strengths often have weaknesses as their flip side. The Wakeham Commission makes the important statement:Debate in the Commons is often more confrontational and party political".That is one reason why it is unlikely to be a chamber in which great national debates about the long term—to quote the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne—can take place. That is perhaps the key point. It is a chamber in which, because of its strengths and the time and the structures that go with them, there is not really the ability for the kind of line-by-line scrutiny of legislation which is the daily work of the second Chamber.
If this is the constitutional context, it defines the role of the second Chamber very clearly. In many ways, I am simply following what the Wakeham Commission tells us: that it is a constitutional long-stop; that it is a Chamber for legislative scrutiny, not least for the scrutiny of legislation which emerges not from this Parliament but from Europe; and that it is a forum for important debates. The composition of the second Chamber follows from this particular role.
I agree unreservedly with the four points made by the Wakeham Commission: no wholly or largely directly elected chamber; no indirect election; no random selection; and no co-option. I also agree that, if these alternatives are ruled out, the appointments commission will require careful attention. Like other noble Lords who have spoken, I am a little concerned that the noble Lord. Lord Wakeham, should mind so much what he calls "cherry picking". Sometimes, strategic changes with great leverage can be a pretty good beginning for a considerable process of change. Establishing an appointments commission as foreseen in the Wakeham report would be one such strategic change.
I come to my two questions. Having 65, 87 or 190 elected Members seems to me one of the few quite pointless recommendations. It is true that 15 years, plus a prohibition on standing for the other place for another 10, amounts almost to appointment for life. Even so, it seems to me that elected Members would be a curiously alien element unless they were the advance party of a totally different chamber. Above all, I am simply not convinced that they would provide what the commission wants them to provide; namely, "authority" or "legitimacy".
960 Legitimacy is an important and complex idea. It has to do with legality; following certain rules; effectiveness, competence and qualifications; and confidence, both within the Chamber and outside it. Elections are not the only method of providing legitimacy; nor do they necessarily do so at all times. I am not sure that the directly elected European Parliament is more legitimate than its predecessor—an assembly gathered from the parliaments of the member states. Conversely, our judges, and such bodies as the Monetary Policy Committee, are quite legitimate without being elected, because they comply with many of the criteria of legitimacy. In that sense, I should find it possible, in line with the constitutional role of the second Chamber, including the prevalence of the first, to conceive of a House wholly appointed by a plausible and transparent process. Indeed, I can readily think of reasons why it would conduct its business better than either a hybrid or a wholly elected chamber.
My second question relates to the vexing issue to which the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, addressed his comments. It is the issue of the regions. "Giving a voice to the nations and regions" is a pervasive theme of the Wakeham report, and "acting as a unifying force" is one of its intentions and programmatic proposals. I understand all that very well. But despite the strong leads given by the commission, I am not convinced by its solution.
The devolution of powers to the nations of the United Kingdom—and soon to its regions and cities as well—represents a massive constitutional change. It raises a whole new set of problems and conflicts. These are not simple conflicts, let alone conflicts of personality. I remember vividly, during our debate on the Scotland Bill, the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, raising the issue of what would happen once the Scottish Parliament had to accept a reduction of 21 in its membership because there was such a reduction in Scottish Members in the House of Commons. That issue has all the elements of a constitutional conflict—incidentally, in this case, between two elected parliaments. It indicates the magnitude of the problems that will be raised by devolution in all its parts.
I urge all those who are involved in thinking about the future of the second Chamber not to burden Lords reform with a resolution of the obvious problems and conflicts that will arise from devolution. A voice for the nations and regions is a nice idea. But simply electing or appointing a few regional Members to this House would bring about many of the same problems that would arise if we had representation of the professions and introduce what I should regard as an irrelevant perspective into the debates and the work of the second Chamber. We should fail to resolve the real issues of the regions versus the centre, or even possibly deceive the regions—for who is to say where a regional representative resides and has his or her loyalties after five, 10 or 15 years? What the nations and regions need is judicial institutions—and perhaps fully representative institutions—not an optional extra tagged on to a reformed second Chamber.
961 I am afraid that I have sounded more dogmatic than I intended. My questions are posed in the hope that we shall make progress in the timescale mentioned by other noble Lords and on the basis of the outstanding report which is the subject of our debate.
§ 6.26 p.m.
§ Lord Waddington
My Lords, the Royal Commission is to be congratulated. It is typical of my noble friend Lord Wakeham that he should have tried to produce a scheme that was politically saleable rather than waste his time devising one that would never become a reality. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf: the report forms an excellent basis for moving forward.
Personally, I do not believe that a wholly elected House was ever a runner. Of course, an elected Chamber composed of the representatives of the people has a special authority. That is why one does not want two of them, with the second being either a carbon copy of the first or a rival. Like the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, I do not accept the argument that an unelected House must lack legitimacy. No House established by a sovereign Parliament with the consent of the people can possibly be illegitimate. However, I have not the slightest doubt that those who call for an elected House to secure what they consider to be the necessary legitimacy will not be mollified by the offer of a small elected element. The question at the end of day is whether opting for a modest elected element in an otherwise nominated House is worth while.
The commission's proposal that there should be a modest elected element has all the hallmarks of a compromise in a bid to achieve a unanimous report. It does not fit comfortably with the rest of the very logical scheme devised by the commissioners. Let us look at the evidence. It is surely only the decision to have an elected element which forces the commission to make the odd, and otherwise pretty indefensible, suggestion that the nominated Members should serve for three electoral cycles rather than for life or until a fixed retirement age.
The commission is forced down that path because of its determination to avoid what it calls "mixed membership problems" and make sure that in a mixed House all Members enjoy parity of esteem. That is the reasoning. Again, it is the decision to have an elected element which forces the commission to conclude that, as one can hardly have people elected for life or give them peerages for being elected, there must be a new House with the link broken between the possession of a peerage and membership of the second Chamber. That is a very unsatisfactory proposal, carrying with it the risk that the peerage as an institution will die, there being little point in the acceptance of a peerage rather than, say, a knighthood if the peerage does not carry with it the right to sit in the legislature.
Those difficulties would have to be faced and we would have to put up with the new Chamber if the case for a partially elected House was compelling, but in my 962 view it is not. I share many of the concerns expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, particularly in relation to regional members.
Although I do not put this anywhere near the top of my list of objections, I believe that there would be difficulty in finding people of worth who were prepared to stand for election for only a three-Parliament term when all that was on offer was a modest payment related to attendance. I agree with the noble Earl, Lord Longford, that the only people interested in it would be those who had failed to get into the House of Commons, the European Parliament, the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly. I do not know how many would be left after all that. I am not half as optimistic as the commission that in a mixed House all the members would have parity of esteem. It would not be long before the press began to talk about the Government having survived a Division but not having won a majority of the elected members.
What I really cannot support is the suggestion that the elected element should be made up of regional members who would be able to speak for each regional unit of the United Kingdom and facilitate a stronger regional voice in Europe, as the report suggests. Frankly, I believe that we need that like a hole in the head. It is true that if House of Lords reform had been addressed before devolution a strong case could have been made for the second Chamber to be composed of representatives of the constituent parts of the United Kingdom, the nations. However, we are not talking about representatives of Scotland, Wales, England and Northern Ireland but about regionalism, particularly within England. I believe that development of regionalism will drastically weaken the authority of this Parliament and the unity of the country.
The English regions set up by the Government are not natural entities and for the most part those who live within their boundaries do not feel any common loyalty or enjoy any identity of interest. We are not a big country. When we reform this place we must not lend encouragement to any design to split the country artificially and set one part against another. Therefore, like the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, I am wholly against having regional members. If we must have an elected element, for goodness sake it must not be dressed up as regional members.
Further, the idea of having a small elected element is wholly unnecessary. The really important and beneficial change proposed by Wakeham is the creation of the independent appointments commission. If there is such a commission with the statutory duty to ensure not only that there is a strong independent element in the House but that there is an appropriate balance between the political parties we shall have all that is required. I hope that the Government will legislate for such a commission right away. That will provide some reassurance to those of us with a suspicious nature that the Government will not spend the next year continuing to create Labour Peers at the present rate, thus providing themselves—if they are still in office—with an enormous majority when the new House is first set 963 up, because by then the Weatherill Peers will have gone. The public would also be given important reassurance if we went ahead with that proposal right away.
If we went down the route of a nominated House with an independent appointments commission guaranteeing a fair political balance we would be (in the words of the report),going with the grain of the British evolutionary approach to constitutional reform".which the Royal Commission said at the outset was its ambition. For this House, the House of Lords, not, for goodness sake, a senate—I cannot imagine why anyone should bring into the debate such a concept, which is completely foreign to our constitutional history—will continue in existence, complete with Law Lords and Bishops, and those who sit in it will be Peers, no doubt with "LP" after their names to distinguish them from Peers without the right to sit.
I shall not weary the House further. Those are the important points that I want to make. I have no quarrel with the proposal that no longer should it be possible to amend the Parliament Acts using Parliament Act procedures, because it will reinforce and safeguard the Chamber's power of veto over any Bill to extend the life of a Parliament.
§ 6.35 p.m.
§ Viscount Tenby
My Lords, I am glad that we are having a helpful and constructive debate on this matter with ne'er a look backwards, because we have the future to think about now.
Having been part of the original group under my noble friend Lord Carnarvon which began to consider this most intractable of problems some six years ago, I have to say that the thought of another long haul is daunting indeed. No doubt that view is shared by the Government Front Bench. However, I am tempted to remind the Government that the good news is that it is always darkest before the dawn: the bad news is that we have only just passed midnight. I am in the happy position of having no axe to grind. I am what can only be described charitably as a "goner", whatever the future solution may be, so at least I can speak impartially.
The report, on which I should like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, and his colleagues, not least because of its completion under a very tight schedule and the eminently clear style in which it is written, has attracted criticism from some quarters, quite wrongly in my view. It would be strange to find a report that covered such a wide and detailed area which pleased everybody. I find myself in support of the majority of its arguments and conclusions.
The area covered by the report is so wide and far-ranging that I propose to refer to only two main points. However, in passing I very much welcome the recommendation that all recognised religious groups should have representation.
Moving effortlessly from God to Mammon, it is important to attract the very top people to serve on the new appointments commission which, if this 964 particular recommendation is adopted, will be the linchpin of the whole operation. That will, surely, involve paying its members more than the derisory sum suggested for the interim appointments commission. Any businessman will confirm that if one pays peanuts, one tends to get monkeys.
I move to the two main areas on which I should like to comment. I very much agree with the conclusion of the report that the greater part of the new House should be appointed, not elected. I go so far as to favour Options A or B as representing those which would create the smallest percentage of elected regional representatives. There are many in this debate and outside it who do not share that view and for whom the phrase "the tyranny of the ballot box" is seen as provocative and offensive. However, let us be practical and try to avoid the politically correct knee-jerk reaction which says that predominantly disinterested voters should decide who is to sit here.
We must ask ourselves repeatedly the question that has been asked in this debate and in others: what is the purpose of this House? In all the debate that there has been on this matter most people can at least agree on the following principal objectives of this place: to ask questions of the Government on topical issues of the day; to debate matters of current concern; above all, to scrutinise legislation from the other place, and even from Europe, with the utmost care: and, in the case of the former, to suggest amendments to legislation, which has often been hastily and imperfectly drawn up, in the hope that they may be accepted when they go back to another place. If not, so be it. For such a role one does not need, as it were, the worthy Councillor Buggins reluctantly elected by, say, 15 per cent of the electorate; instead, one wants experts on every subject under the sun—and that is something we thankfully have in abundance in this House.
Quite apart from that stark fact of life, to add elections to this House on top of European elections, local elections and, in the appropriate areas, assembly elections would be piling Pelion on Ossa. It is difficult enough—heaven knows—to get our fellow countrymen to vote once every five years. Perhaps we should contemplate making voting compulsory, but that is a subject for another day. But I believe that the limit we can go for is, as the commission says in the report, to have limited regional selection on the back of a general election vote.
There are other considerations against an elected House. After a landslide general election victory, one would have a weak rubber-stamp here of another place. Conversely if the election were to be held half-way through the parliamentary term and the voters had turned, one would have stalemate. How would one protect the precious flower of independence under such an arrangement? Equally daunting, who would wish to stand for a subservient Chamber, and what quality would they be? I understand the passionate view in this matter of, for example, the Liberal Democrats. I find the conversion of some Conservatives (not particularly in this House) to universal suffrage for this House as amusing and fascinating as any of the contortions 965 performed by the Vicar of Bray. However, I should be the last person to suggest that this conversion owed anything whatever to political expediency.
Perhaps I may now say a word about the Independents. Cross-Benchers will, I suspect, come to seem increasingly old fashioned as the years unroll. The commission's and the Government's commitment to the central role to be played in future by the Independents is very much to be welcomed—-I would say that, wouldn't I?—but certain misconceptions and problems should be faced. Some have already been touched on by my noble and gallant friend Lord Craig.
Perhaps I may make some other points. There is a widely held belief on all sides of the House, however great the assurances that it is not so, that Independents act in concert on occasion just like the political parties. I recall with amusement during the previous government that it was felt that Independents then voted more often with the Opposition than with the Government. I have not the slightest doubt that the same feelings occur within the Government today. If that is really the case, it would seem to suggest that things are just about right. But whatever the pattern—and, believe me, I have sought to make some sense of it over the years—it always defies rational prediction or explanation.
What is clear, at least in my view, is that we must guard the flame of independence ever more carefully in the months and years to come if we are worthy to be trusted with this new central role, even if it risks alienating party managers and certainly party Whips.
It is important to identify the principal problems inherent in this dependence on independence in balancing the voting patterns of a future House. Any group without a Whip and, to compound that, any group comprising people of distinction in other fields with large outside commitments, will inevitably have a poor voting record the more unsocial the hour at which the vote is taken. It is surely something of an irony that the very constituent believed on all sides to be one of the new House's most important elements should be so vulnerable in this way. Having made that point, it is also important to draw attention to the fact that deliberate abstention is often a factor in Independent actions and it often seems to me to be a pity that psephology, if not party managers or statisticians, has not been able to recognise that fact.
In practical terms, however, I suggest that there is no immediate answer to the problem, but there is one possible consolation that I can offer the House. It is what might be called the reserve power of the Independents; namely, the likelihood that there will always be a big Independent vote on a big issue provided that it is at a controlled time.
To sum up, I do not agree that a new second Chamber cannot have legitimacy if it is largely unelected. Our legitimacy will be as a result of our work and our contribution to the government of this country. It is vital that we should be as different from the other place as it is possible to be. Only in that way can the richness and diversity of Parliament be enhanced, at the same time providing the 966 constitutional checks which every democracy needs. That is the task as we come to fashion an effective second Chamber and we must tackle it with expedition, resolution and good will.
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ Lord Jopling
My Lords, I begin my adding my good wishes to my noble friend Lord Wakeham and his colleagues for an admirable report. I agree with a great deal of it, although I share the reservations of my noble friend Lord Waddington about having an elected element in your Lordships' House.
I want to concentrate on a certain aspect of the composition of your Lordships' House after stage two. I have made the point in two previous debates and have been greeted with stony silence from the Government Front Bench. Perhaps it will be third time lucky today. I shall concentrate on the percentage of Members who will sit in the House who are government supporters. It is an important issue because, without doubt, this House will after its second transition become a great deal more political than it has been in the past. I have noticed that it has become a good deal more political in the three years that I have attended the House. Although we shall have a different situation from the somewhat strange balances between the parties in the past, we need to think hard about the Government's representation in your Lordships' House in the future.
At present, the Government have 27 per cent of the membership of the House. Consequently it comes as no surprise to anyone that they are defeated as often as they are. Apart from the good sense underlying those defeats, it is great sport for the Opposition parties to tumble the Government every now and again. However, the down-side is that, with only 27 per cent of the membership, the Government are able to brush off a defeat with or without the rather petulant reactions from the leadership that we have seen ill recent times. But, with only 27 per cent of the membership, the clout and influence of the House is reduced because the Government of the day can find a ready excuse in the arithmetic to reject the views of the House.
§ Lord Waddington
My Lords, can my noble friend help me on this? Is not the 27 per cent a rather artificial percentage? Do we not know from the history of the past two or three years that on the vast majority of occasions the Liberal Democrats supported the Government? It has been on only a rare occasion that the de facto alliance between the Liberal Democrats and the Government has not been demonstrated in the Lobbies.
§ Lord Jopling
My Lords, my noble friend makes a fair point, although in today's debate the Liberal Democrat Party seems to be split over whether one should have a totally elected or totally appointed House.
§ Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank
My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Lords, Lord Jopling and Lord Waddington, would put that proposition to the Leader of the House and see whether she takes the same view of the independence of the Liberal Democrats.
§ Lord Jopling
My Lords, I should like to return to my speech at some time, but I shall certainly give way to the noble and learned Lord the Attorney General.
§ Lord Jopling
My Lords, I do not know what kind of a fee would come from such an interjection.
The noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, said that the Government reject the views of the House because it is not elected. However, I suggest to him and to your Lordships that the reason is also because they have such a small representation here. I believe that if one wanted the influence of the House to grow—and tonight many speakers have expressed that desire—it is essential that the government of the day have a larger share of the voting power.
We are told that the present Government's 27 per cent of the membership will soon be increased up to parity with the main opposition party, a situation which they foretold in their White Paper published in January last year. However, the Wakeham report proposed that, after taking away 20 per cent of the membership reserved for the Cross Benchers, the remaining 80 per cent should be split in proportion to the popular vote at the previous general election. That will not work, because in two elections I can think of—that in 1951 and the first in 1974—the Opposition had a bigger share of the vote than the Government. It would therefore be total nonsense for the main opposition party in this House to have more members than the government party.
The Wakeham proposals mean that a government elected with 40 per cent of the popular vote would have only 32 per cent of the membership of your Lordships' House. I do not believe that that is sufficient and fair to the government of the day. Of course we do not want a House dominated by the government party, as the Royal Commission says. However, having only about one-third of the Members still gives the Government the excuse of being able to reject the view of the House.
I believe that in future, the government of the day, in what after stage two will be a wholly different House, should have between 35 per cent and 40 per cent of the membership. I should like to see a written understanding that the governing party would have a minimum of 35 per cent of the membership, but I cannot help feeling that 40 per cent would not be unfair. It is right that, after excluding the Cross Benchers, the government of the day should have half the remaining membership. In that situation, they would not dominate the House.
968 I also find unsatisfactory the Wakeham committee recommendation that the government of the day will not reach their fair share under those proposals until a series of six-monthly appointments are made by the appointments commission. I believe that after a general election the government of the day are entitled to get their membership at once. One must arrange the appointments commission so that the government of the day do not have wait for perhaps three years, if there has been a big swing, before they reach their fair allotment of Members in this House.
The danger is that, if there were a series of electoral results see-sawing from one party to the other, the total membership could rise above the 550 which Wakeham suggests should be the norm. However, one could overcome that by rejecting the recommendation that Life Peers should be appointed for a period of 15 years. In order to avoid that burgeoning total figure, it ought to be possible to make appointments for one Parliament only, but on the understanding that it might be for more.
I am sure that there would be no shortage of people prepared to come here for the period of a Parliament. After all, we all know that people stand in marginal seats knowing that if they win it is likely to be for only one Parliament. If the modern practice in parliamentary constituencies is to reject all candidates over 50—and I know of such cases—many people of great ability who are at the end of their career and are interested in a political life would readily agree to be appointed to this House for the period of one Parliament and on the understanding that they might be able to carry on into the following one.
I want to repeat the point that in this context one must address the problem of the non-attending Life Peers. As the House becomes inevitably more political, it will be essential that Members attend and support their party. As regards those noble Lords who for one reason or another are unable to attend often, but as existing Life Peers have the right to remain Members for life, there should be an arrangement whereby they could be given the right to retire and still to attend and speak, but not to vote. If only 45 of us are to be left here in 2020, such a situation would not last long.
I believe that the government of the day deserve a substantial representation—more than Wakeham has suggested—without at the same time dominating the House.
§ 6.57 p.m.
§ Lord Sawyer
My Lords, I too broadly support the recommendations of the Wakeham report. It is a substantial contribution and will help us greatly in finding our way forward.
I want to focus on one part of the report; that dealing with the composition of the new House. In particular, I want to focus on the appointed/elected argument which revolves around that. The elections suggested in the report will be very different from any other parliamentary elections we have experienced. The report refers to the elections being marginal to 969 other elections and of limited personal electioneering. We must explore exactly what that means and whether it will meet the legitimate aspirations of the electorate.
The report proceeds on the premise that the public want a substantially directly elected component of this House. I am not sure that I agree. All the political parties have signed up to that, the press have made the case and the pressure groups have had their say. However, in my opinion, the case for a radical, open, accountable appointments system has never been properly put. For example, there has never been an alternative to the book produced by my noble friend Lord Richard, which argues for direct elections. We have not really seen the case put forward for an accountable appointed Chamber—although, of course, many Members of this House have argued it—except in the sense that it has now been advanced in the Wakeham report. If that case stands up and if the case for an appointments commission is viable, surely if it is good enough for the majority of Members of this Chamber it is good enough for those members who represent the regions.
However, I put that matter to one side for now and concentrate on the issue that I wished to raise; that is, the question of getting right the elections to this Chamber. It seems inevitable that we shall have such elections. We must ensure that our concept of a democratically elected Chamber is in keeping with the concept of the voters who have spoken to and won the case with the Wakeham Commission. When we made similar democratic changes in the selection and election of candidates to the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and, to some extent, the London mayor, clearly we did not think things through properly and did not get the detail right. On this occasion, we must ensure that we do so. If we say that we will have a partly elected second Chamber, we must give people a real choice; if we promise democratic elections, we must deliver democratic elections.
In that context, I should have liked to see set out in the commission's report some of the tests or principles which it considered as constituting a democratic election. I have my own list. First, the report accepts the role of parties. I believed that it might downplay that role, but it did not. It sees parties as being important in the election process. The second principle is that parties which fight elections must have policies to put to the voters. Thirdly, they must have manifestos or ways of communicating those policies to the voters. Finally, they must have candidates to go out into the field and fight. Those are all genuine and legitimate tests that any electoral system must pass.
However, paragraph 12.25 of the report states that,the selection of regional members will take place, as it were, in the 'margins' of other electoral contests".I do not believe that that presents a very positive signal to people who are about to embark on an electoral process. Is it a matter of marginal versus principal? 970 What are these elections, and what is a marginal election in which I am being invited to participate? Secondly, it goes on to say that:Candidates for the second Chamber will not be required to engage in extensive personal electioneering".What does that mean? Does it mean that there will be an undue emphasis on party lists or party management? Clearly, many of the people who have given evidence to the commission would find that unwelcome. I believe that that defining paragraph will return to haunt the commission in the future.
The report goes on to mention three models: A, B and C. We have all read about those models in the report. Basically, they provide lists of Peers who are attached either to Westminster or to European elections. Under Models B and C, there will be a separate ballot paper at the same time and on the same day as the European elections. However, it seems that there will be no candidate election addresses or campaigns in the conventional sense of what we understand to occur in elections.
The elections will take place in the margins of other elections and people will not have a personal campaigning or electioneering role. Therefore, in order to fight for a seat as a regional representative in the House of Lords, one would do so in tandem with other candidates who would be fighting different elections for a completely different place, presumably on completely different manifestos. Those are the implications of what I read in paragraph 12.25.
Therefore, will that system pass the test? Will it pass not this House's or the politicians' but the voters' test of democratic elections for their regional representatives? I have very strong doubts about that. The nub of my concern is the grave danger that, if elected under the terms of the Wakeham report, the regional representatives for this Chamber will not be able to come to this Chamber and make a distinctive case based on the elections conducted in the regions. That is the nub of my case and the centre of my concern.
Yet, if one reads on under options B and C, there will be a partially open list in which voters can express their preference for candidates in a certain order. How can a voter rank a candidate who is not engaged in a personal electioneering campaign? By definition, the voter will not have the information, the personal details or the policies of the candidates whom they are being asked to rank. I make those points because, if voters want a substantial elected element, the elections will need to pass a legitimate test of comprehensiveness, accountability and democracy. I cannot see that occurring under the arrangements set out in the report.
I still believe that appointments are credible to a body that is the subordinate as opposed to the primary Chamber. I still believe that there is a case for that argument. As my noble friend Lady Dean, who is not in her place at present, told me, she has spent all her life fighting elections, and so have I. Currently I am standing for election to two primary bodies: one is the board of a building society with 1.3 million voters and the other, primarily, is the executive of my party, with half a million voters. Those are primary elections. 971 I shall carry out primary responsibilities and I accept direct elections for them. In this House my role is complementary; it is a subordinate role. In my view, the appointments system would be a satisfactory test to pass.
As for elections, I believe that four issues need to be considered for a satisfactory appointments system: first, open application; secondly, independent interviews without patronage; thirdly, clear criteria for candidates; and fourthly, credible applicants. I believe that, if those tests were passed, an appointed Member would have credibility. For the reasons that I set out earlier in my speech, if candidates who stand for election cannot pass the test (again, mentioned earlier), I do not believe that they will have the same credibility as an appointed Member. I hope that these matters will receive appropriate consideration.
§ 7.7 p.m.
§ Lord St John of Fawsley
My Lords, it is a very great privilege to take part in this crucial constitutional debate, which is the first that we have been able to have on the Wakeham report. I start by congratulating the noble Baroness the Leader of the House on the irenic tone of her opening remarks. No one in their right senses would expect a government to come forward with firm decisions on a Royal Commission before there had been a debate in both Houses of Parliament. That would be quite contrary to the spirit of our constitution and would draw down upon the head of any government that tried it condign punishment. Therefore, I thank her for her statesmanlike—perhaps I should say "stateswomanlike"—approach, for her analysis and for her positive tone.
Even more to be congratulated is my noble friend Lord Wakeham. He has done a quite superlative job and has produced a constitutional equivalent of the Bayeaux Tapestry. Everyone has got in, everything has got in and everyone gets a turn! As I look at the members of that committee—the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford, my noble friend Lord Hurd, Mr Gerald Kaufman and Professor Anthony King—I am amazed that they could agree on anything, except possibly the propriety, present or prospective, of their own ennoblement. It is an amazing achievement of my noble friend that he has produced an agreed report.
I say at once how much I welcome the idea in the report that a peerage should be separated from the right to a seat in this House. One of the greatest weaknesses of the life peerage in recent years has been conferring it on people who never had any intention of coming here; who had no time to come here because it had been turned into an honour. It was not, for them, becoming part of the constitution. It is a brilliant and original idea which we should certainly seek to take further.
The title of the document is A House for the Future. The old House is largely gone. I opposed the changes as strongly as I could, but what is done cannot be undone. The only thing that I regret in the report is that there is no recommendation that perhaps a link with the 972 hereditary system might still be maintained on historic grounds by a representation of hereditary Peers. This is the point from which we start. It is no good looking back. We should remember what happened to Lot's wife: she looked back and she turned into some species of condiment.
A major point that I wish to make is that I rejoice that this report rejects the idea of a wholly elected House. I am delighted to hear that the Minister also shares that view. In the words of my dear and, alas, late friend, Lord Tonypandy, "Alleluia!"—because, as Bagehot pointed out as long ago as 1861 in his great work The English Constitution, that would be a recipe for a constitutional and political disaster. No agreement could possibly be achieved with the other place on such a course. If we were to embark on it, that would be the end of the whole matter and in the long term it would be deadlock and paralysis if anything came about, as they have in the United States.
As regards elected members—this miserable contribution suggested by the report—I reject it utterly. We are left with the fetlocks of the backend of a pantomime horse. They would be merely a complicating factor. They would have no deep significance and by their very presence they would undermine the legitimacy of those appointed here. So I hope that that idea will disappear.
It is not the task of the Opposition to draw up a paper constitution. It is our duty to make comments and to make, I hope, constructive criticisms. Patronage is a very important issue which will be discussed, as also is the question of appointed Peers. There has been a great deal of humbug and hypocrisy in the discussion of the issue even by our national standards. Patronage, power, departs the minute it is exercised. It is a lusus naturae. It is a will-o-the-wisp. As soon as the power is conferred it is gone. So, provided only that Peers remain independent, much of the objection to patronage is lost.
Your Lordships need not be worried about overcrowding, because every life Peer is a dead Peer. In due course we shall all go to our reward, whether it be up there or down there or, if I may say so in the presence of the serried ranks of right reverend Prelates who have subscribed to the 39 Articles, more likely in the middle somewhere. That is where we shall go.
The prime ministerial power of appointment has pertained to every Prime Minister since Walpole. Some have abused it. Lloyd George abused it very seriously; others were models of rectitude. I believe that we can justifiably expect a Prime Minister to behave in an honourable way in this regard. There are restraints, conventions, Cabinet colleagues and the claims of other parties and public opinion. If there is anyone here who believes that they should not be here because they are not worthy of the honour, I ask them to stand up and take a bow. There seems to be no movement.
§ Lord Richard
My Lords, the point is not whether there is a pool of people who are perfectly qualified to be nominated to come here. The complaint is that, for certainly 18 years when the noble Lord's party was in office, too many people from that pool went to that side of the House and an insufficient number from that pool came to this side of the House. It is not a reflection on the individual but on the party judgment that was made by the then Prime Minister.
§ Lord St John of Fawsley
My Lords, I believe that mistakes have been made in that regard. But I believe that a much bigger mistake was made by the then government in bringing in to vote on controversial issues backwoodsmen who never normally appeared here. That did more to undermine confidence in this House than anything else.
I press on. I speak of my own experience. I shall tell your Lordships briefly the history of my appointment to this House. I have no fear of breaching any confidence because the best way of keeping a secret is to insert it into a speech to your Lordships. When I decided not to stand again, as a member of the Cabinet I went to the Prime Minister to inform her that that was my intention. She did not exactly burst into tears, but expressed a seemly regret. Then she said, "Well, Norman, would you like to go to the Lords?" "Prime Minister" I said, "What a good idea. I shall be delighted". That was that. I heard nothing for a year until a brown envelope came through the letterbox. I thought, "Oh heavens! another bill". I pushed it into my pocket without looking at it. I only found it later in the day, when I discovered to my horror that it was the biglietto regarding recommendation to the Queen and ending with these sinister words: "If I hear nothing from you by Monday, I will not proceed further in this matter". I thought to myself, "Shall I commit the reply to the post?". That would be madness, so I took it around to No. 10 in person.
Did that make me Maggie's minion? She would be very surprised to hear that. My noble friend was here today. She appeared to be in wonderful form. I am delighted that she is in the best of health and spirits. I was very pleased to see her here. I was never "one of us" and I am never likely to be "one of us". I do not know whether that is grammatical, but it is the truth. I always tended to be a gang of one. The only effect of my translation here was that I thought inwardly of the noble Baroness not as the Blessed Margaret, but as Saint Margaret.
The point I am making is that I was not asked to make any promises or commitments of any kind and that was the convention which was exercised in creating the peerage. I look with grave doubts upon this appointments commission which seems to be commanding such widespread report. It was the real Cardinal Wolsey who said,Put not your trust in princes".and I would say to your Lordships, "Put not your trust in appointments commissions". As my dear mother would have said, "Who are these people?" In language 974 which all your Lordships will be familiar with, "Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?" I will not insult your Lordships by translating it.
When I was chairman of the Royal Fine Arts Commission, I dealt directly with Downing Street. We never had any trouble or difficulty in getting good people. Once this ghastly appointments commission appeared, it was nothing but trouble, inefficiency, delay and getting the wrong people. Finally, when I asked Sir Len Peach who were the members advising on this exercise in transparent government, I was told that the names were confidential. Let us keep a wary eye on this and question it.
The only other comment that I wish to make is that I was delighted that the Church of England is to be represented. I am not a member of the Church of England. I find its theology a singular combination of opacity and fragmentation. It is our national church and I congratulate my noble friend Lord Wakeham on having the theological knowledge, unsuspected by me, to use as the basis for the Church of England's claim to be here the number of baptised persons, not the number of communicants. Fifty per cent of the population is baptised into the Church of England and it is that which makes for membership of the church and it is that, if I may presume to address the right reverend Prelates on their Bench, which confers legitimacy upon them. I hope the Catholic bishops will appear in some form as well as the leaders of other faiths.
We have no constitution. As Disraeli said in that great speech in the Crystal Palace, "We have institutions", and it is our duty in this House to seek to reach a consensus of all Members here on the way forward. The other consensus we must achieve is a consensus with the other place. There have been some rather unflattering remarks regarding the other place which I, as a former Leader of that place, rather resent. I can only say that you do not gain the support for a consensus by letting off peashooters to hit in painful places the people you are trying to attract towards you. Therefore, if we want the Commons to co-operate in this very great enterprise, I think a certain amount of diplomacy will not be out of place.
We are embarked now on a great cause: to provide a second Chamber which will protect the rights and liberties of the subject and which will perform the balancing function that is essential in a true democracy. It is as great a task as has ever faced this House. It will need patience, it will need much discussion, it will need tolerance and it will need insight. Having listened to this debate, I feel we have got off to an excellent start.
§ 7.24 p.m.
§ Lord Thomas of Swynnerton
My Lords, what a pleasure it is to follow the noble Lord, Lord St John of Fawsley.
The House has before it what seems to me to be an extremely well written and interesting document which faces most of the relevant problems and usually does so deftly. It is particularly good in discussing the 975 matters which it was not really set up to discuss, namely the effective working of this House. Chapter 16 on procedures seemed to me a particularly good example of that—a particularly reassuring chapter, in fact. I think the report is entirely right to emphasise, by using the word several times, that the House of Lords in the future needs to be confident. It correctly records that, in recent years, one of the weaknesses of your Lordships' House was that it lacked authority and indeed confidence. I am very glad to see that, on page 30, the report reminds us that one of the essential actions of this House should be to make the Government think again, even against their will. Let us hope that all governments, including this one, will at least remember that phrase in this report.
The quotation from The Federalist Papers on page 28 warning against irregular passions seizing hold of the lower House—of course, The Federalist Papers concerned the lower house in the United States but the point was made in relation to what might happen in this country—seemed to me an appropriate quotation, though I regret that the report said the commission would not go that far.
As a very poor attender in this House and a very erratic "party man", I am very glad, despite what the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, said with such force, to see so many references to the value of part-time Members and to the idea that the influence of parties should be minimised, which is mentioned specifically on page 3 of the report. I am glad also to see that there is a reference to the desirability that those affiliated to parties should be commended if they vote on the merits of issues and exercise unfettered judgment.
Like most noble Lords, I like the idea—a very radical idea incidentally—that no one party should dominate this House. It is a very radical idea since it has never really been an aim of any government in the past. Equally, I approve the idea that everyone who is in this House should be treated equally however they have arrived here, as was always the case in the past. Hereditary Peers and life Peers all felt more or less equal when they where in this Chamber and that really should not be too difficult to arrange in future, even if there are some elected Members as well as nominated Members.
I support the commission's thinking that we ought to have a dedicated European Question Time, and I was also convinced by the commission's case against giving the House of Lords a special constitutional position. The evidence that the commission consulted other second chambers outside this country was comforting. Just as Palladio's architecture may be said to have greatly influenced the hereditary peerage in the 18th century, so it is very comforting to think that continental legislators may have helped the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham.
However, I have some minor criticisms and one or two larger ones. First, someone should point out that the photographs in the report are pointless where they are not lamentable, although perhaps the sight of 976 where the Welsh Assembly meets is desirable since it is difficult to imagine an uglier legislative assembly in the world.
To place all the testimony and evidence on a CD-ROM is a step much too far towards modernisation. Why should there not be a publication at least of all the testimony and evidence put forward by Members of this House or the other place?
Naturally, as a historian, I believe that there should have been a historian on the committee. A political scientist in the shape of Professor King is not quite enough. I do not suppose that it is enough for the noble Lord, Lord St John, either. There should certainly be a historian on the appointments commission, if that is established. A historian might have avoided the commission thinking that in the past the regions of this kingdom were not properly represented. After all, what were the country MPs doing all those years ago?
I agree with my noble friend Lord Ezra that it would have been helpful if the commission had felt able, at least in passing, to touch on the possibility that in the future there may have to be some consideration of the constitutional position of the other place.
The commission applauds the Salisbury Convention but it might have stressed the reverse and pointed out that your Lordships should feel perfectly free to act as they wish if a Bill was introduced that was not anticipated in a manifesto in the previous election.
My more important complaints are that, first, the report does not dwell at all on the fact that one important role of this House which remains after the Parliament Act 1911 is a veto over any extension of the life of a Parliament proposed in another place. In my submission to the commission, I suggested that that provision should be strengthened by providing that the Law Lords must vote in favour of any such provision for it to be approved.
Generally, in my submission, I was in favour of a mixed House—some elected and some nominated—just as the commission decided. But I said in my submission—and I still stick to this idea—that the regionally elected Members should have a specific purpose; namely, to maintain the unity of the realm. Secondly, I thought that some consideration should be given to electing some Members to ensure the effective collaboration of this country with the European Union, assuming that we remain members of it.
If those purposes were laid down specifically, in a direct way, that might assist us in knowing what those new Members would be doing and might, perhaps, do something to satisfy my noble friend Lord Dahrendorf, who pointed out some of the weaknesses implicit in an election.
In my submission, I agreed that those Members might be elected at the same time as the European elections although I now think that, whatever the commission may say about the matter, it may very well be that we could reconsider some method of indirect election, as is done on many occasions on the Continent. Also, if those Members are able to find electorates ready to vote for them, I do not see why they should be limited to serving for 15 years.
977 Like the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, I believe that half the Members—not a smaller proportion—should be elected. I really wonder whether it is right to assume so readily that a House of Lords so composed would so easily risk "gridlock". That word was used by the noble Baroness the Leader of the House and by the noble Baronesses, Lady Dean and Lady Young. The noble Lord, Lord St John, will correct me if I am wrong, but I believe that there was no consistent gridlock in the 19th century in this country when the two Chambers of Parliament were roughly equal. And there is not always gridlock in countries where there are two elected Chambers at the present time.
I turn from the elected Members to the nominated Members. How should those be properly decided? The Wakeham Commission report recommends that all such nominated Members would come here as a result of a nomination by a body of eight appointments commissioners who will choose people who are representative of the nation. That is obviously a much more complicated task than it seems when it is put as simply as that, as, indeed, the commission recognised. Yet, on page 3, it is stated that it was thought desirable to create a new category of people who would serve here. How extremely alarming that sounds. But I am not convinced that that has been thought through very carefully or whether the undesirability of that was realised.
For example, the report did not emphasise at all how much work is done in this House at present, or has always been done in this House, by people who have served in another place, either as Cabinet Ministers, junior Ministers or just as Members of Parliament. About one-quarter of the speakers here today, as your Lordships will be aware, were once Members of Parliament. In the admirable debate on foreign affairs introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, on 12th January, there were four former Foreign Secretaries and the debate included a very remarkable exchange between two of them.
Therefore, in that regard, I do not believe that the commission has thought as deeply as it might have done. I believe that the way ahead is slightly different. The commission said in one uncharacteristically ugly piece of prose that it is difficult to find a formal system of vocational or interest group representation. Yet it should not be too difficult to find a list of people who have occupied important, interesting, crucial or even just curious positions in British public life.
Of course, as the commission mentions on one or two occasions, minority ethnic or religious leaders should be welcomed much more than they have been in the past. But, all the same, it should be quite easy to work out a list of people who are not necessarily just the great and the good who would make good contributions here, as they have in the past. It is very easy to think of them—trade union leaders, vice-chancellors, headmasters, Nobel Prize winners, industrialists, leaders of small trade unions, ex-Cabinet Ministers and ex-Chiefs of Staff, without question. How many of us have not listened with 978 admiration to speeches from such distinguished retired and gallant noble Lords in the past? We already have the Law Lords and the Bishops.
All that may seem to suggest a formalisation of what we already have. It might be criticised by some as being close to a corporate approach, but guidelines suggesting vocational origins would be extremely helpful. I do not see why the Prime Minister of the day should not be concerned, as are the rest of the Cabinet, with considering the guidelines. Prime Ministers have not been treated well in this debate, or indeed, in the report. But in the past they have often made interesting, unexpected and even eccentric nominations to this House. The requirement for a slice or two of eccentricity or the unexpected is something which an appointments commission, which is likely to be grave as well as good and great, might perhaps tend to overlook.
§ 7.40 p.m.
§ Lord Norton of Louth
My Lords, as we have heard several times, the justification for having a second Chamber is that it contributes something to the political system. In other words, it adds value. If it replicates what the first Chamber does or fails to carry out the tasks ascribed to it, it is superfluous. If it conflicts regularly with the first Chamber, it is objectionable. What flows from that and is most appropriate to the United Kingdom is a second Chamber which is complementary to the first, fulfilling functions which are specific to or usefully filled by a second Chamber without challenging fundamentally the democratic legitimacy of the first.
The Royal Commission has done an invaluable job in identifying the functions of a second Chamber. Those functions build on the existing functions of this House, which is entirely appropriate and justifiable. Your Lordships' House adds value to the political process. It carries out functions which complement the first Chamber. Those roles are fulfilled well. In some respects they could be fulfilled better and there is a case, as the Royal Commission recognises, for expanding the House's roles.
For the moment, however, the important point is that the present second Chamber adds value to the political process. That can be demonstrated empirically, not least in terms of the legislative revision undertaken by your Lordships' House. It can be shown that this House is able to engage in dialogue—more often than not, constructive dialogue—with government. The value added by this House can be attributed in large measure to the nature of its composition and procedures. It derives from its recognised political inferiority to the elected Chamber; the experience and expertise of its life membership; its self-regulating procedure; the absence of a salary; and, equally importantly, the absence of a membership ambitious for government office.
This House adds value in a way which maintains the fundamental accountability of the political process. Elections to the House of Commons determine which party is to form the government. There is then one 979 body—the party in government—responsible for public policy and one body answerable to the electors at the next election. Election day, in the words of Sir Karl Popper, constitutes Judgment Day. Once there is an elected second Chamber, the fundamental accountability of the political system is immediately or eventually destroyed. An elected second Chamber is unlikely to rest content with limited powers. Even if it has restricted powers, supporters of the decisions it takes will claim a legitimacy for it equal to that of the first Chamber.
Opponents of my argument, including the speaker who is to follow me, claim that an elected second Chamber is justified because it will be democratic. That does not follow. It follows only if one defines democracy solely in terms of process; that is, election. However, if democracy is defined as the translation of electors' wishes into legislative output, an elected second Chamber is not democratic. Indeed, one can envisage a situation in which it would be profoundly undemocratic, facilitating a stalemate preventing the popular will from being enacted. On that definition, the present arrangements provide for a democratic political system with the will of the electors being channelled clearly and unambiguously through a single elected Chamber.
We should, therefore, he working towards a second Chamber which builds on the strength of this House. That is the basic strength of the Royal Commission's report. I welcome the vast majority of its recommendations. I endorse wholeheartedly its proposals to extend the committee work of the House. That allows the House to play to its strengths.
I differ with the report principally in two respects. First, like many noble Lords, I do not accept the case for a part-elected element. In a part-elected Chamber, one would be creating in one House the relationship that presently exists between the two Houses; that is, an elected and politically superior Chamber and a non-elected and hence politically inferior Chamber. It is a recipe for instability, with votes being analysed in terms of who made the difference to the outcome: the elected or the non-elected Members? That situation will apply regardless of the size of the elected element. If one has a part-elected Chamber, then one is conceding a certain legitimacy to the part that is not elected; otherwise one would opt for a wholly elected chamber. So why have any elected element? Election of some Members would not only generate two tiers of Members, it would also generate pressures, not least for salaried full-time politicians, that would challenge some of the elements that contribute towards the present value of the second Chamber.
The claim that partial election would add some element of democratic authority to the Chamber is not sustainable when pitted alongside the disadvantages of partial election. Regional elections strike me as disasters waiting to happen. It is not so much a question of the candidates who would be drawn to them as the problem in terms of electors. What on earth would draw electors to the polls? For what would they be voting? I cannot see what incentive there is for 980 electors to go to the polls to elect such people on a regional basis. Coming from Lincolnshire, I cannot see what incentive there would be to vote for people who would claim to be representing the East Midlands, a territory with which one feels no affinity at all.
I differ also from the report in its recommendations for an appointments commission. Under the report's recommendations, the appointments commission will be an extraordinarily powerful body—arguably too powerful. In my submission to the commission, I advocated instead the creation of two statutory appointments commissions. I believe that to do so would deal with the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Ezra. One commission would deal with political nominees, allowing the parties to put forward their candidates for lists of working Peers. The other commission would comprise independent members and would be proactive in seeking nominations and putting forward names to the Crown. It would seek out those, in many walks of life, who have contributed to the life of the nation and who could contribute something to the work of this House.
The creation of two commissions is linked to a proposal that would prevent cronyism and do so without injecting an element of election. Under my proposal, there would be a link between the two appointment processes: for every nomination under the political route, there would be two under the independent, or non-political, route. That would prevent the Prime Minister of the day packing the second Chamber and, indeed, would constitute something of a deterrent to creating large numbers of Peers.
For reasons of time, I do not propose to develop the other points I made in my submission. Suffice it to say that I welcome the report of the Royal Commission. It has got it about right in 90 per cent of its analysis and recommendations. I differ from it principally, but not exclusively, in respect of the two points I have outlined. The fact that I have concentrated on those two points should not detract from the fact that the report is an excellent, thorough and, in most respects, compelling document.
I conclude by addressing the position of the Government. My own argument derives from an essentially Tory view of the British constitution. The second Chamber which I advocate fits squarely with the accountability fundamental to the Westminster system of government. I recognise that many who advocate an elected second Chamber do so on the basis of a liberal approach to the constitution. I do not endorse that approach, but I acknowledge that it is intellectually coherent. I can engage in debate with those who embrace that approach. However, it has been difficult to engage in debate with the Government because we have not known what approach they favour. We knew what they were against, but we did not know what they were for. Ministers regularly avoided answering my questions on what intellectually coherent approach to constitutional change they favoured.
981 Today, the Leader of the House has revealed the stance taken by the Government which, in broad terms, is the report of the Royal Commission. In some respects, it appears that the Royal Commission may have done the Government's thinking for them. How does that fit with the Government's approach to constitutional change? The noble Baroness spoke of an evolutionary approach. As a Conservative I am perfectly happy with an evolutionary approach, but the Government's approach to other constitutional changes is not evolutionary. The Government have treated changes in a discrete manner, each unrelated to the other changes that they have introduced. That is a stance that is intellectually unacceptable and constitutionally dangerous.
Given that, I invite the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General, in his reply, to explain how the Government's broad acceptance of the report of the Royal Commission fits in with their conception of constitutional change. What type of constitution do the Government want in place in, say, five or 10 years' time? The noble and learned Lord will respond to particular points, but I invite him to address the wider picture and tell us not only what the Government will do but also where they believe they are going.
§ 7.51 p.m.
§ Lord Richard
My Lords, it is always a great pleasure to listen to the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth. Sometimes I understand him and I am happy to say that tonight is a good night. I followed most of his argument although he lost me a little on the democratic point. It seemed to emerge that, on his analysis, nominations are democratic and elections are not. That is not a proposition that we on the liberal wing of this argument would necessarily share.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, for the report that he and the Royal Commission have produced. They accomplished the task quickly and, within their terms of reference, they were thorough. It is a good and detailed analysis of the issues involved. Having said that, most noble Lords have gone on to express their reservations on parts of the report. Before I do that, I shall say one or two words about the parts of the report that I like.
First, I was pleased to see that there was a total rejection of indirect elections and of functional constituencies, a point made earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Hurd. Secondly, I was pleased that there was an acceptance of at least the principle of direct elections, so that some part of this second Chamber will be directly elected. In a sense, that was a slightly rudimentary proposal. I admire the skill of the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, in achieving a unanimous report. One way of achieving that is not to ask for a decision or a conclusion but to express three options on the type of democratic result sought. One was for 65 elected Members; the second was for 87; the third was for 195; and then the noble Lord said that the majority of the Royal Commission seemed to favour 87, so the Royal Commission was not totally unanimous on that part of the exercise.
982 I welcome also what the report said about the proposed extensions of the role of your Lordships' House, of the constitutional committee, the human rights committee and the treaties committee. Those proposals all seem sensible. I also believe that the proposal made in the report with regard to delegated legislation is one that deserves serious consideration. I have certain problems with the way in which it is proposed that this House would deal with delegated legislation, but I am coming to accept the principle that there may be a case for letting the other place reconsider statutory instruments.
So far I have little quarrel with the report, but we must start by asking ourselves what is the aim of the whole exercise. What are we trying to create? Surely we are trying to create an effective second Chamber. For a second Chamber to be effective it seems to me that, first, it must be composed differently from the first Chamber; secondly, it must enjoy sufficient powers to require a government to think again; and, thirdly, and crucially, it must have sufficient legitimacy in the eyes of the public so that it can use those powers.
I believe most people would agree that the House of Lords must be different from the House of Commons. I entirely agree that it should have different powers and a different composition. I agree that it must have clearly defined and sufficient powers in order to carry out its job. I also agree that it must have public legitimacy, but how does one obtain that public legitimacy?
On that point, it seems to me that there are two alternatives. Members are either elected or appointed. Either way one runs into great problems. If the House were to be wholly elected, we should lose the independence and expertise of the Cross-Benchers and we should risk future problems with the other place. If the Members are appointed, the legitimacy of the House will be considerably weakened and it will continue to be questioned. The obvious answer is a combination of the two: a percentage that is elected and a percentage that is nominated. By a somewhat tortuous route, that was the conclusion reached by the Royal Commission.
The House will know that I favour a two-thirds: one-third split: two-thirds of the House being directly elected and one-third being nominated, with the nominated portion being the Cross-Benchers. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Swynnerton, read out a list of the types of people who may be available to become Members of the second Chamber. In my view, most of those should be nominated and most should sit on the Cross Benches. I believe that one of the distinguishing features of the reformed House, and one that would distinguish it from the other place, is the fact that one-third of its Members would be nominated and genuinely independent, unlike the mock independence that was sometimes claimed for the previous Chamber. They would be genuinely distinguished and therefore genuinely able to bring their expertise and distinction to bear.
It is quite clear that the Royal Commission was conscious of not upsetting the House of Commons. Therefore, it would not support a majority elected 983 House. It is equally clear that it did not want a House that was predominantly nominated by the Prime Minister. So there are two alternatives, neither of which the Royal Commission seems to find acceptable.
To fill that gap, the Royal Commission proposed an appointments commission that would remove the power of nomination from the Prime Minister and from the political parties. That independent commission would, as I understand it, appoint for a 15-year term those Members whose terms could be renewable by the appointments commission itself. Existing life Peers would remain, but they would be reminded, as the report delicately puts it, of their right not to attend. To me that is a slightly fanciful proposition. Most life Peers have visions of trotting in to the House of Lords in their mid-80s with their zimmerframes in order to participate in the affairs of the nation. It may be that some would like to be reminded of their right not to attend, but I suspect that they would be a minority.
The flaw in the proposition of an appointments commission is that it is highly unlikely, to put it at its lowest, that any government would accept an independent appointments commission of such comprehensiveness and independence. That would involve a renunciation of patronage by the government of the day and the acceptance by that government that, however popular they may be in the country, they can no longer control the composition of the second Chamber in the way in which they could previously.
It is all very well to have guidelines, and I am all in favour of them. It is said that 20 per cent of the Members should be Cross-Benchers. I do not feel that that is enough. It is said that at least 30 per cent should be women and 30 per cent should be men. Somebody said to me when that was said, "What about the other 40 per cent?". Then the guidelines in the report say,The Appointments Commission would he required to secure an overall political balance matching the political opinion of the country as a whole, as expressed in votes cast at the most recent general election".no party to have an overall majority.
What does that mean and what is it asking governments to accept? First, it is asking governments to accept that an independent commission should be responsible for securing an overall political balance. That is an extremely doubtful proposition. Secondly, it is accepting a mechanism whereby when governments change, there will be an almost automatic ratchet effect. The Royal Commission obviously thought of that because the one thing that is missing in its report is any cap on the size of the second Chamber. If we had a succession of general elections at which there were changes at fairly short intervals, the ratchet effect on the membership of this House would mean that it would be far too over-populated and far too unwieldy.
The Royal Commission dealt with the problem of lack of legitimacy by seeking to use the independence of the appointments commission as justifying a system of appointment and not election. It is a very British approach in which we say, "Do not bother too much 984 about this. Trust the appointments commission to do democracy's job for it". That is really not very good. I see the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, getting restless.
§ Lord Hurd of Westwell
My Lords, I am following the noble Lord's argument with great care. But most people, if the proposition were put to them, would prefer to trust an independent appointments commission to get the political balance right than the Prime Minister of the day.
§ Lord Richard
My Lords, arguably they may prefer to trust the electoral process rather than the individual whim of the Prime Minister or the opinion of the appointments commission. That has always been my argument.
All I am saying is that it is clear that the Royal Commission, when it found itself in this difficulty, said, "We will get over the problem of lack of legitimacy by having an independent appointments commission, and its independence will rectify the lack of legitimacy that there is in the system of appointments". That is the way in which I put the argument.
We should start by asking ourselves whether the reform strengthens Parliament as a whole. With a dominant executive of whatever party, a second Chamber with the legitimacy from time to time to ask the Government to think again is fundamental to the health of Parliament as a whole. It would also strengthen the House of Commons.
The House of Commons should clearly remain the dominant and superior House. It should make and unmake governments; it should control their finances and have the right ultimately to secure its legislation. I have no problem with any of that. The second Chamber—this is the crux of the argument—must have at least a majority of its Members directly elected on a different voting system from that used for the House of Commons. The House with a majority of either nominated or indirectly elected Members would lack the democratic legitimacy and accountability properly to perform its central function.
Let me deal with one argument we occasionally hear in this connection; that is, what does democracy matter? Why are we insisting on elections? Elections are not necessarily the best way of doing things; but they are the normal way. It is the way the country accepts. It is the basis in our society, indeed in most western countries, of securing representative government. Why not here? What is so special about the second Chamber of the British Parliament? Is it the case that somehow or other, when they get to the doors of this Chamber, the democratic principles which apply outside, which apply to the other Chamber, principles which we proselytise as hard as we can to the rest of the world, cease to have that legitimacy? I do not believe it. The argument is not one against democracy; it is an argument about the relationship between this Chamber and the one down the corridor. That can be dealt with in other ways.
985 The power of the two Houses and the respective standing of their elected Members should reflect the differences in their functions. It is a total myth that a proper balance between the two Houses is impossible within an unwritten constitution. The balance can and should be defined in legislation—in concordats and procedures—agreed between the two Houses.
Various Members of your Lordships' House have said in the course of this debate that the reform presents a rare opportunity. That is a view I share. I am anxious that that rare opportunity should not be missed. Although the Royal Commission goes some way down the road I wish to travel, it does not go far enough; it does not go fast enough. I should like to see a more democratic system for the second Chamber.
§ 8.5 p.m.
§ Baroness Carnegy of Lour
My Lords, it is an enormous privilege to speak after the noble Lord, Lord Richard. He has thought more about this subject than most people in this House. I have read with admiration what he has written about it. However, I am not sure that I can go along with what he has just said.
Like most speakers, I admire greatly the work of the commission. I consider it an excellent base from which to proceed with the reforms. But I take issue in two respects. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, has left the Chamber because he might have been interested in one of them.
One question I want to consider is how to ensure that the second Chamber has at least some legitimacy, particularly in the eyes of the people in the four countries that make up the United Kingdom. The other point, which, strangely, has not been raised, is whether it is possible now to include, as the commission suggests, the Law Lords as Members of the reformed House and what we can do about that.
Ever since I became a life Peer in 1982 I have felt that our parliamentary system called for a much stronger second Chamber, one perceived by the electorate as being adequately legitimate to do the job that that electorate felt it had to do. In modern circumstances, the electorate knows that the House of Commons cannot do it alone. Until recently, I felt in my simple way that the only solution was to move to an entirely elected Chamber, along with some constitutional mechanism to avoid deadlock between it and the House of Commons. Since taking part in various discussions in Scotland over the consultation period, and since reading and discussing the Royal Commission's report, I have come to agree with my noble friends, Lord Waddington and Lord Norton, and the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf.
The legitimacy of the House and the satisfaction it gives in all parts of the United Kingdom would not be best achieved by elections, either to an all-elected House or partly elected House. Quite apart from whether an all-elected revising Chamber would work in our system, the public would not welcome it in principle. They are, alas, none too sure about what they see of the all-elected House of Commons and are certainly not seeking a replica.
986 But would people across the United Kingdom be helped in identifying with the new House if it was part-elected, either in one of the ways identified in the report or through having even more elected people, as my noble friend Lord Strathclyde proposed? I wonder for one simple reason. I try to imagine how such an arrangement would appear in Scotland, for example.
Under models A and B in the report, as I understand it, the Scots would find themselves voting only once in every 15 years. If one was 17½ years-old when elections to the second Chamber took place, one would be 32½ years-old before one had a chance to vote. I doubt if that would give much satisfaction or sense of ownership to people in Scotland or, indeed, to anyone in any other part of the United Kingdom. Under model C, the frequency of elections would be a more satisfying five years, but that model would produce a much more party political Chamber. That, I believe, is precisely what most people do not relish.
I believe that in recent years, largely as a result of watching television, the public have come to feel that people are appointed to a revising Chamber because they know what they are talking about and because of their expertise and experience. They have a legitimacy of their own. I hesitate to use the word "legitimacy" after listening to the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, but I believe that it is the right word to use in this context.
The main worry among the public is not the fact that Members would be appointed but how they would be appointed. There is scope for corruption or cronyism and, most important, there is the question of whether one's own part of the United Kingdom is or would be adequately represented.
Scots would prefer a wholly appointed House, but with a statutory appointments committee. I say this despite what was said about such committees by my noble friend Lord St John of Fawsley. I believe that people would prefer to see in place a statutory appointments committee required by law to maintain a stated percentage of Members—say, in the case of Scotland, 10 per cent of the whole—who would he the expert and experienced representatives for Scotland. It could be a separate appointments committee or a United Kingdom body charged with the necessary statutory duties. If an overall system could be devised for the United Kingdom into which that could be fitted, I believe that Scots, at least, would welcome it and identify with it.
Furthermore, should in due course the Scottish Parliament find the need for an independent revising Chamber to examine its legislation, such a Westminster Chamber, using its Scots members, might well be acceptable. I suggest that elections be left out of the arrangements and that a statutory appointments system be carefully designed to give a sense of ownership and legitimacy to all parts of the United Kingdom.
I do not believe that the new appointments should be phased in. That is the greatest possible mistake and is only a selling point for noble Lords in the House at 987 the moment. There should be a fresh start. The appointments commission should decide whether any noble Lords in the House at present should continue.
On the question of the Law Lords, I wish I could agree with the Royal Commission that they should continue, as at present, to act judicially and as Members of the second Chamber. However, surely the writing is already on the wall. The skilful and helpful way in which they wear their two hats at present, which brings so much to the enrichment of our work, is unlikely to be sustainable for much longer, given the conflicts of interest which will increasingly arise as the Human Rights Act begins to take effect in England. When reading The Times the other day, I noticed that, even in little Guernsey, where it must be difficult to find separate wearers for all the different hats in the legal process, the European Court of Human Rights found that if a judge had a legislative role it could affect his or her impartiality. It seemed that this was not only a judgment about Guernsey. Rather, it was a general statement.
In any case, given the effect of the Human Rights Act, surely it would now be a mistake to include the Law Lords or any sitting judges in the new Chamber. Better, sadly, to ensure by way of the appointments commission that an adequate number of experienced lawyers—not judges—of both jurisdictions of the United Kingdom are appointed as members of the second Chamber. Furthermore, it should be required by law that any Member who becomes a judge or a Scots sheriff or, indeed, one suspects, even a magistrate, should resign. It would be interesting if, in his reply to this enormous debate, the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General could make a short comment about this. A few days ago, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor replied to a Question put by the noble Lord, Lord Desai, on the subject of Guernsey. From his reply, I wondered whether the noble and learned Lord really believed what he was saying about his own position. I suppose I was wrong, but I should be interested to hear what the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General has to say on this point.
§ 8.16 p.m.
§ The Lord Bishop of Guildford
My Lords, I am sure that we are all immensely grateful for the work done by the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, and all the members of the commission. The development of our constitution has been a matter of profound concern to the Church in our nation over many centuries. Bishops have had variable experiences in relation to it. In 1832 they were stoned on the streets for resisting change and in 1688 seven of them were sent to the Tower of London for seeking to defend our constitution against the personal agenda of the monarch of the time. However, unlike the bishops of 1832, I believe that we should not resist change, and like the bishops in 1688, we ought to be defending the principles on which our constitution has been built.
988 The noble Baroness the Leader of the House has said that our constitution develops by evolutionary rather than revolutionary means. I am sure that that is right. It is our custom to build on past experience, and where we need to change we are careful to ensure that the best of what we inherit is not lost as we chart a new constitutional course.
At the heart of this matter is the principle of representation. I should like to put that comment alongside the very interesting remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, about legitimacy. It is the principle of government, held to account by a parliament, which truly represents the people of this country. As my noble friend the Bishop of Durham has said, Bishops sit here in that role and on the basis of that principle. We are not here to represent the Church of England. We are here to represent the common good in the spiritual values and moral concerns which underpin the life of our whole nation. That can and should only continue to be the case if the people of our country are content with it. All of us are here in the role of servant to the common good of the people. If it were thought, in this age of secular materialism, that the voice of those who speak from a spiritual foundation is not needed or welcome, then so be it. The continuance of the Lords spiritual, in whatever shape or form, needs to be by open understanding of what can be expected from such a contribution in Parliament.
At the heart of representation is the democratic process. A House which is formed by means which are not exclusively electoral must complement but not override the other place, whose authority is rooted in the universal ballot. If we accept that fundamental principle—and there has been wide acceptance of it in this House both this afternoon and this evening—we will have a sound basis for building on the tradition of a House formed in other and complementary ways. I hope that we agree that the electoral process does not exhaust the meaning of representation. Indeed, electoral representation in our modern world risks the tyranny of the majority. The meaning of "democracy" is not a means by which the majority impose their will upon a reluctant minority.
Consensus has been quite widely mentioned in today's debate; indeed, it has been an unpopular word in political dialogue in recent years. But we need to recover it and root it in its fundamental, moral principle, which is concerned with the way in which the many voices of our people come together. Despotism, even under the guise of democratic procedures, is dangerous to our common life and Parliament is the means by which we resist it.
We have only to look at how our elective democracy works in our western culture, and in our own history in particular, to recognise the point. The electoral system, held so much under the control of the political parties, delivers a Parliament in which the Whips are strong and the executive extremely powerful. Yet it is the duty of a representative Parliament to hold the executive to account. That is a struggle when such a large majority in the other place supports the Government. As noble Lords will be aware, the 989 Bishops in recent years have sometimes had to raise sharp and unpopular questions in the face of governments determined to carry forward a programme on the basis of the grip that they hold on the other Chamber, on the basis of their duty to be the voice of moral and spiritual concern for the whole nation.
When one looks at the Houses of our Parliament and asks how representative they are not only of the opinions of the people but also of the diversity of our culture and experience, many questions are bound to be raised. What about the balance of women and men, of people of different culture and creed, of young—dare I say this in this House?—as well as old people and of people from different social classes? In the modern world, these challenges become even harder the more contemporary politics leads to the professionalisation of our political life. They are important matters because it is a dangerous situation to have Parliament legislating for the people when important minorities or sections of the people are missing from its Chambers. All the voices of the people need to be here. I have been conscious on one or two occasions in our debates that the people we are talking about or legislating for are mainly outside our number and beyond our borders. The voiceless should have a voice in Parliament.
We should not be afraid of reform. There has to be confidence in the adequacy of the structure of how we get here, as well as in the quality of the work that we do when we are here. There have been questions about whether anything is going to happen at the end of all these discussions. The quietness of these times might tempt us to take these matters steadily; and, indeed, perhaps they are not quite so important. But the adequacy of our constitution and the confidence of our people in it become matters of immediate concern in times of difficulty and when the nation is under threat. Perhaps I may use a well-known New Testament image: it is when the storms come that the adequacy of the foundations of the structure is discovered. It is in good times that we need to take the action needed to ensure that the structure will stand amidst the certainty of the floods that even our futures will surely bring from time to time.
The noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, has served us well. We need to progress these matters by, first, establishing agreement about the values and principles. I, too, share in the welcome for the style in which this debate has been brought to us this afternoon. As we talk about values and principles, that includes what contribution those who speak on behalf of the spiritual estates of the realm might make to Parliament. Then we can look at the structure for reform and seek, if I may say so, to find consensus on the detail.
I do not know whether I dare say it at this hour of the evening, but we are just a few hours away from Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. Judging by the pace at which this debate is proceeding, it seems that we might begin Lent in this Chamber. Our constitution has deep and long roots in the spiritual history of our people. At this season of the year, Christians are called to put behind them all that hinders our common life 990 and then, with courage, to accept the challenges that confront us and to make the changes needed for the future well-being of our Parliament and of our people.
§ 8.26 p.m.
§ Lord Alderdice
My Lords, some little while ago this evening I received a note from the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway. In it he says:As most of what I wanted to say has already been said. I am not going to speak and shall so inform the Table".I have only spoken once in your Lordships' House during the past 18 months or so, since undertaking responsibilities in another, and elected, Chamber. In the whole of that time I have not had a single Member come to me with that particular request—to withdraw his right to speak because all he intended to say had already been said. I have received many complaints from Members saying that they had not had the opportunity to speak, but never something of that kind. I mention this because it seems to me to be a striking characteristic of this place. No one here is making a speech in order to have a mention in the local press; or, at least, very few are doing so. Yet, in my experience as an elected representative of another assembly, I have to say that that is a pressing problem for all those who seek to be re-elected.
I wanted very much to speak in this debate because I was most impressed by the report of the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, and his colleagues. I was most impressed by the analysis and by many, if not entirely all, of the proposals. First, the commission looked at the role and purpose of your Lordships' House. Perhaps I may treat this in a slightly different way. If we raise our eyes a little—it never does any harm to do so, as the right reverend Prelates will undoubtedly tell us—we shall see around us in the Chamber our predecessors, the Barons, without whom the sovereign was unable to govern. Yes, the Barons had to be drawn together to provide advice; but, frankly, they provided support because they were the most powerful.
The Barons were most powerful because they had control of land and property. Indeed, because of that, they were able to hand on their land and property. The hereditary principle came into being largely because of that capacity to hand on through one's own line. The principle of hierarchy in social circles also developed because of the control of power, land, money, resources and people. Of course, after the Industrial Revolution the situation began to change because power began to reside not just in the control of land but also in the control of business, commerce, property and money. But it could still be handed on, so the hereditary principle remained valid.
However, the situation is changing. In the new age, it is information, communication and relationships that determine those who are powerful and influential—those without whom a government cannot govern. But those things cannot be passed on down a family line or by connection. The characteristic of such a society is not hierarchy but network. Therefore, it is quite appropriate that the composition of your Lordships' House should change to reflect those who have shown some capacity in their lives for 991 these matters—those who represent academic life, professional life, business life and, indeed, many of the other aspects of our life, not least the spiritual life and values of our community. However, that is something that will not be passed on. Therefore, those who are here for their lifetime are here in an appropriate capacity.
One of the key difficulties that has come before the commission—and before your Lordships as I have listened to the debate in your Lordships' House—is the question of legitimacy. There is some kind of notion that the only legitimacy is that of an electoral mandate. I think that those of us who have been involved in politics for a long time are susceptible to our own mythologies about how much the electoral mandate is persuasive to the people; it is not. Every opinion poll has shown that politicians do not have a particularly high standing in the community in comparison with those who have been successful in professional or academic life, or indeed, those who have shown themselves knowledgeable and to have expertise in, for example, single issue campaigning organisations. They are often much more influential and persuasive.
It is not when an elected politician criticises the Government that the people sit up; the people sit up when someone who has expertise, authority (and particularly a moral authority in the community) makes such a criticism. It seems to me that if we try to find some way to add an electoral legitimacy to your Lordships' Chamber we shall inevitably fail. It is not a question of percentages. The noble Lord, Lord Richard, suggested that a figure of two-thirds might do the trick. But then, of course, if the one-third who were independents were the ones who swung the vote, would it not be the case that the criticism would then arise that they had no right to do that because they did not have an electoral mandate? The problem is searching for legitimacy in an electoral mandate as though it were the only legitimacy. Of course, it is a legitimacy and a profoundly important one, but it is not the only one. There is a moral legitimacy of values and a legitimacy of expertise.
We do not feel that our judges lack legitimacy because we do not elect them. The problems in Northern Ireland would hardly be solved if we merely had more elections for everything. Would the Chief Constable have more legitimacy if he were an elected official in Northern Ireland? In those circumstances, one simply would not have a chief constable. We do not elect doctors. We do not elect professors by universal suffrage. Nevertheless, they have an authority which is real and legitimate and can have an influence that is usefully brought to bear on government.
It is not the case that all second Chambers throughout the whole of the rest of the world are elected. Relatively few second Chambers are Chambers completely elected by universal suffrage. It is not the case that the newest forms of government are always appointed by election and have separation of powers. The noble Lord, Lord Richard, is familiar with Europe where the Commission has both a 992 legislative and administrative role and is not elected. The truth is that in the new world these things are much more mixed and other legitimacies and authorities are brought to bear, not simply those of the electoral mandate, albeit that that is important in itself and should be recognised as such.
There will undoubtedly be those—perhaps among my colleagues—who would go along with what the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, said; namely, that a Liberal conviction must be that of pure election and representation of the people. Perhaps that is the case, but I throw myself on the mercy of William Ewart Gladstone, who was no mean Liberal and no mean Prime Minister of this country, who said that Liberalism was trust of the people tempered by prudence. Trust of the people is represented by the other place; prudence should be represented by your Lordships' House.
§ 8.33 p.m.
§ Lord Gray of Contin
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow a fellow Celt. I am sorry that we do not hear from the noble Lord more often due to his other commitments.
I join with others who have offered congratulations to my noble friend Lord Wakeham and to the members of the commission. I do so for a slightly different reason. I offer them congratulations on their dedication and their tenacity of purpose. I cannot offer them wholehearted congratulations on what they have produced, because I go along with only about 90 per cent of that.
My noble friend Lord Waddington made a speech this afternoon with practically every word of which I agreed. I shall return to that in a few minutes. I find myself in the same position as the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, who did not speak because most of what he wanted to say had already been said. However, I call in aid the old political adage that if you have an important point you wish to get across, you must make it at least 10 times. I shall deal with that point in a few moments.
I differ from many people on my side of the House, in that I think that the Government handled the early part of this legislation in the proper way. I think they were right to approach this problem in two parts. What I have some doubt about is whether, if, as was indicated by the noble Baroness this afternoon, the Government were to go down the track of having an elected quota in this House, they would not put at risk much of what they profess to see as advantageous in this House.
I should like to counsel the Government on two issues. First, I suggest that it would be a great error to rush into stage two with a new Bill. That is not necessary. This interim House is functioning very well. I see no reason to panic over the second stage, although I can imagine that for a government who have introduced stage one it is natural to want to make progress with stage two in due course.
This interim House has proved itself to be independent minded. It has already defeated the Government on a number of occasions. That is not 993 unusual in this House. I remember that, when I first came here in 1983 as a Minister, I was appalled to find that Conservative Members quite openly and without any embarrassment at all walked into the opposition lobby on frequent occasions. I must have shown my irritation a little because our Chief Whip at that time, the noble Lord, Lord Denham, said to me, "Don't worry if you lose the odd amendment; that is the way this House works". I duly learned that that is how this House works. Members are "whipped" to attend but they cannot be "whipped" into a particular lobby. That is one of the great virtues of this House. Members of this House are not paid, and perhaps that is a good thing. I hope that the Government will bear that in mind when they move forward with legislation. They must not forget the old Scots saying, "He who pays the piper calls the tune". In this House that does not happen.
The second matter on which I wish to counsel the Government concerns the whole question of the composition of this House. I believe that the Wakeham report set out fairly three options as regards having a portion of the House elected. However, it did not point out the dangers of that course. I believe that, as regards the way in which this House works, it does not require an elected element. Indeed, I think it would in many ways be a positive handicap for it to go down that route. I believe that there are benefits in having a wholly nominated House. That the report is unanimous as regards that point does not necessarily indicate that there was unanimity on everything within the report.
Two different categories of Member have been suggested. I find it difficult to see how that could possibly be avoided. Even in some of the constitutional reforms we have undergone already, there tend to be two categories of member. Whether we like it or not, in Scotland, for example, the Scottish press constantly refers in a different way to elected members and to members who are not elected; it refers to the latter as "list members". That is discrimination.
The difficulty of having two different categories of Member in this House is that we could conceivably get elected Members not being content with the House of Lords, as they would see it, playing second fiddle to the House of Commons. They would constantly be looking for ways in which the powers of the House of Lords could be increased. They would consider themselves every bit as legitimate as Members of the House of Commons. For those reasons, it would be a mistake to follow that route.
I believe that there would be a further difficulty—that is, the difficulty of attracting candidates from the most suitable age group. It would be very difficult to find candidates, let us say, between the age of 35 and 50, who, approaching the peak of their career, would willingly give it up for perhaps a 12-year period in Parliament at the end of which it would be very difficult for them to resume their career at anything like the same level as they had left it.
So what will happen? Some noble Lords have suggested today that third-rate candidates would come to the House of Lords. I would not put it in quite 994 such strong terms, but I do not think that we would get the cream coming to the House of Lords, which is what we would be looking for if we were to have elected people. After all, let us not forget that among the life Peers in the House at present we have experts from all the professions, from business—we have entrepreneurs of one description and another—and we have those who were trade union kings and queens. Regrettably, that might not have been the case had they been asked to come forward at an earlier stage in their career because they would not have been able to sacrifice the time.
I think the weakness of the Wakeham report is that it has given three options none of which is wholly satisfactory. Before they move on this issue at all, I urge the Government to consider the virtues of having a wholly nominated Chamber. I believe that this is crucially important. If the Government do not do this, there is a real danger that, by introducing even a small number of elected Members, they will concede the principle. Once that principle is conceded, it will not be difficult to build up pressure over the years for the number to be extended.
The noble Baroness, Lady Dean, a member of the commission, made an interesting comment at the very end of her speech—certainly in her closing paragraph, if not her closing sentence. She had been talking about the number of people who might be elected to this House and she said that of course this could be increased at a future time. Therein lies the danger, in my view.
I very much hope that the Government will take on board what I have said, particularly about taking their time. The number of different views about the Wakeham report which have been expressed today indicate that, although the report may have been unanimous, opinions are by no means unanimous at the present moment. The longer the Government dwell on this before they come to a final conclusion, the better for all of us.
§ 8.44 p.m.
§ Lord Sewel
My Lords, I join other noble Lords in welcoming the report and in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, and his colleagues on its production. I do so primarily because it has got the process of argument right. The report starts by looking at the functions and role of this House and goes on to talk about its composition. That is surely the right way round; the right way to address the issues that confront us.
Perhaps inevitably in recent times we have been more concerned with composition. We have been rather long on who is here and rather short on what we should be doing once we are here. The Wakeham report goes right to the centre of the issue of what the role and the function of the second Chamber should be in a parliamentary democracy. There can be little disagreement with the basic proposition that the role of the second Chamber is to scrutinise, to revise and to give the superior, predominant lower House an opportunity to think again. But it is not part of the 995 second Chamber's function to wilfully frustrate a government's legislative programme. There is a clear difference between scrutinising, revising and giving the opportunity to think again and the guerrilla tactics which can result in the frustration of the elected government's legislative programme.
So we come to a position where there is an interrelationship between composition and function. If we change the composition, I believe that we will inevitably change the effective functions and powers of your Lordships' House.
In the past the debate about reform has been couched very much in terms of legitimacy. In our political culture, that effectively means democratic legitimacy based on election. I am not convinced that democratic legitimacy necessarily sits well with the functions that we expect this House to perform. Such arguments—with which I agree—were well advanced by the noble Lords, Lord Norton of Louth, Lord Alderdice and, most recently, Lord Gray of Con tin.
The important point is not the legitimacy of the House but its authority. The two are different. The authority of the House, in terms of the functions we rightly expect it to perform, rests on the basis and the weight of argument founded upon the expertise and experience of the Members who constitute this House. It is not based on some kind of proportion of an elected democratic component.
I wonder also whether a House along the lines of the one advocated by the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, and his colleagues would make it possible for us to lose one of the great advantages of this House. It is possible under the present arrangements to bring into your Lordships' House, not career politicians, but people who can make a contribution to the public life of our country, in particular areas or for a particular time, and who can then slip back into relatively decent obscurity. We benefit from the kind of flexibility that allows us to bring people into public life for relatively short periods of time; for them to make a contribution; and then to say, "Thank you very much" and allow them to sink back. I wonder whether the type of House proposed by the Wakeham Commission would enable those advantages to persist.
Along with other noble Lords, I have an underlying concern about the introduction of a democratic element, partly because of the two-tier system that could be created. Those who had come to the House on the basis of an election would undoubtedly wish to advance the claim of superior democratic legitimacy. I do not accept the view that, once here, everyone would be the same. I am afraid that in the former House everyone used to play little tricks and do calculations as to who would have won and who would have lost if the hereditaries had been removed. The same would happen with an elected element. It would be a case of saying that the Government would have lost on the basis of the numbers of elected Peers rather than nominated Peers. That is a recipe for chaos and division.
996 What concerns me greatly is the way in which that kind of change would undoubtedly disturb the relationship between this House and the other place. We should not disturb that relationship unless we consciously and deliberately wish to do so. I am not convinced at this stage that the balance is wrong. I believe that this House is capable, on something like its present composition, of being an effective second Chamber, able to revise and scrutinise legislation and ask the government of the day to think again. I do not believe that that is dependent upon introducing a new, elected democratic element.
We are already in the process of redefining the nature of a new second Chamber. We are already at stage one. Inevitably, that means that we are redefining the way in which we work and the way in which things are done. We have had the recent example of the Leader of the Opposition, the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, basically arguing that, because of the change in composition, the understanding on how to deal with secondary legislation should be put to one side under the present new arrangements. That may be right. I shall not argue against it. But as we go down the road of reform, it is important to recognise that this House works effectively—not necessarily because of conventions, but because of understandings and working arrangements. My wish is that the two Front Benches, through the usual channels, should work out what those proper new understandings and working arrangements are in this the so-called transitional House, and, if necessary, in any House that replaces it. Otherwise, we are not just in complete paralysis; we are likely to be faced with a major confrontation between the two Houses of Parliament. That is not good for the parliamentary process or for wider democracy.
§ 8.53 p.m.
§ Lord Rees
My Lords, I rise to pay my respectful tribute to the Royal Commission, so skilfully chaired by my noble friend Lord Wakeham. If there is any criticism to be made of its work, it can in part be attributed to the rather peremptory deadline imposed on the commission, and to its rather tightly drawn terms of reference. Neither the commission nor the world would expect us in this Chamber, or indeed Members of another place, to accept all its conclusions. This is only the start of a debate which will no doubt be carried on in the other place, in the Joint Committee and ultimately in the nation outside. So far, I have not noticed in the newspapers anything like the debate that there was on the earlier reform of this House carried out last year.
In view of the lateness of the hour, perhaps I may turn briefly to the powers of the new House, which will in turn condition its composition. Parenthetically, I bear in mind the remark of my noble friend Lord St John of Fawsley, who is sadly no longer in his place, that we must treat the other place with full courtesy, consideration and delicacy. None the less, if the basis of this debate is how to achieve an upper House to complement the activities, the tone, the performance, and the powers of the other place, it 997 must surely be right to debate those powers, how they have been performed, and whether there is any case for reform of the other place. There is no holy writ that compels us, against that background, to accept unquestioningly what is often alleged or asserted on behalf of the lower House.
I turn now to the pre-eminence of the lower House. It is not defined with any precision, but one gets the general drift. I accept, as have numerous other speakers, that a government based on the elected majority in the other place must be permitted, broadly, to govern. I shall come in a moment to the Salisbury Convention. That cannot be, nor could it be in the future other than in quite exceptional circumstances, any basis for votes of confidence on the government of the day in this House.
Again, the government of the day, properly elected and conducting their affairs properly, are entitled to expect proper votes of supply, although it may be that a revising Chamber, against the altered background of any reform that may be generated by the Royal Commission, might well be entitled, indeed encouraged, to go through the details of Finance Bills, which it is presently disabled from doing.
The pre-eminence of the lower House cannot be regarded as disabling this House from performing its proper role as a revising Chamber: involving detailed scrutiny of legislation, both primary and delegated, and the right to impose a pause for reflection on the other House where matters of important principle are involved. I hope that I am allowed to say, without sounding too controversial, that governments with large majorities have not all been confined to one party. I quite accept that Conservative governments, too, have been guilty of being a little too dismissive, when they have been worsted on some point that we in this Chamber have regarded as being of importance, a point of principle, and of asserting that that whole matter will be put right at short notice by a further measure from the lower House.
It must be recalled, too, that the provisions of the Parliament Act should not be immune from scrutiny under any new arrangement. After all, it would be possible, whatever the practical difficulties, to introduce a measure three times in the course of one Parliament. I do not say that a government should be limited to one attempt in the course of each Parliament and should wait for the verdict of the electorate; however, I believe that three possibilities are too many.
I turn briefly to the Salisbury Convention. In the absence of my noble friend Lord Cranborne, I appreciate that I am treading on holy ground. I feel that that reflected a little too closely the weakened legitimacy of this House in the post-war years. That would have to be reconsidered. It is important to consider the degrees of importance of the legislation which the government of day would try to force through on the basis of what they may or may not have included in their party manifesto. In regard to constitutional matters, for example, if a government, on the basis of a proposal that they may have included in their manifesto, were to move for the abolition of 998 this House or of some of the other major institutions in this country, I should certainly not feel that the Salisbury Convention disabled us from taking up a contrary position here.
I am aware that constitutional questions are difficult to define. Mr Asquith (as he was then) regarded that as a legitimate reason for brushing them aside in the debates on the Parliament Bill in 1911. I doubt that that should be the case. It is not wholly accurate to say that we do not have a written constitution. The devolution legislation, which has been closely considered by Parliament, must be regarded as part of our constitution and certainly can be found in statute. However, other countries have succeeded in isolating categories of measures, particularly constitutional ones, and treating them as matters of legitimate concern for their second Chambers. We must reflect further on that particular question. Equally, together with my noble friend Lord Cranborne I believe that resting with this House a power to call a referendum may be a legitimate weapon in our armoury to deal with matters that fundamentally affect the governance of this country. However, these matters must be looked at in far greater detail if and when we come to legislation in this particular field.
I turn briefly to the composition of the upper Chamber. The dilemma is well known, and no one is better qualified or better able to debate it than the noble Lord, Lord Richard, who brings a wealth of experience to bear on this particular question. If it is an appointed House, there is always the possibility of abuse of political patronage. Although any Prime Minister will be circumscribed by public opinion and matters of that kind, that possibility remains. There is also the question of whether a totally appointed House would command respect and legitimacy. That matter was dealt with in the attractive speeches of the noble Lords, Lord Alderdice and Lord Dahrendorf. It may be possible to invest an upper House with a kind of legitimacy after it has been demonstrated that it performs its functions in a reliable and sensible way.
Perhaps we should look at some foreign precedents. I believe that the Canadian upper House is totally appointed. I am not in a position to say how much legitimacy that Chamber commands. I shall turn to the role of the Royal Commission in that respect. The alternative, which is self-evident, is a process of election. We must be conscious, even in this House, of voter fatigue. To draw on a fairly recent precedent in Wales, I cannot believe that voters west of Offa's Dyke really shared the same degree of enthusiasm that was generated in some of the debates in Westminster, at least on the basis of the numbers who turned out to vote. If we adopted a process of election, clearly we would not want the country to saddle itself, perhaps through inadvertence, with a pale replica of the other place. Therefore, elections would be on a different basis and at different times; otherwise, the same tide that swept into power a party with a particular set of views would be reflected in both the upper and lower Houses and eventually they would not necessarily command much respect in the country as a whole.
999 The Royal Commission has produced the interesting, although not totally original, idea of an appointments commission. I believe that the practical difficulty of identifying the constitutional paragons required to man this Chamber are under-estimated and that as we investigate the proposals more closely, they will be found to be not wholly realistic.
The only practical suggestion I make is that we look a little further at foreign precedents. It will be said at once that our historical precedents are unique and that we are unlikely to want to impose on Westminster anything that is devised elsewhere, even across the Channel. I do not suggest that we do that. I recognise the practical difficulties. In this particular field, nothing transplants easily from one country to another. I regret that the Commission did not devote a little more thought to that question. I believe that it was a little too dismissive of the idea. We should look at those precedents only to see what general conclusions can be drawn from them that may assist us in trying to solve this very difficult dilemma.
I conclude that the upper House as constituted must command sufficient power and respect to carry out its duties as a proper revising Chamber. This House must not be so emasculated as to allow our constitution to become in substance unicameral, even though it may retain some limited formal vestiges of its honourable bicameral past.
§ 9.8 p.m.
§ The Earl of Listowel
My Lords, I, too, thank the Royal Commission for its hard work in producing a document which is a superb basis for the debate today. I was struck by the words of the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, in describing the environment in which we live today. Relationships, moral authority and communication are of greater importance than they have been in the past.
The noble Lord referred to inheritance. There may be one good reason for keeping a hold on inheritance to some degree. One can be good at one thing in life; it is extremely hard to be good at two things. If one has a parent involved in political action, one may be a great doctor or chemist, and may be able to slip into the parent's shoes at the same time. Those who are considering the process for appointing new Members of this House might bear that in mind. I think of the noble Baroness the Leader of the House, whose father is a supreme politician. I do not dare to comment on the ability of the noble Baroness, but she has combined a superb career in journalism. Several Peers on the Government Front Bench have achieved that also.
I was struck by the strong arguments for not having an elected element within the reformed upper House. I shall return to that issue.
I urge the Government to complete what they have begun. It would be a tragedy if we were left ultimately with a fully elected upper House. I am assured by many noble Lords that the other place would never allow that to happen. However, the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, pointed out that the first choice of the man in the street 1000 on how the new House should be formed is a 100 per cent democratic election. If the issue is left unfinished—the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, made the point—the House may fall into contempt. Parties which may have been in opposition for a long time may be tempted to offer as a manifesto pledge a United States style upper House which might appeal to many people if they were disgruntled with the existing system.
There needs to be an authority in the land. Some body is needed to ensure that the right services reach the right people. Members of the House who may have worked in schools in inner cities and have been involved with and taken an interest in young people who have been in residential care will recognise that the right example can transform a young person's life. That is the example that springs to my mind from my experience. However, we have the ability to transform the world about us if we achieve the right services. That transformation depends on having some form of authority to carry it through.
A properly reformed upper House will have more credibility. The prime reason for a partly elected upper House may be that the House will seem more credible to the general public. While we may understand that there are other forms of authority other than democratic authority, I am not sure that the general public would necessarily agree with that. If the House has a democratic element and therefore more credibility, it is less likely to become a political football.
We have an example of an elected upper House in the United States. In my brief experience in the House, I have listened to discussions on the way in which the United States has not met its international responsibilities and has delayed making payments to the United Nations because the government's two Houses could not come to agreement. I understand that it often does not meet its domestic responsibilities. President Clinton's programme to improve the medical service in the United States is one example. One thinks also of President Carter and his energy policies. These are important policies which fall by the wayside because they cannot pass through the parliamentary system.
I look forward to hearing the Attorney-General's early announcement of a timetable for change. At the end of the process I hope that one will have a sense of completion at the end of a journey.
§ 9.14 p.m.
§ Lord Selsdon
My Lords, at some time in our lives all of us have a crisis. As I listened to the debate, I wondered why I was feeling increasingly nervous and I realised that I have a crisis of identity. I am not sure who I now am. I know that the right honourable Members of another place are called "right honourable" and I know that technically I am called "the right honourable". However, I am not a Privy Counsellor; I am a hereditary Peer with 37 years' service in this House. Having listened to your 1001 Lordships today, I am not sure whether I am more legitimate or less; whether I am legal because of an Act of Parliament; what rights I have; or who I represent.
To me, democracy is not a static state; it is either coming or going. There are no extremes; there is a circle in which you move to the right or to the left and then come together. Those of us who remember the 1958 and previous attempts at reform have always supported it. In other debates, on Second Reading and in the evidence I gave to the Royal Commission, I emphasised that the hereditary Peers accepted that they were not legitimate because they were not elected. They felt therefore that they had no right to be here and they wanted reform.
One thinks of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, who said:There is a tide in the affairs of men,Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune".I do not know why I thought of that, but I did not think of the noble Baroness the Leader of the House as Brutus or any of Shakespeare's characters. I thought of her as perhaps a little more Byronesque because Byron, paraphrasing Shakespeare, said:There is a tide in the affairs of women,Which, taken at the flood, leads—God knows where".That is the point. Where are we going? Having listened to today's debate, I have a feeling that there is a mutual protection and admiration society in this House and that it does not want to change because no one wants to go.
My problem is that I did not expect to be elected. I am not sure that I wanted to be elected. I was asked to submit my name, but on my election address it was spelt wrongly. I spent more than an hour and a half trying to put 42 names in order because I had not understood the result.
I listened to the noble Baroness and remembered that stage one meant that all hereditary Peers would go and that there would be no compromise. Within a short time, at Second Reading someone said, "Actually, we will accept an amendment if it is tabled". The Weatherill amendment was tabled, but I am afraid that I did not support it because I thought that it was morally wrong, dishonest and contrived. I have nothing against the individuals involved in it.
I listened to many people promoting the concept that there were great men and good among the hereditary peerage, including former Foreign Secretaries and members of the Privy Council. We were told that they must go, but, suddenly through the back door, back they come! Why did it have to be this way? Why were so many enemies created when the hereditary peerage was in favour of reform?
There are many misconceptions about all this. Your Lordships will know that of the 650 who went, 60 per cent took no Whip. They were, in a way, independent. Whether or not they came from the first, second or third generation was almost irrelevant. We knew our places. That is why there were conventions.
1002 I am concerned because I do not regard the removal of 600 hereditary Peers as reform. I could almost say that it is a step backwards because we lost a considerable volume of knowledge. I would not persuade your Lordships that the standard of the House has risen since they left. We had instant information as a result of experience rather than the rhetoric which comes from those who have to read a prepared brief. You have to get "run-in" in this place.
I am not sure whether I am now called a hereditary Peer. I no longer like being Lord Selsdon; I prefer "firstname.lastname@example.org". If I am elected, I would rather be that and get rid of the idea that people come here as a reward for past service. They should be here because they have a service to perform. Whether that relates to time, ability or input, whether or not you have outside jobs, you give of your best when you have the time. If you have no time for anything else, it is possible that you do not have the outside experience that goes with it.
There is a worry. As a small winegrower, I have used this phrase before: I am worried that we shall all wither on the vine. The matter of withering on the vine is quite interesting. As we have debated the reform of the House, so the average age of Peers has increased. Fifty per cent of life Peers are over 70 years of age. That is quite interesting. Sixty-five per cent are over 65. Of course, 65 per cent of hereditary Peers are under 65. That is not a political issue on which I wish to score points; I merely point out that the age profile is interesting.
With regard to the vine, in general one takes the harvest 90 days after the flower. Generally, I notice that it takes most people approximately 90 days to begin to absorb the atmosphere, the procedures and the friendliness of this House. There is no need to attack. Rapidly, we all come to know each other's strengths and weaknesses and we speak only of each other's strengths. That gives one a certain folie de grandeur. I always feel insecure so I prefer to have my back to the wall! However, one knows one's weaknesses and what one can say.
At times, it is extraordinarily difficult to be productive without being destructive. Having listened to the debate today, I feel that the consensus of opinion is that we should not have an elected bunch of people here at all. Yet, the very reason for getting rid of the hereditary peerage was that it was not elected. I have found myself in more agreement with more people on more sides of the House and in more disagreement with more people on more sides of the House than ever before. I agree with almost everything said by the noble Lord, Lord Richard.
However, if we do not move to stage two, there will have been more than a certain moral dishonesty. The whole concept behind this was that proper reform should be carried out in order to produce a democratic Chamber. I do not attempt to define "democracy". The ancient Greeks and people through time immemorial have done that. In a way, we could say that we prefer a benevolent anarchy to a malevolent dictatorship. However, if we do not introduce proper 1003 reform which is perceived as reform by the other place with which we must be in harmony, and by the outside world, we shall have failed ourselves and I believe that we shall have failed the country.
§ 9.21 p.m.
§ Lord Stone of Blackheath
My Lords, it is not fair. I often have to follow the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon. His background allows him to stand up and speak without notes and without nerves. He is quite right; I have to speak with a prepared brief and with nerves. However, I shall press on.
I remember clearly the first debate which I listened to here, on a minor reform. Two years ago we discussed another report—that of the Select Committee on the Ceremony of Introduction. The House was packed. The ceremony used to last too long and so, it seemed, did the debate. I recall that the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, who was the chairman of the Select Committee, was exasperated because the debate went over old ground and it was two-and-a-half hours before he was able to speak. He said that surely a handpicked, cross-party committee of experts who had spent 400 man-hours taking evidence and debating that issue should have their recommendations adopted without the House rehearsing all the arguments on the Floor over and over again. I agreed.
On the other hand, the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, was quick to point out that, even when a Select Committee report was thorough and detailed, it was the duty of Parliament to consider the recommendations at a leisurely pace and accept or reject them as it pleased. I agreed with that also. Therefore, we are entitled to take our time here. However, like the ceremony, we cannot go round in circles. We should move on.
The current Royal Commission had to investigate weightier matters than a ceremony. It was composed of excellent representatives from the main political parties. It was put together carefully to include a variety of expertise and knowledge. It has completed a massive task on time. The appendices represent 20 pages of the widest consultation. The CD-ROM is full of detailed submissions, sifted and sorted for us by the commission. The report is pragmatic. It is neither an impractical academic analysis, nor a radical plan to replace us with a senate. The experience and wisdom of the commission has presented us with a useful, detailed document which, after careful and sober reflection, should lead to pragmatic evolutionary progress in reform.
What is more, this diverse commission came to its conclusions consensually and unanimously. It has moved on its thinking, suggesting realistic ways in which patronage can be curtailed by the use of an independent appointments commission. It shows ways to include an elected proportion and it proposes compositions which suit the interests of whole of the United Kingdom.
Since the report's publication and in my discussions on it with a wide range of experts, all have commented on its usefulness. Once we accept the role and function 1004 defined in the paper and thence the principles put forward for the composition, there is agreement that it contains much that can be easily put into action.
Reforms that will immediately bring improvements to the workings of your Lordships' House are, first, the proposal to make greater use of our committees. That will help us to work more efficiently and effectively. Our current committees do excellent work and are well respected. We have heard much today about legitimacy. One has first to ask the question, legitimacy for what? If the second Chamber is to act, for example, as a constitutional long-stop, then a House composed in the way suggested that chooses as a select committee from among its Members the best possible assortment of people to monitor constitutional legislation, will have formed a committee with legitimacy.
The report suggests that we set up an over-arching constitutional committee with sub-committees on human rights and devolution. It suggests a committee to scrutinise treaties; a joint committee on pre-legislative scrutiny; and broadening the role of the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee. They are all good suggestions that could be implemented.
When we go down that route, these committees must be properly resourced with facilities and support to make them efficient, with decent conditions of work for the membership and the secretariat. Secondly, very good procedural changes are also recommended. I understand that many of them require only the approval of the Clerk of Parliaments. This House is the master of its own procedures, unlike another place, and we can and should move forward.
I do not agree with all the recommendations in the report. As regards the representation of religious faiths, as a Jew I cannot see how one could possibly imagine that one person, even of the stature of Jonathan Sacks, could represent the views of our argumentative community. I believe that my friends in the Muslim community would also have difficulty with a single spokesman. In addition, if we represent the main beliefs, what about representation of the secular?
However, I believe that these and other issues could be discussed in an informal way and resolved pragmatically by consensus. The commission's report is a good basis for these discussions, full of wisdom and practical alternatives. We should continue the process and try to move forward with the suggestions that it contains that can be put into place and open to further reform. Too radical a change can be dangerous; no change is worse. A steady, evolving constitution has grown to serve us well over the centuries. This report is a good staging post on the way to a more effective settlement.
§ 9.27 p.m.
§ Lord Naseby
My Lords, I, too, pay respect to my noble friend Lord Wakeham whom I have known for 40 years. Previously, he was a particularly well-known company doctor who has now produced an extremely thorough report with its unique concept of being unanimous but with three variables in it.
1005 I wish to be associated with the speeches of the noble Lords, Lord Waddington, Lord Sawyer and Lord Dahrendorf. Having got that all-party support, I pay tribute also to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, and say how good it is that he has sat on the Bench for the whole of these proceedings. I believe that that reflects well for our future debates.
I, too, was pleased when the commission rejected the idea of a unicameral Parliament. After all, even Cromwell brought hack the House of Lords when, in his view, the revived House could be more reflective, had time to consider issues and would not be totally influenced by matters of the moment. That is a doctrine we would do well to think about.
Although it was not part of the commission's brief, it is also right that we reflect in our debates the changed situation in Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and, a little way down the track, the English regions. That means, I believe, that the numbers in the other place must be substantially reduced, maybe to around 450. Unless that happens the whole of our parliamentary democracy will be challenged.
I wish to speak mainly about the composition, but I shall say just a few words about scrutiny. Recommendation 35, which makes a very strong case for the enhanced scrutiny of secondary legislation, is so right. There are other sensible proposals in chapter 8, entitled "Holding the Government to account".
Sadly, perhaps because of time, the commission did not have the opportunity to address how the numerous regulators are to have some form of legitimate parliamentary accountability. At the moment, that accountability rests entirely with the sponsoring department. I recognise that it is a relatively new problem and that your Lordships, when debating the Financial Services and Markets Bill, will have to debate to whom the FSA should be accountable to.
The second dimension that was not addressed is whether the Audit Commission should now be amalgamated with the National Audit Office. After all, it was only separated because my noble friend Lady Thatcher felt that the National Audit Office was becoming far too strong and that local government should not be controlled by it. The Audit Commission faces two new challenges in the near future. First, it has to address the Commission for Health Improvement, which is yet another regulatory body, and not far down the track will be the English regions.
Looking at the question of composition and keeping in mind Cromwell's view that the Chamber could be more reflective, having time to consider issues and not being totally influenced by matters of the moment, in my submission to the commission I felt strongly that this second Chamber should be fully appointed. In saying that, I highlighted a number of areas. I shall select only a few of those I put forward in my evidence.
First, the term "full-time politician" produces a certain degree of derision. I submit, however, that amending and scrutinising legislation is not a job for the amateur. One needs some experience of it; otherwise one has no knowledge of how to dig deep and ask the right questions.
1006 Secondly, some citizens are not represented by anyone. I refer to those who are in the dependent territories. There is at least one member of the commission sitting in the Chamber at the moment. I have to say that I was disappointed that the dependent territories were not referred to in the report. They appeared in the evidence I submitted. It is likely that those dependent territories will remain dependent territories. Their populations are relatively small but they still amount to several thousand British citizens. I could argue that had there been somebody in this Chamber able to talk with authority on the Falklands, we would not perhaps have got ourselves into the position that we did. Certainly there should be a voice of some kind for Gibraltar, some of our Pacific possessions, and the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands.
Lord Butler of Brockwell
My Lords, I think the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, does the Royal Commission a slight injustice. There is a reference to the dependent territories. The report does not recommend that there should be automatic representation in this Chamber, but it does say that this is a matter which the appointments commission could take into account.
§ Lord Naseby
My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord. That just proves that one should crawl through every inch of the document.
At Question Time today, there was some debate about the difference between religion and faith. I have to say to your Lordships that, for better or worse, in my former constituency, which I represented in another place, I had to wrestle with what is generally termed a cult; I refer to the Jesus People. I think great care must be taken when we are dealing with the definition of a religion as opposed to a faith.
I believe also—and this may be a delicate area which, I hasten to say, has no personal dimension—that our second Chamber would be well advised to contemplate having a speaker or president. That should not he the Lord Chancellor of the day. I personally feel that the practice of having a Lord Chancellor speaking, as he must, as a government Minister and trying at the same time to be an impartial figure is not acceptable. It reflects badly on the independence and validity of the second Chamber. It is not for me, necessarily, to suggest a format but certainly the format in the other place of a Speaker, a Chairman of Ways and Means, two Deputy Speakers and a Chairman's Panel seems to work well there. There are other structures abroad which are not very different.
Finally, I made the point in my submission—and we seem to be losing sight of this—that if, as a second Chamber, we are to be a revising Chamber, we really should be sitting rather less than the other place and not rather more often, as seems to have been the case in recent years.
I conclude by explaining why I totally reject the idea of elected Members of our Chamber. It is simply because, in my judgment, none of us here should be 1007 behoven to any electorate. I do not believe that any of us should have to look over our shoulders and say, "I was sent here by so and so. I must now go and consult so and so and I must reflect his viewpoint." I believe that we are here to represent all the people and if we do not do that, then we fail. I draw attention to the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Sawyer, who put some very practical questions before the Government.
I conclude with the thought of Charles Montesquieu who wrote in 1721:It is sometimes necessary to change certain laws but the occasion is rare, and when it arises one must only touch them with a trembling hand".All our hands should be trembling now as we face up to stage two, but we should be steadfast in protecting the rights and liberties of the British people.
§ 9.36 p.m.
§ Lord Smith of Clifton
My Lords, I fear that I shall be demonstrating yet again that there is little agreement within the parties as well as between the parties. I shall certainly be speaking against the mainstream thrust of the argument which has been demonstrated tonight in your Lordships' House.
Mine is one of the few discordant voices and I apologise in advance for treading on any noble sensitivities. I am an unreconstructed radical. I am grateful to my professional colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, for acknowledging that while he is in total disagreement to the position that I adopt he accepts its intellectual coherence and lineage.
With respect, I regret to say that this is a very flawed report which, pace the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham, deservedly was condemned by the broadsheet press when it appeared. It was described as "timid" in the Independent, asa meagre contribution to the cause of constitutional renewalin the Daily Telegraph,a muddled report … a mumbled agreement among the Westminster club to keep things as they arein the Guardian,The Eunuch's House—the Wakeham Report will not enhance Parliament''in The Times, whose leading columnist, Simon Jenkins dismissed it as,Wakeham the Weak—This report is just what Blair wanted—timid, confusing and conservative".I mention those headlines to remind your Lordships of outside perceptions. The debate this evening has been very much one of the club talking to itself.
Such universal criticism is not surprising. The commission was handicapped from the outset for failing to reflect in its membership the broad spectrum of opinion on constitutional reform. Therefore, inevitably, it has produced an oligarch's charter, allowing for cronies appointed by the Prime Minister of the day with a very high risk, which I notice some noble Lords welcome, of corporatist representatives selected by an appointments commission with a relatively small number of regionally elected members. 1008 The noble Lord, Lord Butler, refuted that this was a dog's breakfast. I agree with him. It is not a dog's breakfast: it is a regurgitated dog's breakfast. It will simply not do. No democrat could subscribe to such a ludicrous set of proposals. If the second Chamber is to have any legitimacy and attract popular consent, it must be elected. There is little point in discussing the rest of the Wakeham recommendations because of the commission's specific proposals on composition and membership.
The Wakeham Commission failed to grasp a golden opportunity to attempt to engage the Lords with the people, by producing a modern, relevant blueprint based on Members elected on a different basis to those of another place. The commission's proposals guarantee that your Lordships' House will become a sideshow, functioning less as an influential legislature and more as a quaint tourist attraction. There should have been widespread public consultation by the commission. That was the very least the topic demanded. The consultation exercise as undertaken by the commission—and I realise the time constraints on it—was hopelessly partial and inadequate. For example, as against a series of private meetings of assorted members of the political, legal and religious establishment, only 21 sessions in nine locations were held for the public. They were poorly publicised and attracted derisory numbers. Not surprisingly, some proposed sessions had to be cancelled or curtailed. It is likely that the commission met more people from the establishment than members of the public at large.
The only extensive test of public opinion came from Democratic Audit. It submitted evidence drawn up by a panel chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Plant of Highfield, of which I, too, was a member—I declare that interest. It supplemented that evidence by commissioning a nationwide poll from ICM. That poll revealed that a huge majority of citizens—no less that 84 per cent—favoured election over appointment for a new second Chamber, with only 5 per cent being strongly in favour of appointment. They must have polled your Lordships.
The poll was undertaken in August 1999 and its full results were communicated to the Royal Commission. Significantly, they are not cited in its report. A similar poll will be commissioned in the near future to probe public opinion further on the question.
The dilemma of competing legitimacies between upper and lower Chambers when both are elected and the need to maintain the supremacy of the lower House, to which the noble Baroness the Leader of the House referred, can, I believe, be managed by defining the functions and role of the upper House.
Hiding behind spurious Burkean notions of the virtue of slow evolutionary constitutional change is untenable. Edmund Burke himself would not have entertained such subterfuge. Indeed, the Government seemed at the outset fully to realise the need for a radical overhaul by the welcome and long overdue abolition of the hereditary principle for membership of your Lordships' House initiated by the Government last year. That was a vital and necessary prerequisite 1009 for a new, modern and democratic second Chamber. Unfortunately, the Government's early enthusiasm for reform in that, as in so many other policy areas, deserted them. They contrived a Royal Commission which would produce the compromised and contradictory proposals which in fact it has.
Let us hope that the Government will have learnt the lessons from the shambles that has ensued through their attempts to fix arrangements to suit their own purposes; first, over the appointment of the First Secretary in Wales and, secondly, by their gerrymandering of their party's candidate for the mayor of London. This time, over the question of the reform of the second Chamber, they should have the wisdom to reject the fix provided obligingly by the Royal Commission. The Government should convene an all-party Joint Committee for round table talks to discuss the future. They should follow not their own instincts but those of the vast majority of the British people and agree plans for a wholly elected second Chamber. They would gain much respect from doing so and possibly staunch the haemorrhage of their traditional core supporters, disillusioned with their control freakery as recent opinion polls report.
§ 9.44 p.m.
§ Lord Reay
My Lords, I confess that I was extremely impressed by the report of the Royal Commission. To my surprise, following criticism by a disappointed press, an example of which the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, has just read out, I found it well written, ingenious and worldly. It is also extremely thorough, compendious, and provides an education in itself for anyone whose knowledge or understanding of the working of this House is incomplete. Given the time available to the commission, the report is an astonishing achievement. Whatever its immediate fate, I am sure that it will provide the reference point for future debate about the reform of the House and in all probability will map out its future evolution.
One specific criticism that I have is that in listing the various interests or groups that should be represented, or better represented in your Lordships' House, such as the voluntary sector, the professions, cultural and sporting interests, other religious faiths, ethnic minorities, women and so on, no mention was made of economic interests. I believe the report lapsed in apparently forgetting to make a bow in the direction of the wealth creators. Unless the political class shows sympathy for them, all our grand and expensive schemes will come to nothing.
My noble friend Lord Wakeham has made no great secret of the fact that he had to be persuaded to come round to the view that there should be an elected element. The reason for such a recommendation evidently is not to produce a House composed of more suitable people, or which will function better internally, but that it would achieve thereby greater public acceptability. Having decided on an elected element, the next matter to decide was at what level: 1010 too high and such a House would challenge the pre-eminence of the House of Commons; too low and it may not achieve its aim of winning for the House the required degree of public favour.
As noble Lords know, three options are put forward, in each of which the elected element is in the minority. With the elimination of the vast majority of hereditary Peers, have not the illegitimacy, and with it the lack of self-confidence to which the Royal Commission refers, which amount to about the only faults that the Royal Commission seems to have found with the House of Lords, already been removed? Has not a sufficient degree of legitimacy been reached? After all, it is only a question of degree, and the art of measuring legitimacy can hardly be an exact science, as is implicitly recognised by the Royal Commission in putting forward three alternative elected options, for which I do not criticise it at all.
Another point to be borne in mind is in that scholarly work, discovered and quoted by the Royal Commission, Senates—Bicameralism in the Contemporary World by Samuel Patterson and Anthony Mughan of Ohio University—required bedside reading, I can assure noble Lords, for would-be constitution builders—in which this comment is made:The problem with upper houses is their very existence places parliamentary democracies on the horns of a dilemma … upper house influence runs counter to the basic principle of majoritarian democracy that political authority derives only from election by the people. The quandary is how to reconcile the usefulness of institutions that are not always directly elected with an influence on policy that is not their democratic right".The answer would seem to be direct election, but that produces a rival to the lower House and endless problems of reconciliation between two equal Houses when disputes occur between them. So the outcome is less, not more, democracy, as the Leader of the House and my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth agreed. The authors conclude:the upshot of this situation is that senates in parliamentary democracies are forever under the microscope of Parliamentary reform … Senate reform is a perennial item on the political agenda of Parliamentary democracies, perhaps because the threat of reform provides valuable leverage for governments wanting to influence senate behaviour".In other words, do not let us think that by adopting Wakeham we would deal once and for all with the question of this House's legitimacy. Whatever we do, this House will not be able to escape the issue of its legitimacy. Might not, therefore, the sensible and pragmatic course be to see, first, how the additional legitimacy which this House has already achieved and which has been demonstrated by its use of long-neglected powers over secondary legislation affects the usefulness of this House in our political constitution, before rushing into a scheme of election that even its advocates do not claim would add to the quality of the House, and which at the least would be divisive because it would bring in a new, supposedly superior, class of Peer who would purport to be here to give us respectability and who would be expensive because those elected Peers would bring all sorts of new demands in their wake?
1011 I have two things to say concerning my party's position on this matter. I hope that my party is not going to enter into a competition with the party opposite over the number of elected Peers it wishes to see introduced into this House. I am sure that it will not. But with its record of inactivity on this issue during the long years in power, if it does my party will never sound convincing and, worse, may find itself, in order to demonstrate its sincerity, having to make a commitment in its manifesto. I hope that when it comes to power—and it will one day come to power—it will have better things to do in government (although this sounds a harsh thing to say) than pour energy into such a secondary issue before any need to do so has been demonstrated.
I also think that even though my party is now in opposition, it should look at this matter from the perspective of government, as I am sure that it will, and should refrain from calling for an impractical degree of power and independence for this House.
Like other noble Lords, I see no reason why other proposals in the report relating to the operation and function of your Lordships' House should not be judged and introduced on their merits, even if the recommendations on composition are not straightaway proceeded with. Just as the previous unreformed House brought into existence and developed the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee, why should not the present House bring into existence a constitution committee such as my right honourable friend Mr John Major initially recommended to the commission, or the suggested sub-committees on human rights and devolution? A constitution committee and the other committees would be composed more of the sort of people who are available here already by appointment than those likely to be elected. Many other Wakeham proposals could be easily and simply adopted by the present House.
I thought some of the wisest words spoken during the long passage of the House of Lords Bill through your Lordships' House last Session were spoken at Second Reading by the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan. He said,there are as many ways of reforming the constitution as there are Members of Parliament and Peers",adding,What is worse, most are plausible".—[Official Report, 30/3/99; col. 218.]Anyone who has listened to five hours of this debate realises how true those words were. Any government are for that reason going to hesitate now before embarking on further reform of your Lordships' House. It seems to me that a government contemplating a major reform of the composition of your Lordships' House need both to feel a strong imperative to act and to have a large majority in another place. Even now I doubt whether both those, in my view necessary, conditions apply. We shall have to wait and see what the situation will be after the next 1012 election. But the brave words that we heard from the Leader of the House today may well turn out to be no more than that.
I shall leave this House happily when called upon to do so, but hereditary Peers who represent tradition may still have an important part to play in this evolving House. I shall leave a lot happier if it is not to make way for an elected element. I see no manifest advantage in including an elected element in your Lordships' House at the present time. Apart from anything else, there is a risk of spoiling what we already have. I believe that the introduction of life Peers, which owes its existence to the reforming activities of a Conservative government, has been an outstanding success and is not something that should be thrown away or compromised lightly.
I can understand, and sympathise with, the anguish of members of the Royal Commission—the noble Lord, Lord Butler, and the noble Baroness, Lady Dean—and with the noble Lord, Lord Richard, if the chance of a lifetime, or even of a century, as my noble friend Lord Wakeham thought this might be, for Lords reform slips away. However, from my reading of British history, we have only rarely proceeded by adopting blueprints, or proceeded to constitutional reform at all except in conditions of great, or even dire, necessity. The problem, from the point of view of noble Lords today, is that I fear that there may not be sufficient political necessity.
§ 9.57 p.m.
§ Lord Elton
My Lords, I am much encouraged to see the noble Lord, Lord Richard, sitting opposite me, not because of any exchanges that we have had in the past, but because he seems to me to be like a good old-fashioned steam engine who for a long time pulled the constitutional train in the direction of Lords reform. He has now been switched round to the hack of the train and is pushing even harder. I wish him more strength to his pistons.
The purpose of this debate is nominally to take note of the report of the Royal Commission chaired by my noble friend Lord Wakeham. I join others in thanking him for this opportunity and for all his work. However, if the debate itself is to have any worth, it lies not in looking back at the work of the Royal Commission but in trying to influence the events that will follow. For that reason, it seems to me that we should not be speaking to each other, but to members of the future putative Joint Select Committee of both Houses. I hope that, when the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General comes to reply, he will tell us when that is to be convened. I did not hear any reference made to it in the speech of his noble friend the Leader of the House.
In our review, we should start not like the noble Baroness, Lady Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, with the purpose of the House of Lords, but with the purpose of Parliament itself. In his excellent potted history, the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, omitted an essential comment: namely, that the basic function of Parliament is to control the Executive. Until the 1013 arrival of George I, who could not speak English, that was relatively simple to achieve because the Executive was in the Crown and was thus outside Parliament. But when it was necessary to appoint a Prime Minister in Parliament to conduct the business of the Executive, then the division became blurred. That was because the House of Commons in particular, but also the House of Lords (in a diminishing ratio nowadays, but always to a certain extent) had been required to provide the government as well as to control it.
In another place, where ambition is keener because careers are shorter, the ability of the Executive to offer places to its members gives it an extremely powerful means of control. The function of Parliament is to control the Executive on behalf of the people of this country. That is now almost synonymous with the electorate, but of course it was not until the passing of the Reform Acts. In doing that, Parliament is a trustee for the people of this country. Anything that is lacking in the House of Commons must therefore be supplied by this House. For that reason, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, and many others who have commented that we are holding a very three-legged debate because there is no room in it for consideration of the strengths and weaknesses of another place. Indeed, my noble friend Lord St John of Fawsley suggested that any criticism of the other place was like using a pea-shooter to hit them in their tender parts when we should be trying to secure co-operation from them.
It is essential to look at those shortcomings. For example, Parliament itself changes with every parliament, as does the House of Commons. The current House of Commons seems to me to be very short of people with experience of executive or, indeed, any other responsibility outside politics and Parliament. Therefore, any second Chamber that replaces this one must take that into account and recruit people with such experience.
As I have already said, there is a blurring, especially in the House of Commons, between the duty to provide and the duty to control the Executive. That springs very largely from the patronage available in the other place to the government of the day. Incidentally, perhaps I may leave a few words on the table, as it were, for the Joint Select Committee, or whoever takes this business forward. I presume that all of them are parliamentarians, or will be. The words are these: "Remember, if you are in government at the moment, that your party will soon be in opposition; and, if you are in opposition at the moment, remember that your party will soon be in government. If you play this as a match between parties, you are being blazing fools because you are in fact abusing an opportunity to do something for this country in the long term, in order to secure short-term advantage for one section of its population".
Having said that, it seems to me that the second need in this House is that it should not be subject to the patronage pull of the government of the day, to which people in another place are subject. That can be avoided by giving some form of tenure. The Royal Commission suggested a three-term appointment for 1014 15 years, and others have suggested that that could perhaps be renewed. When renewal is in prospect—this is much more important if we are to have elected Members than if we have appointed Members—all sorts of new considerations come into people's minds as they conduct themselves in the Chamber. They have their eye on the electorate, the appointing committee, the Government, or whoever. I am against reappointment. I think that appointment should be either for life or for a specific term; it should not be for ever. I was distracted for a moment by the noble Lord. Lord Desai: I commiserate with him on his late arrival.
What we need is a House that is independent of the government of the day, whose Members are experienced in life outside Parliament and who are not unduly influenced in their behaviour by those outside this Chamber. They should not be supported in a style of life by their attendance allowance, their salary, or whatever it is called, such as to suborn them away from the useful outside activities that actually give them most of their strength as Members of this House and of Parliament. So I am against re-election and I am deeply dubious about election; I am entirely against reappointment; and I am all for independence.
There is something at the centre of the matter. It cannot be said too often and, unfortunately, it is not said often enough, although my noble friend Lady Young touched on it in her excellent speech. We are trustees for the electorate. That means that we are here to ensure, above everything else, that every five years the electorate of the day has the chance to boot out, or to keep in office, the government of the day. If that is lost, history shows that it can only be regained with terrible price, usually paid in war or in revolution. That sounds pretty alarmist, but the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford rightly said that, when you are building constitutions, you build against the storm and not against fair weather. Therefore, what we decide about the constitution of this House is of critical importance for future generations.
I have not sought to give a conspectus of this admirable report; I have sought merely to leave some words before the eyes of those who will come together from the two Houses to determine our future.
§ 10.5 p.m.
§ Lord Williamson of Horton
My Lords, as a very recent Member of your Lordships' House I did not intervene in the long debates in the previous Session on the membership of this House. But today we are looking forward and, as I hope to make a contribution to the work of the reformed House, I should like to make some comments and to pose some questions on the report of the Royal Commission and on the constitutional developments which may result from it, particularly as I am running level with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, as regards the "gold star" for continuous attendance in this debate.
In a long career in public service, I have heard many times that a particular moment is a defining moment. If we do not say it, the press do. However, I think that, in the true sense of the phrase, we are now at a point 1015 where we can define the future role of your Lordships' House, its political, regional and independent composition, and to some extent also not only what this House will be, but also what it will do.
On that last point I have been struck by the fact that although attention is rightly concentrated on the proposals concerning the appointments commission, the political balance in the House and the possible regional Members, the Royal Commission also makes important observations and 13 recommendations in relation to the law-making role of this House, together with 20 recommendations on the future scrutiny by this House of national statutory instruments and on holding the Government to account, in particular on European Union matters. Those recommendations may not be as eye-catching as some of the other major recommendations, but they deserve careful attention and I shall come back to them.
More generally, I start from the principle, in relation to the structure of our parliamentary regime, that there should be no cloning. I am one of those who believe that it is important not only that the other place should have the predominant role but also that we should not put ourselves in a position where we actually, or appear to, damage that role. History has shaped the role of your Lordships' House to be, first, a revising Chamber which seeks to improve draft legislation and to return it to the Members of the other place for their decision whether to accept, to refuse or partially to accept the changes. Secondly, it is a fail-safe House which, on issues of a constitutional nature or which concern very long-standing traditions of UK practice, has sufficient authority to require the Government and the other place to consider most seriously the objections raised in this House. Thirdly, it is an authoritative Chamber with a wide range of knowledge of different aspects of our national life and an independence of judgment.
The question now is how far the recommendations of the Royal Commission maintain and enhance this role. On balance, for me, the answer must clearly be that they do, and for that reason they should be generally supported. First, on the role of the revising Chamber, it is right to stress the advantage of the suspensory veto and to reject some of the more confrontational or more drastic methods used in some other countries for resolving disputes between two Chambers of Parliament. Examples are the super-majority; the shuttle between Chambers—which in Italy rather charmingly can continue indefinitely; the referendum; the dissolution of both Chambers or joint Sessions of both Chambers.
But the Royal Commission presents in a very moderate way a proposal which was first formally proposed 82 years ago, and is perhaps now reaching maturity: that in case of disagreements between the two Houses of Parliament, either House could refer the question to a Joint Committee whose opinion would clearly carry weight but could not, of course, override the power of the other place to take a final decision. I support that recommendation. Although 1016 I know that the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General will not wish to respond specifically and piecemeal on this or any other recommendation, I hope that he will none the less indicate some benevolence towards the suggestion that the two Houses should consider this proposal and consider it favourably.
Secondly, in relation to the protection of the constitution—a function of this House which is widely recognised and supported by the British people—the Royal Commission rightly concludes that this does not require additional powers. However, it also proposes that, in order to focus possible constitutional concerns and to avoid a haphazard approach, there would be value in an authoritative constitutional committee of this House. I see advantage in that and I am glad that the Leader of the House indicated a favourable approach to that issue when she spoke at the beginning of the debate. It might of course be associated, either through a sub-committee or through some common membership, with the Joint Committee on human rights, which the Government have already announced that they will ask both Houses of Parliament to set up.
Thirdly, in relation to the authoritative Chamber which we all wish to see maintained or enhanced, the Royal Commission proposes the election of regional Members in order to spread the range of interests within this House. I do not see this proposal as related to some kind of search for a greater element of legitimacy for these Members. Indeed, I do not see any case for two classes of Member at all; nor do I believe—contrary to the view expressed in your Lordships' House—that there will be two classes of Member. I shall take a substantial bet that within six weeks of such a decision, the difference between the Members would not be visible in this House.
It is a matter of political judgment whether the identity of the public with their nation or region within the United Kingdom will increase. In other countries in western Europe there has been a tendency in this direction, including in those countries with a strong tradition of centralised government. On balance, I think it will become more evident here, particularly in the English regions as they observe the devolution which has already taken place in Scotland, Wales and, potentially, in Northern Ireland.
I noted that the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, did not identify very much with the East Midlands. In the region in which I live, people do identify with their region and I am quite sure that that will increase in future.
The simplest proposal is the one favoured by the majority of the Commission—that is, Model B—which involves an election at the same time as the European parliamentary elections. I sincerely hope that it will be possible to have a partially open-list system and that in one way or another the public will be able to vote for a list or for individuals.
I am surprised that the proposed number of regional Members is as high as 87, but this surprise is simply because the Royal Commission apparently envisages a 1017 total Chamber which is rather larger than I would expect. I am the only Peer who has spoken in the debate who thinks that 550 Members is too many for this House.
I think that the public would readily understand the proposal put forward that we need to have a greater spread of interests, including regional interests, in this House, and that an excellent way to achieve that would be to ask them to choose those persons. It could be done in a different way, but I think the public would quite readily understand that.
I noted, of course, that the total number of Members of the House would not be fixed under the Royal Commission's proposal. In this respect, the appointments commission would have the rather headmasterly task of taking account of our workload and our levels of attendance.
Although I support the proposals on regional Members, I believe that, in practice, because of regional and local issues, such Members will not avoid some element of a constituency role. This will be because the public in those regions would identify to some extent with their new Members.
Finally, I come back to what the Royal Commission said about scrutinising statutory instruments and about strengthening the scrutiny of European matters. I shall be brief, but I attach importance to this point. I very much hope that the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General will at least look benignly on the question of a strong contribution from this Chamber to enhance parliamentary scrutiny of national secondary legislation, including the proposal that there should be a "suspensory veto" for such legislation taking effect, if this House had voted to annul a draft instrument.
I should add that, in relation to some secondary legislation in the European Union, I should like to see a similar power for the European Parliament. That would give this House the power and the time to scrutinise that secondary legislation which, at the present time, we do not have.
A single question was posed directly to Members of this House by the noble Baroness the Leader of the House in her opening remarks. It was the question of the separation of the peerage from the membership of this House. I can reply briefly. I am in favour of that proposal.
As the Royal Commission recommends that I, like other life Peers, should be here until I die, or retire—the commission relies principally on the Grim Reaper to sort out this issue!—I look forward, because I have certain elements of tenure, to seeing some of these ideas actually come to pass.
§ 10.15 p.m.
§ Lord Denham
My Lords, in something over 40 years spent in active politics, I never remember a previous government embarking on even minor constitutional change without at least trying to achieve some form of consensus with the other parties first. The Government 1018 seem to glory in not trying to do so. As a result, there is not a single constitutional change they have made that is not deeply flawed in some way or another.
First, there were the two devolution Bills. If it is desirable to give the Scots and the Welsh responsibility for their own destiny, surely it must follow that the local party members should be able to decide who they want to lead them, without having to defer to Downing Street or Smith Square. It is, to say the least, unlikely, if the two referenda had been held on the same day rather than a week apart, that there would be a Welsh Assembly now. The Neill report on standards in public life in effect rebuked Her Majesty's Government retrospectively for using public money to support one side of the argument.
Then there is the West Lothian question. The only answer that the party opposite seems to have arrived at is to pretend that it does not exist. As a result, it would be possible now for Labour Members of the Scottish Parliament to choose one option for their own countrymen, and for their Westminster colleagues, at the behest of Downing Street, to inflict the exact opposite on England and Wales.
As for Westminster itself, the Government have reduced Prime Minister's Question Time in another place from two days to one. They have allowed important statements to be made direct to the press from Downing Street. They have put spin doctors above Ministers of the Crown. And, as to the spin doctors, when are they going to pay attention to the Neill Committee's warnings about them? Finally, there is the matter of the mayor of London.
All of which brings us back to the question of your Lordships' House. Again and again we implored the Government that there should be no phase one without phase two, because, once the incentive of getting rid of the hereditary Peers had been thrown away, it might well prove impossible to get agreement on definitive reform, let alone getting the Bill through another place. Many of the speeches that I have heard today have only added weight to that concern. But no, the Government could not wait to get rid of the hereditary Peers.
And now the Royal Commission has recommended that all life Peers, unless they themselves decide otherwise, should remain Members of this House for the rest of their natural lives. And what about the considerable number of life Peers who seldom if ever turn up? Are they to be allowed to linger on and haunt the reformed House as a new generation of backwoodsmen? The Government, of course, resolutely refused to have even one hereditary Peer of long-standing experience on the Royal Commission who might have given invaluable advice as to how a newly constituted second Chamber would best work.
It is just as well that we insisted on the by-election procedure for the 92 hereditary Peers. If the Royal Commission proposal as it stands were to go through, the ultimate House that it envisages would be unlikely to come into effect for many years.
1019 In that connection, I was horrified to hear that my noble friend Lord Wakeham and the noble Baroness, Lady Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, should have found it necessary to urge the House to take account of the report now or the opportunity might not occur again for many years. We have no choice. We are honour bound to do so. Now is the time for Her Majesty's Government to save something out of the wreck. They owe it to the country, with whose trusted institutions they have been tinkering. They owe it to Parliament, whose prestige and authority they have been sidelining. And, above all perhaps, they owe it to the hereditary Peers whom they have sent packing like a lot of naughty schoolchildren after a lifetime, many of them, of public service spent in this building, to put something of positive and immediate value in their place.
The steps forward are simple: first, to set up the independent commission with statutory backing to vet the whole of each new list of Peers, not just for the Cross-Benches but also the party nominations; secondly, to set up a joint Select Committee of both Houses to answer the questions and round off the rough edges—there are some—in the report of the Royal Commission; thirdly, to consult the other political parties, just for once, and make a genuine attempt to reach the most satisfactory solution. It would be eminently possible, for instance, to use the same machinery that was devised for the self-election of hereditary Peers to reduce the present large number of life Peers to manageable proportions. The final step is for the Government to get the resultant Bill through Parliament by their massive majority in another place, if necessary by making it a vote of confidence.
I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Acton, is shortly to return to the Benches opposite. Before it is too late perhaps he will remind his noble and right honourable friends of the saying of his illustrious forebear:All power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely".This Government is closer to absolute power than any other since the 1840s. Corruption comes in many different forms and of these arrogance is by no means the least dangerous.
§ 10.20 p.m.
§ Lord Graham of Edmonton
My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow my old sparring partner the noble Lord, Lord Denham. He was a Chief Whip without peer.
Whether or not it is recognised as such, the strong message from both the report and previous speakers is that, in the light of the first stage reform, things will never be the same again. If, therefore, all aspects of life in the second Chamber are up for review I believe that the discussion should take into account the question of expenses, payments, allowances—call them what you will. If we are to have a changed, and changing, congregation that is younger, more specialist, more 1020 relevant and drawn from beyond the South East, we must look at how the future regime will be different from the present.
At this stage in the debate much of what can be said has been said. Yet I wish to take up a little more time on the section of the report of the Royal Commission which deals with an interest that affects every Member of this House, and any future House, whatever its shape or size. I refer to Chapter 17 of the report, which deals with resources. As to that, I am grateful for the remarks of my noble friend Lady Dean, the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, and perhaps others. I trust that there is near unanimity on the thrust of the point.
Bluntly, the chapter spells out the woefully inadequate way in which Members of this House are served. There is an old saying that the Lord helps those who help themselves. It is about time these Lords helped themselves, because nobody else will. I refer to paragraphs 17.3, 17.4, 17.7 and others. However, I draw particular attention to paragraph 17.10 on page 166, which precedes Recommendation 121:The question that arises now is whether any payment made in recognition of the time which members of the reformed second chamber devote to their Parliamentary duties should be related to attendance, or paid in the form of a salary regardless of attendance".Recommendation 121 states—those who support the report in general subscribe to this view—that,Financial support for members of the reformed second chamber should he related to attendance in Parliament".I also draw attention to Recommendation 124, which is equally important in the context of my remarks:The SSRB should consider the issue of severance payments and pension arrangements for members of the reformed second chamber".All of us can speak from personal experience and that of others. Without exception, all my colleagues were willing volunteers in coming to this House and knew of the financial implications. It is neither sour grapes nor "snouts in the trough" to assert that in 2000 it is time to relate recompense or reward to the tasks ahead.
I plead the case, backing the report, for a more sensible package which will both attract and retain the interest and service of men and women who, even now, suffer financial burdens as a consequence of their attending here. A wide spectrum of financial circumstances is experienced by Members in this House. But that to me is a spur for review and change.
My experience over more than 16 years in this House, preceded by 10 years in another place, is that when it comes to looking after ourselves we can take lessons from the other place. Your Lordships' House is far too timid in pursuing such factors as accommodation, Members' facilities, payments and expenses. Some years ago the SSRB announced a programme of reviews. The first review involved Back-Benchers in the Commons. That review took place to their satisfaction. The second review related to Ministers in the Commons. That took place to their satisfaction. The third review related to Ministers in your Lordships' House. That review has taken place to their satisfaction. But the fourth estate, Back-Benchers 1021 in the House of Lords, has not been reviewed. Nothing has been done, although later this year the SSRB is scheduled to consider our case. I am not optimistic.
In 1996 the SSRB asked Hay Management Consultants to advise it. The consultants reported to the SSRB as follows:The impression from what we heard was that the present level of allowances is an uneasy compromise between the needs of those working Peers who have to resort to subsidising their own costs and the many others for whom the allowances represent a not ungenerous honorarium for making an appearance in the House".The report continued:The near unanimous view of the Peers we interviewed is that the level of expenses and the support available to working Peers is insufficient to cover the costs involved and should be improved".That was the recommendation of the consultants. Yet, when that recommendation, backed by evidence, went before the SSRB, it stated in paragraph 134 of its report:We have concluded that on the whole the level of Peers' allowances are appropriate".In time this House will become a Chamber in which all those who attend will be workers. I firmly believe that a worker is worthy of his hire. No party point is made when I support the recommendation that not only should the present regime of allowances be enhanced but the additional allowance for attendance should be pursued without delay. Members of this Chamber—it is a bicameral system—do not receive one penny by virtue of membership. They have to claim the return of moneys spent on travel, overnight costs, subsistence and secretarial support. if the members of any other House of Parliament allow themselves to be treated so scurvily, I should like to hear of it.
I conclude by reiterating the thrust of my views. No one else will help us if we do not help ourselves. The report is a step in the right direction and it is to the section on resources and support for us and our work that I give my wholehearted approval.
§ 10.28 p.m.
§ Lord Goodhart
My Lords, I start by misquoting Mark Anthony: I come to praise Wakeham, not to bury him. Indeed, the report contains many good and sensible recommendations. I think that on the powers and functions of the future second Chamber, the report gets it pretty much right. We do not want more powers than we have now. What we want, as the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, pointed out, is more authority to exercise our existing powers. We need more pre-legislative scrutiny. We need a strengthening of the committee system. I agree that the Salisbury convention should continue to apply.
Indeed, I have only one serious disagreement with the report on the powers and functions of the future second Chamber. Recommendations 41 and 42 suggest that if the second Chamber rejects a statutory instrument the other place could override that objection by a vote taken at any time within the next three months. If those recommendations were in force 1022 now the vote in your Lordships' House two weeks ago on the London freepost would have been overridden in the other place the next day.
I accept that it is illogical that your Lordships' House can block secondary legislation permanently, but can only delay primary legislation for a year. Perhaps there should be a restriction on our powers over secondary legislation to the imposition of a one-year delay to conform with our powers over primary legislation. But the delaying power measured in hours, which would be the result of Recommendations 41 and 42, would be futile.
What has caused me and my noble friend Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank the most concern is the report's proposals on the composition of the future second Chamber. But even here there are some good proposals. The report rightly rejects the idea of indirect elections; of elections by functional constituencies, as in Hong Kong, or, most ridiculously of all, by random selection. The report recognises that political parties will and must have a central role to play in the new second Chamber and that most of its members should be affiliated to a political party.
Another good thing is the proposal that the elected Members of a second Chamber should serve a single long term of office and at the end of that could not stand for re-election. It is important that the good features of your Lordships' House should be preserved. One feature is our ability to debate controversial issues on a party basis, without being unduly partisan or acrimonious. I fear that that would be lost if ambitious young politicians saw a spell in the second Chamber as a stepping stone to a career in the other place.
A rule that Members of the new second Chamber should be elected or appointed for a long term and could not stand for election to the other place during that time, even if they resigned their seats here, would effectively block the use of your Lordships' House as a half-way house on the way to the other place. Of course, in addition, the fact that terms of elected Members were not renewable would mean that they were under no constituency pressures and would have a greater degree of independence from the Whips. In all probability, the result would be that if such a system were adopted, your Lordships' House would continue to attract politicians whose career in the other place was over, rather than those whose career in the other place had yet to come. That is no bad thing—it is the way it works now and it works not too badly.
The Wakeham report is also right in proposing a second Chamber containing a mix of elected and appointed Peers, although I believe that they have got that mix wrong. But I agree with the principle of a mixed House with the independent Members of that House appointed by an appointments commission. I accept that a wholly elected House would create a danger of confrontation with the other place and would lead to the risk that the second Chamber would stop doing well what it now does well.
There are, however, some detailed aspects of the Wakeham report so far as they affect composition with which I disagree. I do not believe that serving Law 1023 Lords should be Members of your Lordships' House, nor do I agree with the retention of the ex officio membership of Church of England Bishops, even with reduced numbers. But, obviously, there would be representation of the Church of England, other Christian denominations and other faiths.
Those are important issues, but they are side issues which need a separate debate. The report also contains a useful proposal for the method of electing some Members of a future second Chamber. We have all heard about the three options. I believe that two of them must be ruled out at once. Option A is not a real election, but is simply a system by which the parties tell the electors who they intend to nominate the next time they get a chance to do so. Option B, which was said to have been favoured by the largest number of members of the commission, proposes that there should be elections, but only at intervals of 15 years. Frankly, that idea is so fantastic that I am amazed that it was even seriously considered.
However, option C provides a workable solution. It proposes the election of a third of the elected membership every five years, with each elected Member serving for 15 years. The details may not be quite right. I believe that perhaps the terms and the intervals between the elections are rather too long. However, the basic idea is perfectly good.
Having said that, I come now to what I see as the flaw at the heart of the report. I believe that it is an absolutely fundamental flaw. It is the proposal that the appointments commission should appoint not only the independent Members of the second Chamber but most of the political Members as well. The report suggests a second Chamber of around 550 Members. I agree that that is perhaps too large, but let us take that as a starting point. After deducting the Law Lords, the Bishops and the appointed independents, according to the Wakeham Commission, that leaves approximately 400 "politicals" to be appointed.
Of the three options offered by the report for election of the regional Members, the one that is by far the most generous—option C—still provides for only 195 elected Members. That leaves more than half the "politicals" (if I may call them that) to be appointed. Under option A, all would be appointed. Under option B, more than three-quarters would be appointed. I believe that that is neither right in principle nor workable.
First, the selection of members of the commission will be highly politicised. The report proposes that members of the commission should be nominated by the Leader of your Lordships' House after consultation with the leaders of the other party groups and the Convenor of the Cross-Benchers. That will lead to intensive horse-trading through the usual channels. I continue the equine analogy. Each party will have a strong incentive to press for good, sound, quiet horses which have been gelded, respond well to the bit and will not kick over the traces.
The report states that the appointments commission will occupy a position in respect of the second Chamber which is broadly comparable to that of the 1024 electoral commission, which is now in the process of being set up under the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Bill in respect of the other place. However, the electoral commission will not elect Members of Parliament. The comparison is extremely far-fetched. I believe that there are no platonic guardians so independent, so unbiased, so omniscient and so resistant to pressure as to deserve membership of the appointments commission. However, if any such marvellous people exist, it is certain that they will not be appointed to that commission.
How, then, will the politicals be chosen? Will the commission exercise its own judgment and ignore the wishes of the party leaderships or will it be guided by those wishes? I have been to two meetings addressed by members of the commission, both of whom have spoken in the debate today. I asked both of them that question. One said that the commission will exercise its own judgment. It will select people from a wide spectrum of opinion across the membership of each party; for example, this member of the commission said that it would appoint Ken Livingstone. The other member said that the appointments commission would pay very great attention to the proposals from the party leaders. Therefore, it would nominate the occasional outsider, such as Ken Livingstone. The only common ground between them was that Ken Livingstone will become a Member of your Lordships' House. I have to say that that is a result which I do not expect to see.
How can an appointments commission dictate to a political party which of its members is to represent it in one of the two Houses of Parliament? But on the other hand, if the appointments commission accepts the recommendations from the party leadership, why involve the commission at all? Why not have some simple formula for the number of political appointments and leave the party leadership to get on with it?
Finally on this issue, I believe that it is constitutionally unacceptable for the appointments commission, which is not elected by anybody and is not in any real sense accountable to anybody, to appoint the majority of members of one of the two Houses of Parliament. That puts enormous power into the hands of a body which is not the right one to exercise it.
If anything, I believe that appointment by an appointments commission would be even less legitimate than appointment by the respective party leaders. At least they are elected to the other place by ordinary voters and elected to the leadership by the votes of members of their own party. In short, I believe that the report puts on the appointments commission a burden which it cannot bear and should not be asked to bear. I believe that there is no real alternative to the direct election of all the political members of the second Chamber.
In conclusion, I have found the debate today depressing. I have been amazed at what might be called the self-denying attitude of most speakers. They say, "We must not have real democractic legitimacy 1025 for the second Chamber because it would upset the House of Commons". But it is in the interests of this country that your Lordships' House should have the legitimacy to challenge the actions of the other place. Of course, primacy must and will rest with the other place, but an elective dictatorship is bad and your Lordships' House needs to have the authority to stand up against such a dictatorship. What we have seen in this debate, with some notable exceptions in the speeches of the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, the noble Lord, Lord Richard, and my noble friend Lord Smith of Clifton, is a pre-emptive cringe before the altar of the primacy of the other place.
§ 10.42 p.m.
§ Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish
My Lords, I rise rather earlier than I and other noble Lords had anticipated and for that I give thanks. It has been a long and interesting debate. But I do not believe that any of us will forget the vignette near the beginning. It will perhaps go into our diaries this evening when we go home or perhaps into the diaries of our wives or husbands if it is they who do the writing. It was the vignette of the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, who indicated, in the midst of his speech, that he had some agreement with the Government—I am paraphrasing and hope I have it right—that in exchange for good behaviour on the part of the Liberal Democrats they were promised proportionality with their election result. It was a most interesting little vignette which we shall all remember. We look forward to the public production of this document, if it exists.
The rest of the debate followed a reasonably predictable course. However, I believe that little more attention might have been given to the non-composition elements of my noble friend's report. I should not have been too surprised by the fact that not a great deal of attention was paid to the first few chapters. I believe that they are important. Perhaps I may quote the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, again without worrying him this time too much. He said, "Let's get on with those things on which we agree and can do now in this House." That is something we should take to heart. A few noble Lords echoed that kind of sentiment.
There are things we can do in this more legitimate House which will go some way along the road which the commission's report suggests. For example, I do not believe that many Members of your Lordships' House will disagree with the bulk of the recommendations in chapter 4. I heard no-one disagree although I believe the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, came closest to disagreeing with the proposition in Recommendation 2 that,the House of Commons should be the principal political forum and have the final say in respect of all major public policy issues".That is something with which I entirely agree. Perhaps membership of the other place for a time makes one more conscious of its primacy. I have little doubt that that must remain the position. The rest of chapter 4 has recommendations with which we would virtually all agree. In fact, I do not believe that I heard anyone disagree that the Parliament Act position should 1026 remain. However, we should perhaps ensure that the Parliament Act as it stands cannot be reformed by use of the Parliament Act itself. That may be a sensible precaution given the very limited powers that remain to your Lordships' House that are unaffected by the Parliament Act. There were some very interesting and useful things, some of which could be put in place almost immediately in this reformed or partially reformed House.
The chapter on protecting the constitution could also be accepted. The noble Baroness, Lady Jay, agreed with the idea of having a constitutional committee in your Lordships' House and other of your Lordships who mentioned these issues talked about a committee on human rights. That could easily be agreed. We could do that now because it may be some time before we reach stage 2. Constitutional and human rights issues, especially perhaps the latter, will loom ever larger in the affairs of our country as my own country of Scotland is discovering almost daily in the courts where decisions are being made and questions raised in a way which no one ever thought would happen when Parliament agreed that the convention should be incorporated in Scots law with the devolution settlement.
There is perhaps less agreement over chapter 7 on delegated powers of legislation. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, and not with my noble friend Lord Wakeham that there will be no powers of delay in secondary legislation. As the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, pointed out, the very satisfactory negotiations with the Government, which is what we had after your Lordships took the rather bold step of rejecting a piece of secondary legislation, would not have been necessary at all. The Government could have had a vote down the corridor the next day and that would have been that.
At the risk of being critical of the commission, I think its members live in Cloud-cuckoo-land if they think that a report to the House of Commons about the reasons will do anything to influence the Government to depart from whatever course they have chosen. I am afraid governments understand losing Divisions. It is a simple fact of life among governments of all parties. They may not like it, but they understand it.
On delegated legislation, I would not suggest that we agree with the proposal from the Wakeham Commission. Frankly, if we did agree, we would probably vote down many more pieces of secondary legislation. I believe firmly, as I said the other day—although the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, said it rather better than I did—that, on a very limited number of occasions, perhaps your Lordships should use its power. However, the occasions should be very limited and we should think seriously before we do it. Indeed, when we did it a fortnight ago, we knew there was a vehicle to hand for the Government to use to reach a compromise with your Lordships. I think that that is right.
The powers suggested in these chapters are largely powers we have had and have perhaps not used to the extent we shall probably use them in the future. I am 1027 firmly of the view that none of these things conflicts with the position of the House of Commons. As I said, that always has to be borne in mind.
In some ways, that is the easy part. The difficult part is the composition of your Lordships' House. I note that the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, said, "We are a unitary parliamentary democracy." I have news for her. We are no longer a unitary parliamentary democracy. We have a devolved parliament in Scotland, a devolved assembly in Wales and I hope we are going to have again a devolved assembly in Northern Ireland. Therefore, I do not think we are a unitary parliamentary democracy. However, I believe that I understand what she meant, although it is not a description of where we now are.
There are two smaller "bits" that are perhaps easier to deal with in relation to composition. The first is the question of the Law Lords. I believe that only my noble friend Lady Carnegy of Lour raised that issue. I was surprised that none of the Law Lords spoke in the debate this evening. They are not usually backwards in coming forwards, so to speak. A few lawyers spoke, but we always expect that. But in this House, there is a difference between lawyers and Law Lords. I shall not make any judgment on which is superior to the other in intellect and so on. That would be far too dangerous. I might be sued. In fact, I cannot be sued, but I shall resist the temptation.
My noble friend made an extremely valid point about the position of the Law Lords in your Lordships' House. I agree with the commission in that regard. They play a valuable part. We all understand the position which they hold in this House, and the system works perfectly well. I am resting on the firm advice given by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor that nothing in the European Convention on Human Rights will disturb the position of the Law Lords in your Lordships' House. As my noble friends behind me will confirm, I am doing that with both my fingers crossed behind my back.
I turn now to the question of the Lords spiritual. We heard from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford who made a very good case for the Lords spiritual being Members of your Lordships' House. As a member of the Church of Scotland, I should tell the House that we have an historical opposition to bishops. We got rid of them some 500 years ago, but I am rather more charitable than my forebears. I have heard the bishops make extremely important contributions to your Lordships' House.
However, it is right that we should bring in other religious faiths, other parts of the Christian community, and the other faiths which have strong representation in this country. Your Lordships will remember the important contribution which the late Lord Jakobovits made to your Lordships' House. We should bear in mind also future contributions from the noble Baroness, Lady Richardson of Calow, who comes from the Council of Free Churches in England.
1028 Therefore, I have no great problem with that proposal even though 10 of the bishops must, so to speak, "take the black spot", to use a previous term from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn.
That is quite easy, but when we come to the rest of it, the debate has ranged from arguments for a wholly appointed Chamber, to a few elected, to a few more elected, to a good few more elected, to 50 per cent elected, to two-thirds elected. For a long time, I thought that the bidding was going to stop there; then along came the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, who said that all Members should be elected. I was rather relieved when he did that because, otherwise, I should not have been able to present this as a rounded summary.
I listened with a great deal of care, as I always do, to my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth, to the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, and to a number of other noble Lords—namely, the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, and the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice—who seemed to favour having a wholly appointed House. I thought that my noble friend Lord Norton and the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, in particular addressed the issue of legitimacy in a convincing way. To a simpleton like me, it seemed that they were looking at Parliament as a whole and were saying that the legitimacy for the electorate is for the Members down there. They decide who is to be the government: they decide if a government are to be chucked out; they make those decisions. We have no part to play in that. We can defeat governments or not defeat governments: and they just carry on. But it is in the House of Commons where the democratic legitimacy resides in its entirety.
I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, made a telling point when he wondered whether the European Parliament is looked on as being any more legitimate today, elected, than it was before 1979 when its Members were appointed. If the turn-out for the European elections in this country is anything to go by, it is certainly not looked on with much favour as a democratic institution by our electorate. So the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, as always, made a very important point in that regard, as did my noble friend Lord Norton.
I am not really supposed to show that I have reached any great conclusion on this matter, but at the risk of sharing a confidence with your Lordships, my noble friend Lord Hurd of Westwell came nearest to persuading me that we should have a mixed House. He was quite convincing until other noble Lords spoke about it and decided to cast doubts on our ability to have a mixed House. I noticed that the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, said that the Government accepted the principle of a minority of elected representatives. She went on to say that she did not believe that there would be a problem of conflict with the position of MPs.
I should like to share with your Lordships what has happened in Scotland; it may just be teething troubles. There has been conflict within the Scottish Parliament between the two differently elected kinds of Member: between first-past-the-post and top-up Members—the 1029 latter are not dissimilar to what we might have here; between elected and appointed Members. There has also been quite severe conflict between the elected Members in Scotland and the House of Commons inside the same political party—not between members of different parties. Westminster MPs have been complaining about the behaviour of Members of the Scottish Parliament. They are trying to do the same kind of job for their constituents and are trampling over each other's territory in doing so. That is a severe danger.
Before we consider any elected representation your Lordships would be well advised to think carefully about the consequences which might arise from the conflicts which could appear in the constituencies. I understand the regional aspect. To be honest, I should not look on Members who were elected, if that was the way it was, as regional representatives. I should simply consider that we had to divide the country into regions in order to carry out the elections. But if we go down that road, we should go out of our way to ensure that such Members never become upper-class constituency MPs or upper House constituency MPs. Frankly, they should not be given the kind of constituency allowances and office suites given to Members of the other House. There should be a clear decision that they do not take up constituents' cases as if they were Members of the other place; otherwise, there will be huge conflict. It will not be about the powers of the two Houses, but about what the membership of each House actually does.
I have only one other point about the elections. I noticed that few noble Lords dealt with the elections. I am not surprised. I regret to say to my noble friend Lord Wakeham that the system laid out in the report is rather complicated. I saw in the middle of it, the words, "closed list". My Lords, no! Whatever else we do, we must not allow closed lists or even partially closed lists, whatever they are, for elections here. We really must learn from the dreadful turn-out, the disinterest and so on at the European elections. We were told that list systems would bring people out in droves to vote, but they kept them away in droves. But it is more than that. If we want to go down the road of elections to this House, we must try to ensure that the claws of the political parties are not deep in the decisions and that the electorate is allowed to decide inside each party whom it would prefer to see here. In that way, we shall get some independent people and people with independent minds.
Unlike the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, I believe that the long term of tenure is right. I should not allow re-election should we go down that road. The reason that I should not do so is that it is re-election which gives the Whips in the other place a bit of control over their Members. What is the point of having this House entirely controlled by the Whips in the same way as is the Commons? I notice that the Chief Whip is looking at me rather quizzically, but that is exactly what I think.
Where do we go from here? The noble Lord, Lord Butler, wisely said that he did not believe that between now and the next election was a good period 1030 in which to expect any agreement between the parties on the matter. He is probably right. If I recall correctly, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, claimed that he had stood for election only once and had been successful and that that was to be chairman of the Bar Council. I am sure that the noble and learned Lord will be able from his experience to give me his "advice"—I believe that that is the word—without payment, of course, on these questions: do the Government accept that there should be no diminution of the powers of your Lordships' House? Do they accept that we should be able to amend rather than just reject secondary legislation? Will they now, in this House, set up a constitutional committee and a human rights committee, or a committee covering both?
Can we for a moment discuss the appointments commission? Will the Government forget the kind of interim appointments commission which they are suggesting? This has taken them an awfully long time, considering that I was told when your Lordships passed an amendment to the House of Lords Bill that stopped it dead in its tracks. The House of Lords Bill was passed a long time ago, as your Lordships will remember. The appointments commission has still to be appointed. I believe one should be set up along the lines proposed by my noble friend Lord Wakeham. We could get on with that now and we could use the Bill of my noble friend Lord Kingsland as a vehicle for the creation of a proper appointments commission.
Lastly, will we have a Joint Committee of both Houses? If so, will it be set up in this Parliament? Like my noble friend Lord Strathclyde, I cannot resist the temptation of reminding the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams of M ostyn, of Labour's manifesto—my bedtime reading. It says that a Joint Committee should,conduct a wide-ranging review of possible further change and then bring forward proposals for reform".Surely the Government will not kick over one of the pledges in their own manifesto.
§ 11 p.m.
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
My Lords, at about 3.15 p.m. my noble friend the Leader of the House said that she was opening the debate with great enthusiasm. At about 11 o'clock I am, with pulsating enthusiasm, about to close it.
It is curious, with certain notable, not to say notorious exceptions, how consistent a thread of consensus there has been in the debate. I believe that already this House is equipped to carry out its proper work, which can never remain static, in a better way. As a number of noble Lords have said, I believe it has begun to be reinvigorated and much more effective.
During the many days when I sat listening to your Lordships discuss reform generally, one or two phrases stuck in my mind. I hope your Lordships will not think it invidious if I repeat what the noble Lord. Lord Elton, said vis-à-vis the general position of the hereditary element in your Lordships' House as it then was. He said that he was content to go, though not 1031 without regret, as long as he was morally satisfied that a new second Chamber would be better than the one in which he had served in the past. In all humility I have always thought that was a proper test to apply. Our discussions this evening encourage me, and I hope the noble Lord, Lord Elton, and those of similar views, to think on the basis of this report—which is a considerable achievement indeed, if one bothers to read it as opposed to reading summaries in newspapers—that we have the opportunity to move forward with all deliberate speed to reform.
It is short-sighted and foolish to say we should take a little piece of this and a little piece of that and address it all at once. It is short-sighted and foolish on at least two bases: first, we have the advice given to us by the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, not to cherry-pick; and secondly, we need to heed the advice of the noble Lord, Lord Denham, that, if we are embarked on constitutional change, we ought, if at all possible, to do it on a comprehensive basis. We want consensus. It is idle to think of having a Joint Committee unless the general parameters of agreement in this House have already been established for that Joint Committee.
Let us also not forget that, although we are reforming and reinvigorating ourselves with a transfusion of new ideas, we are not the only determining Chamber in this matter. I take the example of the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, who said, for instance, that in the context of secondary legislation it is not our business alone. The other Chamber has a legitimate interest in that and plainly, as everyone in your Lordships' House knows, the other Chamber has not debated these issues.
If we as a government say that we want to have consensus, that we want to hear different views, I readily accept the indication given, again by the noble Lord, Lord Elton—I hope this does not qualify him for expulsion from his party—that we have to bear in mind that these are constitutional arrangements for the future. So we are trustees, as he said, and we should be servants to a greater purpose than our present convenience.
I take the noble Lord's point and the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham explicitly here and constantly in the report, that we are not here to construct constitutional edifices simply because the Labour Party at the moment and for the next few years is likely to be in power and presently has a substantial majority. My immediate instinct, being an unsophisticated country boy once upon a time, was that there ought to be a wholly elected second Chamber. The more I read the report and listened to the arguments, the more, I regret to say, I realised that I had been wrong.
If there had been a wholly elected Chamber at the time of the last election, we would have ended up with a significant—some would say powerful—majority in the Commons, and a similar powerful majority here. That would not have been good for our country and our horizons should not be limited simply by the fact 1032 that we are in government at the moment and in some years' time another party opposite may have its opportunity.
It was interesting to me to hear quite unambiguously what the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, said; namely, that the official Opposition support an elected element, which means inevitably that they support the dual system identified by the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham. We deceive ourselves and look at it in an unduly simplistic way if we believe that, because the origin of Members here is different, there are necessarily two tiers. The hereditary Peers here worked amicably together with the lifers. And of course the bishops are here only on a temporary basis—though I appreciate they are spiritual and not temporal. They are here ex officio but only while they hold their see. Similarly, the Law Lords are here ex officio, but they continue in their place, to our infinite pleasure, after they retire from sitting in what is our Supreme Court. Nobody asserts that any of the Law Lords' contributions are better or worse in their essential nature than any contributions from the right reverend Prelates. That is a bogus argument which has no real validity when one looks at it.
I appreciate that the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, wanted as much as 50 per cent of elected representation, and others held different views. That does not derogate from my point that there is virtual unanimity, apart from the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, in relation to the dual composition which is set out. There is room for argument. I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, readily agrees with his colleagues on the commission that there is room for improvement in the possible models put forward.
It was said by the noble Lord, Lord Norton, that our approach to House of Lords reform is somehow different in nature and essence from our approach to other constitutional reform. That is a misreading of the situation. It ought not to be overlooked that one of the most fundamental constitutional changes that this Government have introduced—I suggest that it may well be the most fundamental one—is the introduction of the Human Rights Act. Once that is embodied in the fabric and full heart of our society, nothing will ever be the same again. We did that deliberately; not because we had not thought of the consequences; not because we did not anticipate legal challenge in Scotland; of course we did. That is why people were trained to deal with the legal challenges in Scotland, Wales and in the rest of the United Kingdom. That is a significant constitutional advance because it devolves power from the centre to the individual. That is what devolution to Scotland and Wales is all about.
If there are sniggers (apparently there are occasionally) in relation to what has been happening in Cardiff, I say this. There were different views as to who should be First Secretary. Those have now been resolved. But if we devolve power, we devolve trust. And it is a foolish person with no experience of constitutional political arrangements who does not imagine that in the earlier years there may be some difficulties.
1033 It is interesting to bear in mind one or two historical perspectives. We have not been the grateful recipients of 1,000 years of parliamentary democracy. I shall repeat, I hope for the last time, that in this country women did not get the vote on the basis of equality until after the First World War. It is no good saying that 1832 changed everything. It hardly helped at all to enfranchise the working class. In fact, it did nothing for the working class and it was like drawing teeth to secure even the most modest improvement.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, that the other issues, although they have not received headline attention either in the newspapers and political tracts, or indeed, in your Lordships' House this evening, are extremely important. Over the past nine years since I have been here, our House has been evolving. Perhaps I may call it the Alexander committee. Effectively, that has needed no more powers to be given to it, but it has given itself legitimacy because it has produced its own authority. The House of Commons has legitimacy because the electorate donate it that legitimacy on the occasion of every general election. But the Alexander committee—it is a very important example—has acquired its own authority. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, that it has therefore acquired its own legitimacy because of its own productivity.
I believe that there is a great deal of work to be done on devising ways in which we can develop committees. I agree entirely, although not necessarily on the same basis addressed by my noble friend Lord Graham of Edmonton, that the question of resources is extremely important. It is not a question of resources in the sense of whether Ministers are properly remunerated. Plainly there is only one answer to that question. It is a question of resources in terms of whether we ask too much of our committee Clerks. The answer is yes. Are we giving people the necessary resources and back-up facilities to do the work they do, in some circumstances, infinitely better than some committees—I am speaking very quietly indeed now—which operate at the other end of this Palace? I believe that those are advances upon which we all ought to be able to agree.
I was genuinely surprised to see such a degree of agreement and consensus, because I had not anticipated it. I think there has been a cooling of passions and calming of disappointments and distress, which were inevitable given that some hereditary Peers left unhappily and unwillingly. That cooling period, which has been used by the commission to get on with its work, is capable of being of great benefit to our House.
My noble friend the Leader of the House said that she would not be addressing and dealing with particulars today. That is the right way to approach this. Only a foolish person would read the Wakeham Commission report and come to immediate conclusions. I believe that noble Lords are quite right to say that we do have more than a passing duty to listen to views, not least views from the other end of the corridor, because they have an interest in what we do and it is a proper, lawful, constitutional interest.
1034 I hope that we do get on now. Speaking as neutrally as I can, we have not waited 90 years and invested all those hours of fascinating, non-repetitious discussion of these various issues which have so concerned us, to have no outcome other than the departure of most of the hereditary Peers. That would be a pretty indecent and craven outcome. We want to move forward.
As my noble friend the Leader of the House said earlier, we have started discussions. I know that she has had discussions with some of the opposition parties. I pay tribute to the generous way in which a response has come from the main opposition party—I am using those words fairly carefully because I cannot say that all responses to her requests have always been generous or full-hearted. We have had good discussions so far with the Leader of the Liberal Democrat Party and the Convenor of the Cross-Bench Peers. We have made inquiries as to what is wanted by our colleagues in Scotland and Northern Ireland. There is a real opportunity here for those who reel that their voices have not been heard sufficiently still to feel themselves bound in to the constitutional settlement that we have in this country.
One thing about this country that I believe is good is the fact that it is capable of periodic, organic renewal and change. For too long in past years, that change has not been occurring. No one wants a revolution, but we can work together to get a workable, sensible outcome that will, as the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, said, have to derive its authority from acceptance by the public.
The noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, is absolutely right in this respect. I do not believe that those members of the public who tick the box—that is, the 89 per cent, or whatever the figure happens to be at that particular moment; it seems to vary—want the dead hand of party political organisation to strangle this House. If we had a wholly-elected House, which, apparently, the 89 per cent want at one time or another, that is what we would end up with. We would have no Law Lords and no Cross-Benchers because, in the nature of things, they will not be willing to stand for election. In any event, no one can be elected in our modern world without the organisation, the determination and the finances of political parties.
That system works well in the House of Commons, at present; but it would not work here if we want an independent House which would, within appropriate, prudent and agreed limits, be there as a check and a balance on the power of the House of Commons. We ought to be able to advise: to do so we need to be informed and resourced. We ought to be able to give guidance. But we ought always to remember that they are supreme in our settlement; indeed, I have heard no dissent from that proposition. The fact that they are supreme does not make them dictators over us. However, if they are not to be dictators over us, we need to do our work properly, prudently and cooperatively.
§ Lord Strathclyde
My Lords, before the noble and learned Lord concludes, perhaps he could answer two questions. He made a very clever and, I thought, broadly very sensible speech—if that is not 1035 impertinent to the noble and learned Lord. However, am I right in thinking that he said that the Government's position is that stage two reform is an all-or-nothing approach; in other words, there can be no cherry picking? Therefore, as he disagrees with that, does this mean that we can go forward and implement aspects of the Wakeham Commission's recommendations before we see what the final stage two proposal is? Does it also mean that we could go forward and have a constitutional committee, a human rights committee and, possibly, a statutory appointments committee?
Secondly, perhaps the noble and learned Lord could clarify this point, which I did not catch in his response. Is he saying that there can be no Joint Committee of both Houses until all the parties agree on a proposal put before them? Alternatively, does the noble and learned Lord intend to establish the Joint Committee before that position is reached?
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
My Lords, the noble Lord has asked two distinct questions, which ought to be kept separate. The first question was whether there is any area or "aspect" of either the Wakeham recommendations or of our deliberations today that could usefully be put into effect. Plainly, the answer to 1036 that question is yes. There may be particular aspects of resource as regards committees, and other aspects of that sort. We ought to be very careful about falling into the trap that we know perfectly well of saying, "Let's have an appointments committee", and nothing else would happen. That is the answer to the first question. One would have to look at the matter deliberately, carefully and discreetly—and I use that term in both senses.
I am afraid that I have momentarily forgotten the noble Lord's second question. I am so sorry; it was an involuntary amnesia, not a wilful one. It seems to us that the Joint Committee has work to do of this nature. It needs to establish the general consensus—I imagine that it will never be a perfect one—and then it will have to attend to the parliamentary devices that will be needed to put that consensus into effect. The one thing we do not want is another visitation to the ground that has already been traversed by the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, to see if those conclusions can be second-guessed. Otherwise, it will be 1968 all over again. Time is passing and my life is simply not long enough to contemplate it.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House adjourned at twenty minutes past eleven o'clock.