§ 3.36 p.m.
§ Debate resumed on the Motion moved on Wednesday by the Lord Chancellor that this House takes note of the White Paper The House of Lords: Completing the Reform (Cm 5291).
§ Lord Prys-Davies
My Lords, I am conscious that there is a long list of speakers today, the second day of our debate. I assure the House that I shall try to be as brief as possible.
693 Yesterday's debate seemed to centre substantially on the strength of the elected element in the new second Chamber. I must say, on that key issue, that my background has conditioned me to be in favour of a substantial elected element in the reformed Chamber. I am also very conscious that very little has been said about the role of the directly elected regional Members, or whether the reformed second Chamber should be related statutorily or informally to the devolved Assemblies. I shall focus my brief comments on those issues.
One of the Royal Commission's main recommendations is set out at paragraph 3.30, which states that the reformed Chamber,should give the United Kingdom's constituent nations and regions, for the first time, a formally constituted voice in the Westminster Parliament.I have to admit that that vision gave me considerable pleasure as it seemed to be taking us in the right direction. I regret that, later in the report, it becomes clear that the new Chamber will not exercise a distinctive regional role, although it is acknowledged that such a role might well develop over time. As for the present, however, the proposal that there be directly elected regional Members means no more and no less than that every area of the United Kingdom is guaranteed representation in the second Chamber, just as every area is guaranteed representation in the House of Commons.
It is a fact that, currently, there are no regional democratic institutions in England apart from the Greater London Assembly. I am bound to accept that regional consciousness within England seems to be weak. But it seems likely that the setting up of the Scottish Parliament and the devolved Assemblies in Wales, Northern Ireland and London, may lead to important alterations in public attitudes in England. Meanwhile, I accept there is much force in the argument which has been voiced in your Lordships' House that we should not look to a reformed second Chamber on its own to provide an English dimension in the devolutionary arrangements.
If we accept that point, as I do, I trust that it will not be suggested that the reformed second Chamber should have no special role to play in relation to the devolved Assemblies which are in being, or which may emerge in the future. Indeed, your Lordships will recall that the Royal Commission was required to take particular account of the new devolved institutions. With the devolution settlement in mind, the commission recommended that the second Chamber should consider establishing a committee to provide a focus for consideration of the issues raised by the devolution settlement. For my part, I wish the Royal Commission had been holder on that issue. But I am gratified that the House set up the new Select Committee on the constitution, chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth.
In addition to an issue which was raised during Question Time today, two other issues of considerable importance are already emerging in relation to 694 legislation passed by Parliament affecting the functions and powers devolved, or to be devolved, to the Welsh Assembly. In paragraph 6.21 of its report, the commission foresaw one of the issues:There could well be circumstances in which the National Assembly for Wales would like to promote Westminster legislation on matters outside its competence. It might be helpful to have people in the second chamber who could speak in support of such a Bill".I want to mention a second issue of importance to the Welsh Assembly which has emerged, and of which the Constitution Committee is already aware. When the noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Weedon—the distinguished chairman of the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee—gave oral evidence to the Constitution Committee on 28th February last, he drew attention to the fact that a general problem in drawing the balance of primary and secondary legislation was of particular importance to the Welsh Assembly because it does not have primary legislative powers. The noble Lord said:Wales may have a real interest in wide enabling powers, thus enhancing its secondary legislative powers but, on other grounds, it may not be appropriate to have such wide powers".The noble Lord, Lord Alexander, then asked this pertinent question:How does one resolve that tension?".That question cannot be abolished or, in my view, ignored for long. The problem identified by the noble Lord, Lord Alexander, will almost certainly become more pronounced than it is today as the National Assembly for Wales finds its feet and becomes more confident, and it could certainly become more serious between a Conservative United Kingdom government and a Labour, Liberal or Plaid Cymru administration in Cardiff.
That links up with a fundamental point with which many noble Lords, and many who spoke in yesterday's debate, will have sympathy: how to achieve the right balance between primary and delegated legislation. According to my rough estimate, since the setting up of the Welsh National Assembly, over 40 Acts of Parliament have been passed which affect the subjects devolved to the Assembly. I believe that the smooth running of devolution in Wales and the well-being of the United Kingdom should lead to a new function in Westminster of scrutinising all primary legislation in the devolved subjects with the object of confining it to broad and major questions of policy, thus ensuring that the functions of the Assembly are not unnecessarily limited.
It occurs to me that one possible way forward would be to build a new Select Committee, or possibly a Sub-Committee of the Constitution Committee but drawing 50 per cent of its membership from Welsh Members, to introduce such a procedure into the procedures of this House. That will enable the committee to scrutinise and report to the House on Bills affecting the devolved subjects. There might even be a provision that a Welsh Assembly Minister should be entitled to attend a meeting of such a Select Committee to give evidence as to how the Bill affects the Assembly and to suggest or advise on what changes 695 are needed to meet the reasonable needs and aspirations of the Assembly. That would be a great improvement on the current situation.
I wish, in conclusion, to ask my noble and learned friend the Leader of the House whether the Government have any comment on the general point that I have raised: that is, how the proposed reform of the House will give the United Kingdom's constituent nations a formally constituted voice in the Westminster Parliament.
§ 3.48 p.m.
§ Lord Howe of Aberavon
My Lords, I hope the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, will forgive me if I do not follow him in his special scrutiny of the provisions for our homeland in Wales. But I may draw some comfort, perhaps, from the fact that the first three speakers in today's debate are all from the Principality, and out of the first five speakers yesterday, three were from Scotland. So there is some representation at least from both countries in the House as it is presently constituted, and there is that virtue in the present position.
Of course there are other virtues as well, which should not be overlooked. The right place from which to start was identified yesterday by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, when she drew attention to the much wider issue outside this specific debate relating to the considerable crisis of confidence in the parliamentary system. That is a view widely shared. Professor Anthony King, in a piece he wrote for the Economist's survey of the year ahead a few weeks ago, pointed out that,the main line of political division in Britain will lie, not between traditional right and left but between political class and the people, between all of 'us' and all of 'them'".Having made that general point, it is important to understand where and how that dismay, that withdrawal of confidence, is at its most serious. I was surprised to see that analysed just after the debate in this House on the anti-terrorism Bill by a well-respected and, in this context, surprising witness, Hugo Young, in his column in the Guardian when he said this:What happened last week to the Anti-Terrorism Bill supplies a model … the House of Lords has shown itself far more willing than the Commons to bring the basic tools of democracy to bear on the making of big new law … Something important is being said about democracy when the only legislative chamber to perform the functions the people expect—deliberation, revision, improvement—contains not a single elected politician".One has to start with that understanding. I refer also to the point made yesterday by the noble Lord, Lord Neill of Bladen, when he drew attention to his appreciation of the debates in this House on that very Bill. I was struck by it myself. I believe that in no other assembly in the world does one see such an intense, purposeful concentration of a diversity of talent seeking the best answer to some difficult questions.
It is against that background that one has to set out in the search for the consensus which all the leading speakers have said we ought to seek. I refer to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, the noble 696 Baroness, Lady Williams, and, of course, to my noble friend Lord Strathclyde. I join him and others in regretting the fact that the Government appear to have chosen to discard the use of a Joint Committee of both Houses as the proper vehicle for seeking that consensus. I hope that they may yet repent of that unwise decision.
But even without that consensus there are large areas of common ground in the debate. The essential constitutional position is that it is the other place alone which disposes of power. This House, in a strictly advisory role, may propose how that power may be exercised and ask the other place to think again. But it is the other place that in the last resort has the power to decide. The Government have throughout—this, at least, is virtuous—acknowledged (I quote from the original White Paper, Cm 4183) that extreme care is necessary and is, indeed, of particular importance to ensure that the present balance between the two Houses is not disturbed.
The other thing that it is important to examine when considering the next step is the general acceptance—which surprised me at the outset of the debate years ago—of the present functions and powers of this House. The performance of this House is described in the original White Paper and in the background papers now before us in almost superlative terms. In the original White Paper the most valued features of the present House are summarised in epithets that I have never heard applied to any other institution. I refer to such epithets as "most valuable", "real expertise", "distinctive", "well-regarded", "distinguished" and "particularly valuable". Those were the tributes paid to the work of this House and to the way in which it works by the Government at the outset of the debate. They are all echoed in the later papers now before us. The basic case made from the outset for this present round of discussions has always been the so-called lack of legitimacy of this House due to its anachronistic composition—the presence, in other words, of the hereditary element and, in the eyes of some people, of its Conservative majority.
However, in almost every other respect—this is the important feature that I want to underline—the Government have claimed and still claim to be ready to retain the advantages of the status quo. That is an important premise for our discussions. I do not dissent from that, nor does anyone who has spoken in the debate. The question before us now is, what more, if anything, needs to be done to enhance and consolidate the basic change; that is, the removal of the hereditaries? Most specifically, what, if anything, needs to be done to enhance and consolidate the legitimacy of this House given that it already commands, as Hugo Young pointed out, substantial respect among wide sections of our society?
Obviously, a legitimate question is raised—and is at the heart of the debate—by serious people who claim that the House would not command the authority that it should have in the absence of a substantial elected element. I do not doubt that many people argue that case sincerely. We were reminded by the noble Lord, Lord Richard, that the opinion polls also point in that 697 direction. However, I imagine that the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, will agree with those who say that opinion polls are not always infallible, bearing in mind the view that he and, indeed, I take on the question of capital punishment and many other questions where we do not go along with opinion polls.
I start from that analysis. The important principle then is how we set about looking for consensus on the next stage. To do that it is important to understand the history of how we arrived at where we are. We have not arrived at where we are by revolution or upheaval but by incremental steps, the importance of which was hardly recognised at the time. The introduction of life Peers in 1959 began a transformation of the House. The decision at the outset of part one of stage one to remove the hereditaries was another incremental step which was almost immediately followed by a third incremental step in the opposite direction—the deal arrived at between the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, my noble friend Lord Cranborne and the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor for the resurrection and survival of a substantial tranche of hereditary Peers. Those were three incremental steps. The baton has been passed smoothly from one reform to the next, as the noble Earl, Lord Russell, pointed out in an article in the Sunday Times colour supplement in November 2000.
We have had enough continuity over the decade to secure the benefit of incremental change. We have borne in mind an observation that Winston Churchill once made about the shaping of the new Europe when he said that we are not designing a machine but nurturing a growing plant. I believe that that approach is the right one to adopt towards the reform of an institution which has proven itself as well as has this House.
Against that background what is my position? Despite the enthusiastic advocacy of those who take the opposite view, I have not been persuaded that this Chamber should contain any elected Members. Even if it were to do so, I am sure that Members of this House should not be salaried. The present allowance system, coupled, as others have pointed out, with the significant attraction of the title of "Lord"—which I myself should retain—works. It works with a degree of informality perhaps, but it sustains a better attendance in this Chamber, for example, than in the other place. It does so not least in conjunction with the absence of Standing Committees taking so much work away from this House.
There are positive reasons for taking that view. I refer to the two contributions to the debate that made that most clear. First, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford in a deeply moving speech pointed out, as did my noble friend Lord Norton, that we can be an effective, full-time House with part-time Members. As the right reverend Prelate said, noble Lords need him to be involved in his business in the community if he is to be of any value to the House. I agree with that sentiment absolutely and not just as 698 regards those on the spiritual Bench. On all Benches this House needs people who cannot be here all the time. That is an important component of it.
§ Earl Russell
My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble and learned Lord for giving way. I hope that I may ask him a question. I am persuaded by what he says about the quality of debate, but the positive effect on the quality of the debate of the existing system goes with a negative effect on our ability to persuade another place. Is he able to address the trade-off between those positive and negative effects?
§ Lord Howe of Aberavon
My Lords, I am not at all sure that there is a negative effect on our ability to persuade the other place. If we were established as a largely elected Chamber, the confrontation would be more violent and more direct and conciliation would be less easy. It is the Government's insight as originally set out that the present balance, imprecise as it may be, gives us our influence and impact and leaves the final decision to the other place. I do not believe that that would be altered for the good by accepting the implication of the noble Earl's question.
The other reason was pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf; that is, that we need to have people here who are truly independent and are not dependent on the wishes of party masters and who, as the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, pointed out, should have no reason either to fear dismissal or to hope for reappointment.
Years ago, Christopher Hollis—some will remember him as the Member for Devizes; he was a very distinguished figure in the days when my noble friend Lord Renton first entered the House of Commons—pointed out in a rather dramatic phrase that:If the House of Commons is the House table d'hôte, it is all the more important that the Lords should be the House à la carte".That degree of independence, difference and distinction was very important.
The opposite case was argued most eloquently by yet another Welshman, the noble Lord, Lord Richard. He asked: if democracy is legitimate elsewhere, why not here? He pointed out that independence and membership of political parties are not necessarily incompatible. Well, they are not necessarily incompatible but such membership effects a powerful restraint on independence, as he must have found out frequently. I am not saying that that is illegitimate, but it is inconsistent with the distinctive nature of this distinct place, which has a different role, to have a similar pattern of choice for the people who will sit in it.
The noble Baroness, Lady Williams, put the matter in a different way. She said that if you do not like patronage, the only alternative is election. That plainly is not so. My noble friend Lord Wakeham and the commission over which he presided with such distinction identified and spelt out two alternatives—either nomination by the commission that they described or election on the basis that they described. 699 Those are legitimate ways of trying to achieve a different structure for this House, although I do not agree with them.
The thought that the Royal Commission put into the matter was spelt out and elaborated not only by my noble friend Lord Wakeham but also by my noble friend Lord Hurd and the noble Baroness, Lady Dean. If that approach is adopted, it is of the utmost importance that the qualifications and conditions that were spelt out have to be followed in absolutely every respect; perhaps more so.
One matter seems to loom as an island of unanimity in the debate so far. Of all of the possibilities, as my noble friend Lord Strathclyde pointed out, the closed list is a democratic monstrosity. Our experience of the European elections shows how numbingly the procedure is—it seems to compel would-be candidates to compete for what they perceive as their party's centre of gravity and it operates as a charter for conformity of the narrowest kind. Indeed, it is a charter for the deceit of those whose preferences one is seeking.
I think that it was Disraeli who described the Reform Act 1867 as "a leap in the dark". By comparison, a move towards the closed-list system for this House would be not a leap in the dark but the clearest brightly illuminated step in entirely the wrong direction. We have the experience of the European elections to underline that.
I notice that the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, is looking at me. He will recall his patron saint, Aneurin Bevan, saying many times, "Why read the crystal when you can read the book?". So far as closed lists are concerned, we can read the book all too clearly. I hope that we all agree on that.
My closing theme is that I do not believe that the country will be served by reproducing in this House what we now see at work in the other House. I say that with great regret, as someone who had the privilege of leading the other place for at least 12 months. I come back to my brutal, ill-mannered summary—the last thing that people want to see here are clones of the clowns in the Commons.
§ 4.3 p.m.
§ Lord Jenkins of Hillhead
My Lords, although I do not often trouble noble Lords these days, I thought that I should say a few words in this debate. Five decades ago, my political reputation, such as it was, became founded on two incongruous pillars. The first was the liberalisation of the law relating to allegedly indecent literature, which resulted in the Obscene Publications Act 1959. In that task I had the invaluable assistance—there are several incongruities here—of the (not-then-ennobled) noble Lord, Lord St John of Fawsley, whose aphorism-studded speech we listened to with great interest yesterday.
The second of the props—arguably it is more relevant to our deliberations today—was the publication in 1954 of a little book entitled, Mr Balfour's Poodle. It dealt with the powers and composition of the House of Lords in relation to the 700 Lloyd George Budget of 1909 and the Parliament Act 1911. Work on that, fortified by subsequent biographical writings, left me with a sustained interest in the relations between the two Houses and in the composition of this House.
All of that made me a firm supporter of the culling of the hereditaries in 1999. I felt few twinges of historic sentiment. I agree with the dismissive remark—I cannot now remember who made it—that the cure for admiring the old, unreconstructed House of Lords was to go and look at it. When a lady who I otherwise greatly liked and admired was reported to have said, "Poor dears! They never did anybody any harm", I profoundly disagreed. No harm? I take one simple example—the vote of 419 to 41 against the second Home Rule Bill of 1893. By the scale of its obscurantism, it was one of the most disgraceful votes in the history of Parliament. It effectively killed the hope of Anglo-Irish reconciliation within a common polity. That was not just a sentimental regret. The subsequent deprivation of the so-called treaty ports in the south-west of Ireland in the winter of 1940–41, when America was still hesitating, very nearly lost us the battle of the Atlantic and hence the war.
Therefore, of the Government's record on the Lords up to 1999, we could say, "So far so good". I sometimes think that the best House of Lords that I have known in my short 14 years here was that immediately following the cull and before the subsequent big reinforcements. However, that is no doubt a typical example of wishing to pull up the ladder which one has oneself climbed.
In Mr Blair's defence, it should be remembered that nearly all of our most famous Prime Ministers have been great creators of Peers. Pitt was accused by Disraeli of making Peers of,second-rate squires and fat graziers".Others, he said, were,caught from the alleys of Lombard Street or clutched from the counting-houses of Cornhill".Gladstone made 100 Peers, which process left him with no desire to impose the indignity upon himself. Asquith had threatened to make 500 Peers and Lloyd George was not exactly austere in his honours lists.
Three years on, we have the White Paper proposals. They perhaps came quicker than I had expected. However, it is 90 years since the preamble to the First Parliament Act stated,It is intended to substitute for the Lords as it at present exists a Second Chamber constituted on a popular instead of an hereditary basis".There cannot be an accusation of excessive haste in this regard.
However, there can be an accusation of muddle and an inability to use the framework of clear thought to consider how Parliament as a whole—both Houses—should operate in the 21st century. It must be said in mitigation that getting right the reform of the House of Lords is an intractable task, which has eluded all statesmen who applied themselves to it in the 20th century. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor should not be too downcast about his 701 experiences yesterday, although the lack of support was deafening. He has a lot of achievement to his credit. In my view, his high judicial recommendations and appointments have been outstanding and his influence on other constitutional arrangements have been wise and liberal. But he will have to start again on the White Paper. I forbear from harbouring the suspicion that it was put together as an immensely subtle ploy on the part of the Government to show the difficulty of agreement and hence to put the whole matter of composition to bed again for another 90 years.
What do I believe should be done? In spite of the way that various winds are blowing, I remain sceptical about a wholly or largely elected Chamber of anything like the present size. With regard to the scheme put forward in the White Paper, I am not really sceptical; I believe that it is total nonsense. It proposes a 20 per cent elected element, paid unlike the rest of us, having to be called or addressed in a different way and subject to a party caucus and a reselection process every five years. It is almost the recreation of the old system of cricket professionals, even to the extent of their initials having to go after their names rather than their titles before them. No doubt they could help by rolling the pitch in their spare time!
What quality of people would one get under such a system and in such a category? I agree with the view expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Gordon of Strathblane, in his excellent speech yesterday. One would certainly be unlikely to get a contribution towards the qualities outlined by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Habgood, in a letter to The Times this morning. He states that the point of having a second Chamber is,namely to remedy some of the defects of popular democracy … short-termism, over-dependence on the party system, and lack of experience outside politics".That leads me to a further difficulty about constructing an acceptable new shape for an elected second Chamber at present. There is a widespread view, which, on balance, I share, that such a second Chamber should not be a rival to the House of Commons as the primary democratic forum. But the House of Commons has recently reduced itself to a lower level in public esteem, a less effective watchdog of the executive and a weaker magnet for the talent of the nation than I have ever known, whether in my own direct experience of 54 years in Parliament or in my modern historical writing and reading. It has become little more than an electoral college for the choice of the government of the day. To try to construct and fit in a House of Lords underneath the level to which the Commons has reduced itself is a feat of political engineering which would tax even greater men than those who currently sit round the Cabinet table. They sit round it, I understand, often for little more than half-an-hour a week. Perhaps that is part of the reason why such an ill-thought-out scheme has reached a White Paper.
702 Therefore, in my view, we must consider the advantages as well as the disadvantages of a nominated Chamber. One can have nominees of great distinction. The most extreme example of which I can think was the Italian summit in the post-unification period of the Savoy monarchy. There, at different times, sat Verdi, Puccini, Mascagni, Carducci, the great orator, and Marconi, the great telephonist. They were all members—a spectacular list. But I am not sure how great a part they played and they certainly did not prevent Mussolini coming to power.
I turn to a rather more modern, and perhaps more pedestrian, example. Harold Wilson, with whom I sometimes agreed and sometimes disagreed, did not finish up very well with the "lavender list". However, he had previously shown great discrimination—even imagination—in nominating mostly non-party, public service Peers of distinction and independence, some of whom are still with us: the noble Lords, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, Lord Croham, Lord Richardson of Duntisbourne, Lord Roll, Lord Bullock and Lord Briggs, and Lord Roberthall and Lord Kahn. Even Prime Ministers, with a little encouragement and assisted by new rules about categories and an independent body, can behave responsibly.
I recognise that the tide of opinion may have been encouraged to flow too far and too fast for that. If that is the case, I believe that we must contemplate something much more drastic than the White Paper or even more drastic than a 50 or 80 per cent-elected second Chamber of roughly its present size. I believe that we should contemplate a small, regionally based, wholly elected—either directly or indirectly by those who have themselves been elected—equivalent of the United States Senate or the German Bundersrat. If 100 members are enough for the Senate with its quarter of a billion population, I consider 60 to be enough for us.
One would hope to persuade people of real local influence and power to stand. But I am sure that one would not find 600 or 700 such people. They would all have to be the product of a party list. I agree very strongly with what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon, said about party lists. Therefore, I would keep it small. In my view, it would be inappropriate to retain this Chamber with its gilt, its red and its flummery. In those circumstances, we should find for it a nice, cosy, utilitarian council chamber.
I must confess that, partly out of self-interest and partly out of tweaks of traditionalism, I would prefer that we stay roughly where we are but with considerable further restrictions on party patronage. But I am sure that we should face the logic of one course or the other and not fish around in the ill-thought-out and muddled middle.
§ 4.18 p.m.
Lord Butler of Brockwell
My Lords, it is always a daunting task to follow the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, given his great experience and the huge historical sweep of his remarks, as it is to follow the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe. I have worked 703 for both of them at various stages of my career. Since the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, is chancellor of my university, I suppose that in one sense I still work for him today.
Those of us who had the privilege of serving on the Royal Commission, so ably led by the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, must feel a certain degree of sympathy for the Government if they are disappointed that their proposals have not met with universal acclaim. I start with such a degree of sympathy, but I am afraid only a degree. For the truth, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, pointed out, is that while claiming to act on the recommendations of the Royal Commission, the Government have in fact gone cherry-picking among those recommendations. In doing so, they have destroyed their coherence, and in some respects produced proposals which are internally inconsistent, as I shall endeavour to show.
Nevertheless, unfair criticisms have been made both of the Government's and of the Royal Commission's proposals. It is very easy for critics to set their requirements for this House by looking at it in isolation. I agree with those who say that that is a profoundly misleading way to set about the task.
The only way to look at the future of the House is to proceed as the Royal Commission did, and as I believe the Government have tried to do, within the context of the parliamentary system within which it must operate. For that reason, I share the view of those who say that too much weight should not be put on opinion polls which show such high support for an elected House. If the question put had been whether people wanted a House composed of Members of independent mind and entirely free of political domination, I believe that the number responding "yes" would have been just as great. It is the privilege of those who answer opinion polls not to have to provide for a reconciliation between inconsistent objectives.
I suggest that the starting point must be that, despite the long and distinguished history of this House, there is no divine ordinance that there must be a second Chamber. A second Chamber must add value to the work of Parliament. Like other speakers, I suggest that we need to start by asking what that added value should be.
The Royal Commission took a good deal of evidence on that point. The evidence suggested that there was value which this House could add to the work of the other place. That value fell under three headings: first, a range of expertise and experience, not necessarily available in the other House; secondly, a fair representation of groups in our society, which, as a matter of record, has not been achieved in the other place; and, thirdly, an independence of the executive which in present circumstances manifestly does not exist in the elected House.
Perhaps I may briefly take those three aspects in turn. It is clear that a full range of experience and expertise will not necessarily be produced by the chances of election. It is also a fact that all groups in our society have not been adequately represented 704 through election. I cannot agree with the noble Lord, Lord Richard, that if we leave these matters to the electorate, the electorate, like the market, will somehow sort the matter out. For that to happen requires the electorate to act in a considered and a co-ordinated way across all its constituencies in a way which is clearly impracticable.
In theory, it would be possible for such interests to be represented by indirect election—election from prescribed groups. But, for all the speakers in the debate, and certainly for the Royal Commission, the problem of selecting such groups, establishing the quotas for representation, defining the constituencies of electors and ensuring that elections are properly conducted in each group surely makes such a course impracticable. That is certainly what the Royal Commission concluded.
However, the Royal Commission felt that for one type of representation, election is not only possible but desirable. That is the type of representation for which it exists already—geographical representation. If it is felt—it surely should be felt—that all regions of this country should have a voice in this Chamber, it is not only practicable but, as the Royal Commission felt on balance, desirable, that those representatives should be elected. But for the rest, there is no alternative to appointment through an exercise of judgment by a body—an appointments commission—charged with ensuring that as many as possible areas of expertise and interest are available to your Lordships' House.
I understand, although I cannot share, the view of those who argue that in a House of Parliament the only proper source of authority is election. On this view it does not matter that election would produce a replica of the other House; that it would not add anything in expertise; and that it would not produce fair representation of minorities. Democratic legitimacy for such advocates becomes the mantra and election the only means to it.
I shall not weary the House by repeating the arguments against duplicating the House of Commons. That argument has been made many times in this debate. But I want to ask those who attach such importance to elections whether, in the circumstances in which election is conducted in this country, it should be accorded the sanctity in this context which this approach attributes to it.
In our circumstances, where candidates are chosen by the political parties and the only power of the electorate is to decide in what proportion each party's nominees should occupy the Benches of power, is election so very different from appointment that we should subordinate everything else to it? Of course election is the only proper way to choose a government. But that is not what we are about here. I simply ask whether a cross in the box is such a sine qua non that everything else must be subordinated to it.
So far I am with the Government's proposals. But in three respects I feel that they fall short of what is required and in one respect I believe that they are internally inconsistent. They centre on the third of the requirements for this House—its independence. 705 Independence depends on the executive not commanding a majority in the House. The Government's proposals achieve that. But independence also requires the independence of individual Members, a quality which has been a valued feature of your Lordships' House down the centuries.
The Government departs from the Royal Commission's proposals by saying that those who take a party's Whip should be appointed by that party. There is clearly some force in that. But the effect of it, combined with a closed list system for elections, which so many speakers have criticised, means that political parties would effectively determine the identity of 80 per cent of this House.
That opens up the crucial inconsistency in the Government's proposals. The Government accept the Royal Commission's suggestion that the independent appointments commission should be responsible for ensuring that,the appointed members are broadly representative of British society".How can the commission do that if it only appoints 20 per cent of the House?
In arguing that parties must be able to choose those who represent them, I believe that the Government are raising a false fear. That fear is that, if the appointments commission determines the political appointees, all kinds of people will be appointed whom the parties do not want to take their Whip. The fear is groundless. Of course, in considering whom to appoint to take the sides of the political parties, the appointments commission will give great weight to the nominations of party leaders. But it will not be bound by them. That will give the appointments commission greater leverage to ensure that those whom the party leaders put forward will provide the breadth of representation which the House requires and the Government say they support. It will also give greater assurance to the world outside that those put forward by party leaders are not placemen nominated only in return for some political service.
Finally, I join with my colleagues on the Royal Commission in urging the Government to provide for elected and appointed Members to serve terms which are not only long enough to ensure their independence but which are also as similar as possible. Apart from the method of entry to the House, all Members should be as equal as possible in every other respect.
I believe that this Government and future governments have less to fear and more to gain from an independent House than they believe. Many times in my career I saw governments irritated when the upper House delayed or amended their legislation. But in the end governments are not judged by the quantity of the legislation which they pass or the speed with which they pass it. They are judged by its quality. However irritating it may be at the time, scrutiny by an effective revising Chamber serves the government and the country well. A poodle is not worth its keep.
Perhaps I may introduce a personal note. This morning I had the good news of the birth of a grandson. Apart from causing one to take a more 706 favourable view of the hereditary principle, such an event makes one think about the future. There is no doubt that the task of completing reform of your Lordships' House can be and should be carried out. If it is carried out well, this House will serve the country better and earn more public admiration. The Government's proposals are capable of improvement but if this opportunity is missed I can envisage that the job may remain incomplete during not only the rest of my lifetime but also, on past form, that of my grandson.
§ 4.33 p.m.
§ Lord Sewel
My Lords, after the quality and talent displayed in the opening speeches today, we have now reached that stage of the proceedings which follows the Lord Mayor's Show.
In considering constitutional reform, two approaches may be potentially profitable. The first is to base reform on some great unifying theory. The White Paper makes no attempt to do so; this reform is not driven by that concept. The second is to adopt a more modest, pragmatic, fit-the-purpose approach to ensure that procedures work. That has been the tendency in the past. It is a satisfactory way of doing things. But if we go down that road, it is important to achieve a system that works and which delivers what people want to see achieved. That is where my doubts begin. With regard to the effectiveness of the work undertaken, I do not think that the proposals in the White Paper will deliver the type of second Chamber that the Government wish to see established.
The concerns of another place have centred almost entirely on composition. A better way forward is to seek to reach that great consensus step by step. What are the functions that we would expect a second Chamber to perform? There is the possibility of wide agreement on that in this House and beyond. I shall not repeat what has been said many times in the debate. Once we have reached agreement, we then have to ask what type of composition will most likely enable those functions to be best performed.
In a bicameral system, with one Chamber dominant and the other subordinate, the emphasis given to different functions within a single Parliament will differ from Chamber to Chamber. There is nothing wrong with that. It is clear that under present arrangements with regard to executive formation and the control and accountability of the executive the House of Commons rightly provides the forum. We cannot in any way or shape determine the formation of the executive; and rightly so. The main function of the House of Commons is to provide a forum for a contest between the current executive and the executive seeking to get in. That may not be a pretty sight at times but it is a necessary parliamentary function.
Similarly, one of the great benefits flowing in recent years from the House of Commons is the triumph of the departmental Select Committee system. Again, that focuses on the relationship between the legislature and the executive. That part of the necessary function of a Parliament is a matter predominantly for the House of Commons.
707 With regard to legislation we see a different picture. I do not say that the House of Commons has given up as a legislature but it has come close to that on occasions. The anti-terrorism Bill has been mentioned. My experience relates to the Scotland Bill. The scrutiny received by that Bill in this House was of a totally different order from that which it received in another place. Therefore a real claim can be made by this House—it relates closely to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf yesterday—that the House of Lords is taking over the Committee stage of the legislative process. That is a valuable role that we play. If we can add that predominant function to the parliamentary process, we must then ask: what composition will ensure that that function is delivered in the best possible way? With regard to the Government's proposals in the White Paper, we must ask: to what extent would an elected element improve the ability of this House to perform the function of legislative scrutiny?
But no defence of the elected element has been made in such terms. That is the real stumbling block to approving any element of election whatever. Indeed, the Royal Commission itself did not try to justify election in those terms. As the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell, said, the elected element is there to deliver regional representation. Quite honestly, it is an awful risk to introduce an elected element "just"—I use that word in quotation marks—to deliver regional representation. I do not believe that it is beyond our wit to devise a system that delivers regional representation without having an elected element in any form. So unless I can be convinced—and I have not been convinced by my thinking, reading and listening—that an elected element will improve the ability of this House to perform the function of legislative scrutiny, I will remain sceptical of the value of an elected element.
The real concern underpinning much of what I have said is that once we introduce an elected element we do two things: we change the nature of this House and its relationship to another place. I know that an argument has been made that we can have an elected element—almost a predominantly elected element—and that that will not disturb that relationship. That is not practical politics. If I in some way became an elected Member of your Lordships' House, when push came to shove, I would take the view that my electoral mandate was as strong as that of people down the Corridor and I would say, "Why should I budge, not them?". Once that happens, the relationship between the two Houses changes fundamentally.
I also believe that the great strength of this House in terms of its membership is based on two things. One is the fact that most people come here at a relatively senior stage in their lives, after having done something—usually quite well—somewhere else. That is important because of what they bring to the House and its work. I ask myself whether the same kind of people would come to the House through the electoral route. I have grave doubts about the answer to that question.
708 The other reason that this House works is that, if ambition has not been completely spent by the time that we get here, let us say that the fires of ambition burn a little less fiercely. That is of great value to our deliberations. If the advantage of the elected element is just to deliver regional representation, that advantage is far outweighed by the risks that introducing an elected element would inevitably bring.
§ 4.44 p.m.
§ Lord Trefgarne
My Lords, I am conscious that we are now in the second day of a long debate and I therefore apologise in advance to your Lordships for trespassing on your patience for a moment or two longer than is my normal practice. I come to this subject with no special intellectual insight—less still any talent in constitutional matters—but with a little experience of your Lordships' House.
I succeeded in 1960; I took my seat in 1962, when I was old enough to do so. In the next few months, I shall therefore have had the privilege of serving in this place for nigh on 40 years. Of course, some noble Lords have been here even longer, but I hope that my experience, including 13 years on one or other of the Front Benches, will be of a little value.
During those 40 years, the composition and practice of your Lordships' House has of course changed almost out of all recognition. In 1962, there was just a handful of life Peers, although their small number was hugely enhanced by their quality and distinction. The daily attendance allowance, as I recall, was £3 15s a day, and we could claim our travelling costs only if we attended at least one third of the daily sittings.
Be all that as it may, there is now virtually no debate about the need for a second Chamber. While there are a few unicameral systems in the world, it is now generally agreed that we need and must retain a second Chamber. In the White Paper, the Government set out their view as to the role of your Lordships' House: namely the scrutiny and revision of legislation; the discussion of the great issues of the day—often from a considerably more informed standpoint than is possible in the other place—and, in the last resort, preventing the House of Commons from extending its life beyond five years, other than in the most exceptional circumstances. Of course, a select committee of your Lordships' House acts as the supreme court within our judicial system—a matter to which I shall return in a moment.
So much for the role of the second Chamber. What then are the powers that we should accord to it in order effectively to fulfil the roles to which I have referred? Of course, I acknowledge that, in the end, the House of Commons must have its way or, as my noble friend Lord Jopling put it, a government must get their business eventually. So the question is whether the present powers of delay are sufficient—or, indeed, excessive. I believe that they are about right. The only threat to those powers would be the introduction of a guillotine procedure as in the other place. That would undermine, if not obliterate, the power of revision and scrutiny in a wholly unacceptable way.
709 In the White Paper, the Government have proposed that your Lordships' power to reject secondary legislation should be ended, to be replaced by a power of short delay. As there is no power of amendment to such measures—and as far as I know, none is proposed—I would certainly be against that as well. In short, I think that the present powers of the House of Lords relate well to the present task and I would urge that neither of them be changed.
However, the issue that excites the most interest and comment is of course the composition of your Lordships' House. What follows are my own personal views on this matter. They are certainly not those of the Association of Conservative Peers, still less those of the Conservative Party; they are quite simply my own. I have referred before to the important characteristic of independence which must be the essential characteristic of the majority of the Members of your Lordships' House. By independence, I mean independence from the House of Commons; independence from any political party; independence from the Executive; and, yes, independence from the judiciary as well. The same point has been made by several noble Lords during the course of the debate and I entirely endorse what has been said in that regard.
I therefore believe that there should continue to be a place in your Lordships' House for a number—perhaps a smallish number—of hereditary peers, who for sure bring that quality with them. I acknowledge that, prior to the 1999 reforms, when just over half of the Members of the House were hereditary peers, a great many of them took the Conservative Whip or at least adhered to Conservative principles. Although it was then rare indeed for the Conservative majority to be deployed at, or even near, full strength, there was a clear and understandable perception in the minds of other political groupings that somehow their wishes and views could never prevail and that the whole process was, as far as they were concerned at least, a waste of time.
That was, in truth, not the case. The Conservative government were often defeated, not least when the Cross-Benchers were fully mobilised. Indeed, I remember that as a junior Minister I often had to qualify, modify or change my proposals to meet concerns expressed from the Opposition Benches—sometimes with support from my own side. However, I acknowledge now that the political arithmetic of the House of Lords at that time was perceived to be unfair. With hindsight, I rather regret that further consideration of that problem was not undertaken long ago. Would it not have been possible to say that noble Lords who never attended should not be allowed to vote unless they had, in some way, re-qualified themselves to do so?
I have some more detailed suggestions relating to the compositional mix. I hope that your Lordships will find them an appropriate contribution to our discussion. There should continue to be a smallish number of hereditary Peers to bring the extra degree of independence to your Lordships' deliberations that is 710 so essential. I acknowledge that Cross-Benchers are generally independent, but, as they must be appointed by someone, an additional degree of independence provided via the hereditary route is desirable. Of course, I would say that, wouldn't I? I am a hereditary Peer. However, I suspect that my views are widely shared, even among those who arrived in this House by a different route. I was particularly struck by what the noble Lord, Lord Gordon of Strathblane, said about the matter. Our current process of selection for hereditary Peers seems to be working rather well. However, if the principle is to be sustained for a longer period, the process could be modified a little to remove the present party emphasis, while allowing us to keep a number of hereditary Peers.
Again, I would be prepared to accept a smallish number of elected Peers. The Government's suggested number for that is probably about right, but the precise number could, perhaps, be a matter for further consideration. Those elected Peers should represent a geographical constituency, and their election should be firmly disconnected from the House of Commons electoral process. I am, however, implacably opposed to the party list system, which is nomination by another name—a democratic monstrosity, as my noble and learned friend Lord Howe of Aberavon called it just now. Those Peers should be elected for, say, 15 years, for all the reasons that other noble Lords so clearly described.
The House has benefited greatly from having a considerable body of life Peers. I apologise if that sounds patronising. Many of them are people of enormous distinction. It is also true that, by and large, that is the only route by which women can enter the House. There should be a considerable number of appointed Peers, and they should be disconnected as far as possible from the process of political patronage. The Government propose that the appointments commission should play no part in the selection of political Peers. I have some sympathy with that view, but would it not be possible to give the appointments commission not a right of appointment, but a right of oversight or veto over what is proposed, rather than the role that has been suggested for it?
I have described the three principal categories that might appropriately make up your Lordships' House. I offer no considered view as to the precise numbers, but a proportion not too far removed from the present one seems to be about right.
The judicial committee of your Lordships' House is, of course, the supreme court in our system. It would be much better for us to have a separate, free-standing supreme court, so as to underline even more firmly the independence of the judiciary from the political process. I know that noble and learned Lords go to great lengths to distance themselves from the political controversies of the day, but they remain Members of your Lordships' House. I am also a little uncomfortable about the fact that retired noble and learned Lords should, by and large, be free from those constraints, although some of them still serve, from time to time, on the judicial committee. I would be happier with a separate supreme court, wholly 711 independent from Parliament. That would solve the problem of the retired Law Lords, who, of course, make such a welcome and valuable contribution to our proceedings, as they could then do so independently of the supreme judicial function.
I am firmly of the view that religious leaders can and often do make a most valuable contribution to our proceedings. I am sorry that right reverend Prelates and the two most reverend Primates are not always able to contribute more than they do. I was struck by the fact that, when we discussed religious hatred the other day, there were so few right reverend Prelates present. The time has come for us to invite the leaders of all the significant faiths in our country to be Members of your Lordships' House. At the same time, there would be a reduction in the number of representatives of the Church of England. I am told that one, at least, of the significant churches in our country would, as a matter of principle, not be willing to come to your Lordships' House. I hope that it can be persuaded to reconsider.
We are in the process of devising momentous changes to our constitution, and it is a matter for regret that the White Paper is such an inadequate document. Several of my noble friends and others have already drawn attention to its obvious shortcomings. I urge the Government to move forward with much greater care and with the benefit, if possible, of consensus at every stage. I know that my noble friends on the Conservative Front Bench—in your Lordships' House and in another place—are more than willing to join in that search. I hope that the Government will respond accordingly.
§ 4.56 p.m.
§ The Lord Bishop of Portsmouth
My Lords, it is clear from much of what has been said that the questions raised in this debate go beyond the normal bounds of political division and touch the heart of what is meant by representation in this key part of our parliamentary apparatus.
I have reflected long and hard on the debates in which I have taken part or at which I have been present over the past months. Like it or not, the current composition of the Chamber has provided an effective foil to the strength of the other place. It is clear that opposition to the proposed reforms is derived not from a single point of principle but from a wide variety of political standpoints, philosophical persuasions and professional attitudes. There should be space in the debate for an examination of representative legitimacy, and I urge those in all parts of the House to think outside the box of current constraints. A debate about the future of the Chamber poses questions about the viability of the presence of every person here, with the possible exception of the Clerk of the Parliaments, his colleagues, and, of course, the Hansard staff.
I do not criticise the proposals so much because of what is in the White Paper as because of what has been left out. The Queen's Speech, in June last year, promised the introduction of legislation to implement the second phase of House of Lords reform following 712 the current processes of legislation. However, the pledges made by the Government in their election manifesto went much further and were broader. There was a commitment to completing House of Lords reform, removing the remaining hereditary Peers and making the upper Chamber "more democratic and representative", while at the same time maintaining the primacy of the other House.
At that stage, the Government appeared to support the conclusions of the Wakeham commission. They also expressed support for the modernisation of the procedures of the House of Lords in order to improve the House's effectiveness. Furthermore, there was a commitment to place the appointments commission on a statutory and independent footing. In brief, what some of us were hoping for related not only to composition and representation but also more effective working practices and—to echo what the noble Lords, Lord St John of Bletso, Lord Harrison and Lord Sheldon, said yesterday—an independent appointments commission. Those are not separate and distinct issues, but parts of a package which, as the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, recognised, stand as a whole or do not stand at all.
In the White Paper, there is an almost exclusive focus on composition to the detriment of other, equally important matters. Although we must start somewhere, this is not the right place to begin. The proposals in the White Paper for the establishment of a statutory independent appointments commission are welcome, but the conditions and boundaries placed around appointments are such as to undermine the credibility of the commission's independence.
The noble and learned Lord the Lord Privy Seal, winding up at the end of the first day of the Queen's Speech debate last June, was understandably anxious not to let the delayers delay so that we became lost in what he referred to as the "long grass". I believe that a wiser course of action would have been to set up a joint parliamentary commission dealing with questions related to both Houses of Parliament. I believe that to be the case all the more strongly for the fuller reason that there are such obviously deep-seated disagreements about elected versus non-elected Members which transcend party-political views that some compromise would be very dangerous at this stage.
Perhaps I may give an example of how theological differences at their best are resolved. There are many examples of unsuccessful attempts. The key question is to locate as far back as possible in the conceptual train of thought exactly where the disagreements lie. Despite the long debate, we appear not yet to have achieved that. Having lodged and really struggled there, there is then the best possible chance of lasting accord, or at least willing sympathy.
We have at the moment the experience of listening to a cacophony of views from well-qualified quarters for a largely elected membership. Those include. for example, the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, and the noble Lord, Lord Richard. Against that view are the noble Lords, Lord 713 Gordon of Strathblane and Lord Dahrendorf, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe. Add to that tensions with the other place, a large Labour majority, a party with a collective memory of impatience with this House in its pre-1999 composition if not since, and its traditions, which are equally understandable, and the pressure appears to be on for a quick fix.
I am not by nature a delayer, as my colleagues and perhaps those who know me in the Portsmouth diocese will tell your Lordships. If the noble and learned Lords the Lord Chancellor and the Lord Privy Seal know 500 ways of avoiding change in this Chamber—I suspect that they have been picking them off in the past two days—I must tell them that the Bench of Bishops could supply them with a mere three million more from our experience elsewhere. None the less, I believe that we are not ready quickly to resolve the issue in a satisfactory way.
I come now to the presence of the Lords spiritual. I welcome support both in the Wakeham report and in the White Paper which speaks of recognising the role,that moral, philosophical and theological considerations have to play in debating political and social issues".I shall not here press the question of a number. The magic figure of 16 was, I am led to believe, reached by the Wakeham commission when a much smaller House of Lords was under discussion. I understand that it reappears as an indicator of our contributions. I want instead to talk about our future development.
Our presence is based on a Writ to be Members of the House of Lords—not Peers—who introduce each other here without Garter King of Arms and who retire when giving up office. That must take place by the age of 70, our day-to-day experience working as bishops being no longer up to date and successors waiting somewhere else in the queue.
Incidentally, speaking of retirement, there will be occasions in October when we can pay tribute to the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury whom I saw at a meeting this morning. He asked me to express on his behalf today his strong continuing personal commitment to the House of Lords and the viable presence and contribution of the bishops here.
We bishops come with many different interests and experiences, as my friend the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford said yesterday. We do not come mandated by anyone, not even the Archbishop himself, still less by a vote in the General Synod, let alone a Lambeth Conference resolution. We may pay heed to what various Church authorities and other authorities may say, but we are independent even of those and we value that independence. That quality needs to be grasped in a more courageous approach by the Government in considering how to diversify these Benches. By the way, they have not always been episcopal; there were abbots here in the Middle Ages.
Looking at particularities, it is clear from national history that, for example, at the time of the union of parliaments in 1707 the Church of Scotland saw no point in representative membership here. It would have been a denial of 16th and 17th century 714 ecclesiastical disputes to have done so. That is an area of debate I know well as I was born and bred in Scotland as a Scots Episcopalian. That experience bred in me a deep respect for the Kirk and its theological seriousness as well as in my own case a strong sensitivity towards smaller Churches with long histories.
I hope very much that a reformed second Chamber will be a more welcome venue for other Churches and faiths, whatever the character of their governance. I take into account what the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, said yesterday about that. The same applies to the Roman Catholic hierarchy, taking into account what the noble Lord, Lord St John of Fawsley, said. Here there are questions not only of law, as he pointed out, but also of attitude. In my work I am in regular contact with the Roman Catholic Bishop of Portsmouth, Crispian Hollis, who happens to be a nephew of the MP mentioned earlier by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe.
So often in conversations with other Church leaders and leaders of other faith communities, we bishops hear the message, "Oh, we know that you will do that for us". That is what might be described as an "inclusive particularity" that we embody, working on behalf of others but not clinging to internal ecclesiastical privilege. But I am not sure how much longer such inclusive particularity can carry on if we are to be as widely expressive as people would like.
In relation to what the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, said, I want to point out that it is sometimes difficult for us to attend debates. I assure him that before the debate on the Bill to which he referred I was working very hard behind the scenes. I was not able to be present at the discussion on religious hatred, but I rearranged my diary pre-Christmas-style in a fairly baroque manner in order to be present for as many of the debates on that important Bill as I could.
I want now to turn to representation and political legitimacy. I have been in and out of reports, debates and Meg Russell's book on parliamentary reform, but I am afraid I remain sceptical about an increasingly elected option which feels like a juggernaut. It seems that one of the issues with which not only these Houses but also the nation at large is struggling is the whole question of political and social representation.
It has long been held as an unchallengable truth that the sole form of legitimate representation is through election. That is a most persuasive and pervasive notion, but one which I believe has come under increasing scrutiny in recent years. Perhaps I may refer to the letter in today's Times by the former most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York, the noble Lord, Lord Habgood. My experience on the ground is that political enthusiasm by the few has been met by indifference and apathy by the many. There are local elections and there are European elections. Where exactly will those elections be? We need to try somewhere, but I am not sure that we have yet got it right.
Occasionally it is suggested that the reason for that is the illegitimacy of the representation of this House. I have not detected any change in that sentiment since 715 the dismissal of the vast majority of hereditary Peers. Nor, I must say, do I detect any great passion or commitment at large to the elected representatives of the other House sometimes. That is not a problem with one or other place; it is a reflection on the current position of British society where a gulf has opened up between the avowed representatives and those whom they represent.
In registering my scepticism about the proposals to go for an increasingly elected element, I am not allowing some form of anarchy or arbitrary selection. I am instead inviting the House to consider the full implications of having two fully elected Chambers, which is a possibility. That would in any case have the effect of losing the opportunity of encouraging political participation beyond those who subscribe to party politics.
That is why I believe that the independence of the appointments commission is so crucial and why I have strongly urged that the opportunity should be taken to foster vocations to service in this House. We do not need pew fillers or bench attendants. We need people with energy and insight who will scrutinise legislation and provide considered counsel to the other place. I do not believe that the current proposals will do that. Individuals may come here with a variety of beliefs, philosophical convictions and professional experience, but we need to look beyond the narrowness of the electoral process, particularly as people will be drawn from a decreasing minority within our communities.
Whatever system is used for membership of this House, and I realise that some kind of compromise will probably be necessary, we need a second Chamber that is committed to scrutinising legislation and asking awkward questions without being ultimately responsible for the final decision. We need a Chamber of wisdom and experience to create a tension with the Chamber of elected representatives. Above all, we need a vigorous Chamber that can challenge government. For example, on this occasion, we are asking for something wider and deeper than the White Paper. I echo what the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, said earlier. We need a process that will look at the working practices of both Houses of Parliament and which ensures a parliamentary symbiosis that is both lively and productive.
§ 5.11 p.m.
§ The Earl of Onslow
My Lords, I was absolutely delighted to hear my noble and learned friend Lord Howe say that one of the attractions of becoming a Member of your Lordships' House was to be called "Lord Tomnoddy", or whatever. Having been a Lord since the age of seven, I am quite used to it, but I realise that sometimes life Peers become rather more excited than do those of us of a different type.
However, having had my snobbish joke, it is right to say that I do not agree for one moment with my noble friend Lord Trefgarne. I do not think that in the 21st century there is a place any more for the hereditary principle even though that means that I may no longer he here. I have enjoyed it enormously for 25 years, and 716 I may even be tempted to run for election. I could then say that I was here under three counts, but of course, I do not know whether I would be elected.
Having said that, I was also very interested in what the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth said about theological disputes. One could distil the disputes about the election-appointment second Chamber and whether or not to mix the system and divide the arguments into four groups: Nestorians, Monophysites, catholics and Ayrans. My noble friend Lord Trefgarne is a Nestorian as he wants a bit of heredity. Monophysites want only an appointed Chamber. Ayrans want only an elected Chamber and the catholics want a bit of all three, as they have the dual nature of Christ and the holy trinity—those incredibly complicated doctrines invented by over-cerebral Greeks in the fifth century.
We have to ask ourselves certain questions, such as the one asked by the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, about whether we need a second Chamber. That has been answered in the affirmative. We should then ask what it has to do. That is not always answered properly. We say that it scrutinises and legislates, but I think that it has to be more than that. I shall say why in a moment. On occasions, it has to be nasty and tell the House of Commons that it cannot do certain things. If the other place does not like it, it can invoke the Parliament Act 1911. That is what it is for. The second Chamber has to be able to act as we did on the, anti-terrorism legislation. During the passage of the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act, we were in a pre-1911 position and had co-powers with the House of Commons. The Minister said that the Bill had to be enacted by Christmas, so the Parliament Act, which could cause a delay, did not function. There was therefore a much greater balance between the two Houses.
From the middle of the 14th century, the House of Commons has had sole taxation rights. Walpole made that Chamber supreme and it is the House of Commons that sustains the Government—the Queen's Ministers. It is therefore essential that the House of Commons carries out its other duty, which is to hold the executive to account. It is extremely difficult for it to do that. It is probably very bad for his character if I say that I am reading the excellent biography of Churchill written by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead. He says that at the beginning of the 20th century the House of Commons could change the executive's mind and had much greater control over the executive than now. Members did not ask pap questions such as, "Is not my right honourable friend the Prime Minister the greatest thing since sliced bread? He is such a total genius".
The House of Commons used to be much more robust. The consequence of the lack of robustness is that the executive has become over-mighty. It has to have someone to tell it to pull itself together and be held to account. That has nothing to do with who the executive is. It does not matter whether it is my noble friend Lady Thatcher or the present First Lord of the Treasury. I spent my time voting against my noble 717 friend Lady Thatcher when we were in government, and I do not regret a tiny bit of it. One should hold governments to account.
We need a more balanced constitution, which means more balance between the two Houses. The powers of this House are quite adequate. It needs not more powers but the self-confidence to use them more vigorously.
All that has been said about the independents and non-party domination is true, but however much one likes to argue there is no real legitimacy other than election. We have to find out how to have elections, give electoral authority to those who are elected, but at the same time allow them independence from and disloyalty to their party Whip. I use the word "disloyalty" in a complimentary sense. To me, that means fixed terms that do not run concurrently with those in the House of Commons, and no re-election. I should not want more than 60 per cent to be elected because I want people to be here because of the position they hold. The Royal prerogative should say, "These groups are under-represented", and their representation should then be topped up.
In that sense, I am catholic and support the dual nature of the House of Lords, unlike the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, who thinks that a compromise on those lines would be wrong. He is therefore a Monophysite. We give this House authority because we maintain its independence. I urge my noble friends and colleagues in the Conservative Party to take up this electoral point. They have a great blockage against them: the hordes of former chief Whips who adorn our Benches. They say that they must get the Government's business through. Whether they like it or not they are still apparatchiks. I mean that as a compliment as they are good apparatchiks whom governments need.
I suspect that the Government may know that they will have to give way a little. We have the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor as Blackadder and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, as Baldrick, who are saying, "We have a plan". Their plan is simple. They will suggest a ridiculously low level of elected Members and then be seen to be great, good and gracious by giving way a little. It is obvious that they have been influenced by the Prime Minister's trip around the souk in Cairo. They have seen someone striking a bargain and thus will be willing to enter into a little bargaining themselves. Peradventure we might see 35 per cent of the House elected. They will then hold themselves up as the great compromisers. As The Times commented this morning, the Lord Chancellor is not a fool, rather he is a very clever man and knows exactly what he is doing. At that point they will get away with it by saying, "We have been so good. We have given way to the demand for election".
I hope sincerely that neither the apparatchiks who advise and support my friends in the Conservative Party nor the Lord Chancellor will be allowed to get away with holding down the elected element. If they do so, this House will not have the authority to carry out its job. We must get this right, although I can see how 718 difficult the task will be. That is because while almost everyone has said that the scheme proposed in the White Paper is rotten, just as many have come up with different proposals. It has been pointed out that for every single Member of each House of Parliament, there is a different scheme for reform. That is what has made the task so difficult.
That task will become even more difficult the longer that the present arrangements last. My noble friend Lord Cranborne said to me recently, "Mike, I can well imagine your grandson and my grandson in this House, both sitting as elected hereditary Peers, debating some new scheme for reform when it comes up in around 50 years' time. Their speeches will be as follows: 'My Lords, no one in their right mind would have proposed this system. However, I would suggest to your Lordships that it has stood the test of time, therefore why change it?".
We have got to get it right. We need a majority of elected Peers; that is, over 50 per cent. The House must be independent and not be frightened to use its powers. If this House does its job well, the House of Commons will do its job better and the government of the day will be held to account. It is too easy to sustain a government. Governments must be held to account and—this applies equally to Mrs Thatcher and anyone else—they must stop thinking that if they lose the Scunthorpe bypass order, the whole authority of the government has collapsed. What has happened is that someone has said, "Think again"—and if you are big men, you will think again. Please, Baldrick and Blackadder, listen to what I have said.
§ 5.23 p.m.
§ Lord Dubs
My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, the more so because of his support for the proposal to introduce an element of elected membership to the new House. That proposal has not had many voices in its favour this afternoon. I certainly agree with the noble Earl, although perhaps not on the detail.
The noble Earl and many other Members of the House have asked: how do we achieve a House that is independent? Would elected Members necessarily lose their independence simply because they have been elected? I was brought up on a simple proposition: the most independent politicians are those who lack all ambition. If we could fill the place with politicians who are not ambitious for advancement, they could add a sense of independence which would otherwise be lacking. I believe that the main reason why the other place gives the impression of not having that element of independence at the moment is because young, newly elected politicians are bound to be ambitious, which in turn tempers their sense of independence. Older Members of the House of Commons usually demonstrate a greater degree of independence.
I am pleased that the Government have made it clear that this is not to be the final stage of the reforms, but that it is only one stage. Having said that, I hope that we shall not be debating reform every two or three years. If that is the case, no other business will be done. 719 This House and the other place could become so embroiled in the process of legislation to change the House that nothing much else would be addressed. That is an important point because outside this place, in the country at large, people may perceive us as something of an anachronism, but they also have concerns and needs which they want the Government to tackle.
Perhaps I may say also that the reason why most people outside the House want to see an elected element in the House, or even a totally elected second Chamber, is because they want to have some influence over what happens here. In turn, of course, we—the unelected Members of this House—influence the lives of ordinary people. If they say, "We want to be able to determine who will be the people who will have influence over our lives", then we should not dismiss it, because it is a legitimate request. Furthermore, I am bound to say that people outside are not that much impressed by the IQ levels or great experience of this Chamber unless something is delivered for them which improves and betters their lives. That is a basic proposition of democracy and one which I think is important. For that reason, I welcome the proposal that there should be an elected element. Perhaps it should be larger than has been envisaged in the present scheme, but at least we are moving in the right direction.
I also accept the fact that the House should be smaller. The figure of 600 Peers is still too high. We should seek to achieve a smaller House, which would be better and work more effectively.
People warn that we should not become a clone of the House of Commons. Of course that should not happen, although I am conscious that, as a former Member of the House of Commons, I may be accused of being that very type of person. It is more important to deal with the question of what happens if there is a dispute between the two Houses. Yes of course the House of Commons should be dominant, but this Chamber should have certain powers of delay. However, I do not think that democracy or the world will come to an end if there are elements of tension between the two Houses, provided that they can be resolved without wasting a great deal of time. I think that we have become monolithic in our attitude towards government. We believe that only one voice should prevail and woe betide the second Chamber, a devolved assembly or local government if any of those institutions should express dissent. Surely we should be sufficiently self-confident in our approach to accept that a little dissent and a degree of tension between two Houses of Parliament, if that tension is in the interest of protecting the rights of the individual against an executive, can be a good thing. However, I repeat that it is good only provided that the tensions can be resolved and, ultimately, that the House of Commons should prevail.
I should like to make a final introductory point. I very much regret that there is no voice for democratic nationalism from Northern Ireland in this House. I think that it is a weakness. I would like to feel that the arrangements we agree will be such that the SDLP 720 would feel able to see some of its members putting forward their views in this Chamber. Our debates on Northern Ireland issues are much the poorer because we do not have that voice in the House.
I think that there is general agreement that our powers, provided that we exercise them well—we could certainly exercise them better than we do at present—are probably about right in terms of scrutiny, in terms of European legislation and in terms of the welcome suggested changes in dealing with subordinate legislation. I also join in the wide welcome given to the proposal that there should be greater pre-legislative scrutiny of all legislation and that this House has an important role to play in that process.
I said earlier that I believe that a larger elected element than that presently envisaged might be desirable. However, I should qualify that by saying that I support a directly elected element. I do not like the idea of indirect elections, whether they come from local government, from devolved assemblies, from the CBI, the TUC or anywhere else. I would prefer elections to be direct. Why do I say that? Some years ago—I was already a Member of this House—I spent a day canvassing for a parliamentary by-election. The voters did not know who I was. They thought that I was simply a party worker knocking on their doors. I received an earful about the state of the schools, buses and public transport in general, planning issues, and this, that and the other. I returned to the House that evening feeling quite chastened. It was a healthy experience to be subjected to that kind of comment and criticism because it makes one view politics a little differently than if one is never exposed to the views of ordinary people. That does not mean that one has to be a slave to the last opinion one has heard, but it does mean that one feels accountable for what ordinary people think and feel.
What is more, whatever experience one may bring to the House, it enables one to understand the relationship of that experience with what ordinary people think, thus enabling one better to exercise one's opinions and judgment. Opinions and judgments exercised without reference to ordinary people's concerns can be fairly shallow. They may be expressed elegantly and eruditely, but they can be fairly shallow. I certainly find it important to remind myself that I am here because my job is to help to contribute to policies which improve the lives of ordinary people. So there are benefits in elections.
There are also benefits in having constituencies. When I was in the other place, I found that my constituency was a wonderful source of input, not only of criticisms but of ideas, thoughts and information. Let me give an example. Housing benefit was introduced, but in my constituency in Battersea it was a complete shambles and people were not getting housing benefit for weeks and weeks and months. I knew that immediately because my Friday evening surgery was full of people saying, "We are not getting this new housing benefit". I was able to do something about it. Had I not had that kind of input, I would never have known or I may not have known for a long time.
721 So, I repeat, there are benefits in this process. I fully accept that we cannot move to a fully elected House; I am talking only about the benefits.
When the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford spoke yesterday, although he opposed elections he made an interesting comment in his speech. He said:My daily work, and that of a thousand clergy and lay people is tending to the ties that bind our society together; its towns, neighbourhoods, schools, families and a host of other global and local connections".—[Official Report, 9/1/01; col. 585.]That is not a bad description of a constituency to which he is able to be sensitive and responsive and which gives him a lot of information, thoughts, ideas and input.
I do not think it would matter if there were two classes of Members of this House, some elected and some not elected. We can live with that. In the Commons there are two classes of MPs—those who have safe seats and those who have marginal seats. Because I had a marginal constituency, I tramped up to the top of Big Ben with every school party that I took round Parliament on a visit. I hoped that when the children went home they would say, "Mum, do you know who looked after us today? We were in the House of Commons and that fellow, Dubs somebody, showed us around". I thought that the mother would say, "Well, well, we will vote for him". It did not work in the end—I lost my seat—but it was helpful. So one does behave a little differently if one has a constituency, but it is not too unhealthy and we could live with two classes of Member.
I mentioned that I thought that the House was liable to be too large. The Government have said that life Peers will not be removed but, nevertheless, perhaps we can find some way, other than death, to reduce the numbers. I do not think that we should give people £50,000 or £100,000 to go—that would be quite improper and the public would not stand for it—but there may be a way to work out certain pension rights. Let us assume—I give this only as an example—that, because we do not have constituencies, our salary, if we were full time, would be, say, two-thirds of that of the Commons. We then apply an attendance factor to that over the years and then say that that is the salary on the basis of which there will be a pension entitlement. It would not be difficult to work out. If there were a pension entitlement for noble Lords—after all, given the age factor, it would not cost the public very much over a limited lifetime, so it would be a fairly good bargain—it would enable us to lower the numbers in a dignified way, and our colleagues who felt able to retire would have an incentive so to do.
I do not wish to get into a difficult argument about the Bishops. I appreciate the argument as to why there should be Bishops in the House, but there are other occupational categories and, indeed, other faiths. The noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, is an example of a member of the Church who is here not as a bishop but in his own right because he has an important contribution to make. I wonder whether it might not be a better approach for all the Churches to 722 have their people put forward as Members of the House in their own right, rather than confine the Bench of Bishops to members of one particular Church.
§ 5.35 p.m.
§ Lord Palmer
My Lords, I, too, welcome the opportunity to debate the White Paper, Completing the Reform. It is, however, worrying and depressing that these proposals have been so universally condemned by the world's press and media, and, judging by yesterday and so far today, do not seem to have won much favour from all sides of your Lordships' House.
I must declare an interest as one of the 92 Members of the House facing expulsion from Parliament under the current proposals.
On 4th December, the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House, in reply to my question regarding a timetable as to our expulsion, said:I cannot give a timetable in the context of the euthanasia to which the noble Lord is looking forward".—[Official Report, 4/12/01; col. 706.]Many of us took exception to that reply. Not only are few of us looking forward to that expulsion but many were affronted by his use of the word "euthanasia", which in itself is an emotional word. My dictionary tells me that it can mean,relieving suffering from an incurable disease".I do not know how many of us 92 are experiencing such a medical condition, but I suspect that the number is small. I have to say that many of us believe that the noble and learned Lord was uncharacteristically harsh in his choice of words while realising his desire and commitment to rid the House of the hereditary element.
I am always fussed and concerned about constitutional change, and one has only to look at the utter farce of the Scottish Parliament. There is no revising chamber; there is a huge power of patronage, with 56 placemen out of a total of 129 members; and MSPs take no notice whatever of a committee's recommendations with regard to a Private Member's Bill—and here I refer to the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Watson, which is making a complete mockery of animal welfare. MSPs take no notice of public opinion either, as evidenced by their actions over Section 28.
Finally, the estimate for the new Parliament building is now £270 million—that is only the estimate—with a further £7 million for landscaping. It would be laughable if it were not such a scandalous waste of public money.
I believe that we are far too over-governed with more than 1,300 legislators here at Westminster. We now have the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly. In addition, we have nearly 22,500 councillors in Great Britain.
With regard to second chambers, Italy has roughly the same number of MPs as the United Kingdom, but its upper House has only half that number. In the United States of America, 23 per cent of central government is in the upper House. In Germany it is as 723 low as 11 per cent. Yet here in the United Kingdom it is 107 per cent. Surely the case could be argued that our second Chamber numerically should be brought more into line with second chambers throughout the rest of the world.
Many of us believe that reform of Parliament should start in the other place, and I subscribe to this. However, my biggest worry is the total apathy at general elections, as other noble Lords have mentioned. I often wonder how the police will be able to man the barricades at the polling stations if Her Majesty's Government go for an elected element to your Lordships' House. It also greatly concerns me as to the calibre of person wishing to be elected—and here, naturally, I am as completely against the closed list system as almost every other Member of your Lordships' House seems to be.
I am also concerned about the future make up of committees. The White Paper fails to mention the vital role that House of Lords committees play in the legislative process of Parliament. I have the privilege to serve on Sub-committee D. May I remind your Lordships that this committee covers the environment, agriculture, public health and consumer protection. It meets once a week in the mornings when the House is sitting and naturally with such a wide range of topics there is a vast amount of reading and preparation work to be done. Four members of Sub-committee D are hereditary Peers, which is 36 per cent of the committee; all of them attend regularly and with the exception of myself make valuable contributions due to their vast experience, first hand, particularly in the field of agriculture.
Almost everyone I met over the Christmas Recess asked me the same question although often phrased differently— "How long have you got before the chop?". I had to reply that we would perhaps know more when the noble and learned Lord comes to wind up the debate tonight. But seriously for a moment, for those of us facing expulsion a timetable certainly would be useful in order that we can plan for the future.
The irony about this White Paper is that everyone I have spoken to who is a Member of your Lordships' House agrees, admittedly often in subdued tones, that at the moment this House is working extremely well and as my noble friend Lord Cobbold asked so succinctly yesterday, "Why change it?".
Few people seemed to realise how fortunate they are to have a secondary chamber such as we have today. The tragedy is that the majority of people did not seem to care about this place, nor understood what we try to do and indeed, at times, what we achieve. But over recent years, more and more members of the public are turning to the House of Lords when their elected Members appear to have failed them. This is evidenced by the deluge of letters urging Peers to vote on a whole range of issues when the other place has proved to be toothless and lacking. Indeed, the House of Lords is regarded by some as the Government's only effective opposition and recent political events only go to prove this. As a revising Chamber, the House of Lords has 724 always been the last bastion of democracy and the White Paper does nothing whatever to protect this important role.
I urge Her Majesty's Government to turn their attention to things that do matter to this country and which the electorate really do care about—health, education and transport—and not merely to try to tinker with the constitution.
§ 5.42 p.m.
§ Lord Baker of Dorking
My Lords, perhaps I may say to the noble Lord who has just spoken that, as he is one of the hereditary Peers who is moving a bit closer to the tumbrels, I hope that in any reformed Chamber he will reinvent himself under another category. I shall be happy to vote for him if he does so. Like many hereditary Peers he contributes a great deal to the workings of this House.
When the Lord Chancellor opened the debate yesterday, he said:may I take your Lordships into my confidence? I confidently predict that this debate will not disclose any present consensus for our proposals".—[Official Report, 9/01/02; col. 562.]There is the prophet of the Cabinet. No speaker in the debate, on any side, has supported the Government's proposals. One would have thought that one of the recently appointed "Blair Peers" might have said something—if not from conviction, at least from gratitude—in favour of the White Paper. But there has been total radio silence. The noble and learned Lord is not so much Blackadder; he is more like some stricken Samson with the ruins of the temple around him, friendless in Gaza.
The Government are in this muddle because their approach to constitutional reform has been fragmentary and piecemeal. Like a magpie, they have done a bit here and a bit there. There is no strategic vision or concept of where we are going; and that is very evident in their approach to the reform of this House.
Any independent person looking at the constitutional framework of our country today would come to the conclusion that there is an imbalance in our constitution and that the executive is too powerful. The executive has gained power over the past five years for two reasons: first, because of the large majority in the House of Commons and, secondly, because the present Prime Minister is trying to run, within a parliamentary system, a presidential form of premiership. I do not think that any Prime Minister has been as powerful—apart from those who have led our country in war—as the present Prime Minister. Everything comes in to No. 10; all is arranged around the power of No. 10. When we talk about the pre-eminence of the House of Commons, we mean the pre-eminence of the executive and its management of the House of Commons; the House of Commons, which by any standard, as the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, sad, is considered in the political memory of the past 50 years or so to be one of the most servile and sycophantic.
725 That is very regrettable. There must be better checks on the executive. The only body that has stood up to the executive in the past five years—and we have made fairly marginal dents upon it—has been this House. Yet this House is the body that is in need of reform!
Perhaps I may say where reform should start. It must start with an examination of the powers of both Houses. As the noble Lord, Lord Butler, said, this House must add value to the legislative process. Our greatest power is the power of delay. Certainly, that should not be reduced by the proposals in the White Paper to reduce our powers as regards secondary legislation.
In a reformed Chamber I should like to see much more pre-legislative scrutiny. I was a member of the Procedure Committee in the House of Commons from 1975 to 1979 which was considered to be the great reforming Procedure Committee. It recommended departmental Select Committees and pre-legislative scrutiny. This House can be very effective in carrying out pre-legislative scrutiny.
Secondly, this House must have a better way of dealing with secondary legislation. The old tradition that secondary legislation can never be changed or amended in any way should be re-examined. That is an important role for this House.
I turn now to composition. Views have been expressed on all sides of the House which are hostile to an elected element. Such hostility is unrealistic, considering what is happening in the Commons. Twenty years ago, very few Members of Parliament, in any party, wanted an elected element in the House of Lords. That has now fundamentally changed. It is clear that in the Labour Party many Back-Benchers believe that there should be a greater elected element than has been proposed. I have read newspaper reports of the meeting yesterday between the Lord Chancellor and the Leader of the House and Back-Bench Members of Parliament. The story was beautifully leaked. It was just like the old days. It was wonderful to read the drama of it all. The Lord Chancellor soon lost his temper—or they lost their temper with him; I do not know which way it went—but, in no time at all, the soft soap of the Leader of the House was needed to deal with it.
My point is that a substantial body of Labour Members of Parliament now want a higher elected element. A substantial body of Liberal Democrat MPs also want it; and if the Daily Telegraph is to be believed—I like to think that it should he believed from time to time—my own party will come out today in favour of 80 per cent being elected Members. That is a bold and adventurous proposal. The noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, who is in his place, will know that it corresponds to the view that Disraeli took in 1867 in introducing a measure of electoral reform which was even greater and larger than the Liberals had proposed. It became known as the "leap in the dark", and resulted in the following year in a substantial Liberal majority. The proposals from our Front Bench will be very interesting. I shall welcome them. In a 726 moment I shall argue strongly for a substantial elected majority. However, I suspect that a figure of 80 per cent would be a position from which they could make a compromise. I believe that it is unrealistic.
When it comes to a new system of having elected Members in this House, one is certainly searching for legitimacy. Several speakers yesterday, including the noble Lords, Lord Neill and Lord Dahrendorf, talked about the nature of legitimacy. They were right in one respect: democracy is not the only way to carry legitimacy as a criterion for membership of this House. For 600 years, the main criterion for legitimacy was birth—heredity. It worked rather well. No one objected to it for 500 of those 600 years, and it allowed this House to take on the elected body of the House of Commons again and again. But that principle was supplemented and complemented in 1957–58 by the principle of appointment. But, had Harold Macmillan not introduced that principle, and had this House continued to be based on heredity, it would by now have been abolished. So the legitimacy of appointment emerged alongside the legitimacy of hereditary right of membership.
As the hereditary principle is now to disappear—I agree with my noble friend Lord Onslow that it will—it is entirely logical that another supplementary legitimacy through democracy should also come in. It is quite consistent to have legitimacy coming from two sources. That has been the case in this House for a number of years and the system has worked well.
When searching for legitimacy, why should we talk about democracy? There are other methods that could be used. I talk about democracy because this House has the power to change legislation that affects the life of everybody in our country. When a body has that much power, there must be some answerability to the people whose lives are affected. It is unrealistic to believe that an appointments system, which has already been strongly attacked on the grounds of patronage, could deliver that.
It is also naïve to believe that this House is just a gathering of the great and the good who throw their counsel on the listening ears of the country. This House is about power and politics. The existence of this House cannot be envisaged without the nature of politics behind it. It would be naïve to believe that politics will not continue to dominate the debates of this House and it would be carrying naïvety to the point of vacuity to believe that the political parties are not going to have considerable influence on the future of this House.
The Government accept the democratic principle, as does the Royal Commission. Both accept that there should be an elected element. The question is how many. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor said 120 yesterday. That figure has been plucked from the air, but he said that it was justified on the grounds that in the transitional period there will be too many life Peers. As we appear to die at a rate of only 18 a year, it will be five years before 90 have dropped off the perch. He chided us for not being quicker in that regard to some extent. As everybody 727 knows, there are a number of elderly and infirm colleagues on all sides of the House, as well as some Members who are inactive—some by nature and others just by the passage of time. They could be encouraged to vacate their position by a generous retirement scheme. I see the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor put up his hand—it is almost as though he were making an offer. I have not mentioned a figure yet and I shall not do so, but I hope that the Government will come forward with such a scheme, because that would raise the possibility of having a higher elected element at an earlier stage.
It is clear from the debate so far that there will have to he a compromise on the issue. In my view, the ideal composition of this House would be 50 per cent elected, 25 per cent Cross-Benchers and 25 per cent political appointees nominated by the leaders of the parties in proportion to their party's votes in the most recent election. Why the most recent? Why should there be any political appointees? Well, I was one, so, in the words of Mandy Rice-Davies, I would say that, wouldn't I? There is an advantage in an aldermanic Bench—people who have had experience of politics in local and national government. Those of us who have stood for elected office and served on councils or in the House of Commons have been bruised by reality. We know what is possible and what is not possible; we know what can be achieved and what cannot be achieved; we know where pressure can be placed and where it is impossible for pressure to produce a result. That is valuable to your Lordships' House.
Whatever the electoral system, closed regional lists should definitely not be accepted. If we are going to have an electoral system, the people of our country should know exactly who they are voting for. How those candidates are selected is a matter for the political parties and for the independents. The electoral system should be open, not closed. That would serve one important function. I think that it was the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, who said earlier that a system could be devised to ensure regional representation independent of elections. I invite him to consider the 267 Peers who have been appointed by Mr Blair, of whom 117 come from London and further 33 from the South East. That means that 150 have come from the South East of England. That is not proportionate to the national population. Only five have come from the North East and about six from the North West. An electoral system would redress that balance effectively.
I very much hope that the Government will not be discouraged from pursuing this reform. As the noble Lord, Lord Butler, said earlier, the time is right for reform. There is now a more open debate on the subject than I have ever known in my political life. It will require a great deal of courage and determination to carry it through. I remember an old folk song of Burl Ives that said, "From here on up the hills don't get any higher, but the hollows get deeper and deeper". I suspect that when the Government are preparing the Bill they will feel that the hollows are getting deeper and deeper, but I hope that they will not be 728 discouraged, because the end purpose is to create a more effective House that will act as a check on a very powerful executive juggernaut.
My Lords, before my noble friend sits down, I wonder whether he would be so good as to reflect on the Select Committee in another place on which he and I both served, which recommended the creation of committees to cover every government department. Does he realise that that was one of the major factors in turning the life of a Member of Parliament into a full-time occupation? We should be very careful not to make such recommendations in your Lordships' House, because the value of this House would diminish if we became full-timers.
§ Lord Baker of Dorking
My Lords, I am not suggesting for a moment that in any combined system of appointment and election there should be full-time Members of this House. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford made an important point yesterday about the outside experience that part-timers can bring to the House. When the noble Lord, Lord Renton, and I were first in the House of Commons we were in effect part-time MPs. That does not diminish the need for strong departmental Select Committees. I should like them to have even greater powers.
§ 5.56 p.m.
§ Lord Smith of Clifton
My Lords, if this is not too heady a sentiment to express in your Lordships' House, perhaps I may say that I was thrilled by the thrust and analysis offered by the noble Lord, Lord Baker of Dorking, as I was to hear the remarks of the noble Earl, Lord Onslow.
In opening the debate, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor used the lawyer's ploy, taught in the first lecture on advocacy at law school: at the outset, seek to constrain the terms of the case as narrowly as possible and define its parameters as tightly as they can be drawn, then follow up by making a plea that, as reasonable people, the parties can come to a compromise within those conveniently narrow confines. Many of those who have spoken in the debate have eagerly accepted the noble and learned Lord's invitation. Consequently, much of the debate has been about the differences between the Wakeham report and the White Paper. As such, this is merely an exercise in Talmudic disputation. The debate must be cast more widely, as some noble Lords have argued and achieved.
We on these Benches, beginning with the example of the notable speech by my noble friend Lady Williams, have rejected the terms that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor had hoped to impose on the debate. The noble Lord, Lord Richard, did the same in his powerfully argued contribution from the Labour Benches. I, too, strongly share the view that we should be discussing the reform of the upper House in the wider context of both Houses of Parliament, the proper relationships between them and their role in engaging the electorate as a whole, particularly at this time of widespread public alienation from politics.
729 That said, I wish to concentrate on two particular aspects of the debate: first, the vexed issue of election versus appointment; and secondly the alleged need for expertise, to which so much reference has been made.
It is relevant to point to the position that the broadsheet press across the political spectrum has consistently adopted towards Lords reform in recent years. All have criticised Wakeham and the White Paper and almost all would endorse the proposition for a majority of elected Members.
When your Lordships discussed the Wakeham report on 7th March 2000, I read out the headlines from the serious newspapers, which were unanimous in their condemnation of its timid proposals. That chorus of criticism was redoubled when the White Paper was published on 8th November last. That criticism has been kept up relentlessly. In their leaders today, The Times, the Guardian, the Independent, and the Telegraph, reiterate their criticism of the White Paper. The majority of them endorse a large degree of election to the upper Chamber.
As the noble Lord, Lord Richard, remarked yesterday, public opinion has consistently led on the issue of Lords reform by overwhelmingly opting for an upper House based either totally or mainly on election. He also cited the results of a series of opinion polls in recent years in evidence of that. This week, the think tank Democratic Audit—I declare an interest as I am closely associated with it—published an ICM poll which it had commissioned last December that also confirmed that pattern of public opinion. The noble Lord, Lord Norton, I think, quoted rather successfully from the poll yesterday. The main findings were that 27 per cent wanted a wholly elected second Chamber; 27 per cent wanted a majority elected Chamber; only 14 per cent wanted a majority appointed; while a tiny 7 per cent wanted a wholly appointed House. In summary, therefore, 54 per cent want a majority elected House, with 21 per cent wanting a mainly appointed one. That is a majority of two to one in favour of election being the main operating principle for the second Chamber.
Pace the noble Lord, Lord Butler, whatever the deficiency of opinion polls, they are the best measures of opinion available, and they are certainly preferable to the dictum that the man in Whitehall knows best. I think that my noble friend Lord Jenkins was correct in his assessment that opinion has run ahead too far for merely tinkering with the present composition of this House. It is not an acceptable option.
It is therefore incredible, given the weight of public opinion and the relentless press criticism, that the Government found themselves able to come forward with a White Paper containing provisions for so small an elected element. The democratic impulses that motivated their stage one proposals have clearly atrophied in the past two years. An elected majority is the only basis for the way forward, as both the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, and the noble Lord, Lord Baker, suggested.
730 Part of the rationale for the Government's proposals, and one which has been common to many of the speeches in the debate, is the slightly exaggerated extent to which the breadth of expertise is said to characterise your Lordships' House. I would urge your Lordships caution in pressing that point too far, as the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, came perilously close to doing. Pushed too far, the logic would be for a stage three, in which all your Lordships bar one would be deemed redundant, and then the noble Lord, Lord Birt, could take on everything, as he is seemingly the omni-competent expert capable of tackling all issues, including broadcasting, crime, transport and who knows what else next.
More seriously, expertise, however else desirable, should not be the main organising principle for a second Chamber. As the noble Lord, Lord Richard remarked, a legislative Chamber is pre-eminently a political one. As my noble friend Lord Wallace of Saltaire effectively demonstrated, a good deal of expertise in all sorts of spheres is to be found among those who are party political. It is by no means the case, as the Convenor of the Cross-Benchers implied, that expertise is the sole prerogative of his colleagues and that special places should be reserved for former Governors of the Bank of England, the Cabinet Secretary, and heads of the Diplomatic Corps and the armed services. I find such a suggestion preposterous. The turnover in those positions is so frequent that the House would soon be swamped by such appointments.
Another problem with putting an excessive premium on expertise is that, especially given the pace of change in almost all walks of life, it has an increasingly short shelf life. Skills rapidly date. Regardless, expertise is not a synonym for wisdom, as is often suggested.
As an essay on constitutional reform, the Wakeham report—according to my very generous marking, as a former professor—scored gamma minus. By the same token, the White Paper would have been classified a fail, and the Government, preferably in the form of the Leader of the House of Commons, should be made to re-sit the examination. The current White Paper is not the basis for creating a "joined-up" legislature. The Government must think again.
§ 6.5 p.m.
§ Earl Ferrers
My Lords, it may be trite to say so, but I think that it is correct that I should declare an interest in so far as, with 91 other people, I shall find myself disappearing in a cloud of blue smoke if the Government's proposals come into effect. I do not think too much of that. However, I congratulate both the Lord Chancellor and the Leader of the House on having stuck the course all of yesterday and all of today. They have not even bothered to go for a cup of tea now that I have risen to speak. They have been remarkably consistent. Those remarks should ensure that they also remain in the Chamber for the rest of my speech.
It is unfortunate that the two noble and learned Lords have to see their own White Paper stripped to pieces, as it has been in today's debate. I am reminded 731 of the remark made by the noble Baroness, Lady Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, that the White Paper has not found a friend in the House. I think that that is so; everyone dislikes it. The real problem, however, is whether there should be an elected Chamber.
My noble friend Lord Onslow—who is not in the Chamber—thinks that this Chamber should he elected. Not for the first time, as it is not difficult to do, I disagreed totally with what he said—although that does not mean that I do not appreciate what he said. I have also served in the Home Office as a minion of my noble friend Lord Baker of Dorking. Although I admired him enormously, and still do, I disagreed with almost every word that he said today. However, that does not mean that he is not right; he is very much more capable than I am.
It is a pity that the Government decided not to establish a Joint Committee of both Houses to consider the Royal Commission's report. That was a promise given by both the previous and the current Leader of the House, and such promises should be kept. If that type of promise is not kept by that type of person, what on earth is the point of having a promise? After all, it is not the Government's job to alter Parliament to reflect their thinking, but Parliament's job to alter Parliament to reflect its thinking. How can Parliament know what it thinks if the vehicle for deciding that has not even been allowed out of the shed? I think that it is a great mistake. I also rather fancy that the White Paper might have been rather different if such a Joint Committee had had a role in the matter.
The Government have always wanted to get rid of hereditary Peers, which I find enormously wounding. Although I cannot see what they find so abhorrent about us poor characters, we have to accept that that is what they want to do. They are, however, entirely inconsistent in the way in which they seek to do it. First, they said that all hereditary Peers had to go. Then, they said that they wanted to keep 100 of us; so we came back. Now, they say that they want us all to go; so out we go. It shows as much consistency as the Grand Old Duke of York when he marched his men to the top of the hill and then marched them down again. As your Lordships will recall,When they were up they were up.And when they were down they were down.And when they were only halfway up,They were neither up nor down.So much for the Government's consistency in that. It is also funny that the only ones whom the Government want to remove are those of your Lordships who have been elected. The ones whom they want to keep are those who have been put here, if I may say so, by their friends. That does not seem to be a very democratic view to take.
The White Paper says that the link with the peerage should be dissolved—that is a pretty fundamental word—and that membership of the House of Lords should be separated form the peerage. So being called a Lord will continue, but it will be just an honour, like being a CBE. Those who will be appointed to the second Chamber will, presumably, be Mr. Smith and 732 Mr. Jones. When the House of Lords Act 1999 was being passed I tabled amendments suggesting that Members of the upper House should have the letters ML—for Member of the Lords—after their name. Needless to say, the Government did not like the idea, and the Benches behind the Government were absolutely horrified at the thought of not being called Lord. The Whips were therefore put out and the amendment was defeated. However, there was some slight pleasure in watching all the noble Lords from the Labour Party traipse through the Division Lobby to ensure that they continued to be called Lord.
We cannot continue to have a second Chamber called the "House of Lords". As Mr Smith and Mr Jones will be the new Members of the second Chamber and they will not be Lords, they cannot be Members of the House of Lords. That is fairly obvious. So the name of the House of Lords will surely have to go. Perhaps we should call it the "Second Chamber" or the "Upper House". The initials would then be MUH—Member of the Upper House. But not the House of Lords.
If the future of the House is to continue to contain an elected element, I cannot see how the Leader of the House, and indeed the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, can be in charge of the House as they themselves have not been elected. They will have no legitimacy (a word they love to use). We can all understand why that is so at the moment; it is what the law says. But if the Government's ideas were to become law, there is absolutely no reason why the Leader of the House and the Lord Chancellor should not submit themselves for election. After all, their names would go to the top of the list because it would be a closed party system and they would know perfectly well that they would get in. But it would give them legitimacy once they were here. The Lord Chancellor could retain his official title. He would be Mr Irvine QC, MUH, Lord Chancellor, and we would have Mr Williams QC, MUH, Lord Privy Seal, just as we have Mr Robin Cook MP, Lord President of the Council. That would be a great advantage to both noble and learned Lords—I am thinking entirely of their interest, their legitimacy and their stature. It would ensure that they were both democratic and legitimate in the parliamentary sense. They would love that.
There is plenty of precedent for that. Those who have sat on the Woolsack have not always been Peers. Sir Robert Henley, the predecessor of my noble friend Lord Henley, presided over the House of Lords as a commoner for three years until he was elevated to the position of Lord Chancellor in order to preside over the trial of my forebear, the fourth Lord Ferrers, who was tried for murder. He was advised to plead insanity. But their Lordships considered he pleaded his case so well that he could not be insane. He was hanged. It is all very well for my noble friend Lord Renton to say, "If you are insane, you have to be expelled". All I can say is that my forebear was hanged for not being insane. As a matter of interest, he wore his white wedding clothes on the day of his death, not for any 733 romantic reason but simply because he considered the day of his marriage and the day of his death to be the two unhappiest days of his life.
So the Lord Chancellor need not be worried about that situation. There is ample precedent for him to follow the passage of Sir Robert Henley, provided he does not take it out on the present noble Earl; that would he very disagreeable.
If we introduce another House of Lords Bill. I hope that it will not refer to "a" hereditary Peer; it is "an" hereditary Peer. We witnessed the hilarious but rather embarrassing spectacle of the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House arguing and voting against something he knew perfectly well was right. It would be a pity if the noble and learned Lord were to embarrass himself yet again. I give him warning that he should make sure that the Bill is properly drafted.
But the real conundrum which the Government are facing is that they do not know whether they want a more powerful or a less powerful second Chamber. The Leader of the House, when he introduced the White Paper, said that the fundamental principle has been that reform should not undermine the position of the House of Commons and that it must not alter the respective roles and authority of the two Chambers. But that is exactly what it will do.
Power between the House of Lords and the House of Commons is finite; it is like a see-saw. If we give more to one, we take away from the other. If the second Chamber is to be reformed, it is bound to become more powerful. We cannot reform the House of Lords and expect it to be less powerful. How can we expect people to give up their jobs in the prime of their life, to come here five days a week, to be here late at night, to be paid nothing other than expenses, not even to be called "Lord", and then to achieve less than has already been achieved? We will not get anyone to come here.
If the second Chamber were to become more powerful, despite what they say, another place will simply hate it. They will not want a more powerful second Chamber. Imagine the antagonism there will be when your Lordships send a controversial amendment back to another place and say. "We have a perfect right to do this, and a much bigger right than we had before because we are now elected". The House of Commons will not like that.
There is only one elected Chamber. And that is the House of Commons. I suggest that your Lordships should not yearn nor seek to devise a second Chamber to be like that. The Government want a closed party list system for voting Members to the upper House. We will not be voting for Mr Smith or Mr Jones; we will be voting Labour or Conservative, or possibly even Liberal Democrat, and whoever the party decide to put at the top of their list will be elected. That is not democratic; it is appointment by another name, as one noble Lord has just said.
Once people have been elected to your Lordships' House, of course they will want to be paid. That is understandable. So what will we have? Will half the 734 House be paid and the other half not be paid? That does not make sense, so in the end everyone will be paid. They will want more secretaries, more research assistants and a lovely Portcullis House just like another place. Gone in a flash will be the remarkable frugality of your Lordships' House.
To run the House of Lords in the year 2000 cost £67,000 per Member; the House of Commons £405,000 per Member; and the European Parliament £954,000 per Member. What an astonishing contrast and what astonishing value for money we are. Under the new proposals the second Chamber will become more expensive, more aggressive, more assertive and more combative, and the House of Commons will hate it.
I abhor the numbers game. This situation does not call for a mathematical solution. Quite often the results are wrong anyway. But the Government want the membership of the House of Lords to reflect the results of the last election. Suppose the Conservative Party came back with a large majority at the next election—we do not have to expand our imagination too far to know that that could happen. A whole lot of new Peers would be created to reflect that. At the following election the Labour Party might suddenly have a landslide victory. It would then have to make up enough Peers to reach the level of the Conservative Party and then more in order to reflect its new membership. What happens when we go through the cap? Does somebody get the sack? Who sacks them? Does the Conservative leader sack the recently appointed Labour Peers? The whole idea is derisory. That is why we cannot have a system that relies on numbers.
We use awful sounding words like "legitimate" and "professional". But do we want a more professional House, whatever that may mean? The main difference seems to be that when a person becomes a professional he gets paid. "Legitimate" sounds fine. Almost every single noble Lord—including myself, though I think it is a horrible word—has used that word. But it only means that one is operating within the law. If we change the law in order to fill the House with different people, it does not mean that they will be any more "legitimate" than those who were here legitimately before.
How can anyone argue that a House which is appointed is democratic? We do not like hereditary Peers, so we get rid of them. But let us stop trying to persuade ourselves—worse still, persuade others—that we are making a more democratic House. We are doing nothing of the sort. And why get rid of the Bishops? What have they done to gather such opprobrium? The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford was quite right when he said that when they are away they are doing work for when they are here. Halve them and that will immediately throw twice the load on those who remain.
Why should we get rid of those who are over 75? The speech of my noble friend Lord Renton was absolutely masterful and he has made a great contribution to this House. Why do we want to put these artificial limits on people?
735 The Government even pride themselves on the fact that they are now going to be able to expel Members of your Lordships' House. Who on earth gave them that idea? Why should we start to expel people? Your Lordships' House is not like a political party which can throw out people with whom it disagrees; it is a Chamber of Parliament which has always housed a microcosm of life.
The real position is that the Government have sunk themselves into a quicksand with this reform, into which they are being dragged ever deeper. Getting rid of hereditary Peers is one thing; that is easy, but stage two is far more difficult and far more dangerous. It is not modernisation, it is a destruction of a fundamental part of our constitution without proper consultation or agreement, which I for one deplore. The Government have been good enough to say that they want to receive views. I hope that they will listen to these views and think again.
§ 6.20 p.m.
§ Lord Howie of Troon
My Lords, one of the great pleasures of being a Member of this House over the past 20 or so years is that I have been able to engage in debate with the noble Earl who has just spoken. However, he expressed some anxiety about whether that situation would continue.
In thinking about this debate I browsed through the relevant Commons Hansards of 1969 when an attempt was made to pass the Parliament (No. 2) Bill. That indicates to me that it is difficult to get this kind of reform through the Commons, let alone this House. The noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, may be present in this Chamber far longer than he thinks. I for one sincerely hope that that is the case.
I agree strongly with the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, in what he considered to be the proper functions of the House of Lords. I do not need to repeat his comments. However, I should say that the exercise of those functions depends on the composition of the House as much as anything else. That is what I mainly wish to comment on. If I remember, I shall try to suggest a compromise to the Government.
I believe that the argument for an elected or partly elected House was totally demolished yesterday by my noble friend Lord Gordon of Strathblane. Later, the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, trampled all over the rubble. And the rubble has been kicked about frequently in the course of today's debate. I believe that the case for an elected House is dead. My noble friend Lord Richard tried to give it strength by drawing attention to opinion polls. I do not want to comment on the usefulness of opinion polls, their accuracy or strength. I merely say that whereas a majority of people have expressed a desire to have elections to this House, experience at the general election, the elections to the Greater London Authority, the European elections and the recent local elections indicates that although people may want elections they do not seem to want to vote. Therefore, I do not think that we can put too much weight on that expression of opinion.
736 The argument in favour of election seems to me somewhat confused in the sense that "election" appears to be used in many speeches in connection with "democracy" as if the two words meant the same thing. Noble Lords talk about a democratic House being an elected House. However, it does not necessarily follow that those two words mean the same thing. I remember that Mr Stalin, who was keen on elections and got a good attendance as a rule, often obtained a good result from his point of view. Mr Mugabe seems to have a similar view of elections—he is keen on elections but cool on democracy. The two things do not go quite as hand in hand as some speakers have assumed.
Is our method of election all that democratic? I shall not discuss PR, which I support, or anything of that nature, or even closed lists, which I oppose. I shall discuss the selection of candidates. Voters are put in a position where they can vote only for those who put themselves up for election. Having put myself up for election in the past I should say that that is not always the best qualification. That is the problem. How do these candidates come before the electorate? They go through a selection process and are usually, but not always, chosen by a small coterie of political enthusiasts who are by their very nature unrepresentative of the community as a whole. They, therefore, tend to choose people of their own kind. People who put themselves up for election also tend to be political enthusiasts which is a qualification of only moderate use.
There are peculiarities in the method of selection. Noble Lords will remember a former Conservative Member of Parliament, Mr Shaun Woodward, who, quite rightly, decided to cross the Floor and join the Labour Party. In a twinkling of an eye he was transformed from a Member in a safe Conservative seat to a Member in a safe Labour seat. Does anyone detect a hint of jobbery there or something of that nature? Or did Mr Woodward so enamour himself to the members of the selection committee in St Helens that they were swept off their feet by his eloquence? I am sure that that must have been the case. What in essence happens is that the electorate are obliged to rubber-stamp the selection of an unrepresentative body of people and they end up with the other place as it now is which has been slightly criticised in our debate.
If we do not have elections to this Chamber, what should we have? We must have nomination, obviously, of which the noble Lord, Lord Baker of Dorking, spoke kindly, although he finally decided that he did not want it. I think that that is correct. It raises, of course, the question of patronage. I have never been opposed to patronage. I admitted that during debates in the other place in the 1960s. Patronage is widespread in public life and widely accepted.
Yesterday, the noble Lord, Lord Peyton of Yeovil, praised the quality of the Government Front Bench in this House. He was right to do so. But how did the members of the Front Bench get there? They got there by patronage. They were placed there—I do not say that they are placemen, as that is not true—by the 737 Prime Minister. He chose them and nominated them. He patroned them—is "patronise" the right word?—and that is the case with the whole of the Cabinet. I am prompted to ask whether my noble and learned friends the Leader of the House and the Lord Chancellor would be present in this Chamber if they had had to be elected? They might well have been elected due to their qualities which are vast, recognised and admired. However, I can hardly think of any electorate who would willingly vote for both a Scots lawyer and a Welsh lawyer. Be that as it may, I am all in favour of nominations.
I turn to the White Paper's idea that at least part of the House should be nominated in proportion to the votes cast at the previous—or some earlier—general election. I am piqued by that proposal, which is not new, because it is a kissing cousin, one might say, of an amendment that I tabled in 1969 to the Parliament (No. 2) Bill, although my amendment went a little further than the Government's proposal.
In those days I was rash and radical and I proposed that the system should be devised in such a way that the government had a majority in the House. That is not the intention of the White Paper but the principle is the same; that is, that the number of Members of this place should be proportionate in some way to the votes cast at a previous general election, for a quite different assembly. The noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, demonstrated the problems that would arise with succeeding elections and at changes of government. The authors of the White Paper must be aware of those obvious problems. Interestingly, the debate on my amendment lasted for three hours and took up a sizeable part of the 10 days that the Bill suffered in Committee before it was eventually dropped into oblivion.
The late Enoch Powell opposed my amendment. He said that I had been in the Whips' Office too long and that, because of my experience there, I was intent on giving the government a rubber stamp. He was quite right—I was. I now think that I was wrong and he was right.
I see that my noble friend Lord Sheldon is in his place. He spoke lengthily in that debate and, with every other speaker, opposed my proposal, which was defeated, in the end, largely as a result of the intervention of the Home Office Minister, now my noble friend Lord Merlyn-Rees. His comments were conclusive. He said:On a change of Government from one party to another, the number of new creations at the changeover would have to be unmanageably large if the previous Government had an overall majority".—[Official Report, Commons, 20/2/69; col. 675.]That is, of course, correct. That was the government's view, but it seems to have changed slightly.
I briefly take up a proposition that my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor advanced the other day; namely, that we should suggest alternative proposals if we do not like the Government's suggestions. That I shall try to do; I shall put forward something in the nature of a compromise. The aim, in part, is to abolish the hereditary Peers. I am not terribly keen on that; I have nothing against them. 738 That always appears to me to involve discrimination based on genetics, and there is not much in that. I am willing to keep the hereditary Peers.
I have a suggestion that would solve all of the Government's difficulties very simply and at one fell swoop. The Government should abolish the 90 or so hereditary Peers, which they intend to do in any case. Having done that, they should give life peerages to about half of the Conservative former hereditary Peers and, perhaps, to a number of Cross-Benchers and possibly even to some of the Liberal Democrats. That would be a matter of arithmetic. It would strike two birds with one stone. The hereditary element would have been abolished and the balance of the parties would be pretty nearly what was wanted. If it was not quite right, there could be some fine tuning.
I finish with a brief comment. Should the Government get their way, why should Members of this House be called "ML"? I know what it means. The noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, discussed that. Older Members may recall that Tony Benn published a Fabian pamphlet 30 or 35 years ago suggesting a reform of this House. He based it, incidentally, on the Privy Council, but that is by the way. He said that a Member of this House should be called an "LP"—a Lord of Parliament. I like that suggestion, should we come to that sorry pass. "MP" indicates that a Member of the Commons is a Member of Parliament. "LP" would indicate clearly that we were—as we are—also Members of the same Parliament and, in status, equal to them.
§ 6.36 p.m.
§ Lord Boardman
My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Lord, Lord Howie, because, I remember, many years ago, I traipsed around the Middle East in a delegation following him. I am in agreement with some of his ideas.
I shall try to be brief because so much has already been said in this debate, and said so much better than I could do. I want to touch on three issues. First, on the question of the 92 hereditary Peers, which have already been mentioned, I accept that hereditary succession to this House has gone and gone for ever—that is inevitable. However, among those 92 Peers whom we have retained in this House, we have some of the most experienced, wise and dedicated Members. On average, I am sure that they are also the youngest. The average age of this House, I am told, is 69 or so, but that of the hereditary Peers is considerably lower. I find it difficult to understand why the Government should wish to throw them away; that would be an awful waste. The hereditary Peers should be offered life peerages—that would allow them to stay with us and it would give considerable value to the House for years to come. The Government may say that they could he nominated at a later stage—if the Bill is enacted—as MLs. In view of their past service and their future value to this House, that is quite inadequate. They should be offered the right to a life peerage, and that should be done before any legislation restricts life peerages and creates MLs with many time limits.
739 My second point involves the role of the appointments commission. Its duties are fairly wide. They are to determine the House's size—to bring it down to 600 Members over a period of 10 years—and to maintain a political balance, which will reflect the votes cast in the previous general election. It will also ensure that 20 per cent of its nominees are women. If I have followed the White Paper's projections correctly, what has been called the turnover—that is, the number of us who drop off the perch—is averaged, no doubt by the Government Actuary, to be 18 per annum over 10 years. That can only mean that there will be approximately five ML appointments per annum under the proposals in the White Paper. I believe that that will be inadequate to secure the political balance which is sought.
I believe that it was my noble friend Lord Ferrers who referred to the problem of "swings" in the House. There is a large majority in the other place today but, come the next election, I hope that that will be remedied and rectified. Be that as it may, one must anticipate that over the years swings in the balance of power will require considerable adjustment in order to achieve the political balance which is sought in the White Paper.
The third point that I wish to raise relates to the election of Members. I suggest that to plan a House which consists of 80 per cent nominated and 20 per cent elected Members is, frankly, a nonsense. I am sorry to say that I disagree strongly with my noble friend Lord Baker of Dorking. His projection and anticipation of an elected House is one which I do not share in any way. If the proposals in the White Paper are accepted, there will inevitably be clashes. Those who are elected to this House will have some responsibility to their electorate. I am not sure who that electorate will be; presumably it will consist of people from the regions and others around the country. Those Members will have electoral responsibility. Yet their votes here will be equal to those of each of the nominated Members, whose responsibility is primarily to their conscience. They may claim party commitment, but Members of this House ultimately decide how they vote according to their conscience and not according to an electorate from whom they may seek another mandate in years to come.
A clash between nominated and elected Members is one thing, but I foresee a more difficult clash between elected Members in this House and elected Members in the other place. If the latter take a different view, they may consider that they have a legitimate right to attack the so-called "legitimate" elected Members in this House in a way that they could not attempt to do with regard to the nominated Members. Tolerance in the other place is not usually granted easily. That is especially so when the majority is small, as it will be from time to time.
Over the past 20 years I have abstained or voted against proposals from my party with which I have not agreed. I may do so—I say this to my Whips—in future. But that is the freedom of a nominated Peer. It 740 is a freedom not constrained by an electorate to whom one must account, and account again in future if one wishes to be returned.
Many have spoken against the idea of an elected minority. I refer to the splendid speeches of the noble Lord, Lord Gordon of Strathblane, from the government Benches, and to the splendid speech of the noble Lord, Lord Neill of Bladen. Indeed, there was also a splendid speech from the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, from the Liberal Democrat Benches. Each put forward far better than I could attempt to do objections to minority-elected membership of the new House. I was delighted to hear their views, which I entirely share. This afternoon we also heard my noble and learned friend Lord Howe of Aberavon and the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, express grave reservations about such an election as proposed in the White Paper.
If we were to do away with the idea of an elected minority, what would be the alternatives? One would be to have a fully elected Chamber, as put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Richard. I believe that that would be inappropriate and would cause massive damage. If it were to be contemplated, it would mean abolishing this House and setting up something in the nature of an American Senate or a second Chamber in some of the other administrations. I share the objections to it, which are, indeed, included in the White Paper. I hope that such a proposal would be rejected by a Joint Committee of both Houses, which it has been promised will be set up to consider such matters.
The Government should not claim that this "botch-up" of a scheme makes the House more representative and democratic. It does not do so. To say that having 20 per cent of its Members elected makes the House democratic and to claim that that eases the Government's conscience or the party's undertakings is, I believe, a cosmetic nonsense. We can best provide a second Chamber if it is appointed or nominated, whichever term is correct. The best way of achieving that should be discussed in more detail by the promised Joint Committee.
We had a very good illustration of the democracy deployed by this Chamber during the various debates that we had last month on the anti-terrorism Bill when the Government were defeated seven or eight times following Divisions. Those defeats were generally widely supported by the public and by the media, and therefore this non-elected House represented the views of the public on the various matters on which votes were held.
Time is not critical in relation to the White Paper. It is not critical to the country and it is not critical to this House. We are getting on quite well as it is. It may he critical within the Labour Party press or ranks, but it is not critical here. However, when changes are made, it is critical that they are right. We do not want a botched-up scheme that may satisfy some of the thoughts of those who are being harassed by parts of the media; but we do want a scheme which is considered and found to be workable. Therefore, I ask 741 the Government to take it easy, to take away all that has been said in this debate and to set up a Joint Committee of both Houses which can consider in detail which is the better way forward to reflect the wishes of this House.
§ 6.48 p.m.
§ Lord Dearing
My Lords, I have had the pleasure of listening in this debate to three Ministers whom I served previously; the noble Lords, Lord Boardman, Lord Peyton and Lord Baker. It is the way of Sir Humphrey to say, "Yes, Minister". But in spite of all the art and obfuscation which I had at my command, such are the differences that it is, I apologise to say, beyond my power to say that this evening. However, I have listened to the speeches with enjoyment and respect.
The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor charmed the House yesterday in opening the debate by taking us into his confidence and saying that he did not expect to achieve a consensus for his or any other proposal. I want to take the House into confidence on my own behalf on the matter of consensus by saying that, as I have listened to the debate, I have been unable to establish a firm consensus in my own mind, let alone expecting to persuade the House of my own views.
I speak with much diffidence. We heard the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, speak on the basis of 54 years in Parliament and the noble Lord, Lord Renton, of 56 years. I have had three years and an indifferent record of attendance too. Nevertheless, over my years as an aspiring Sir Humphrey, I learned to greatly respect this House, which is powerful in knowledge, in wisdom and in experience. It has earned my respect because it listens and is persuaded by evidence and arguments. Paradoxically, I feel that this unelected Chamber, in the face of a Government with a massive majority, has been a valued bulwark of democracy. We should cherish its future existence.
If I have one regret, it is that expressed by the Lord Privy Seal last year when he said something about his disappointment that the high quality of the debates in this Chamber was not adequately reflected in the reports of the media. That matters because a well-informed electorate earns a better government and earns a better civil society.
The one time we attract media attention is when the House dares to use its powers under the Parliament Act. It is a sadness, and indeed an anomaly, that at a time when the Government are proposing to increase the legitimacy of the membership of this House they should also be proposing to reduce its powers.
I have one quarrel with the Royal Commission. I go along with its view that a power in relation to subordinate legislation which has not been used for 30 or 40 years needs reconsideration. But it has gone too far in saying that the power should be reduced to the extent that it envisages. It will have no influence on the Government to have a delay of three months.
742 From what I have said about my admiration of this House, noble Lords will not be surprised that I do not recommend precipitate or major change. I am convinced, however, that change must take place.
The Royal Commission argued that this House should be,broadly representative of British society",and that people should be able to feel that they have a voice which reflects them in this place,expressed by a person or persons with whom they can identify".On page 65 of the supporting documents to the White Paper the Government point out that the composition that we have is predominantly,white, middle class elderly and London-based",I would add, "male", with active membership,skewed towards retired people living in the South East".I exemplify exactly what our composition is. While I may think that I can understand, empathise with and express the views of ethnic minorities, women, the other place or people living in Manchester, I am none of those things. Those people have the advantage of being women, an ethnic minority and so on. Whether we go down the elected route or not, there is work to be done to respond to the Royal Commission's recommendations that we should in our composition more broadly reflect society as a whole. The appointments commission should have as one of its remits, as is proposed, a vigilant watch with reporting what progress is made towards better representation.
There is one more delicate matter in this business of representation that I raise with some hesitation. It is the reference to "elderly". If your Lordships turn to a bar chart near the end of the supporting documents it will be seen—I hope that my memory is correct—that out of 551 life Peers there are three or four under 40. At the other end of the spectrum we have nearly 90 who are 80. If that is thought a little extreme—I agree that a grandfatherly rather than a parent House is appropriate to a revising Chamber where experience and knowledge is so valuable—we do not have even 30 who are under 50. Our average age is 69.
When people see us on the telly and look at this bald head and elderly face, they may not feel that I represent the full participation of the younger age groups. If we are to be representative of society, I suggest that, while the House will necessarily, and rightly, be predominantly elderly, it would improve our legitimacy and the weight with which our views are received by those of younger years if they could see more of their members among us. That is another element of representativeness that the appointments commission might bear in mind.
I hesitate to move on to the ground of the balance between elected and appointed Peers. There is no consensus. My views are less valuable than most because I have been here so little time. However, we must recognise that there are two validly held approaches to legitimacy. One is based on effectiveness in technical terms, based upon experience, knowledge, disinterestedness, abandonment of personal ambition and concern with the public good. This independence, 743 knowledge and so on is a legitimacy, especially for a revising Chamber. It is one which we know is valid. For example, when the House was recalled with regard to Afghanistan I recall sitting here and listening entranced by and respectful of the views being expressed. I listened during the anti-terrorism debate and again was deeply impressed. Those are great occasions.
In the last Session of the House before we rose for Christmas the House was dealing with the Sex Discrimination (Election Candidates) Bill. It was a routine piece of business in a thin House. Again, I listened with respect, for example, to the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Norton, and to the response by the Lord Privy Seal. So there is legitimacy.
On the other hand, there is the legitimacy in a democratic society; that people who are here on a political ticket are elected. The noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, referred to Mr Smith and Mr Jones. I suspect that they would feel that it is right for political people to be elected. What matters is not what we think is legitimate—that is part of it—but what society as a whole thinks is legitimate. My guess is that many of the Mr Smiths and Mr Jones think that political people should he elected because that is what they are used to.
Given that those are two valid bases for legitimacy, a good composition for the political Benches would be to recognise them both and to go for a fudge—partly elected and partly appointed. Why appointed? I argue for the appointed because I believe that this House benefits, as the noble Lord, Lord Baker, said, from the aldermanic contribution—those who have achieved distinction in the service of Parliament or in government, or both, who no longer want to accept the full-time commitment which I suspect will be required of elected Members if, for example, their constituency is regional. Those contributions, as I illustrated on Afghanistan or on the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Bill, are so valuable.
Secondly, many lawyers on the political Benches spoke impressively on the anti-terrorism Bill. There are noble Lords on those Benches who want to pursue their professional career. They are people of genuine distinction who are willing to give their time to this Chamber but who would not wish to be engaged in the rough and tumble of elections. We need them. It is legitimate for the government or opposition parties to say, "We must be well represented on our Front Benches and have a wider source than those who are elected". I have been very impressed by the quality of the Front-Benchers.
There are grounds for a substantial, appointed element, not on the basis recommended by the Government but by the Royal Commission: that they should be appointed by the commission rather than government.
We are nearing the end of the debate without a consensus. The ball will land back in the court of the Government. When they make firm proposals, I hope that as a caring government, deeply anxious for the well-being of democracy—it depends on a proper balance of powers between the executive and the 744 legislature, a balance which over the years has been tilted towards the executive—they will be reluctant to think in terms of coercive powers. As the noble Lord, Lord Renton, said, in interpreting their manifesto I hope that the Government will be mindful that it came from 24 per cent of the electorate. I suggest a little care and humility.
I hope that there will be discussions, probably involving the other place, afterwards. To those on the Front Bench who will be involved in them, I say this. Please be mindful, first, that those behind you do not necessarily share your views; and, secondly that your concern is with the effectiveness and legitimacy of this part of Parliament and not with the expedient conduct of the business of the government of today or of those governments which other parties aspire to lead in the future.
§ 7.3 p.m.
§ Lord Rees
My Lords, I listened with great pleasure to the eloquent speech of the noble Lord, Lord Dearing. However, perhaps I may take him up on one point. I should be happy to debate many others with him on another occasion. He suggests that the occupants of this Chamber, whether under this or some subsequent measure of reform, should be made more representative of the main bulk of our fellow countrymen. I suggest that that is the role of the House of Commons. They are the people elected by our fellow countrymen. If our fellow countrymen are unhappy with their age, outlook or background, they will riot secure election. If they secure election the presumption must be that they are acceptable. It will be difficult to square all the other qualities that the Government suggest will he required of an upper House with making the occupants of this Chamber representative, broadly-speaking, of our fellow countrymen.
The genesis of today's debate goes back to the previous Parliament. We were told by the Government in 1999 that the first measure of reform was self-contained: the elimination of a medieval anomaly left over from 1911 which could be tidied away at last after a period of nearly 100 years and we could then get on with serious other business. As was pointed out at the time—it emerged very soon—we cannot pull from a very old structure, as is our constitution, a number of bricks and expect the structure to remain as solid as before. We now find ourselves advancing on a fairly large measure of proposed reform.
The British constitution is bicameral. There is a critical place for both elements in the House of Commons and the upper House. If any measure of reform to either component part is proposed, the effects on the other must be considered carefully. The composition and functions of both cannot be divorced. I say this with due diffidence to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor. There is very little reflection on the role of the House of Commons except to stress that nothing undertaken in this exercise should in any way diminish the pre-eminence of the House of Commons. "Pre-eminence" is a somewhat doubtful phrase. It sometimes suggests distinction; 745 and there must be some sensitivity as to which House is the more distinguished of the two—but perhaps we may leave that to a slightly lighter debate.
However, let us consider the present situation. I believe—I hope that it is not wishful thinking—that there is not much serious criticism of the performance of this House. It is probably less than the criticism of the performance in many fields of the House of Commons. Of course there will be complaints by Ministers whose legislation—possibly it is ill thought out or not suitably drafted—is returned to another place for further amendment and reflection. But leaving aside those critics who speak from a particular position of concern, I believe that the country as a whole has no real criticism of the way we perform our duties.
The gravamen of the Government's case is, "Yes, but here you continue to lack a legitimacy that is accorded to another place". In political circles that may be so. I do not know how justifiable that argument is. Whether it is a significant gap in our armoury I rather doubt. But I do not believe that the country as a whole is overly concerned about that. Perhaps we may consider the methods which might be adopted to remedy that gap in our armoury. The noble Lord, Lord Dearing, referred to making Members more representative. I do not think that the man or woman in the street really expects to find us next-door to him or her in the pub in the evening. He will find other avenues of approach to convey his views. If they are practical matters, he will probably turn to the House of Commons.
I am not certain how much legitimacy can be conceded to the House of Commons. Other noble Lords have pointed out that our electoral process is a curious one. The relationship, for example, between the seats achieved by the Government in the last election and the votes cast for them was not close. The turnout for the last election should give cause for concern to all of us involved in the political process. I wonder whether any of us can by that test be regarded as having total legitimacy.
I turn to the future. Of course we must consider both composition and functions. The debate on composition has reduced itself—this is where I have found this debate extremely helpful—to a choice between some form of nomination and some form of election. I recognise that, having been a beneficiary, as it were, of the nomination process, I perhaps speak from a slightly partisan position. But the question on nomination is how to extract it from the party process or from the representatives of the executive. I recognise that that will not easily be resolved.
In view of the lateness of the hour, I do not want to enlarge on this point. But I do not believe that one can really devolve nomination to some entirely detached, politically neutered body that will bring to bear critical talents that might otherwise be denied and not have at least a partisan interest that may be attributed to someone derived from the party struggle. If that is so, I find myself in some difficulty. In fact, I should prefer a nomination process because it can bring to bear the 746 kind of qualities that are obviously needed for the revising and advisory processes, which other noble Lords, with whom I agree, feel are our primary function.
I turn to the question of election. Perhaps this has been concealed from us for too long, but it is interesting to see how sentiment in the other place and in the country seems to be moving toward a largely elected upper House. I am bound to say that, although I see election's immediate charm, if the upper House is a pale replica of the Commons, paid or unpaid, we will contribute little of real value to the political debate. I am not unique in holding that view because other noble Lords have given vent to such doubts.
What would be the functions of an elected upper House? Again, I find it hard to reconcile the concept of an elected upper House with the Government's injunction that the pre-eminence of the House of Commons should not in any way be impaired by the reform process now evolving. That is impossible. I make one slight exception. I see some case to consider—although I am uncertain how far this would square with what is proposed—trying to involve the devolved institutions in our processes at Westminster, whether by some form of indirect election I do not know. At this hour I am not prepared to express my rather unformulated views on that, but there may be a case for having a small body inside the upper House that represents the delegated institutions.
I turn to the question of the functions of the upper House. As has been observed, they are revision, advice and examination. I should strongly deprecate any reduction in the powers afforded to this House. Already our position vis-à-vis the Commons and vis-à-vis the Executive has been weakened over the years. In particular, we must reflect on constitutional issues. We have had the advantage, which is now the disadvantage, of having no totally written constitution. It is absurd that a majority in the House of Commons should be entitled—making use of the Parliament Acts if need be—to force through a major measure of constitutional reform. That cannot be right. The upper House should therefore be given longer delaying powers and/or the power to require a referendum where a major measure of constitutional reform is proposed.
People will ask at once: how do you define a major measure? That opens up the whole question, touched on by some noble Lords, of whether we should have a constitutional court—whether in some way we should transmute the Appellate Committee of the House of Lords into an independent constitutional court.
What is the way ahead? It has surely emerged from our debates, and I hope that the Government Front Bench will accept, that a much longer period of reflection and consultation is needed. I share the feeling of several noble Lords, in particular my noble friends Lord Denham and Lord Ferrers, that it was frivolous in the extreme to brush aside the proposal which they advanced earlier for a Joint Committee of Commons and Lords. That is the least that one could propose at this stage to attempt to reconcile the possibly conflicting views of those two bodies.
747 Finally, I should like to say, I hope with suitable diffidence and not offensively, that when the Prime Minister can deflect his attention from the fascination of central Asia and the Indian sub-continent, that I hope that he will reflect for a moment on why it was that four distinguished predecessors of his who were involved with varying degrees of directness in the debates of 1911—Mr Asquith, Mr Lloyd George, Mr Baldwin arid Mr Churchill—shirked from re-opening the question after their experiences then. I hope that with a little modesty the Prime Minister and his Administration may take things a little more easily on that front.
§ 7.18 p.m.
§ Lord Maclennan of Rogart
My Lords, by this stage of the debate, the remaining speakers must have some sympathy with Henry Labouchere, who used to complain in another place that theprime cuts of the jointshad all been taken and that mere scraps and bones were left for the rest of us. However, some of the scraps may still be worth savouring. I hope that if I gnaw away at a hone or two, it will not stick in your Lordships' throats for too long.
The Lord Chancellor opened the debate with the fairly safe prediction that agreement would not emanate from this Chamber. He cannot in that have been disappointed as a prophet. However, he also said that he had some hope that compromise might subsequently lead to consensus. I must say that if that is his hope he—or he and his colleagues, for it would wrong to affix any particular blame to him for this—set about it the wrong way.
I was impressed by the reminder that the House received yesterday from the noble Lord, Lord Denham, or the history of the discussions—in which, I must admit, I took part at an early stage—of the prospect of having a Joint Committee of the two Houses to work out an agreed solution. I recognise that that would have been a difficult task. Perhaps there would have been no agreement at the end of that process, but there would, at least, have been a negotiated give-and-take of a kind that is impossible in a situation in which legislation on a matter that touches profoundly on the interests of both Chambers is tossed from one to the other.
These are not matters for rhetoric; they are matters for judgment as to the best way forward. However, we are now into the rhetorical period, alas, and I have no doubt that, if a Bill is produced, it will founder. I say that because of my experience with the Parliament (No. 2) Bill in 1968. That Bill was promoted by a Labour government with a majority a little smaller than that of the present Government—but not much. That Government had a substantial majority in another place, and there was at least as much determination then to reform the workings of the upper House as has been made manifest by the Government today. In fact, like other Members, I ask myself whether there is a genuine commitment to reform of the House emanating from the Government. I beg leave to doubt that there is. That is a pity.
748 The process of constitutional reform upon which the Government embarked in 1997 would have been incomplete if it had left this House untouched. It cannot be said that the House commands widespread admiration for everything that it does. It is fair to say that much of the detailed work that we do is commended and admired by those who follow our processes and workings with close attention. However, it will not do to sweep the matter aside, as several noble Lords, most notably the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell, have done. The noble Lord's speech positively dripped with sarcastic contempt for the democratic process. It was a remarkable performance. The noble Lord has so little continuing interest in the debate that he has largely absented himself from it. I regret that, for I would have preferred to make these remarks in his presence. In any event, the last word on how an upper House should be constructed should not fall from the lips of a retired—though distinguished—civil servant.
I found the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, considerably more sympathetic. He addressed the question of legitimacy and sought to find some in the present House, devoting a most interesting part of his speech to that question. If I could not follow him all the way, it was because I felt that there was some question begging in what he said. Although we can admire the work that is done here, see its usefulness and seek to build upon it, we must take account of the widespread public perception that, when push conies to shove, we have no right to say no.
The false argument that if we are to take to ourselves new powers, new legitimacy and new authority, we will, in some way diminish the House of Commons, has been deployed on several occasions. On that matter, I agree strongly with the sentiments expressed by my noble friend Lord Jenkins of Hillhead. No one would seek at this stage to reduce this House to the level of public esteem to which the House to which I belonged for 35 years has sunk. It is a false argument, for there are other powers that this House could use, if it summoned up the strength and sense of purpose, that would amplify the effectiveness of the other House and complement the work that is done there by doing work that, to some extent, cannot be done by the other House because of the evident overloading from which it suffers.
It is not entirely the fault of the present House of Commons that it is labouring at its task. There is a volume of ill considered, or unconsidered, legislation that is shafted through. That is the consequence of the way in which our Government choose to use the House of Commons. This House could have a very different role. It has been treated as a fact beyond argument that the function of this House is to revise legislation. I suggest that the House might consider a different approach and, instead, prepare legislation. That way, the emphasis of its work would be not the adversarial business of striking down preconceived propositions that have been cast in concrete by the government of the day but the addressing of the intractable and manifestly extensive problems that the Government 749 are addressing and on which there may be no consensus on how to proceed legislatively or in any other way.
We have seen the failure of the privatisation of transport. Is it such a revolutionary concept that rather than weight all the responsibility for picking up the pieces on to the present Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions, this House should address that matter, if it is thought to be a most pressing question of the day, and explore the options in a preparatory way? Perhaps, it is too late in that instance. I accept that we could not do it for every department of state, but part of the judgment would be to identify the big issues that should attract our attention. However the House is constituted, we ought to be able to reach agreement about that.
I hope that, in our discussions, we will not confine ourselves as narrowly as the White Paper does to our existing functions and the ways of discharging them. I hope that we will consider more imaginatively how we can make Parliament as a whole operate more effectively, to improve the quality of legislation and the quality of the executive arm of government.
I have left to the last, because my views on the subject are well known, the question of the composition of this House for that wider role. I am simply of the view that the choice which my noble friend Lord Jenkins put before the House is right. Either we go along with something similar to that which we know and can see working effectively within its prescribed limits—that is what we have today—or we go for a genuine, fully-fledged reform. One does take account of the experience of other countries. One does not treat it as totally foreign that the effective upper Houses throughout the rest of the democratic world are broadly elected.
I advocate an elected second Chamber. I do not believe that it should be a gargantuan body; it should be a much smaller body than this. It follows that it will be one different in type and therefore inevitably in function. That is roughly what I believe the British public expect. Or perhaps they do not because they know that we proceed in constitutional matters in this country by incremental processes, gradually and by degrees. Perhaps there are some who apply their minds to such matters—that is what the opinion polls show—who regard election in a democracy as quintessentially what democracy is about. On one or two occasions today we have had indications that that simple 18th century insight has been lost sight of.
If we sought to represent the interests of our people other than by the choice of the people we should do so in vain. If we decided that there should be a doctors' representative in this House, would it be the president of the Royal College of Surgeons or of the Royal College of Physicians and if not them a paediatrician? Who is to make the decision? Are we really saying that the choice of the people should he put in commission on such an issue? I believe that that argument cannot be sustained for long in the 21st century. That argument has not carried weight in other countries 750 which are importing something like the democratic model known in Westminster into their constitutions. I do not believe on this that they are wrong.
§ 7.33 p.m.
§ Lord King of Bridgwater
My Lords, I am pleased to follow the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, although not in what I thought were his unfair remarks about the noble Lord, Lord Butler. I have been in this House a little time—both he and I have come from another place—and I have come to respect the tolerance and respect for other people's opinions that is a feature of your Lordships' House. One tradition of the House from which we came was that if one intended to attack another honourable Member, one would give him notice of that matter. I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, did so, but I believe that his comments were unfair.
In making a personal reflection, perhaps I may now associate myself with the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan. When I was considering becoming a parliamentary candidate, I walked into the great Palace of Westminster for the first time in my life and I sat in the Strangers' Gallery of the House of Commons. I was privileged to witness Mr Enoch Powell and Mr Michael Foot enjoying themselves debating the Parliament (No. 2) Bill. I did not even know what the business was when I walked into the House and I remember seeing the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan. The noble Lord, Lord Sheldon, was one of the major filibusters on that occasion and contributed to the government deciding to withdraw their legislation.
I was present in the Chamber during what may have been seen as a high point of parliamentary oratory when Michael Foot was deriding the suggestion of the powers of patronage that the new proposals in the Parliament (No. 2) Bill would involve. He spoke of parliamentary patronage by the Prime Minister, of political appointments, and of the political eunuchs who would be established on your Lordships' Benches and he described the falsetto chorus of political castrati which would be installed here. Having listened to the debate and knowing that there are a number of appointed Members, including myself, who feel entirely entire in that respect, some of those fears were not justified!
I noted that during the debate in February 1969 Mr Nigel Birch referred to Mr Asquith stating in 1911 that the issue brooked no delay. Fifty-eight years later, having brooked no delay, the Labour Party returned to the matter only to draw stumps in order to carry through the Industrial Relations Act, the consequence of In Place of Strife, which the noble Baroness, Lady Castle, will remember well. However, the determination and the flame burnt brightly because the 1970 manifesto of the Labour Party stated that proposals to secure reform would be brought forward. The scene shifts to 2002 and here we are again.
That stately process is the clearest reminder of the extraordinary difficulty of the issues which are being tackled and the challenge they have represented. 751 Perhaps I may therefore enter a disappointing note. Against the challenge of the time and the complexity of the issues, I was surprised by the shortness of the consultation period which the Government have allowed. A considerable number of years have passed and it is a considerable time since the Royal Commission reported.
I am no expert on your Lordships' House, but I claim to be a modest authority on the other place. My knowledge of the other place and my assessment of it comes not only from my membership over a number of years but from the fact that I was also a member of the Nolan/Neill committee. I had the experience of taking evidence from a wide range of witnesses about their experience of Parliament, more particularly their opinions of the House of Commons, its membership and performance. We discussed possible poll questions.
It would be interesting to go out into the streets and ask people for whom they have more respect in the conduct of their affairs: Members of the House of Commons or Members of the House of Lords? Your Lordships will remember that the televising of proceedings was introduced into this House before the House of Commons. I remember favourable comments being made by a number of my constituents because they were extremely impressed by the quality of debate in the House of Lords. However, they were horrified when the House of Commons went on air and they were subjected to zoo and animal noises during Prime Minister's Questions.
The issue of legitimacy, independence and respect is much more complicated. It is not simply a matter of deciding how membership should be arrived at and the method of election.
I stand here to express my concerns about the proposals against the background of my extreme concern about the situation in the House of Commons. I am a politician. I respect the almost ruthless efficiency of the present Government in their management and control of business and their control of news. In many respects, I regret the fact that we were not equally competent and efficient. We were positively amateur in certain respects in our handling of the mass media. In the past four years those of us who were in the House of Commons had to endure an efficient and effective exercise of almost total power. I remember the reference of Lord Hailsham to "the elective dictatorship". It has come about, as was recognised yesterday by a noble Baroness. It has come alive in a very real sense in the past four years and it continues now in the House of Commons. The need for political correctness among the supporters of the present Government and the efficiency with which that is demanded and exercised makes the Government an effective political machine.
That is perhaps an advantage. It is an ill wind that brings no benefit. We are considering proposals for reform of the House of Lords and the role of the second Chamber against a background not of a highly democratic, well balanced and well functioning House of Commons, but against one that needs balance in the 752 democratic system, and given the present structure of the House of Commons, that balance will come only from your Lordships' House.
At this hour of the night, I shall not rehearse the present proposals and my concerns in detail, which I am sure your Lordships will be relieved to hear. However, I am concerned about the hybrid nature of the proposals and have considerable sympathy with the point repeated by the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, in connection with the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, that there is a strong argument for either one or other system and that a half-way House is a dangerous place to halt. I believe that a hybrid approach involving some elected Members requires the protections that the Royal Commission correctly identified, especially relating to the method of election and the length of term.
We have had an opportunity to read the White Paper and consider the Government's proposals. The Lord Chancellor opened the debate yesterday in a frank and disarming manner and he was admirably brief. That was a great pleasure after some of the unnecessarily lengthy speeches that used to accompany the introduction of such measures in the House of Commons. He covered matters clearly. I add my appreciation also of the conduct of the Lord Privy Seal who has not yet opened his mouth in this debate. I am sure that he will manage to weave out from a totally discordant debate apparently complete consensus or some encouraging signs of growing streams of confluence of thought. The attendance of the noble and learned Lord has been admirable and much appreciated by the House. Even with his most optimistic presentation, he will have to accept that it is not going too well.
The question that must be exercising your Lordships' minds is: where do we go from here? I hope that the deadly and awful phrase about a compromise seeing the measure through will not be the decision made by the Government. That would be a great mistake. I have real concerns about the House of Commons and the need to reflect on its position and structure, but we must also consider the devolved Assemblies and the proposals for regional government. In that context, the arguments that have been made from these Benches—particularly those of my noble friend Lord Denham—are very strong. Having thought previously that the need for a Joint Committee in both Houses could be avoided, surely it is now time to accept that it cannot. That is the route that we must now take. We need major consideration of the role of the second Chamber in conjunction with the role of the House of Commons arid the interplay with the devolved Assemblies. We should draw from this consultation the need for serious and cross-party consideration of the best structure for the government of our country.
The fact that we are no longer an island but live within the European Union is a matter that must also be considered. Many changes are taking place and I profoundly believe that your Lordships' House, which I am proud to have joined recently, has an important role to play. That role should be decided jointly and 753 with the most moderate and careful consideration. Sadly, the present proposals are not the way to achieve that.
§ 7.46 p.m.
§ Lord Evans of Temple Guiting
My Lords, as the 62nd person to speak on House of Lords reform, I should be surprised if I had anything new to say. Perhaps your Lordships would be even more surprised if I were to say anything new. I shall steal the image described by the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, to nibble at a few bones with a promise to be brief.
The White Paper was presented to us as a discussion document, which I plan to accept as such. After discussion, we shall have improvement and change. I disagree with many things in the White Paper but there are a number of excellent ideas that need to be developed. There are issues of great importance that are either touched on too lightly or not discussed at all.
I start by saying generally that the opportunity to look at and reform ourselves does not happen very often. We should take the opportunity for introspection with enthusiasm knowing that we may not have one again for a very long time. It is essential that reform has the backing of as many parts of the House as possible. Party politics plays an important role in our affairs, but in the comparatively short time that I have been here it is crystal clear that this is much more than a forum for party political activity. I note the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Baker, about being rather naïve. So be it.
Effective reform has to be the responsibility of us all—not only our Front Benches playing a positive or negative role. I do not agree that we are completing the reform or that we can look at reform in isolation. Both points have been well made in other speeches. An important job not mentioned in the White Paper is to reach out to our constituencies and convince them that the House of Lords has an important and vital role. I was very depressed by the media's reaction to the White Paper. Our excellent Library sent out a document headed, "Press Reaction to the Paper", stating that,the general reaction to the White Paper in the press has been almost wholly negative".There are those who argue that that is because it is a bad White Paper. Leaving that argument on one side, I believe—this comes through in the cuttings—that the House of Lords is an institution that is all too easy to mock and represent as a stereotype of a vanishing political culture. Very little of what we do is noticed or praised by the press. A general view of the House among the media and, I suspect, the public appeared in an article in the New Statesman just before Christmas. I quote just one paragraph:The Tories, the Bishops, the Labour Titled who cave in and go native justifies this crusty pile with a patronising sweep of an unsustained assumption that it is the repository of common-sense. It is neither common nor has sense, it is posh and pointless yet its inhabitants endlessly claim that it is a historic protector of our fundamental rights".754 That statement articulates a view that is held of us outside and, I suspect, by many in the other place. We all know that it is a travesty of the truth and that, as a part of the reforming process, we have to fight such ill-informed prejudice.
Paragraph 13 on page 25 of the supporting documents talks about the representative aspect of the new House of Lords. The paragraph concludes that this has,a widespread resonance among the public".Oh, I wish that it had. Like the media, I think that the public have little understanding of what we do and how we do it. If asked to say the first things that come into their minds when given the phrase, "the House of Lords", they say, "Elderly gents in ermine" and "A most beautiful building". I worry about the hordes of people who take tours around our splendid buildings, admiring the architecture and the paintings. I compare that with the numbers who come to listen to our debates in the Public Gallery. It is an unhappy example of form winning out over content.
In the year of the Queen's golden jubilee, the monarchy has decided, quite rightly in my view, to reach out to the public and change and adapt itself to the 21st century. We have exactly the same task to perform. If we do not set ourselves that task as part of the reforming process, in this debate we shall simply be holding a two-day conversation with ourselves. I can almost hear noble Lords wincing at the idea of "marketing" ourselves, looking outwards rather than inwards. But that is one area where the ultimate justification for our future existence and legitimacy will come from.
I turn to procedures and the way we carry out our business. This important topic is dealt with in the White Paper in paragraph 34 on page 15 in two-and-a-half lines stating that a report will be published by end 2001. I have been a Member of your Lordships' House for just under two years and I am still confused and bewildered by many of the procedures of this place. I am told that this is a "self-regulating House", but from observation it would appear that no one person knows what are regulations. If there is one such person, that person is not in the Chamber all the time. I believe that there are huge areas for improvement here and I look forward to taking part in those discussions at a later date.
I was interested to note that the discussions on membership of the House of Lords take up most of the White Paper and, indeed, have taken up most of the time of our debate. To me that is strange. It is rather like looking at the board of a company or of an institution without discussing what the company does and how it does it. The role of the House and the way we achieve our goals should be of equal importance to the composition of the House.
I broadly accept the recommendations for membership outlined in the White Paper, but I should like to propose a simpler way of dealing with one aspect of the issue. As has been pointed out in the press and in this House during our debate, we are looking at an extraordinarily complicated way of constructing the membership of the second Chamber. Most of the 755 press comment, along with most of the debate, has centred around the question of whether the House of Lords should be a democratically elected Chamber. My view is that unless there is a massive Government Back Bench revolt in the other place, it is unlikely that that will happen, but I do feel that by establishing an elected element in the House, whatever percentage that element may comprise, the way will be open for future governments to extend the democratic element and perhaps eventually create a fully elected Chamber. What we see here, therefore, is a start, one, I think, of great significance.
I broadly accept the outline given in the White Paper of how the Chamber should be composed in the near future, but I should like to suggest a way which might be followed before the appointments commission starts its work. One of the two issues that the White Paper does not confront head on is the size of the House, which is very much larger than any other second chamber in the world, with the exception of two countries, which, as Peter Kellner wryly remarked, are not normally advertised as models of parliamentary perfection. The German Bundesrat has 69 members, while the US Senate has 100.
The other issue that the White Paper skirts around is the most delicate one of age. The White Paper points out correctly that age should not be a barrier to membership of the House of Lords, or rather that an upper age limit should not be a barrier. I agree with that but, as a generality, a House where the average age is heading towards 70, with life expectancy growing every year, presents problems for any government wishing to make the House more representative in terms of age groups, gender and minority representation, a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Dearing.
I propose a three-phase approach to the two problems of size and age, which may reduce our numbers and thus introduce a strong element of flexibility to our discussions on reform. The first phase would be the disappearance of the remaining hereditary Peers. I plan to say nothing about that as the debates on the issue took place before I arrived. As a boy, I once put my hand into a hornets' nest and I have no desire to repeat the experience.
Phase two would be to offer a generous one-off retirement package, perhaps an extraordinarily generous retirement package, to those Members sitting in the House of Lords who may now wish to retire, taking with them a significant amount of money—money paid for much hard work and effort over a very long period. What I propose here, I must emphasise, is a purely voluntary initiative. My noble friend Lord Dubs said that he thought that such a proposal would be quite improper. I have to disagree with him. The settlement terms would be made available for, let us say, a two-month period. After that there would be no further opportunity for Peers to take advantage of such an arrangement.
Before I leave the subject, perhaps I may make one other point about the White Paper; that is, there is no stated budget for House of Lords reform. If reform is 756 important, the Government ought to be prepared to allocate, if necessary, a comparatively large sum of money to enable reform to take place. Like everything else, reform costs money.
During phase three the remaining Peers would be asked a simple question: "Do you wish to be a working Peer, or do you wish to be a Peer who attends on an occasional basis?". A working Peer would be expected to turn up on each day that the House sits—incidentally, why do we not work a five-day week?—put in a minimum of hours, to be determined, in the Chamber and be paid for doing so. I would suggest a modest sum which could be called a salary, a fee or whatever. By "modest" I mean in terms of the earning capabilities of many Members of the House of around, say, £30,000 per annum. The working Peers would continue to claim their overnight allowances if they live outside London, but no other allowance. Those who choose not to be working Peers would continue to receive their allowances.
I agree with the idea expressed in the White Pa per that there should be a generous retirement package made available to Peers when they reach the age of 70. Again, that would be voluntary.
The final phase would be the appointment of the independent commission—which may have been appointed already—to start work once the composition of the new House was known. Although the commission should be totally independent, at the outset it would be quite appropriate for this House to give it directives.
Let me give an example. On the day before the Christmas Recess, there was a most interesting Second Reading debate, mentioned by the noble Lord, Lard Dearing, on the Sex Discrimination (Election Candidates) Bill. During the debate on the Bill, which appears to have cross-party support, it emerged that 14 per cent of our House is composed of women. The White Paper proposes that 30 per cent of the people nominated should be women, with the hope—I underline "hope"—that over time this will lead to a better gender balance in the House.
I do not think that this is either good enough or fast enough. It is not, in my view, an acceptable ambition. We have a golden opportunity here to do something in this area quickly. If the House has had, for hundreds of years, many of the attributes of a men's club, now is an opportunity to change that. In terms of one of the first points I made about the way in which this House presents itself to the outside world, this change is of crucial importance.
Clearly—I am not being ironic—there is a long way to go before we have a perfectly formed, or even reformed, House of Lords. In spite of the huge divides and disagreements that have emerged, if we all take as the only starting point the recognition of the importance of this Chamber in the parliamentary process and the need to get this across to the media, the public and the House of Commons, I am sure that we can make great progress.
§ 8.1 p.m.
§ Baroness Carnegy of Lour
My Lords, I have just noticed that there are not too many girls in the debate today. I am not sure what conclusion to draw from that, but I am rather glad I am taking part today rather than yesterday.
At the start of his speech, the noble Lord, Lord Evans, speculated upon why the White Paper is getting a bad press. Whatever the reason may be, over the last day or two the effect of the heightened discussion and a better understanding of the White Paper, combined with the Government's continuing reluctance to seek consensus across Parliament, seems to be producing a somewhat unexpected situation—that is, there appears to be a possibility that either the Government will be stuck with the status quo and fail to implement what, to them, are key commitments, or we shall move to a wholly elected second Chamber, which would only work in our kind of Parliament, with our kind of carefully worded and detailed legislation, if the House of Commons reformed itself too.
My noble friend Lord King and others referred to the anti-terrorism Bill. It must have been clear for all to see—not only those in this House—during the passage of that Bill that as long as it is possible in this country for a government with a big majority to force a dangerously flawed Bill through the House of Commons after scant scrutiny there, the second Chamber needs among its Members legal expertise, legislative experience, experience of the subject matter of a Bill, the independence of committed Cross-Benchers, and political people able to act as free spirits, if the necessary job is to be done and the Government and the House of Commons persuaded. That kind of expertise and ability is, by definition, unlikely to exist in sufficient quantity in an all-elected House. For such a second Chamber to work, the House of Commons will have to be very considerably reformed.
Awkward alternatives are looming for the Government—that is, the status quo or a massive change to both Houses—and Ministers want neither. They have my sympathy.
As to the White Paper, most of the arguments have been deployed already and I shall he very brief. Two points have not been much discussed, both of which can apply whatever the composition of the House may be. The first point concerns the breaking of the historic link between the membership of the second Chamber and the peerage. The time has come when that is absolutely right. It is right for the Monarchy and right for the second Chamber, whatever form it takes. But, in passing, why go on calling it the House of Lords when it will not be a house of Lords. I believe that "Senate" would be a better name and that its members should be "Senators".
The second point concerns the power of the second Chamber in relation to secondary legislation. The White Paper contains an extremely good idea which began in the committee of this House—one of which I am now a member but of which I was not a member when the committee made the recommendation—and 758 was accepted by the Wakeham commission; that is, that the second Chamber should have the power to delay secondary legislation and require the House of Commons to think again. With secondary legislation being used, inevitably, more and more, it would seem wise to make it possible to discuss orders much more fully, rather than simply accepting or rejecting them. It is an extremely good idea.
But the White Paper also suggests abolishing the second Chamber's ability to reject orders. That would be extraordinarily unwise. One could quote other examples of the dangers, but again the anti-terrorism Bill is the most recent. Noble Lords will remember that, in that Bill, the Government proposed the establishment of new crimes and new penalties in this country—some of which would involve prison sentences for our citizens—simply by putting orders through Parliament. Those particular crimes would have been negotiated between our Home Secretary and the other justice ministers in Europe and would have been unscrutinised by the European Parliament at any time.
But if a reasonable, responsible government such as this one could propose for their own convenience something so undemocratic, what might a less responsible government do? The power to reject secondary legislation must be retained by the second Chamber, and powers to amend such legislation, to delay it and to refer it back to the Commons for further discussion should be added to it. Those changes could be made whatever the composition of the House.
Those are not small points, but they are briefly made because your Lordships know the issues. I hope that when the Leader of the House replies to the debate he will be able—among all the other matters on which he has to reply—to comment on the possibility of keeping the power to reject orders.
§ 8.8 p.m.
§ Lord Phillips of Sudbury
My Lords, in the spirit of the independence that this House is supposed to exemplify, I shall pay two brief tributes which have not yet been paid. The first tribute is due to the hereditary Peers who departed this place in a rather admirable fashion. I reflect on the fact that only one in 10 voted in the last vote when abolition of their class was considered by the House.
A tribute is also due to the Government. There has been some serious misrepresentation about what they are proposing in this reform in terms of surrendering power to pack the Lords, as some call it, by limiting the powers of political patronage to 60 per cent of the House and, crucially, by apportioning that 60 per cent between the three major parties—not on the basis of the seats won at the previous election but on the basis of votes garnered. The telling figures given by the noble Lord, Lord Ampthill, indicate the way in which, during the Thatcher years, the already huge in-built Tory majority was added to by the appointment of twice as many Tory life Peers as Labour life Peers, and scarcely any from my own party, and they require reflection.
759 That said, if I were to be convinced that more of the same party machine dominated politics—exemplified by the current House of Commons—were what people really wanted, I might be persuaded to go for a fully or largely elected House. If I felt that all that Parliament needed in order to recapture public allegiance and to revive democracy was less independence, less experience and less expertise in this place, I might rethink my position. If I believed that the shambles of the railways, the demoralisation in our schools, the crisis in the NHS, the shame of our rampant crime and of our bursting jails, the increasing divisions in our society, and so on, would be improved by an elected, more politicised second Chamber, I would think again. If I sensed that we had contrived a new division of powers between two elected Houses so as to make them functionally complementary, I might contemplate that prospect.
Thus, although I broadly concur with the opening analysis of my noble friend Lady Williams of Crosby in terms of the crisis of confidence in our democracy, I do not entirely share her analysis of the remedy. I align myself with my noble friend Lord Dahrendorf. Perhaps I may say that the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, who unavoidably cannot take part in this debate, has asked me to associate him with that position as well.
I admit that my instinct in contemplating reform of this place is to resort to that unrivalled vehicle of democracy, elections. To argue anything else, as the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, reminded us yesterday, is an uphill struggle in terms of the broadsheets and informed public opinion. We could easily end up adding to public disaffection with politics—the very disaffection that we seek to assuage—with the inevitable charge of "turkeys being unwilling to vote for Christmas", of party leaders being unwilling to give up patronage and of our contempt for the public. These are weighty considerations. I have been interested in what noble Lords have so sagely said in the course of the debate.
Why do I incline firmly against election—certainly under the present circumstances? First, the proposed mixed House would be neither fish nor fowl. It will be likely to prove less effective than an all-appointed, and fairly appointed, House. Many of the problems to which the hybrid option will give rise have not been thought through.
Let us take one example. Although we have a variegated House now, that hotchpotch of Peers is mostly sanctioned by centuries. The 120 elected Members would be different in kind, democratically speaking. Although they would be well advised not to claim superior legitimacy, I suspect that others outside this place would give it to them, and that in time they would assume it.
Furthermore, it is unrealistic to expect such Members not to be full-time. In the course of standing for election, even of getting themselves selected—often by small party caucuses—they will have to commit themselves to that, or risk losing out to others who will. That will add to the force of their presence here, given that many other Peers cannot be anything like 760 full-time, and would indeed lose much of their utility if they were. The full-timers will owe their position here entirely to party patronage—in the Labour Party, centrally controlled—and via the regional lists, even if we have open lists. They will come here to pursue a career and will be wholly vulnerable to the party control which is a necessary concomitant of seeking preferment as part of a career.
In terms of a wholly or mainly elected second House—favoured by the majority, but by no means all, of my own party—I do not find it conceivable that such a proposal would stand any prospect of getting through the House of Commons. In any event, it could only follow sensibly, it seems, on a new constitutional settlement between the two directly elected Houses with which we have not begun to grapple. What may have evolved in other countries cannot simply be transplanted here.
Perhaps I may refer briefly to the forceful speech made yesterday by the noble Lord, Lord Richard. He is as eloquent an exponent of a fully elected House as anyone. He made this comment:The argument is sometimes heard … that to have over 50 per cent of this House directly elected would be to produce a clone of the House of Commons. I do not believe that for an instant. The powers and functions of the two Chambers are clear … The upper House could not threaten the primacy of the Commons. We would continue to have strictly limited powers and functions … with no role in determining the government or controlling finance … Nor would the second Chamber be able to veto a Commons Bill or … any statutory instrument".—[Official Report, 9/1/02; col. 602.]If that is what the noble Lord believes would be the practical outcome of a wholly elected second House, I have to dissent. What is more, if he were right—I think it inconceivable that that would be the case—we should have ended up with a full-time elected second Chamber, with second-rate powers, which could only attract second-rate people. Who could conceivably want a career in this place as compared with a full-time career in the other place? Such a proposal is unfeasible.
Perhaps I may comment on the issue of public opinion and where it sits. We have heard contributions on the matter from a number of speakers, including the noble Lords, Lord Smith of Clifton, Lord Richard, Lord Ampthill, Lord Butler and Lord Wakeham. The Royal Commission had a limited number of public meetings—nine, I believe—which a fraction over 1,000 people attended. The commission put out a questionnaire to which fewer than 1,000 citizens responded. Although that was a grotesquely inadequate consultation for such a hugely important public matter, none the less it represents the only deliberative consultation that has so far taken place. I cannot put any weight, as the noble Lord, Lord Richard, did, on the various quick-fire polls—the latest being the ICM random telephone poll of 1,000 people just before Christmas. Of all the issues on earth that are not susceptible, sensibly, to that treatment, this surely is it.
It is worth noting that the strongest reply to any of the questions on composition in the Royal Commission questionnaire was on whether people of independence and experience should be in this place. Over two-thirds responded in favour.
761 I held a public meeting in my own home town on the issue of reform which was attended by 90 people. After a vigorous and intelligent debate, they voted 4:1 in favour of an appointed rather than an elected Chamber. It is still not too late for us to contemplate a proper public consultation. The very fact that we have no reliable base to tell us what the public truly think about these complicated issues seems, even now, to shout in favour of undertaking just such a consultation. Part of the public disaffection with politics in this country is precisely that we have inadvertently drifted away from the public in terms of consulting them, in terms of their feeling that they are consulted. The lack of that essential relationship between the elected and appointed legislators and the public leads to the present situation, which is worse than many Peers realise.
The 59 per cent turnout at the last general election was the worst in our history and the 24 per cent turnout at the European elections was by far the worst that we or any country have ever had, but even those figures omit the crucial fact that a full third of potential voters aged 25 and under have not registered to vote. If that statistic is cranked into the equation, we find that only one in three of the under-25s voted at the general election and not more than one in 10 did so at the European elections.
Party membership is plummeting. Many charities have a greater membership than all the political parties combined. More people voted in the "Big Brother" television vote than voted in the last election. Young citizens in particular do not identify with what we do. Among the public at large there is a simultaneous sensation of being put upon and ignored by Westminster and Whitehall, which increasingly garner power to themselves when not transferring it to Brussels.
People see party politics as over-controlled, party self-interested, destructive, regimented and generally unsympathetic. They find it difficult to identify with politicians who appear to have surrendered their independence and, as some would see it, their political honesty to their party Whips and to preferment. It is impossible for most of the public to relate to a House of Commons in which the Labour Government have not lost a single one of the more than 1,000 whipped votes since they came to power in 1997. At least in this place we manage to defeat the Government once in every four or five votes, but not a single vote has been carried against the Government in the Commons in nearly five years. The public do not understand that and it should not be the case. Unless we deal with the broader underlying issues, nothing that we do here will be sufficient.
That shows plainly that trying to deal with the problem by adding to the party political representation in this House is counterintuitive and counter-common sense. I say that with great reluctance, because, I repeat, my whole tenor is to give faith to the elective process. As others have correctly said, including the noble and learned Lord the Lord 762 Chancellor in opening the debate, there is more than one channel of democracy. We in this House have our own particular way.
I shall say a quick word about regional lists. My noble friend Lord Wallace suggested that if we had open regional lists, we might encourage small splinter parties and a widening of representation in the House. I believe that that is wishful thinking. The proposed closed lists would be a double disaster, but even with open lists the constituencies are far too big for people to be able to identify with candidates, or even to have a passing knowledge of them, as we saw at the European elections. The almost inexorable tendency, therefore, is simply to follow the party line and the party candidate priority list.
The other main tendency, I fear, is not to vote at all. The public of this country will not vote for people of whom they have no knowledge and whom they have never seen and will never see. The noble Lord, Lord Richard, was far more phlegmatic than I am about the declining voter turnout.
My time is up. My final comment is that I would be amazed if we allowed the proposed removal of our already extremely limited powers over secondary legislation to proceed. That would be a catastrophic mistake. If ever anything was needed, it is greater power to deal with statutory instruments.
§ 8.24 p.m.
§ Lord MacGregor of Pulham Market
My Lords, since discussions on this subject began in 1997, I am greatly disappointed that so little attention has been given to the role and powers of this place and so much to composition. I very much agree with the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, and my noble friends Lord Baker and Lord King, that those topics should have come first before we looked at composition. I shall say a bit more about powers later if I have time.
The role and powers of the House are highly relevant to its composition. I start, however, with composition, mainly because there is a powerful wind blowing down the corridor in the other place in favour of a wholly or largely elected second Chamber. My noble friend Lord King complimented the Lord Privy Seal on attending nearly all of the debate. So do I. My noble friend said that the noble and learned Lord would have to be a master magician to be able to draw a consensus out of the debate, or even to find much support for the Government. As a bit of a magician myself, I offer him one crumb. I shall be highly unusual in complimenting the Government on a major aspect of the White Paper and supporting them on it.
I am an out-and-out supporter of the supremacy of the House of Commons. I was highly privileged to be a Member there for 27 years. I greatly regret the decline in the power of the House over the executive and the bypassing and steamrollering of the House that has happened particularly in the past five years. I also greatly regret the decline in the esteem in which that House is held. However, those are points for debate another day. I also relish elections. I have been 763 heavily involved in 11 of them, including seven in my own constituency. I in no way move away from the concept of the importance of elections.
However, from that basis and experience, I challenge some of the assumptions and arguments for a wholly or largely elected House. It is too easy to say, somewhat glibly, that in a 21st century democracy only elections confer legitimacy and to cite opinion polls in support of that view. I strongly agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, said. I find it highly interesting that more Liberal Democrat Members have spoken against a wholly or largely elected Chamber than have spoken for it. The noble Baroness, Lady Williams, is the only Liberal Democrat to have spoken powerfully in favour of the idea. I very much agree with some of the arguments that have been put forward from those Benches.
§ Lord MacGregor of Pulham Market
My Lords, I cannot give way because of the time. In my 27 years as an MP I think that I received two letters about the House of Lords. I rarely heard any discussion about the matter in my constituency and there has never been any inclination to have a serious discussion along the lines of the debate that we are now having. I warn people not to pay too much attention to the opinion polls.
I shall consider the principle and then the practicalities of a wholly or substantially elected House. On the principle, if the House of Lords were the same as the House of Commons, with similar functions and powers, the point about elections being the only legitimate route would hold. However, that is not the case. This House is substantially and definitively subordinate. The real issue of legitimacy in a democracy is how the government are chosen. That is done by election to the House of Commons. Governments depend on retaining the support of the House of Commons. It has the ultimate total decision on legislation and nearly always gets its way on major substantive legislation. Anyone who has been a Minister will have considerable experience of how that can be achieved. We should be under no illusions about that. Nearly all Ministers—certainly nearly all senior Ministers—are drawn from the House of Commons. The House of Commons also has total control over finance and supply.
My noble friend Lord Baker argued that because this House has powers it should have an elected element. But those powers are very limited. The supporting documents rightly point out, in paragraph 4 on page 5, that that has profound implications for the role of the second Chamber, and hence for its composition.
The two principles that form the basis of the reform are spelt out on page 4 of the White Paper. It is worth constantly reminding ourselves of them. This House is to be,a revising and deliberative assembly—not seeking to usurp the role of the House of Commons as the pre-eminent Chamberand, 764composed of a membership appropriate to its revising and deliberative functions, and not duplicate or clone the Commons".That is what a largely or substantially elected membership of this House would do.
An extremely pertinent point is made in the supporting documents. Very little reference has been made to the supporting documents in the debate. I urge your Lordships to look at pages 22 and 23. One point made on those pages is that,it would be curious to introduce an elected second chamber on the grounds that this was necessary to 'increase its legitimacy' and promptly hedge around its powers so that in practice it could not make effective use of that 'legitimacy'".That is a fair point. On the same pages there are some good arguments about the practicality of having a wholly or substantially elected Chamber.
I have therefore come to the view that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor was right to say that election is not the only route to legitimacy. What is the nature of that legitimacy? I thought that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford made some very telling points about the representative function that he has been able to perform in this place.
We have heard powerful speeches from the noble Lords, Lord Gordon of Strathblane, Lord Neill of Bladen and Lord Sewel, among others, on how a large—or any—elected element could substantially change the character of this place. I shall summarise some of the points.
If elected Members of the Lords are expected to perform our current roles and functions, what will be the job description? It will be, "You will not have many powers. You will have very little capacity to influence legislation. It is also very unlikely that you will ever become a Minister, but you will be expected to be full time. You will find it extremely difficult to attract the attention of your constituents or explain your activities to them in any way at all. If you are going to take advantage of the Government's proposals on re-election, there will be major disadvantages. By the way, although you'll be full time, you'll have no real secretarial support for the major activities that you are supposed to undertake. No one will take much notice of the highly important work that the House of Lords does. You are also not expected to receive any salary".
Who will respond to that type of job description? Anyone who is successful in mid-career will not be attracted to the House of Lords if he wants to embrace a political career; he will go to the House of Commons. If he fails to persuade a constituency to accept him, he will regard the House of Lords as a possibility only if he sees it as a stepping stone to the House of Commons. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, that that would hardly raise the quality in this House compared with appointed Members who have wide expertise and experience over many years.
Moreover, if there are elected Members, they will constantly argue for greater powers because they believe that they have legitimacy. We have heard that argument many times and I do not intend to repeat it. However, elected Members would also attempt to copy the habits and tactics of the House of Commons 765 in drawing their electorate's attention to their activities through the media. This House would therefore be substantially susceptible to the partisanship and partisan atmosphere that has so turned the public off the House of Commons, and which the media not only feed off but do much to encourage.
There would also be inevitable jockeying for the electorate's attention between Members of the House of Lords and Members of the House of Commons. One of the principles stated in the White Paper is the need not to disturb the relationship between elected Members of the Commons and their constituents. Elected Members in this place would do precisely that. We have learned that lesson from the difficulties that Westminster Members of Parliament have had in trying to attract their electorate's attention when MSPs are receiving all the attention.
Your Lordships might therefore conclude that I am against any elected element at all. However, I was much impressed by the arguments made last night by the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, on the importance of compromise and consensus in trying to reach agreement. On that basis, I would accept an elected element. I believe, however, that the right number is 87, as in the Wakeham proposals, for the reasons given in that report and for two others. First, such a major change would greatly change the character of this House, and we would have to learn from experience the unintended and unexpected consequences. We shall have to move fairly slowly to gain, as my noble and learned friend Lord Howe said, the benefits of incremental change.
Secondly, I was much impressed by the points made by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor on the transitional period and the arithmetic. If I understand the arithmetic aright, if we abolish the hereditary Peers and have 120 elected Peers, to reach the capped number in 10 years there will be only 49 appointed Members. We shall therefore have about five appointed Members per year. Consequently, in reality, very few independent Members will be appointed in those 10 years. I agree with all the remarks that have been made about the importance of the independent element. It cannot be enhanced if there are 120 elected Members.
At this point, I substantially part company with the Government and their White Paper. The Government's proposals on the length of term, re-election and closed lists—all of which have already been dealt with thoroughly in the debate—are absolutely wrong, and the Wakeham commission proposals on them are absolutely right. The Government's proposals would simply increase the power of patronage of the parties and of the Prime Minister, as so many of the new Members entering this place in the next 10 years would arrive by means of that electoral, closed-list system. I therefore wholly oppose those proposals and hope that the Government will rethink them.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Neill, drew attention to the proposal to hold the House of Lords elections in line with the European elections, and to the 766 fact that only 24 per cent of the electorate voted in the most recent European elections. If that happened with the House of Lords election, it would be another telling response to those who argue that opinion polls show that the electorate want an elected House. However, although there are obviously pros and cons, I think that it is right to go for the European elections. I am very fearful of the idea of attaching the House of Lords elections to those for the House of Commons as it would further duplicate the Government's power. That would be wrong for all the reasons already given.
I very much regret that the White Paper says so little about the powers, role and function of the House of Lords. It states a position but does not really offer an argument or say where changes might be made. In the whole of his speech, the Lord Chancellor had only one sentence, I think, on powers and functions. But it is a fundamental issue. The important point is that the House of Lords should be doing so much more of what the House of Commons is now doing so very badly. All former Members of the House of Commons and Ministers know that the pressures—not least the constituency pressures, but also so many others—on a Member of Parliament are such that the role of truly scrutinising legislation takes second, third or fourth place.
Timetabling is not working. Substantial clauses in the Education Bill, for example, are not being debated at all in Committee in the other place, and there will be no debate on them until that legislation reaches this place. That is happening much more frequently now because scrutiny is not the type of task to which Members of Parliament are giving high priority.
It is a scandal how little attention is being paid to secondary legislation. The supporting documents list, on pages 18 and 19, some elements of secondary legislation that are far from technical matters; they are matters of fundamental policy or are substantial changes to policy. Yet neither House pays any real attention to that legislation.
I am very much of the school that this House's current powers are inadequate. The ability to vote against is hardly ever used, and the proposal to delay a statutory instrument for three months does not add up to a row of beans. Any government can quite easily ignore it. As several of your Lordships have said, the real point is that statutory instruments—now that they are increasingly being used and frequently have quite significant implications, and now that so much more primary legislation is referred to statutory instruments—should be amendable. I believe that this House, with its time and experience, could concentrate much more on amending statutory instruments. A sifting process could be used to force the government to pay attention to some of the changes that your Lordships are advocating. Delaying powers would not achieve that objective.
The noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, made a very interesting speech about what more the House of Lords could do on the European front. However, I do not have time to deal with that.
767 My point is that additional powers are not about challenging the House of Commons but about challenging the executive's power when the House of Commons is unable to do it. I believe that all of these additional powers would be in keeping with the Government's principles of reform. I greatly regret that they have not even touched on them. I hope that, even now, they will consider them.
§ 8.40 p.m.
§ Lord Elton
My Lords, I start by congratulating my noble friend Lord Kingsland, who does not sit in the spotlight but has sat as long as the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House in the service of his side and a little longer than the Lord Chancellor.
I congratulate all the government team now present on the extent of the time that they have spent here. I hope that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, has an equal power to absorb as he has to hear. I was astonished to see that he has only 15 minutes, like the rest of us, to reply—I am relieved to be corrected; he has a little longer. I hope it is not too much, but it certainly ought to be more than 15 minutes.
It is the privilege of those replying late in the debate to speak to a lot of empty seats. But I wish to address every member of the present Government in this House as though they were sitting in front of me. I hope that they will listen well, wherever they are. I sat there once and as sure as eggs are eggs, whoever is sitting there now will one day be sitting here. I want them to consider that, when they start messing about with parliamentary machinery, the changes that they make today will be in place on the day that they sit here. I ask whether they will want then what they claim to want now.
Will they want a Chamber that delivers swiftly and without trouble all that the then government demand of it? No. They—"you"—will want then what I want now: a House that will scrutinise and improve legislation without fear of the executive and without expectation of reward from the executive; a House that is directly in touch with the social, economic, political and defence needs of society in the light of its own experience; a House that will stand between the electorate and the leader of any political party of any colour who gets absolute control of the House of Commons; and a House that, in the last resort, can and will prevent the extension of a Parliament beyond its five years unless the reasons for that are agreed as sufficient. The great and vital and indispensable blessing conferred by democracy is not, as we all assume, the power to elect the party of government; it is the power to get rid of it.
Let me take those points in reverse. It is a disappointment that there is no mention in the White Paper of an entrenchment of the quinquennial Act or of the House of Lords' right to veto any amendment of it. The point relating to a House that is in daily touch with the concerns of the electorate may be thought to relate to the House of Commons. But, as was pointed out by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of 768 Portsmouth and highlighted most recently by the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, a gulf has opened up between the elected representatives and those who elect them. That has been shown in the turn-out over successive years; by the fact that governments have received less than 50 per cent of the votes cast ever since 1947; and by the development of what amounts to a political class disregarded by the general public, who now cast more votes for "Big Brother" than for the party that they want to govern them.
Members of this House, to counterbalance that, must be out and about. The first issue we come to in that regard is that any question of having a House that functions during normal business hours is out. We cannot be in two places at once. That may not be Member friendly; but it would be hostile to the electorate if we were to bottle people up in this place so that they became out of touch with what is going on in the real world. We must remember that it may not be Member friendly; but we are not here for ourselves. We are here for the electorate. They are the ones we should be protecting.
For the scrutiny and building of legislation age is not a consideration. My noble friend Lord Renton, at 94, gives far more to this House than many Peers under the age of 50. He is nearly twice their age and nearly twice their use. I well remember when taking the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill through this House that the greatest difficulty I had, and conversely the greatest help I received, was from one man, Lord Denning, at the age of 85. So the idea that the Law Lords should be forcibly expelled 10 years before that notable Law Lord gave of his best seems to me to be cross-grained and contradictory. I cannot see the purpose of it except to make more room for other people so that we sit within the 600.
To stimulate contact with the outside world Members of this place must, while they are capable of doing so, he under the necessity of earning. It is important that we are not paid. The need to earn drives people out into active engagement with the economy. I take myself as an example, at the age of 71, with two part-time jobs. Your Lordships should recognise that those who embark in middle-age, in their prime, on a career in this place, undertake a considerable penalty. I take myself as an example not in any sense of self-pity—I went into it with my eyes open—but because my last year in a full-time pensionable job was when I was 43, in 1973. The penalty I pay will be when I stop earning and do not receive the pensions that other people outside this House have been free to earn. If your Lordships are to have a system of recruiting people to be diligent in this place, we must recognise that they cannot take full-time work and we should take into account the situation in which they will find themselves when they pass earning ability.
As I say, I am not speaking for myself but of myself. I foresee many people being put in that position and being discouraged from coming into your Lordships' House for that reason. The answer is not to pay people while they are here, but to give them enhanced pension rights for their declining years. At the mention of severance pay, which was 769 tantalisingly held out by the noble Lord opposite, my ears pricked up. I hope that, if there is some, then length of service will count, and I have been here for nearly 29 years. In fact, since we are here at no cost and no gain—we have only our expenses—I cannot see for what, in law, we are being compensated, though I dare say the noble Lord, Lord Evans, could put what I said about lost earnings into the basket (again I remind him of length of service!).
I mentioned a House that will scrutinise effectively. The noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, said that we are already effectively the Committee stage of the parliamentary process. That brings me to the question of what is happening at the other end of the corridor, on which I am not qualified to judge. But noble Lords with recent and profound experience confirm my fears that all is not well there and that we should be considering the Houses in tandem in a single debate and not singly.
In relation to the huge volume of secondary legislation passing through Parliament, we heard at Question Time today that the average over the past four or five years has been 3,500 statutory instruments. That suggests that we cannot let them go further out of control than they are already. There must be some system of striking them down if necessary. There must be a sifting process. The purpose of secondary legislation is simply to save parliamentary time. To prevent that being abused we have the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee. But that is not achieving enough and we need to extend our purview by perhaps setting up a separate committee process for sifting and reviewing.
I have said that this process must be without fear of the executive or hope of advantage from it. That means inevitably that there must be no re-appointment of appointees and no re-election of those elected. I do not need to explain the first statement. The second statement arises from the fact that one does not now have a hope of being elected unless one is backed by the party machine. We will therefore be in fee to the manipulators of the party in Parliament if we want to be re-elected. That will then cover us. My pride is that my first speeches and first votes in your Lordships' House, apart from my entirely uncontroversial maiden speech, were against the government of the day, which was Conservative. That must always be possible.
Everything I have mentioned can be achieved regardless of how the membership is recruited. Yesterday my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth completely destroyed the White Paper when he pointed out that the paper presented to Parliament by no less a person than the Prime Minister states:The imperative"—note the word "imperative"—is for a reformed second chamber performing broadly the same functions as in the existing House of Lords but in a more effective manner".But then the whole thing is geared to producing an elected element not connected in any sense to the effectiveness of the business it carries out. Indeed, it is 770 odd that the White Paper does not address the effectiveness of what we do. It is the missing link, as my noble friend said. But the link is there vestigially on page 15 at paragraph 34 which states:To consider the working practices of the Lords, the Leader of the House of Lords has set up a Leader's Group on Working Practices, which has been asked to report by the end of 2001".No doubt the noble and learned Lord will tell us in his reply how that has progressed, but it seems to me that this is a cackhanded debate when we are trying to make a more effective Chamber and two-thirds of that effectiveness consists not of what it is composed of or where its Members come from but rather what they do when they get here. However, that is not to be considered at all.
The speech of the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, yesterday constituted a breath of fresh air with regard to Select Committees. However, I do not think that what we are discussing constitutes the way to connect with the public and, as the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Temple Guiting, said, that is vital at this stage.
I do not think that what we have here is the vessel that my noble friend Lord Hurd looks for to carry us safely from the halfway island to the other shore, nor is it the road forward that the Government encouraged us to expect. There is no sign of consensus. One wonders where we go from here. At this point I am reminded of the telling speech of my noble friend Lord Denham. It was delivered with deceptive gentleness, but it was a devastating account of the way in which, I regret to say, the Government have reneged on their undertaking. The noble and learned Lord will be able to rebut my remarks when he replies to the debate, but he mentioned—and I have seen in writing—the evidence for his statement that we have been repeatedly assured that there will be a Joint Select Committee of both Houses to resolve this difficulty.
That undertaking was given before a crucial vote in the passage of the House of Lords Bill. I am assured that votes were cast on that occasion in the light of that undertaking, which has not been honoured. It seems to me that it is not too late to honour it and that if the Government did that they would have a way out of the place into which they have dug themselves, because if there could be no agreement it would not be their fault. However, at the moment, as far as I can see, they can deliver that only by using a pitchfork on this House wielded from another place.
I believe that I have made the essential points. I shall not discuss composition. What matters now is what we do next. What we do next must surely be to address some means of achieving an intelligent and—I cannot remember the exact phrase of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford—receptive dialogue by going far enough back as regards our differences with the other place. That can be achieved only by a Joint Select Committee of both Houses. I hope, therefore, that the Government will eventually fulfil that intention.
§ 8.53 p.m.
§ Lord Chalfont
My Lords, I begin exactly where the noble Lord, Lord Denham, began his speech yesterday, except that I was always led to believe that what he described took place not in Ballymurphy but in north Wales. I believe that it was in the town of Llangollen that a local inhabitant was approached by a foreign gentleman—I believe that he was English—who asked him the way to Dolgellau. After a thoughtful pause the reply came, "If I was you, I wouldn't start from here". If I were considering the reform of Parliament, I certainly would not start from here.
Some noble Lords may remember that from the beginning I have consistently questioned the wisdom of this whole adventure. In my experience of nearly 40 years in your Lordships' House I have always believed that the House of Lords functioned perfectly well in its previous incarnation. In spite of what the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, said in his amusing speech, I do not think that it did any harm to anyone. However, it is not, of course, difficult to understand or to accept the ideological pressures which led to the decision to remove the majority of hereditary Peers from the House, although it seems to me that when that was done no one really seemed to know, or to have any clear idea, of what the next step might be.
The result is this somewhat ill received White Paper which is very much like what the Guardian has called a dog's dinner and what Field Marshal Montgomery used to call a dog's breakfast. Whatever unfortunate dog's meal we choose to compare the document with, it certainly pleases no one. It does not please those who want to see a fully elected House, those who would like to see a fully appointed House, those who would like to leave things alone or those who would like to abolish the second Chamber altogether. Indeed, it seems to please no one.
The alleged idea behind the White Paper is apparently to look for a compromise among all these contending approaches designed to produce a House which, like all the other modernisation projects to which we have been subjected over recent years, is supposed, in the jargon, to make it "fit for the 21st century", whatever that may mean. What it does in fact is to propose the establishment of a House which will be almost entirely under party control and even less capable than the House of Commons of holding the Government to account.
As we know, the White Paper proposes that the House should consist ultimately of 600 Members, of whom 120 are to be appointed independents. The remainder will be appointed by the party machines or elected on the iniquitous party list system—the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, rightly described that as a democratic monstrosity; it is also an intellectually dishonest monstrosity—which means that everyone in the House envisaged in the White Paper except the 120 independents will be beholden to one of the main political parties.
There are many other aspects of the White Paper which seem to me to require more thought than has been devoted to them up to now but they have been 772 mentioned by most noble Lords who have spoken. In the short time at my disposal I want to deal specifically with some of those aspects of the White Paper which are relevant to the central need to secure a proper independent element in the new House, if and when it emerges.
In that context, perhaps I may say that I have been engaged in a study of the White Paper over some months, together with some other Members of the Cross Benches. The noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, mentioned that yesterday. We have already submitted a response to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor in reply to his invitation to comment on the White Paper. I say in passing that the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, who was a member of the group which carried out the examination, much regrets that he is unable to take part in the debate as he cannot be present for all of it. However, he would like it to be known that he agrees fully with the report which the group submitted to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor.
As the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, said somewhat ruefully yesterday, if anyone is rash enough to want to read that paper it can be made available. I wish to make a few brief points on it. The first, and to my mind the most important, concerns the definition of an independent Member of the House as described in the White Paper. It is in my view absolutely essential that that quota of 120 appointed independents should, if the plan ever comes to fruition, be truly and transparently independent in the truest sense of the word.
Any Member of your Lordships' House can, of course, sit on the Cross Benches and is entitled to call himself a Cross-Bencher. However, that does not necessarily mean that he should be counted as one of the 120 Members appointed as the independent quota. There have been some rather bizarre suggestions in that context, including that membership of a political party is not inconsistent with independence. I find that peculiar. It may be true in one sense, but it is, in my view, totally inconsistent with being an independent, in the sense of being part of the quota in the White Paper. We are talking not about intellectual or moral independence but political independence in the party sense.
The present Appointments Commission has already published its criteria for the assessment of nominations for non-political membership of this House. It specifically includes the requirement that nominees should be,independent of any political party",and that they should be,independent of party political considerations, whatever their past political involvement".That is clear enough to satisfy even the most earnest glottologist. The Government have, I understand, accepted that anyone who is nominated to the House from a minor political party will count against the political, not the independent, quota. It will also be necessary, in principle, to exclude from the independent quota many of those who have moved 773 from political parties and those who are not appointed as independents. Much of this is complicated and is sensitive to personalities. It can probably best be dealt with by way of clear undertakings from the Government and not necessarily in any Bill that is brought before your Lordships' House.
My next point is about the strange statement in paragraph 62 of the White Paper. It states, in relation to the independent quota, that,there should be some small margin allowed to the Appointments Commission to enable effective amendment of the size and balance of the House".On that subject the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor said,the Appointments Commission will need to re-balance the House after each General Election. It may yet find that it can do this more effectively by 'borrowing' temporarily a seat from the Independents".The supporting documents to the White Paper state that the independent quota should be 20 per cent of the total,on average over the lifetime of a parliament".All of that seems to me to be totally unacceptable. If the quota of independents is eroded, there is a serious risk that that erosion will become permanent or at least long term. The quota of independents, if it ever comes into being, must be inviolate and clearly laid down by statute. There is, after all, no reason why the total cap of 600 should be totally inflexible. If the necessary margin of variance is required, it could well be obtained by making that total flexible.
I move to the composition of the new statutory appointments commission, which will decide on quotas and appoint the non-political Members of the House. The make-up of that commission is therefore of great importance. I suggest that however it is appointed or composed, it should have a chairman who is an independent Member of this House with extensive experience of how it works, and a further independent Member of the House who also has extensive experience of how it works. I welcome the fact that one of the members of the commission, according to the White Paper, will be nominated by the Convenor.
However, parts 7 and 8 of the supporting documents, if I read them correctly, seem to accept that there might be no Members of the House among the independent members of the commission. That seems extraordinary.
Finally, there is the question of hereditary Peers. At the change, the House will lose 92 hereditary Peers and gain 120 elected Members. The noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, has already dealt expertly with the mathematics of that. It seems essential that there should be some kind of commitment at the change that an appropriate number of replacement appointments should be made to the independent Members to take account of the varying expertise that will be lost. I advance a purely personal view on that. If the present proposals are adopted, the independents of this House will lose overnight 28 hereditary Peers, many of whom 774 have special experience and knowledge and are active in committee work. It seems to me that there is a case to be made for offering those hereditary Peers membership of the new House under the auspices of the appointments commission.
Given the volcanic eruptions in the other place and the somewhat more decorous exchanges in your Lordships' House over the past two days, it must by now be clear to the meanest intelligence, and even clearer to the formidable intellect of the noble and learned Lord, that legislation that is based on the White Paper has about as much chance of arriving on the statute book as I have of playing rugby for Wales—although, if last season is anything to go by, perhaps the chances are rather less. The Government will have to go back to the drawing board. There is something to be said, as was pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, for leaving things as they are—the House is working well and, outside political ideology, there is no reason for change. I have previously quoted in your Lordships' House the admirable dictum of the 17th century Lord Falkland, in the days when an hereditary peerage was not a target for envy and malice.When it is not necessary to change".he said in his speech on the episcopy,it is necessary not to change".The noble Lord, Lord Elton, asked: where do we go from here? My own prophecy, for what it is worth, is that precisely nothing will happen as a result of the White Paper.
In that context, I conclude by asking the Government for an assurance—if they can give it to me—that the removal of the remaining hereditary Peers is not the sole or principal aim of Her Majesty's Government. When the first stage of reform was implemented, it was clearly understood by all of us that the remaining hereditary Peers—the 92 who were left here—had a specific role to perform and that they would not be removed until the final reform of the House was being implemented. It would never occur to me for one moment to suggest that Her Majesty's Government would not honour that understanding fully. But perhaps I may ask the noble and learned Lord the Lord Privy Seal, when he comes to reply, to give an undertaking to the House that, if in the long run the rest of this White Paper proves to be too difficult to translate into legislation, they will not contemplate simply removing the remaining hereditary Peers and leaving everything else unchanged.
§ 9.8 p.m.
My Lords, as the 68th speaker, I dare say that the less I say the greater the chances of the content being valued. Inevitably, what I do say must be a statement of support of many views that have already been expressed.
This House, like all institutions, is from time to time subjected to criticism—some justified and some not. However, I believe that it is generally perceived to carry out its revising, scrutinising, debating and 775 reporting functions rat her well. I believe that that was true even before the passing of the 1999 Act. I know that prior to the passage of that Act there were considerable objections to the composition of the House and the dominance of one political party, even if in practice, on a day-to-day basis, that was more theoretical than fact.
Nevertheless, for those for whom the composition and numbers posed a real problem, I submit that those issues have now been largely overcome. That leaves me wondering to a considerable degree why we are faced with these controversial proposals, with the consequent parliamentary time that would be taken if they were to be pursued, when there are so many other matters of pressing concern to Members in this House and to members of the public.
I concur wholeheartedly with noble Lords who have argued persuasively against an all-elected House. Without repeating all the previously rehearsed arguments, I particularly take that view because it is only a reform of this House which is being considered. Without reform of the other place and of the whole system of government, another wholly elected Chamber would add no value whatever to the political process.
Nor do I support the Government's proposals for a partly elected House. The reasons for such opposition have been well aired, not least the effect that the introduction of an elected element would have on the character and working of this House and its relations with the other place. The noble Lord, Lord Sewel, and others made that very clear. I very much hope that we shall not now see the start of a kind of auction to discover who can put forward the most radical proposal for the greatest number of elected Members. I consider this matter to be too serious to be dealt with in that way.
Despite the opinion polls that have been referred to, submit—those of us who are not here full time do work in the real world—that there is little evidence that the public are anxious to elect yet another tier of government. My noble and learned friend Lord Howe of Aberavon and my noble friend Lord MacGregor drew attention to the generally-held favourable views of the public. Indeed, tonight the Evening Standard has even published a letter which, by and large, is favourable to your Lordships' House, even if it published a photograph of the judges rather than the rest of us. Perhaps that is indicative of the gap in understanding which must be closed.
The Government propose that a majority of political Members should be appointed. Personally I have no great problem with the involvement of the parties in that. How could I? I came here on the recommendation of a party leader, but for life. However, I do have a problem in reconciling the Government's proposal with the desire for independence. If independence is a principal consideration, as it should be, then the term of appointment should be as long as possible and there should be no prospect of reappointment. But, whatever the length, experience would undoubtedly be 776 lost on a regular basis. I am sure that everyone in your Lordships' House can think of examples when considerable value has been given to our proceedings by Members who have been in the House for a much longer period than 15 years—never mind the shorter period being proposed by the Government.
I believe that the proposals to determine the number of Members so as to reflect the votes cast in the preceding general election will inevitably give rise to difficulty. They will give the impression that the government of the day are seeking to increase their grip on Parliament rather than increase its independence.
At this time of night, I believe that it is extremely dangerous to try to take issue with the noble and learned Lord the Lord Privy Seal. However, I noted that in the debate on the sex discrimination Bill—again, talking about proportions, albeit of members of the Cabinet or of the House of Commons—he said, when asked about specific arithmetic, that that is the way in which British society has always worked; it does not work on a narrow, arithmetical calculation. I am sure that the noble and learned Lord will be able to draw a distinction between what he said then and the point in the White Paper. Nevertheless, I believe that it is a fair point to make.
The Lord Chancellor asked us to be constructive. I shall be constructive and say to your Lordships' House that we should recognise the values of the present system, many of which would go needlessly under the Government's proposals.
The present system is flexible. It meets the majority of the Government's objectives, or could do so. The Government's proposals maintain the Cross-Benchers, the Law Lords and the Bishops largely as under the present system. I submit to your Lordships that existing life Peers of all parties are a better guarantee of independence than a party list elected set of Members and nominees eligible for re-appointment or re-election, or vice versa. This is not to be an elected House and its composition may therefore be subject to different considerations.
To those in the other place who would have us all or largely elected, let us make it clear that we do not claim to be better for reason of non-election, merely different. We are different because we are here for a different purpose. We are, in the words of the Lord Chancellor, a vital check and balance. We are part of the same Parliament, of which the other place is also a part, but a Parliament in which the other place will always prevail. It may be at a cost of some time, delay or loss of particular detail, but prevail it always will.
We do not seek to change that position. As other noble Lords have said, our powers are largely adequate and justify our composition. Any attempt to equalise powers would not be justified by our composition, and the Government do not propose significantly greater powers with a different and less adequate composition. We do not look down on elected office. I held elected office, albeit at local level, for 30 years. I hope that it does not embarrass the Lord Chancellor if I repeat his comments about there being other sources of democratic legitimacy other than election.
777 The present system has many merits. We should have confidence in the House and ourselves. Members in all quarters of the House have different experiences, achievements and expertise. We should acknowledge that the life Peers who take a Whip have all been appointed by someone. Everyone is someone's crony, if one wants to use that rather pejorative term. I prefer that it were not so used. If it is not invidious to draw attention to the fact, we have already seen many new Members of your Lordships' House exercising, both in speeches and in votes, the independence which has characterised this House for a very long period of time.
The present system permits the practice of appointing people to serve as Ministers. That is a practice known to Prime Ministers of different parties. The Government's proposals would limit this quite considerably and the individuals who have held important offices within the country—a question raised by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley—and indeed the kind of almost automatic right of former Cabinet Ministers to a seat in this House. All these advantages could be lost under the somewhat limited proposals of the Government.
With the independent commission and the Prime Minister's commitment—if honoured—not to have a House dominated by one party, the regional balance, which is apparently one of the objectives of the elected Peers, could be easily achieved and all the difficult questions of a mixed House, election, numbers and re-appointment or re-election would not arise.
The present system also ensures, as has been referred to on many occasions, that the House is a part-time House. I believe that the involvement of as many outside Members as possible is an important feature.
Lastly, the presence of 92 hereditary Peers would be ended under the Government's proposals. But the House has now moved to a situation where there is no overall majority for any party. If noble Lords who sit here by succession forgive the phrase, the historical anomaly is immaterial and their presence does, and will continue to, add an element of independence. That was argued by my noble friend Lord Trefgarne. The register, far from being the ultimate closed list as described by the Lord Chancellor, is, after all, determined by accident of birth and rather more open than any party list that we have so far seen.
While it is inevitable if the Government's proposals are proceeded with, on a personal note I see no reason why we should be so eager to break the link with the peerage, which is, after all, a constantly evolving institution and provides a historical link and justification for the House and the powers that we now have.
§ 9.20 p.m.
§ The Lord Bishop of Oxford
My Lords, I had the privilege of being a member of the Royal Commission on the Reform of the House of Lords. Therefore, if I may, I shall speak from that perspective rather than as part of the official response of the Church of England.
778 In their response to the Wakeham report, the Government reject the idea of an appointments commission responsible for political appointments as well as Cross-Benchers. I think that that is a pity. The noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, set out the reasons why we thought that such an appointments commission was desirable and necessary. Nevertheless, if a consensus—and it is a very big "if"—eventually emerged around the Government's proposal for a more limited appointments commission than the Wakeham report envisaged, I should like to put forward two suggestions which might go some way to meet our concerns.
One major concern of the Royal Commission was that a reformed second Chamber should be properly representative of both gender and race. It would be a statutory duty of the appointments commission to ensure that a minimum of 30 per cent of new Members of the second Chamber should be women and 30 per cent men. It would be required to use its best endeavours to ensure that the level of representation for minority ethnic groups was at least proportionate to their presence in the population as a whole. The Government accept this principle but lay the requirement of ensuring it for political appointments on the political parties rather than the appointments commission. Paragraph 35 of Completing the Reform, "Supporting Documents", states:The duty would be laid on each of those parties in exactly the same way as it would be on the Appointments Commission".It also stresses that:The Appointments Commission's monitoring functions should also provide plenty of early warning to the parties when they are in danger of failing to meet their targets, so they can rectify the situation".But what statutory powers would the appointments commission have if the political parties over a period of time failed to achieve the required gender or ethnic balance? A monitoring and warning function is better than nothing, but I believe that the appointments commission should have statutory powers to reject a political party's nomination if that party, over the lifetime of a Parliament, was not meeting its targets.
My second suggestion concerns the Bolshie Back-Bencher or, to put it more politely, the independent-minded party Member who is out of favour with his party's leadership. This was a particular concern of the Royal Commission. We wanted to ensure that it was possible for independent-minded people of political experience to make their contribution to a reformed second Chamber even if they did not have the support of the party leadership. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, in his letter to the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, of 11th December, addresses this question. The Lord Chancellor writes:If the Member in question ended up, as I think they would have to, on the cross benches, then the independence of those benches might be compromised".And that highlights the problem. How can an independent-minded person get into a reformed second Chamber on the Government's proposals? They are too independent-minded to receive their party nomination, yet because of their party affiliation 779 it is not appropriate for them to come through the appointments procedure as an independent, non-party person to take their place on the Cross Benches. That would be an injustice and a loss to the second Chamber. So again I should like to make a modest suggestion.
If a consensus did eventually build up round the Government's proposal for political appointments rather than the proposal of the Wakeham commission for an appointments commission responsible for all appointments—it is a big "if"—I believe that the appointments commission, in addition to appointing 120 Cross—Benchers, should have the power over the lifetime of a Parliament to appoint up to 10 experienced politicians who would not otherwise have a route into the second Chamber and who, it judged, still had an important contribution to make. Such people would sit with their party but perhaps would not be taken into account by the appointments commission when doing its arithmetic for a balanced House.
As regards the method of election, the Government have recognised, as the Royal Commission did, that the balance of advantage for one method rather than another is difficult to discern. They go for election coinciding with a general election. My preferred option is still that of the Royal Commission: to tie in with the European elections. That would make the tenure a fixed one, whether for one term of five years or two terms and 10 years. The Government favour a shorter term, rather than the Royal Commission's proposal of three terms, or 15 years, or even two terms and 10 years.
The Government stress the need for accountability. The commission's concern was to achieve a genuine independence of outlook in a reformed second Chamber. That is much more likely if the elected Members are there for at least two terms, amounting to 10 years, and the appointed Members are appointed for at least 10 years. That would provide Members with the necessary long-term perspective and independence of outlook which are essential to the functioning of a reflective, reforming second Chamber. It is crucial that Members are here for a longer period rather than a short one—at least 10 years, rather than the five seemingly favoured by the Government.
I should now like to focus on the issue of religious representation. Again, I stress that I am speaking from my perspective as a member of the Royal Commission rather than as part of the Church of England's official response. The Royal Commission's proposal had three elements: first, the maintenance of a Church of England presence reduced from 26 to 16; secondly, 10 Christian leaders from denominations other than the Church of England, coming not only from England but from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland; and, thirdly, at least five religious leaders from non-Christian faiths.
The Government's response to the Wakeham commission recognises the difficulties with which we had to grapple in that area and acknowledges the 780 ingenuity with which the Royal Commission attempted to deal with very difficult issues. The Government accept the reduction in the number of Church of England bishops from 26 to 16 but they have concluded that the practical obstacles of making workable the other proposals for religious representation are simply too great. There are indeed difficulties but they are not insurmountable.
First, under our proposals, with which the Government agree, all appointments except Church of England bishops would come through an independent appointments commission. When it comes to non-Christian faiths, there are at present no truly representative bodies, except perhaps in the case of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, so the appointments commission would have to consult widely and use its judgment.
It was never the case under our proposals that every religion would find representation in the House of Lords. Rather, through a process of consultation and head-hunting, the appointments commission would find significant figures representing a range of religions. It would be the quality of the people concerned and their potential contribution that would be taken into account as much as the fact that they were respected figures in a particular religious tradition. Where the Government depart from the Royal Commission's proposals is in their reluctance to allocate a certain number of seats for such figures. While the Government say that the appointments commission will have to take account of religious leaders of non-Christian faiths, that is obviously much weaker than having a certain number of seats reserved for that category.
When it comes to Christian denominations other than the Church of England, I confess a particular sense of disappointment at how the Government have emphasised the difficulties rather than the opportunities. Again, the Royal Commission did not think it either appropriate or possible for every Christian denomination to find representation. Rather, we believed that through a proper process of consultation, broadly representative figures of a range of Christian denominations could be identified.
The key to our proposals was the so-called ecumenical instruments. For example, under our proposal there would be two places for Christian denominations in Scotland. The ecumenical instrument, Action of Churches Together in Scotland, would be consulted. No doubt, through its consultation with Scottish Christians, it would come up with a name from the Church of Scotland and a Roman Catholic name. At this point, another complication arises because, as I understand it, Roman Catholic priests are precluded by present Vatican rules from being a Member of Parliament, even of the House of Lords. So, unless that rule were rescinded, the Roman Catholic name would have to be that of a lay person—perhaps a leading religious sister. As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth reminded us earlier, in the Middle Ages leading lay religious figures were Members of this House in the form of abbots, who sat with the bishops.
781 Leaving aside that difficulty, we envisage names emerging from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and from England Christian denominations other than the Church of England to take up the 10 places that have been removed from the Church of England bishops. The appointments commission could work with the ecumenical bodies in that way to identify appropriate people, not to represent every denomination—that was never the point—but to give a broad spread of respected religious figures.
I feel a particular sense of disappointment about the issue because before the Reformation there was a unified Christian presence in the House. Over the past century, there have been huge steps towards Christian unity, and there is the possibility of once again having a more unified Christian presence, symbolised by the leaders of different denominations. Sixteen Church of England bishops and 10 leaders of Christian denominations other than the Church of England is an attractive proposal and I am sorry that the Government have shied away from it because of the difficulties—difficulties that I acknowledge, of course.
There is a general direction to the appointments commission to consult widely for appropriate Christian leaders but no specific number of seats has been reserved for them. In effect, the number of Church of England bishops has been reduced from 26 to 16, with no corresponding take-up by other Christian denominations or other faith leaders. I know that the Cross-Bench Peers also have concerns as to whether religious leaders—Christians or others—who are identified by the appointments commission are to count as part of the 120 or as additional. A specific number of seats should be reserved, in addition to the 120 Cross-Benchers.
Rather than argue against the Government's response, I have tried to suggest ways in which their proposals could be modified to meet at least some of the concerns of the Royal Commission. In practice, that means strengthening the role and responsibilities of a truly independent appointments commission by giving it statutory powers—not just an advisory function—in relation to political parties, to ensure that over the lifetime of a Parliament political nominations reflect a proper gender and ethnic balance. Secondly, we should give the appointments commission up to 10 extra seats to be reserved for experienced politicians who would not otherwise have a route into the House because they were unpopular with their party leadership and who would not be eligible to be Cross-Benchers. Thirdly, at least some seats should be reserved for non-Christian faiths and Christian denominations other than the Church of England, over and above the 120 seats allocated to Cross-Benchers. At the least, the 10 seats that would no longer be allocated to Church of England bishops should be set aside for other religious representation, Christian and non-Christian.
It is desperately important that a way forward be found to complete the reform of the House. It would be truly shocking, as well as highly unsatisfactory, if no consensus could be found and we were left with a 782 House in a permanent state of transition. The Wakeham proposals still represent the best way forward. However, if the Government's response is to provide a starting point for the building of a new consensus, those ideas must be modified in various ways, including the three modest proposals that I have made.
§ 9.33 p.m.
§ The Earl of Liverpool
My Lords, as number 70 on the list of speakers, I am discovering that everything that I wanted to say has already been said—almost everything. The advantage that accrues to your Lordships is that I shall be brief. Listening to the debate, I was struck by the fact that the White Paper has found practically no supporters. Against that background, the advice proffered by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor that he might tear up the White Paper and start again has some resonance.
I am against having any elected element in your Lordships' House. The work that we do as a revising Chamber is not suited to having elected Members and certainly not via the much discredited closed-list system which has been referred to by previous speakers. My noble and learned friend Lord Howe of Aberavon spoke powerfully in that vein. I believe that there is a great need to retain and foster the independence which currently exists in your Lordships' House and that has been a feature of many speeches today.
In anticipating the debate, I tabled a Starred Question on Monday 17th December, which was to ask Her Majesty's Government:In the context of their proposals for House of Lords reform whether they considered that list systems will deliver appropriate levels of independence among the membership of the House".That was answered by the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House. In answer to a supplementary question, he said:My Lords, I agree with the noble Earl that independence is a prized attribute of most, if not all, Members of this House. I personally am a strong supporter of that".—[Official Report, 17/1/01; col. 7.]Against that background, I hope that the House will permit me to say that we on this side are hearing rumours that an independently minded member of the Government Benches—namely, the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon—has been expelled from the party. I do not know whether that is true, but I hope that in winding up the noble and learned Lord will comment on it. If it is true, I hope that he can say how he will square that circle.
Whatever anyone says, I believe that a part-elected House will become a hybrid House. The White Paper states that the present balance between the two Houses should not be disturbed. If one takes that to its logical conclusion, the only way to achieve it is to maintain the status quo.
As one of the hereditary Peers who survived the first cull, I join other noble Lords in declaring that I have an interest in the White Paper. When I survived the 783 first cull I was extremely grateful for the support I received from my noble friends during the election process. I believe that those who were not fortunate enough to remain are looking to us who were more fortunate to seek to achieve as good a House, or a better House, than currently exists before we take our final bow.
The proposals in the White Paper will not achieve that. Apparently, that is also the opinion of the vast majority of speakers in the debate. There must be consensus on such an important issue because, ultimately, it is a parliamentary matter and not a party one. My noble friend Lord Denham made that point most forcefully in his speech yesterday and many other speakers have supported it.
I hope that the noble and learned Lord in winding up will say whether in view of the White Paper's reception he will now make good his undertaking to set up a Joint Select Committee of both Houses of Parliament. I honestly believe that that is the only way in which we can expect to move forward with the Government's desire to complete the reform.
§ 9.40 p.m.
§ Lord Lea of Crondall
My Lords, this debate has shown how difficult it is to square the circle of conflicting aims and traditions, or what Sir Isaiah Berlin called the incommensurable aims. That difficulty has been exacerbated by the media presenting the historic proposition of a move to 20 per cent elected Members—a number at the high end, backed by Wakeham—and 80 per cent appointed Members, as if we were starting from scratch. The conclusion that I draw is not that the White Paper has got it wrong but that there is a massive job of communication and that we need to build on the prospect or a review after stage two has been running for a period.
There is the current understandable opportunism of the Opposition, which highlights another message that I hope will be understood by those Labour MPs who think that going for a big proportion of elected Members in this House will somehow enhance the future of socialism. Apart from anything else, they should appreciate that the proportional system, whether open or closed, would never give Labour a majority but would do the maximum to exacerbate the clashes of legitimacy, given our way of dealing with legislation in this country which, incidentally, is not exactly the same as other legislatures in other countries with which comparisons have been made.
I shall make a final political point and then leave that issue alone. We know where the Liberal Democrats are coming from. They are being handed the key to the gridlock, which is a rational position for them.
My advice to the Government is to stick to Wakeham even more closely than we are already doing and to revisit some of the differences. We cannot move lock, stock and barrel overnight from a rationale based on experience and a degree of independence, albeit largely rooted in political parties, which is the basis of 784 parliamentary democracy from Walpole and earlier, to a clone of the House of Commons. There is no doubt that the processes of electoral democracy and the selection of candidates produces particular sorts of candidates to the exclusion of others. They would be more like MPs; that is the nature of the animal.
They will not thank me for saying it, but many of our colleagues in the House of Commons are schizophrenic on that central point. Much as they love us dearly, which is of course fully reciprocated, some tend to cast aspersions to our disadvantage on any and every point that differentiates the two Houses. What then is the real democratic logic of the differentiation of composition, as opposed to function, between the two Houses? Surely the central point was that enunciated by the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell, when he said that we certainly needed elections to choose a government, but that was not what we were about. That is a clear and fair point which I think the country seems to understand better than some in Parliament.
I shall anticipate the remarks of my noble and learned friend the Lord Privy Seal in trying to list 10 points that have come out of the debate. First, as my noble friend Lady Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde said, members of the Royal Commission decided to strain every sinew to reach a consensus. That is a very strong argument for Wakeham, even though the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, has had to exaggerate the difference between the Royal Commission's report and the White Paper. Wakeham presented a very elaborate jigsaw puzzle and in essence I do not think that we should pick and choose the parts that we like and those that we do not.
Secondly, once Wakeham had unanimously recommended a degree of election, there was no way in which our Government could—or would—reject that recommendation. I have served on Royal Commissions which have not been unanimous and in my view, unanimity is extremely powerful.
Thirdly, any immediate move towards a totally elected House would fall foul of what the Fabian Society used to call the "inevitability of gradualness", an aphorism I found intensely irritating in my youth.
Fourthly, paragraph 39 of the White Paper is surely right when it states that two wholly elected Chambers would be a recipe for gridlock. Why is that? Their legitimacies would be hard to tell apart and mediate between. Our two Houses do not operate in the same way as those in France and Germany and thus mediation would be more difficult.
Fifthly, simply because we have to square a number of circles, it is all too easy for phrases such as "dog's breakfast" to be used or, as the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, prefers, the phrase "dog's dinner". In any case, I prefer my own animal metaphors, or perhaps one coined by Ernest Bevin, which I may have adapted. On one particularly difficult proposition he proclaimed:Brothers, if you open up that Pandora's Box, you will find it full of Trojan Horses".785 Sixthly, we are already a hybrid House and the difficulty of accommodating 20 per cent elected Members can be and has been greatly exaggerated. Incidentally, it does not necessarily follow that it would lead inevitably to a 100 per cent elected membership, or anything like it.
Seventhly, those 20 per cent elected Members would bring extra qualities to those of the rest of us, principally for the reasons indicated by my noble friend Lord Dubs. However, at the start, any number much higher than 100 to 120 new Members would be impossible to square with the 10-year cap of 600 Members, which is surely right and necessary. After all, it is only with a credible cap on the size of the House that the appointments commission will be able to work out the arithmetic.
Eighthly, there is a paradox in that the legitimacy of elected Members would be very low if the election attracted only a low turn-out. It has already been said that democratic legitimacy is not only about ballot boxes. We should be ready to issue a new health warning against a condition called "ballot box fatigue". As Sir Bernard Ingham would have said, "The House of Lords elections are not what they will be talking about in the Dog and Duck in Hebden Bridge".
Ninthly, our colleagues in the House of Commons have a style of political point scoring and general partisanship which is not true of this House and neither we nor the country in general would wish to import it.
Tenthly, the 120 Cross-Benchers form a substantial element of the House. We all take it as an axiom that Cross-Benchers cannot be elected, but rather they constitute a separate, protected species. I have to say that unreal expectations were built up by the media about the People's Peers, and we are all suffering from that. Incidentally, on numbers, I agree with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford that if 20 Bishops would make sense for the Bishops' rota rather than 16 Bishops, which sounds quite plausible to me, then why should they not have 20? Today we are not debating the web of arrangements which we call the establishment of the Church of England, but we support it and it must be allowed to work properly. In general I am in sympathy with the wider points put by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford.
Inevitably, almost all noble Lords have concentrated on the composition of the House to the exclusion of its function. I simply underline the fact that here, too, it is in the interests of Parliament that we reach an understanding on the role we play best in this House. I shall mention two fields in which I happen to be involved. First, I refer to the European dimension. We must become more heavily involved before EU decisions are taken. We must also develop closer links across Europe, as well as in the implementation of European legislation in Britain.
Secondly, and in part related to my first point, is the consideration of secondary legislation. My membership of the Joint Committee on Statutory 786 Instruments has been an eye opener indeed. Each week we nod through about six inches of legislation—I do not mean six inches going down the page but six inches when you measure the height of the pile of paper—and we get through it in about six minutes. This is not because we are lazy but because, quite frankly, the process is really only to check that the semi-colons are in the right place.
In the longer perspective, this White Paper may be seen as launching a pilot project, the results of which can be judged after mature reflection. After all, we could have a succession of constitutional reforms every few years. I recall the characterisation of the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, of European summits and treaty changes, drawing on the Old Testament, that Maastricht begat Amsterdam, and Amsterdam begat Luxembourg, and Luxembourg begat Nice, and Nice begat Berlin, and so on ad infinitum.
We have to make provision for something similar. This is so complex that it is quite unlikely that every aspect will be right from the word go. For example, I am not convinced of the logic of paragraph 51 of the White Paper where it states that the Government are attracted to holding the elections to the Lords on the same day as the general election on the grounds that this would ensure a higher turn-out. Is not that a polite way of saying that it is the best way of disguising the fact that an election to the Lords on its own might produce a derisory turn-out? Indeed, who of us would want to turn out and vote for a free-standing House of Lords election?
Incidentally, it is a well-established fact in most elections—let us speak plainly—that people vote for the party. In that connection, if independents were so wildly popular they would stand and be elected on their merits. My inclination on the terms of the election rules would be to stick with Wakeham, the closed list being far too easy to characterise—as it was by the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf—as appointments masquerading as elections and convincing no one.
We have to move in stages. The reform of the work of this House is very much the acid test of the relationship with the House of Commons. The 10-year transition will certainly be needed, and it may be that we can move towards 15 years if the numbers are easier in that setting. I hope that the Government will give themselves the breathing space to not only consider everything that has been said but to give the Opposition time to decide whether or not they wish to make a constructive input to a consensus around Wakeham. I trust that ultimately they will.
§ 9.53 p.m.
§ Lord Monson
My Lords, this has been a most extraordinary debate. I know from conversations that I am not alone in finding myself substantially in agreement with almost every speaker, even though most of their conclusions differ enormously. This demonstrates a recognition that, in the situation we find ourselves, no option is perfect. Our task is to try to determine the least bad option.
787 This is further complicated by the question of the appetite of the hitherto indifferent public. Five years ago, the general public most certainly were indifferent to the composition of this House, but now that the appetite of the public has been artificially whetted by the Government, how is it to be fully satisfied?
In her excellent speech yesterday, the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, reminded us that we are, above all, a revising and scrutinising Chamber. This was echoed by my noble friend Lady Strange, among many others. But the general public do not realise this—and who can possibly blame them? Most of what we do is too technical and boring, albeit extremely important, to interest the press, radio or television. Yet so much of this revision is non-political—or, at any rate, non-party political—and the same can be said of Select Committee deliberations and reports.
This, combined with the fact that because of the Salisbury convention and the Parliament Act the government of the day always get their way after an occasional short delay—at least 99.5 per cent of the lime—leads me to make the doubtless heretical suggestion that the political balance of this House is not all that important, provided that it is not grotesquely skewed towards one or other party. Expertise and experience matter far more than politics, which is why the preference expressed yesterday by my noble friend Lord Neill of Bladen and by many others for a totally non-elected House has decided attractions.
Perhaps I may diffidently cross swords with the noble Lord, Lord Baker of Dorking. If I interpret his words correctly, he said that, because we exercise power, the House ought to be mainly elected. Yes, we do exercise power—but only with the consent of the other place. Not a single Bill or amendment emanating from this House gets anywhere at all unless it is subsequently endorsed by the House of Commons—which is as it should be. It is true that we have delaying powers, but they are pretty trivial in the last resort.
I go further than my noble friend Lord Neill and claim that there is little wrong with the status quo. Before Ministers mutter, "Well, he would say that, wouldn't he?", I point out that this was first proposed yesterday evening by the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, who is a totally disinterested party with no personal axe to grind. However, now that Pandora's Box has been opened, it may be politically too late for a non-elected Chamber, however cogent the arguments in its favour may be—and they are cogent.
However, if you are rejecting tradition and starting anew from first principles, as the Government are doing, you will have quite a job explaining to the public why the United Kingdom should be almost unique in the civilised world in having a mainly non-elected second Chamber. The exceptions are the Senates of Canada and the Republic of Ireland. But they have very little to do, whereas this House is the hardest working second Chamber in the world, as was recently shown. That is largely because of the prolixity of legislation, about which my noble and learned 788 friend Lord Simon of Glaisdale rightly complains. That is not just the fault of the present Government. Previous administrations, both Labour and Conservative, were almost as bad.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, that the choice lies between a totally non-elected House of Lords and a largely elected one. The fudged so-called "middle way" of having a token elected element simply will not wash. If the Government want any support in terms of public opinion or press opinion, elected Members will have to be in the majority. I favour the proposal for an elected element of 662/3 per cent as proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Richard.
Of course, elected Members must be differentiated from MPs as much as possible. They should be elected under some form of PR, but certainly not under the closed list system. Election should be for a non-renewable 15-year term—as suggested by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern—or for the slightly shorter term of 12½, years (three parliamentary terms), as suggested by the Wakeham commission, coupled with the widely approved 10-year gap before they are eligible to stand for election to the House of Commons.
Although the point has not been mentioned, I think—though many may disagree—that the 5 per cent threshold is wrong. Anyone—those on the extreme Left or the extreme Right, supporters of Al'Qaeda, advocates of the legalisation of hard drugs or, more benignly, champions of an independent Cornwall—should be eligible for election if they achieve 1 or 2 per cent of the vote. Why not? It is better to have extreme views represented in the House than in a possibly sinister, extra-parliamentary forum. It would be dangerous to have such people in the House of Commons, especially if the Government had a small majority; but they could do little harm in this House, and would soon be tamed by our civilised atmosphere. Some of that civilisation might trick le its way back towards the people who elected them. From what he said yesterday, I suspect that the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, would agree with at least some of what I have said.
It ought to be possible to elect independents. Many of those elected under a party label will become de facto independents or semi-independents over time, as happens today. However, if only 20 per cent are to be elected, as the Government want, different considerations will have to apply. To prevent the public feeling totally cheated of the voice that they were promised in the Lords, that derisory 20 per cent would have to do the public's bidding, being elected for the same terms as MPs and kicked out at the end of four or five years if their performance was judged unsatisfactory by those who elected them. With a mere one-fifth of the seats, there would be little room for rebels or mavericks, whereas a larger proportion of elected Peers could accommodate quite a few rebels and mavericks without the public fussing or feeling that their views were being ignored.
789 The Government try to justify their proposals by talking about the alleged need to represent the regions. At the risk of offending a great many noble Lords, and in particular members of the Royal Commission, I submit that that is nonsense. The regions are perfectly well represented in both Houses of Parliament as things stand. We are not like the people of the larger continental countries, who think of themselves as Bretons, Alsatians or Meridionales, as Rheinlanders or Saxons, as citizens of Galicia or Catalonia, or as citizens of the Mezzogiorno, ranged against the citizens of the Veneto, Lombardy and the rest of the Northern League.
The differences in this country are much more between town and country. A Northumbrian hill farmer has little in common with the proprietor of an amusement arcade in Gateshead, even though they may live no more than 25 miles apart as the crow flies. A Cornish fisherman has very little in common with his neighbour—a wealthy retired individual from London who has snapped up the next door cottage at the expense of the fisherman's son, who cannot afford it because of the iniquitous common fisheries policy. There is not the same community of interest within the regions, nor the local patriotism that exists on the Continent.
Some may point to the example of Scotland, which may be thought of as totally united, with everybody singing from the same hymn sheet; but I wonder. Already it seems that the people of the Borders and the Highlands are feeling squashed by Strathclyde—I mean the region, not the Peer!
There are surely two things that virtually everybody can agree on. The first is total rejection of the corporate state. Even the Government agree that there should he no question of people being given seats on the basis of being delegates of the CBI, the TUC, the NFU or whatever—and thank goodness for that. The second—although this is not quite so universally accepted, notably by the Government and by the noble Lord, Lord Lea, who preceded me—is that whatever proportion of Peers is elected, if any, on no account should they be elected under the dreadful and essentially undemocratic closed list system.
§ 10.3 p.m.
§ The Earl of Dundee
My Lords, so far in this long debate we have achieved a consensus on two important issues. First, universal disapproval of the White Paper has been expressed from all sides of the House. Its shortcomings have been summed up by many, not least by the noble Lord, Lord Richard. Unlike the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, he did not call the proposals a "dog's breakfast", but he used vivid culinary imagery of his own and may well have hit the mark when describing the White Paper's contents as "half baked".
However, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, who defended the proposals, also managed to be in tune with the mood of the House. 790 Wisely and almost telepathically, before hearing any other contributions, he indicated in his opening speech his willingness to think again.
The second consistent aspect in this debate is also rather paradoxical. Your Lordships have stressed that, if the White Paper really were adopted, the best to be hoped for would be damage limitation. Equally, however, as has been pointed out, the worst and far more probable outcome of the White Paper's implementation would be an erosion in the quality of function that currently obtains in this House. While clearly very disappointing, it is perhaps also quite curious that such a negative and misguided prospect should be able to emanate from any White Paper, let alone from one on constitutional reform.
Nevertheless, as many noble Lords have observed, there are a number of quite simple and constructive ways in which to enhance the quality of parliamentary function. Such can and should be done both in this House and in another place. Ironically enough, some parts of the White Paper, when amended and redirected, can assist the process.
On enhanced parliamentary value, I shall touch on three themes to arrive at a certain conclusion. First, there should be a particular target for this House: to improve the balance of its membership without eroding the quality of its function. Secondly, there should be a joint parliamentary objective for both this place and another place: to hold the executive to account to a considerably greater extent. The third theme follows directly from the second: the prospect of a better service by politicians to the country and a much more competent form of political delivery as and when Parliament begins properly to hold the executive to account.
The conclusions from the three themes, when connected together, may be fairly obvious: the need for a cross-party process and consensus affecting parliamentarians in both this House and the other place. As indicated, the simple purpose of that process is to improve political delivery within the country through increased scrutiny by Parliament of the executive.
The initial theme in regard to this House is how an independent appointments commission might augment the balance of membership without eroding the quality of function. First, the commission should be established as envisaged within the Wakeham report, thereby covering all political groups as well as the Cross-Benchers.
Secondly, although it should indeed, as recommended in the White Paper, seek a balance of gender and ethnicity in making its appointments, it should also appoint Members and deal with representation from the regions.
Thirdly, and consequently, new appointments made by the commission would not co-exist with new elected Members to this House, as advocated in the White Paper. That is based on the argument adduced by many, and very clearly by my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth, that new Members would always be 791 freer from party political control if they were entirely appointed by an independent statutory commission rather than elected.
Fourthly, and arising from current statistics, the commission would therefore be expected to appoint just under 20 Members per year.
In that connection, and fifthly, no groups of current Members would be retired or removed from this House, as suggested in the White Paper. While there is a strong probability that such action would be disruptive to and decrease the quality of function in this House, conversely, there is no proper evidence at all that it would do the opposite and thus increase the quality of function.
The second theme is the joint task for parliamentarians from this House and from the other place to hold the executive to account. Recently in this place the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, introduced an excellent debate on the subject of Parliament and the executive. In considering ways of redressing the imbalance between the two in this country, we are all grateful to my noble friends Lord Newton of Braintree and Lord Norton of Louth, both of whose committees have produced much useful guidance.
For Members of the other place, career prospects within Parliament as distinct from within the Government must become far more attractive. Hence also independent-mindedness and the deliberative function must be encouraged far more in the other place. As also indicated, not least will such a change of direction augment public confidence in the operation of both party politics and executive control—each often accused of stifling parliamentary scrutiny and debate and each currently held in the country in very low esteem.
When the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House winds up today I am quite sure that he will indicate support for the current leader of the other place in his undertakings to improve parliamentary scrutiny and effectiveness; and that equally he would wish this House to assist that process in a variety of ways. Clearly this House can give constructive help to the process of adaptation in the other place. As it is, there is a fairly satisfactory balance between Lords and Commons Select Committee work. The two are able to complement each other. However, there are anomalies. For example, in this House, and as has been said, there is still no foreign affairs Select Committee. As a number of noble Lords observed, another inconsistency is that while Select Committee scrutiny applies to the European Union, it does not go beyond that boundary to address Council of Europe conventions, let alone to consider international treaties.
It has been contended that parliamentary scrutiny of relevant matters within that wider area should appropriately be set up through a committee in this House. Perhaps the Leader of the House may agree that such would be a good and timely development, all the more so in the context of this debate.
792 The third theme is the enhanced degree of political delivery which arises from an increased level of parliamentary scrutiny of the executive. Why should that be so? The connection may simply be self-evident: through consideration of the greater degree of trust by the public in both Parliament and government once Parliament is seen to have more say in what is planned and done.
In summary, one benefit from this debate on the flawed White Paper is a developing consensus and sharper focus upon the need for carrying out a much more important and cogent agenda. This is to promote enhanced quality and increased parliamentary scrutiny. And the purpose of that is to achieve improved political delivery. The process depends upon cross-party co-operation and joint initiatives between both Houses. In the other place every encouragement should be given to proposed reforms seeking to broaden opportunities and attitudes. In this House, the present quality of function must not be diminished. An independent statutory appointments commission along Wakeham lines should operate to deal with future membership. It should redress as necessary the imbalances of political patronage. And it should establish a balance of its own, reflecting Lords' representation of different groups of the population and of the regions themselves.
§ 10.13 p.m.
§ Lord Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay
My Lords, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, in opening this debate, threw down the gauntlet to those of us who believe in real reform. He asserted that if the rights of existing life Peers are respected, there is no scope at present for more than 120 elected Members. He said that those who say that there should be more than 120 elected should explain where the scope for them exists. That I shall now do.
My noble friend and leader Lady Williams of Crosby explained yesterday that we on these Benches believe that over a 10 to 15-year period there will be no numbers problem. Let us start from the right figures. In his speech the Lord Chancellor quoted the current party strengths correctly, giving a total of 675 Peers including the hereditaries but excluding the Bishops. Those are shown in today's Analysis of Composition pinned up in the Library. Unfortunately, the same Analysis of Composition shows that there are now 584 life Peers, not 587 as the Lord Chancellor said in his speech. His figures are out of date already. They were White Paper figures from 15th October.
The average age of life Peers in this House is 69, and we die on average at 81. So, sadly although not surprisingly, three life Peers have died since October. That is in line with the average of 18 a year in recent years. Therefore, the problem is already less than the Government have led us to believe.
We on these Benches believe that the best date for electing the first 120 Members of the new reformed House would be June 2004, on the same day as elections to the European Parliament. Indeed, I think that there is a good case for making it local election day 793 as well, as that worked well in June last year. We propose that those 120 Members should be elected for a 10-year term. June 2004 is two and a half years away. On current trends the number of life Peers will fall by another 45 by that date, leaving a House of 659 Members, excluding the Bishops, or 675 if one includes the 16 Bishops the Government propose in their White Paper—exactly the same size House, coincidentally, as we have today. That is hardly a serious problem. Five years further on, in June 2009, there would be room to elect a second tranche of 120 Members for a 10-year term as 90 more existing life Peers would probably have died, giving a short-term maximum of 705 before the numbers start to fall rapidly again.
Those figures are maxima. They keep the current number of 28 Law Lords, whereas paragraph 64 of the White Paper proposes only 12 Law Lords and,probably, some other Law Lords between the ages of 70 and 75".They also include 39 current life Peers who did not attend the House at all throughout the previous Session. It does not seem unreasonable to me to consider some bare minimum attendance requirement to continue as a Member of the new House, such as attending a single Sitting in a Session. But even if that is thought rather revolutionary a proposal, it makes little sense to include those "virtual" Peers in the totals. Most importantly of all, the totals make no allowance for voluntary retirement of existing life Peers, as foreshadowed both in the Wakeham report and in paragraph 95 of the White Paper.
We believe that Members of the House should be able formally to retire if they so wish. It also seems reasonable, following the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Temple Guiting, and others, that they should receive some form of lump sum retirement grant, as do retiring Members of the House of Commons. Even if only one-tenth, say, of life Peers now aged between 70 and 80 chose to retire, that would still reduce the new House by 16 immediately, with perhaps another 15 over the next 10 years. If a quarter of that age category chose to retire now, the reduction would be 40.
Therefore, it is perfectly possible to move within the next seven and a half years to 240 elected Members, double the White Paper's pitiful proposal, while still keeping well within the Government's self-imposed transitional maximum House of 750 Members. There would almost certainly be room for the Appointments Commission to continue to appoint up to 10 genuinely independent life Peers each year.
§ Lord Trefgarne
My Lords, the noble Lord has just referred to a lump sum payment for retiring life Peers. Would he like to backdate that to all those hereditary Peers who left a couple of years ago?
§ Lord Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay
No, my Lords, because life Peers are appointed for life and hereditary Peers are not. I do not propose any particular figure. I just point out that that is another reason why there is no problem as regards moving to a figure of 240. It is another reason why the figures are comfortable.
794 The Appointments Commission itself certainly needs reform. If I may twist an ancient proverb to ask a modern question, we need to ask, "Quis creabit ipsos creatores?" or, who will appoint the appointers? I suggest three changes there. I do not support gender, race or any other form of quota for democratic elections. If we have an open list system, the people will be able to choose within, as well as between, parties. But, by contrast, for the next 10 years at least I believe that each year's appointments of non-party Peers should contain equal numbers of men and women. The reformed commission should also contain equal numbers of men and women. It would be a good start to have a woman in the chair. If she is a Member of this House, could we please have a reasonably regular attender? And if I had the job, I should make sure that there was a hairdresser in the first list.
There is no room in our proposals for political patronage. The Lord Chancellor said that his proposals signal a huge decrease in the Prime Minister's powers of patronage. That is a proud claim, but if those powers are a bad thing and need to be hugely decreased, why not do the job properly and abolish them altogether? Forget the arguments between Wakeham and the White Paper about who should pick the new party political Peers; the answer is, the people.
Our proposals are practical, realistic and sensibly phased. The directly elected proportion will build up steadily, with existing life Peers keeping our rights, and the House retaining a majority of appointed Members for the next 10 to 15 years. The right time for review—to revisit composition, as the Lord Chancellor put it yesterday—is when we reach parity between elected and appointed Members, which, under our proposals, should be around 2015. By then we should have had a reasonable period in which to see how the new House and the system of election and appointment will work. Those who believe in maintaining at least half the House as appointed Members will at that stage be able to argue their case. Those, such as myself, who believe in a smaller House along the lines that were proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Richard—the political two-thirds should be directly elected and the independent one-third should be nominated—would let that happen naturally as the remaining life Peers fade away.
We have shown the Government that our proposals work well within the limits that the Government themselves have set in the White Paper. I hope that they are prepared to give up political patronage by accepting that all new party political Peers should be directly elected. This blueprint is a realistic way forward now which can, I believe, command a majority in both Houses of Parliament. It is democratic and it works.
§ 10.22 p.m.
§ Lord Selsdon
My Lords, it is with some regret that I remind myself that I have been incarcerated in your Lordships' House for 39 years. I rank very low in the batting order. With my humble background, I am eight years behind my noble friend Lord Ferrers in terms of intelligence, stature and age. We were at the 795 same school. I am many years behind my noble friend Lord Denham and I am one year behind my noble friend Lord Trefgarne. However, I am the 11th longest serving Member of your Lordships' House.
On matters of reform, I have witnessed great minds and great discussions. However, I feel that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor is probably the Nero of the Labour Benches—all around him things burn and there is chaos and disorganisation.
This is without doubt the most successful White Paper I have ever come across in terms of promoting a wide-ranging and logical—or illogical and chaotic—debate. However, some of us felt guilty when we came to this House; we were told that we had a duty to perform and longed for reform. Noble Lords will recall that the Parliament (No. 2) Bill had a majority of 190 in this House and of 116 in the House of Commons, but the government failed to implement it.
We should think back to 1876, which brought 28 Members to your Lordships' House—the Law Lords. They were appointed then and are appointed today. It is wrong to consider the 24 Bishops as representing only the Church of England. They have a parish of 39 million people. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford has, I believe, 2,100,000 people in his patch and 856 churches in 620 parishes whereas the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth, who is on the coast with the fishermen, has a mere 715,000 members in his patch and only about 600 churches in 450 parishes. The Bishops were not appointed by us; they are here by right. To assume that they deal only with religious matters and to try to decimate them is wrong. Almost everyone in life at one time or another goes to Church. People may do so to be married, they may go feet first when they die or they may attend a wedding or baptism. Parish councils at local level have a relationship with the Church. Therefore, there is a certain temporal business about the Bishops. I would oppose totally any attempt to reduce their stature or power.
Then we come to the 1958 brigade. They were appointed for life in order to mimic and copy the hereditary Peers. They had no moral right to life status. They had the privilege of being called "Lords", as my noble friend Lord Ferrers said, and of having the nobility thrust upon or offered to them. They should have known what they were taking on under the Act: four guineas a day or less and no hope of any pension.
Hearing noble Lords at present asking to be bought out for sizeable sums requires me to write to the noble Lord, Lord Neill, because that appears to be somewhat corrupt. We have also watched the surreptitious increase in the award of monetary benefits to Members of your Lordships' House. Without taking into account other sources of income, they now receive, for regular attendance, the equivalent £25,000 a year tax-free. We are becoming a payroll organisation.
As I think back perhaps 400 years to John Rushworth, I wonder whether we are being deprived of our liberty by the weighty iron chains of an arbitrary 796 government. We have been through governments who have failed to decide or to choose, and we have before us a slightly chaotic system.
I genuinely believe that the word "democracy" can only be applied to an institution which is fully elected. That is my definition of it. Otherwise, one is faced with the strange situation in which democracy is not a static thing; it is either coming or going. When it is going, there is a cry for leadership. Who will lead us to the promised land—to the land of milk and honey? When it is returning, there is a cry that the leader is too strong and the question is raised as to how we can devolve. At the moment, we hear the cry that the executive and the leader are too strong, and there is an attempt to devolve. That is healthy. But at present I believe that we can have a more democratic House only if it is fully and wholly elected.
The second pillar of this great paper is that we must be more representative. I believe that we should look in the mirror. Very few of us know how representative we are. Surprisingly enough, your Lordships will find that among our numbers are people who represent almost anything that can possibly be represented in life. They have the knowledge and the experience. According to my analysis, more than 72 separate occupations or areas of expertise remain.
One comes to the regionalisation of noble Lords. For security reasons, I have found it impossible to obtain everyone's addresses. When people fill in their expenses form, they write in their principal place of residence. I had hoped that the accountants office would be able to supply me with that information. I believed that I would be able to place pins in a map of the Bishops' dioceses and the constituencies to show that your Lordships come from everywhere, as they do.
Whom do we represent? I have often asked that question. Following the 1999 legislation, I was told that, because I am here under a more modern piece of legislation, I represent myself. I believed that I should represent the people who voted for me, but I did not know who they were. I then considered that I should get my own constituents. Therefore, whenever anyone writes to me, I write back, now that we have free postage, or I telephone them in their lunch hour arid say, "Would you like to be one of my constituents? Can I represent you?". I am building a substantial number of constituents, including ranges of non-nationals.
I am one of three people in your Lordships' House who have never had the benefit of a vote. Therefore, I can say to noble Lords that over time they have all had the governments they deserve. My concern is: what do we do next? I have no proposals to put forward other than to say what I would do. I would introduce legislation requiring the mandatory resignation of all Members from your Lordships' House. They would be required to stand for re-election on a due date 14 weeks hence. The legislation would require that new terms and conditions should be laid down, with sunset clauses stating that people may not serve for more than a certain period of time. It would state that those 797 already appointed might, should their colleagues, compatriots or noble friends agree, be reappointed for a period of two Parliaments after which they would all have to stand for election in a free-for-all and open list.
If we are going to talk about democracy we must talk about election. If we are not going to talk about democracy, let us talk about a fully appointed House. But we must keep the Law Lords and we must keep the Bishops and the Archbishops with us. They are the only two groups who have the right of appointment.
I have a great love and affection for this place. Over time I have heard so many wondrous and useless things. I have watched people learn. I have watched people give. But I find that when I sit and listen to debates the one thing that I have is knowledge that I would never have got anywhere else. Your Lordships should realise that if one is as totally undemocratic as I am, not a day goes by without someone somewhere saying to you: How are you there? Why are you there? What are you doing? Why did you deserve it? Now they are also saying: What about all that other lot, because you are one of the elected ones, are you not? What about them? Who will put them down? There are many good veterinarians around who can extend life. Life expectancy in your Lordships' House is far greater than anyone would believe.
I admire the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams, who, content often with his own thoughts, has the courtesy to sit and listen but is able to absorb. I thank him for it. I asked the noble and learned Lord if he could provide me with a list of all the outside appointments held by noble Lords and how much they were paid. He very kindly wrote back to me and said, "We are open government. Get it off the Internet". My intention was not to embarrass your Lordships or the Government in any way. I was trying to find out the breadth of knowledge and understanding that existed in the House through public appointments. It took me four and a half days with the help of the computer office and others. I probably now have a total list. It is very interesting how the net of your Lordships, your Lordships' friends, relatives and business, is spread.
At the moment I find that my own outside knowledge and relationships have been falling because of the increased commitment of time. I was once told that I should never speak in this House on a subject unless I had outside knowledge. My outside knowledge is fading away. But my incestuous internal knowledge is growing and I am grateful to your Lordships for that.
§ 10.32 p.m.
§ Lord Winston
My Lords, I am conscious of being the 76th speaker in this debate. So far virtually all the speakers have been ex-politicians, civil servants, special advisers from a political background and a predominance, surprisingly, of hereditary Peers. There have been a few others—a handful of lawyers and one or two academics. What interests me is that although I am the 76th speaker in this very long debate, I am the first and only scientist and medical practitioner to speak.
798 If I bring any strength at all to this House, it is essentially because I am still very much actively involved in my professional work outside Parliament. That current experience of real affairs affects real people—for example, my patients who are greatly concerned about their health; nurses whom I see every day and every week who are concerned about how the National Health Service is affecting them; and my PhD students who are greatly concerned about how their scientific endeavours may be regarded by society and how they may actually get support for their valuable contributions to this society of which we are so proud. I mean no immodesty, but that practical contact is a strength in my representation in this Chamber.
One of the great advantages that has often been claimed for the House of Lords in the past is that, despite the cachet associated with the hereditary peerage, it is actually in some way more in touch with ordinary people. I intend no defence at all of the hereditary system that now must end in this Chamber. The hereditary Peers have often claimed, with some justified force, that they represent, paradoxically, real people much more than many politicians, including those who are elected to another place. We must consider how they may be replaced by a stronger and more robust system. One which will benefit and strengthen discussion inside Parliament.
Since becoming a Member of the House of Lords in 1995 my greatest privilege has been, first, to be a member of the Science and Technology Select Committee and subsequently its chairman. That Select Committee, I maintain, is most valuable, not least because of the serious respect in which it is held by Members of this House, the scientific community, academics, Government and the media. Such committees and the careful reports that they submit to Government represent, and are widely held to be, the best examples of the workings of Parliament. They are respected. Indeed, they are often feared by the people giving evidence because they know that the people to whom they are giving evidence are professionals: working men and women who have huge and unique experience of science, technology, engineering, industry, politics and academia. They have contributed in depth and at length to those subjects which are so valuable and essential to the health of our society.
When I was chairman of the Science and Technology Select Committee, I sat at the head of an oval table with perhaps 18 or 20 members. At no time could I have told your Lordships what affiliation, if any, any member of my committee had. It was almost always irrelevant. During the three years that I sat at that table, I heard only rarely arguments based on party politics. They were based on scientific data or on solid evidence of the social consequences of a particular course of action. On the rare occasions when the arguments became political, they were often relatively valueless, or showed closed thinking and were mostly intellectually unpersuasive and largely irrelevant.
799 That is also a model for the whole Chamber. It is often at its least effective when it is at its most political. It is often most effective when it is engaged in the technicalities and adjustment of legislation and important social issues. That is why the representation of the Bishops of the Church of England is so immensely valuable in this Chamber. Let us hope that that may be augmented and not diminished by the representation of other religious groups in due course. The moral and scientific problems are well demonstrated by the recent issue of stem cell biology.
In her most powerful speech yesterday, the noble Baroness, Lady Williams—she is not in her place—spoke eloquently in support of a largely or wholly elected upper House. So many countries, she said, have elected upper chambers. France, Germany and the USA are good examples. Their democracies, she said rightly, did not suffer. I agree. But in her excellent speech the noble Baroness did not examine the value of an unelected chamber which involves that element of expertise and working experience of affairs outside immediate politics. That great asset is even more important now because so many of our elected representatives in another place have little or no professional experience beyond professional politics. Such people must engage in politics at an earlier and earlier stage in life. That is not to their disadvantage but it must affect the way we structure the House of Lords.
In recent months, as a scientist interested and engaged in cell biology applied to embryos and stem cells I have been asked to give evidence to parliamentarians in New Zealand, Switzerland, Germany and France—countries considering legislation in that area. Politicians in those countries have invariably commented on how remarkable it is that in its parliamentary system the United Kingdom has included people with expertise who can advise on such matters from within Parliament and therefore add weight to the arguments before Parliament arrives at sensible legislation—as, of course, we have done again and again.
So I contend that Peers who are still involved in active work in their professions are extremely valuable to this House. They need to be working; they would not be likely to stand for election, because they are working. Their contribution would be marred if they were to become political.
That is by no means an objection to age. I must tell your Lordships that during the next century there will be a complete change in the demography of the United Kingdom. It may interest your Lordships to know that the best assessments show that at least 1 per cent of our population will be more than 100 years old. That is a serious assessment based on good demography, which constitutes something of the order of 500,000 people. Close to two thirds of the population will be outside what we currently regard as the working age. It is nonsense to starting thinking about age limits when health and mental agility is improving and when people can conduct their affairs in a way that is essentially valuable to government. While I would 800 maintain that we need people in this Chamber who are working, we also need people in Parliament who have time to address the issues who are not working.
That is one of my problems. I must tell your Lordships as a Peer that the working conditions in this House are a scandal. They are a major problem. I apologise to my Chief Whip, who is sitting on the Front Bench, because I have been a dreadful attendee during the past three months. I have felt deeply guilty about that; it has not been easy for me. The truth is that during the past three months it has been impossible for me to work in the House. I do not have a proper Internet connection. After I ended my chairmanship of the Select Committee, having had the privilege of the chairman's room, I found that my desk had been taken and 1 had nowhere to work. Working in a room with a dozen other people when one is trying to do serious academic work is, frankly, impossible. For me, having an electronic connection is vital. Inevitably, that means that I end up not attending and doing things whereby I can be more influential and more useful elsewhere.
Finally, one of the real problems with your Lordships' House is its failure to be recognised outside. That has already been referred to by several speakers on both days of this debate. It is a fundamental problem. There is a lack of understanding of what the House of Lords can do, should be doing and how it might be structured to best advantage.
I must tell your Lordships an extraordinary story. Some months ago, I was invited to tea in a part of the House of Lords that is no longer in the House of Lords: the Pugin Room. In my view, it should still be in the House of Lords because it has a red carpet. We need the space and, frankly, the Commons does not. I was having tea with a relatively elderly Labour MP who clearly had his sights on the time when he retired from the House of Commons—having, as far as I know, never done, forgive me for saying so, much of a serious job outside the House. He was looking to be elevated to this Chamber. He said to me in all seriousness over tea: "Tell me Robert. When you have debates in the House of Lords, do you wear your robes?".
That shows a fundamental problem, and is a real issue for us. Whatever we suggest in this House, our real problem is to explain to the Commons why the structure that most of us envisage is worthwhile, essential for the preservation of the best working of Parliament and, in the long term, contributes to our democracy.
§ 10.45 p.m.
§ Lord Lucas
My Lords, it is always extremely difficult to follow the noble Lord, Lord Winston. He has given another of his excellent speeches. I enjoyed listening to it enormously.
I shall start by being nice to the Government. They have had a hard time in the past few days and I feel sorry for them. I congratulate them on bringing forward this White Paper and this subject for the 801 second time since they took office. Being involved in the reform of the House of Lords is a bed of thorns and the Government are displaying immense determination and courage, and I wish that we had had such determination and courage during our time in office.
I am also glad that we appear to have reached a consensus that the time of the hereditary Peers has drawn to a close. No longer will it be a qualification to be born with a silver spoon in one's mouth; instead, like the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House, one must be born with a silver tongue there. That is much better.
I have always been an advocate of having a wholly appointed House. I do not see how we can introduce election into this House without disrupting the way in which it works and endangering the atmosphere that we have. I do not see that we can introduce election without disrupting the relationship with another place. I have always been in favour of a more gradual and gentle evolution. However, my views have been changed by this debate. I have been enormously encouraged by and taken with what has been said by many noble Lords in favour of a substantially elected House.
We must recognise that politics in this country is sick. A change of constitutional underwear will not be the solution. Nothing proposed in the White Paper will make much difference to the way in which politics operates or is regarded in this country. I am enormously excited by what I see as a desire for change—particularly down the other end. There is a real interest in making politics in this country a more dynamic, more independent, more involving and interesting business. There is real scope for reviving public interest in and commitment to politics. I do not yet have a feeling for what shape that might take—many noble Lords have suggested how it might happen—but I am entranced by the possibility and excited that we might find ourselves going down that road.
I do not look to this Government—not now, not ever—to take us far down the road. It will require a trust in the people that the Government seem to have lost. I must look to my Front Bench for the honesty and courage that are required. Like the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, I shall not hold my breath. I do not know when we will get an answer, but we will be extremely interested to hear what those on my Front Bench have to say when they pronounce on the White Paper. I shall be delighted if there is a real commitment to replacing patronage by election. I would enlarge the independent and appointed elements in the House, but patronage, like the hereditary principle, should have had its day.
In the short term, we should recognise our limitations and recognise that what we will be dealing with will be something along the lines of the current White Paper. We should see what we can do to work with that. There is at least one central good, great thing in the White Paper. That is the recognition that the government of the day should not have an overall 802 majority in this place and that their representation should be limited to the proportion of the votes cast in their favour and further diluted by a substantial independent element. I believe that that forms the real basis for an independent House of Lords. It is wonderful to have that proposal from a party which in government and opposition objected to being defeated in this House and which recently called its defeats in this House "illegitimate" and "unconstitutional".
However, the Government are now proposing to make that the way in which the House operates. They propose to make this a House in which it is certain that the government are defeated, and defeated reasonably frequently, and without too much difficulty. It will require consensus but it will happen and I hope that it will be welcomed and acknowledged by the Government when it does.
Let us not worry too much about the 20 per cent who are to be elected. The system proposed by the Government is a fraud. If we go ahead on that basis, it will be recognised by the electorate as a fraud. There is no difference between a closed list and appointment. The same people will get here on the same kind of conditions and with exactly the same influence of the electorate. The electorate will vote in certain proportions for their MPs and that will affect the abilities of the parties to appoint Members to this House. In exactly the same proportions people will trot in from the closed list, which has been compiled in exactly the same way as the lists of people they would like to appoint to this House if they won the right to do so. There is no difference. We shall be a House that is 80 per cent patronage, just as it is now and in just the same pattern. Perhaps as the measure makes its way through Parliament we can persuade the Government off the closed list system. That will be a great advance. I do not hold out great hope for it but it will be wonderful if we can.
Let us not worry too much either about trying to add powers and responsibilities to this House. During the 10 years I have been a Member we have been successful in adding to our powers and responsibilities. One thinks of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee as an enormous success in that direction and there have been others. These things are best achieved by consensus and by time. I do not believe that we should abandon any of the ambitions that have been outlined today, but we should take them in their due course.
However, we should be enormously careful to preserve the powers and independence of this House to keep the term of membership long. No independence is associated with short membership: not for people who are being appointed and not for people who are being elected. We should ensure that the appointments commission, which will play a crucial role in this House, is strong.
We must take particular care on how the appointments commission is to be appointed, as the noble Lord, Lord Oakeshott, said. We must also take particular care on how the commission is to receive its mandate. We cannot set it in legislation because then 803 it would he set for all time. There must be a mechanism by which the appointments commission can be given a mandate to create a House after a particular pattern. That must be flexible and it must not be by fiat of the government.
In particular, we must keep our powers over secondary legislation. That is so much more important than ever it was. It is not that we should do less but that we should do a great deal better and that amendment should become possible. That is where legislation is these days and we must follow it.
I turn briefly to points of detail. I believe that I understand the Government's position in opposition to the suggestion of the Wakeham commission that the appointments commission should compile the party lists. When I look along the Government's Benches, I believe that they have done extremely well in appointing independent-minded, expert Members to their own Benches. I believe that they have probably done a great deal better than any bureaucratic committee-based appointments commission ever could. One merely needs to look at the Members on the Government's Back Benches who have spoken in the debate to realise what a breadth of expertise and independence exists.
It is an affront to a political party that the appointments commission should usurp its power to have who it wants on its list. However, I believe that the commission mandate to ensure that this House is balanced as regards the sexes, communities and geographical regions in this country must extend in some way to party patronage; otherwise it will have no effect. It must be able to set the rules that parties have to follow and bring parties to book. If a party were to produce an all-male shortlist, it must be possible for the appointments commission to say that that will not do. But I do not know about the appointments commission choosing individuals or saying that a certain member of a party is out of power now but that the commission would like him to sit on these Benches.
Time is a factor. Someone put the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, in this House. He may not be a favourite now. Doubtless in 10 years' time the favourites on the Front Benches now will no longer be favourites. The fact that people are appointed for a long time here allows for changes in fashion. As long as we keep the length of appointment we need not fuss about people with unfashionable views coming to the House.
I have two further minor points to make. It would be ridiculous to continue to call this place the House of Lords after reform. "Senate" would be a much better name and to be called a "Senator" is one of the proudest titles in the world. As the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, said, we should abandon age limits. I remember with great pleasure and happiness being defeated on a vote as a result of the arguments put forward in three speeches from the Labour and Cross Benches. The total age of those three speakers was 286.
§ 10.56 p.m.
§ Lord Hoyle
My Lords, it is said that all things come to those who wait. It is a long time waiting when one is 78th on the list of speakers. We are debating a White Paper with green edges, and change can result from it.
It has been a good debate, but I must say, too, that often this House believes that the world is listening to it. I am afraid that that is not true. If your Lordships resist change, that change will inevitably come and it may not be the change that your Lordships want. The public believe that this House is irrelevant, outmoded, out of date and out of touch. That may be unfair, but that is how your Lordships' House is viewed.
I represented Warrington for a long time and the people there are far more interested in the fact that I am chairman of Warrington Wolves than that I am a Member of this House. The people in the Railway Club on a Saturday night in Warrington do not discuss the House of Lords at all. If they were pressed to do so, I think that they would say what I have already suggested. They do not believe that it is relevant to their lives but that it is the last refuge of the amateur in our society.
We are on the edge of change and I say immediately, which may not have been said too often, that I totally support the Government's proposals. They are proposing change. Let me explain why I support them. They set up the Wakeham commission. The noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, and his colleagues worked so hard to produce the report which we are discussing today. The Government have been criticised for largely accepting that report. If they had set up the commission and ignored the report, there would have been a public outcry. They are going a little further in relation to elected Members. There will be 120. I believe that the House will evolve. I do not believe that we can go overnight from having a totally unelected House to a directly elected House. After all, it took 100 years to get rid of the majority of hereditary Peers. I would exchange 120 elected members to get rid of the 92 hereditary Peers who still remain.
Having said that, I wish to comment on the method of election. I move away a little from what has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, and his colleagues. I do not believe that the elections should be held at the time of the European parliamentary elections. The turn-out for the European elections is abysmal. We must do what we can to raise it. However, I should hate to see elections to this House suffering the same low percentages. I believe that the elections should be held at the time of the general election. The Royal Commission stated that it wanted elected Peers to reflect the balance of the parties at a general election. Therefore, what better time is there to hold the elections for Members of this House?
I also believe that a term of 15 years for those who are elected is far too long. Personally, I believe that they should be elected for five years and take their chances in the subsequent elections. It could be argued that some should retire after five years and that some should retire after 10 years. I would not go to the stake on those proposals, but I support a term of live years.
805 I should like to make a point that has been repeated on all sides of the House; that is, the election should not be conducted under a closed list system. It should be an open list system in order to give the electorate as wide a choice as possible. I really believe that. It would carry more credibility with the electorate at large.
I also believe that, like those who have been elected to represent the nations of the regions in the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and the Northern Ireland Assembly, elected Members of this House should be paid a salary. Furthermore, I do not believe that we shall see the clash that has been suggested by several noble Lords. The noble Baroness, Lady Williams—I am sorry to see that she is not here—explained that such a clash is not inevitable. When we look at other democracies around the world, we can see that there is no reason for a clash. There are no clashes in Germany, in France, in the Scandinavian countries or in India, so why should it happen here? Provided that we set out clearly what this House should be asked to do, and what should be its aims and achievements, I do not see why there should be a clash of any kind.
Perhaps I may turn to the appointments commission. A group was set up to select the "People's Peers". Earlier in my remarks I said that there was no interest in the House of Lords, but that proposal marked the first time that I saw the public's interest being generated in this place. Many worthy people wrote to me because they were excited at the thought that, instead of the narrow band of people selected for the present independent element of the House—all highly qualified and good people in their way, but selected from within a narrow band—they truly believed that they had a chance. However, they were, very disappointed indeed when the list came out. They were not disappointed because of the kind of people chosen—former ambassadors, captains of industry, scientists, educationalists and leaders of charities; all good and worthy of serving in this House—but rather that none of them really could have been called a "People's Peer".
The one thing lacking in this House is representation by ordinary people. I do not believe that independence can come from the narrow band that we have in this House. Ordinary people generally are independent and they want to take a balanced view of things. What they would bring to the independent Benches is something new in the life of this Chamber. They would bring their experience of ordinary life. I suggest to noble Lords that that is what is lacking in this Chamber at the moment. If we do set up an independent body to look into this, I hope that it will reflect on what is being asked for and that it will seek to represent society as a whole, rather than the narrow strata of society that we have now.
There has been much discussion about the size of the membership and whether it will be too large, and about the position of life Peers. Life Peers are what they are; they are elected for life. I am sorry if I upset some noble Lords by mentioning money and salaries, but if we want people to go we have got to offer them 806 a package that will attract them to do so. Not all noble Lords have several jobs that they can rely upon and when they come here, they change their standard of living. They are part and parcel of the House and there are parts that they wish to play. They want to be real working Peers—and many of them are real working Peers. If we want those working Peers to give up that right, we have to make it attractive to them—and the reward would be a retirement package. That is something we can discuss.
I should prefer it—I believe everyone would prefer this—if all parties were agreed on the way forward. I noticed in this morning's press—I do not believe everything that is in the press—that it is rumoured that the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, will propose to the shadow Cabinet that 80 per cent of Members should be elected. I am afraid that anyone who reads the debates here will become cynical of politicians if that is what is suggested because although one or two noble Lords on the Benches opposite supported the elected principle, in the main they did not. They either did not want any change at all—and I understand that point of view—or they wanted an appointed House. I should like to hear from the noble Lord who will wind up from the Opposition Front Bench whether he can justify that 80 per cent elected because that is the kind of thing that makes people cynical of politics.
Perhaps I may say to my friends on the Liberal Democrat Benches—some of whom I have served alongside—that I believe that eventually there will be an elected Chamber. But, as I said earlier, it has got to evolve. I appeal to the Liberal Democrats, do not throw the baby out with the bath water. An elected element is coming—and that is the major thing. Whether the elected element is as low as 50 or 60 Members, or 120 or a little more, is not the important issue; what is important is establishing that there should be elected Members in this House.
I shall not take up any more of the time of the House at this late stage. I appeal to noble Lords to move forward. The worse thing that could happen is to maintain the status quo. There is unfinished business and I ask the House to consider how we can move forward to the next stage of reform—and I hope to see democracy included in that movement.
§ 11.8 p.m.
§ Lord Goodhart
My Lords, I am the light at the end of the tunnel. The first of the speakers who are to wind up is a sign that the end really is in sight. This has indeed been a long debate. There have been many thoughtful and interesting speeches but, taken together, they do not make the picture of future progress any clearer.
I start by looking at some issues where consensus has emerged. First, there has been general agreement with the proposal, made yesterday in an outstanding speech by my noble friend Lady Williams of Crosby, that reform of your Lordships' House should be looked at in the context of the reform of Parliament as a whole. Secondly, there is a consensus that the White Paper belongs in the Guinness book of great disasters. 807 Thirdly, although few wish to keep the hereditary element, there has been overwhelming recognition that the remaining 92 hereditaries must go as part of any reform package. Fourthly, any elections should not be by a closed list system.
Fifthly, the existing powers of this House should not be reduced. In particular, your Lordships have rejected the proposal in both the Wakeham report and the White Paper that the power to veto secondary legislation should be abolished. We hold that view very strongly. The Wakeham proposal was that a statutory instrument rejected by the second Chamber could be reinstated by a vote of the House of Commons at any time within the following three months—not after a delay of three months, but within that time. That could mean within 24 hours.
The suggestion in paragraph 33 of the White Paper that this somehow increases the influence of this House over secondary legislation is, to say the least, disingenuous. Secondary legislation receives inadequate scrutiny in the House of Commons. There is a maximum of 90 minutes of debate, and a government with a working majority are certain to get their way.
The power of this House to reject secondary legislation is an essential power. It is made the more important by last year's Regulatory Reform Act, which means that many more statutes can now be repealed or amended by secondary legislation. It is, of course, a power that this House should use only rarely. On the only occasion since 1968 when it has been used—in relation to election regulations under the London Government Act—it was used effectively and achieved what I believe everyone now accepts was a desirable result.
So much for consensus. When it comes to the composition of the House, there is no consensus at all. There arc at least three main views. The largest group among those who have spoken in the debate consisted of those who wanted no elected Members at all. That group included some Members on these Benches.
Is it perhaps too cynical to take the view that there is a natural tendency to think that a system that brought us here is necessarily a good system? From time to time I am tempted to think that myself, until I pinch myself and realise that I am wrong. Other views included support for Wakeham in its original form—with the sole exception of the noble Lord, Lord Hoyle—not as re-written by the Government, and support for the proposition that all political Members of the second Chamber should be elected. Support for this last proposition came mainly from these Benches, but also in speeches—many of them impressive—from the noble Lord, Lord Richard, the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, and the noble Lords, Lord Dubs, Lord Baker of Dorking and Lord Lucas.
Speaking for those who rejected elected Members altogether, the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, raised the question: how will elected Members enable this House to be more effective in carrying out its existing functions? It is a fair question, and it needs an answer.
808 The powers of this House, in practice, depend on public support and approval of what we do. If we do not have that support, the Government would be more than happy to cut our powers further or even abolish us altogether. In recent years, this House has had a pretty high level of public approval. That has been strengthened recently by the removal of most hereditaries and by a balance of voting strengths which more nearly represents the balance of political opinion within the country.
I do not say that the introduction of elected Members would improve the quality of our debates, our scrutiny of legislation or the quality of our Select Committee reports. But widespread public support exists for a much greater elected element in this House; and if, as a result of so-called reform, we end up with no elected element or a small elected element, I do not believe that your Lordships' House will be able to maintain its present level of approval. We shall be seen, rightly or wrongly, as a House of party leaders' cronies, or as a House appointed by a faceless and unaccountable commission. If we lose public opinion, we are in real danger. If we were already a primarily elected House, would the Government have dared to propose removing our power to veto secondary legislation? I am sure that they would not.
Once we are into the business of reforming this House, a half-baked proposal for a small number of elected Members, let alone a suggestion that there should be no elected Members, would lead to a damaging decline in our public support. We would end up like the Canadian Senate, which is wholly appointed and which, in theory, has almost unlimited powers, but in practice does not have the standing and authority to exercise them.
It is argued that an elected second Chamber would be a threat to the primacy of the House of Commons. That is nonsense. The primacy of the House of Commons is established not only by the Parliament Acts, but by centuries of history and convention. If there was a real danger of a threat to the primacy of the House of Commons, it would be very odd that, while many speakers in your Lordships' House are worried about an elected second Chamber challenging the primacy of that House, Labour Back Benchers in the House of Commons are pressing for many more elected Members in this House.
An elected second Chamber would be no threat to the primacy of the House of Commons. It would enable your Lordships' House to continue, and perhaps strengthen, our scrutiny of the executive. The greatest democratic deficit in the United Kingdom today is the inability of the House of Commons to conduct proper scrutiny of what the executive is doing. We in this House can and should play such part as we can in reducing that deficit. I therefore believe that election rather than appointment is the way to select the political members of a second Chamber.
I emphasise that that applies to the political Members. The appointments commission is an appropriate method of selecting the independent Members. The election of the political Members 809 should, of course, be by STV or an open list system. We reject the appointment of political Members by parties or by independent commissioners.
Appointment by the commission would be the worse of the two. The Wakeham proposal is that an electorate consisting of eight people—the eight members of the commission—should choose three quarters of the Members of one House of Parliament. However distinguished and independent-minded the members of the commission may be, that is a truly weird proposal.
How would the commission choose political members? If it chose on the basis of a recommendation from parties, why have a commission at all? If the commission could override the wishes of the parties and could appoint party outsiders, it would be exercising political power without political responsibility—and we know where that leads. Such a power would subject the commission to enormous political pressures and would make the appointment of its members matters of major political controversy.
However, on the length of terms for Members, the Wakeham commission got considerably nearer to the correct answer than the Government did. It is essential that the future second Chamber should retain our ethos of rational and civilised debate. That ethos will be at risk if membership is seen as a stepping stone to the House of Commons and to government office by ambitious young politicians. We would become much more aggressive and confrontational. The Wakeham commission recognised that risk and proposed to eliminate it by providing for a 15-year term of elected office with no right to stand for the House of Commons during that term or for 10 years thereafter. That goes too far to the other extreme. A 10 or 12-year elected term with disqualification until the end of that term—though no longer—would be long enough. Few if any rising politicians would be willing to rule out membership of the House of Commons for as long as 10 years.
By contrast, a five-year term for elected Members, as suggested by the Government, would present a real risk of a fundamental change for the worse in the ethos of this House. A 10 or 12-year term would ensure that Members of the second Chamber are those who are not seeking a career in the House of Commons, regardless of whether they had done so in the past, or those who had had a career in the House of Commons but finished it. Such a term would in fact lead to the membership being rather similar to the current membership—an eminently desirable result.
There has been much support in the debate for long terms for elected Members and for limiting membership to a single term, as recommended by the Wakeham commission. I believe that there is much to be said for a limitation to a single term, although I recognise that there are arguments the other way. I believe that the Government should accept the principle that the term of office of elected Members of your Lordships' House should be not less than 10 years, even if they do not go the whole way with the proposal of the Wakeham commission.
810 I should like to address two membership issues that have been touched on by some speakers. We on these Benches believe that neither the Bishops nor the Law Lords should be Members of a new second Chamber ex officio. We recognise the great contributions made by the Bishops to debates in your Lordships' House, including to this debate, but we believe—it is a matter of party policy—that the Church should be disestablished and that an inevitable consequence of that is the removal of the historic rights of the Bishops to membership of this House. Retired bishops would of course be eligible, along with representatives of other Churches and other faiths, for appointment as independent Members of your Lordships' House. We should hope and expect that there would always be some in a new second Chamber.
On the Law Lords, we have long argued that the judicial role of the House of Lords should be abolished and replaced by a proper supreme court with its own building. That view is shared by many of the Law Lords, including the senior Law Lord, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Bingham of Cornhill, although not by all of them. Again, we recognise the contributions made to debates by some serving and several ex-Law Lords, such as the important speech, last Tuesday, on the Export Control Bill, by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scott of Foscote. Retired Law Lords also would be eligible for appointment as independent Members of the second Chamber.
We believe that the White Paper proposals are gravely flawed. In some respects, they are going in the right direction but are over-cautious; for example, in introducing elected Members but restricting their number to 120. In some respects, the proposals are going in the wrong direction; for example, in removing the power to veto secondary legislation. In some respects, there is no movement when there should be movement; for example, by retaining the rights of Law Lords and Bishops to be Members of the second Chamber ex officio.
We believe, even at this late stage, that there should be a Joint Committee further to consider the proposals. That view is shared by many and was repeated today by, for example, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon. That is something we have always fought for. Yesterday, in a most effective speech, the noble Lord, Lord Denham, pointed out the Government's failure to honour their undertakings to establish such a committee. This indeed may be the right time to have such a committee: we now have the Government's proposals on the table. And yesterday we were promised by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, that the Conservatives will at last get round to deciding their own policy by the end of this month. Our position has long been clear.
I do not expect that a Joint Committee would actually reach a consensus, but it could perhaps reach an agreed compromise. If we cannot reach such a compromise, and if the Government force through the White Paper proposals, the reform process that began in 1911 will remain uncompleted. This House will 811 indeed no longer be constituted in any sense on an hereditary basis, but it will not yet be constituted on the popular basis that was promised 91 years ago.
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, is he contending that the 92 hereditaries should he removed contrary to the Cranborne agreement, or is he not?
§ Lord Goodhart
My Lords, I am. The Cranborne agreement was clearly intended as a temporary expedient.
§ 11.25 p.m.
§ Lord Kingsland
My Lords, I know that your Lordships will all agree that this has been a debate of the highest quality conducted in great good humour.
The Government will have to agree that their White Paper has not been greeted with unalloyed rapture. Indeed, it is no exaggeration to say that it received a very moderate "Hello".
The only ray of hope for the Government was underlined by the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, in explaining that the sources of disagreement are diverse. They fall, broadly speaking, into three categories. First, those noble Lords who feel that the White Paper is not close enough to the wisdom of the committee of my noble friend Lord Wakeham; secondly, those who feel that there should be no elections at all; and, thirdly, those like many of the colleagues of the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, in the Liberal group and some on my own Benches, who believe that we should have a predominantly elected House. That indicates to me that the policy we are now likely to see from the Government will be a ruthless policy of divide and rule. We shall see.
I do not intend to speak for very long. I just want to touch on two areas. First, I want to say something about the shape of your Lordships' House as proposed in the White Paper. Secondly, I want to say something about how we should proceed from this evening.
On the shape of the new Chamber, I am sceptical about the likely effectiveness of a hybrid House. Your Lordships should pay great attention to the speech of my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth, who reminded us that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams, said earlier last year that he saw no difference between the legitimacy of an appointed Member and an elected Member. If that is so, what possible argument can there be for elections?
The fact is that if we have elected Members in your Lordships' House side by side with appointed Members, it will be clear that those elected Members will consider, rightly or wrongly, that they have greater legitimacy than the appointed Members. That is likely to destabilise the House. It was significant that, towards the end of his speech, the noble and learned Lord Chancellor, having, at the outset, suggested that this was the second and final stage of the recasting of your Lordships' House, went on to say that there would, perhaps, be another stage in five or 10 years' time. I suggest that if we have a hybrid solution to the 812 shape of your Lordships' House, it is inevitable that it will not be the last solution; it is inevitable that your Lordships' House will move on to a different ratio of elected and appointed Members.
That point was well put by my noble friend Lord St John of Fawsley who said yesterday,Let us consider the question of an elected or an appointed chamber. There is something to be said for an elected chamber. There is something to be said for an appointed chamber. But for a partly elected, partly appointed chamber which carries within itself a mass of contradictions, there is nothing to be said whatsoever".—[Official Report, 9/1/02; col. 604.]I wholly endorse that statement of my noble friend.
Secondly, in my submission there is no case for an elected House—by that I mean a wholly elected House, and so I have excluded any hybrid solution—unless there is a significant increase in the powers of your Lordships' House. I can see no argument on the basis of the powers that are contained in the White Paper, or indeed the powers proposed by my noble friend Lord Wakeham, for any elected element in your Lordships' House whatsoever.
On the other hand, if we were to have a wholly elected House, I see no conflict between a wholly elected House of Lords and a wholly elected other place, provided the relative balance of power between those two Houses is clearly stated and clearly understood. So, in other words, if your Lordships' House were to acquire such an increase in powers as to justify a wholly elected House, I would see no difficulty with that being consistent with the supremacy of another place.
I wholly agree with all those of your Lordships who have said that the term of office, whether an appointed term or an elected term, ought to be for a minimum period of 15 years with no chance of re-election or reselection. That point was put so well by a number of your Lordships. I particularly recall that, yesterday, the noble Lord, Lord Gordon of Strathblane, said:It is precisely because they will not be re-elected that they can behave independently. Let us grasp the nettle and recognise that if they were not elected in the first place they might be even more independent".—[Official Report, 9/1/02; col. 580.]And the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, said:To achieve independence on these Benches or within a political party, it is essential that the individuals in question have nothing to fear or to hope for from the powers that be, whether those powers are the Government, the party Whips or an appointed body containing party elements".—[Official Report, 9/1/02; col. 597.]In that felicitous aphorism,nothing to fear or to hope",the noble Viscount encapsulated the whole debate on the overriding importance of independence rather than accountability in the choice of Members of your Lordships' House, whether elected Peers, elected Members of your Lordships' House, elected senators or appointed senators.
I also wholly agree with the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, in what he said about the importance of retaining the power to reject secondary legislation. That is absolutely crucial. Indeed, I would go further and say that there is a very strong case—as I think was 813 suggested by my noble friend Lord MacGregor—that there ought to be a power in your Lordships' House to amend delegated legislation.
Those of your Lordships who remember, for example, the Financial Services and Markets Act that went through your Lordships' House—certainly my noble friend Lord Saatchi remembers it as well as I do—containing 420 clauses, will know that it was still essentially a skeleton Bill. The delegated legislation, which is the part of the Act that now really counts, is still going through your Lordships' House and is effectively untouchable. I agree with those of your Lordships who say that the time has come for us to put it to the Government that we need the power to amend delegated legislation.
On the question of the size of the House, many of your Lordships suggested that the House ought to be significantly smaller. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, suggested the smallest number of Peers. I agree with the approach of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford, who suggested that it would be highly desirable for us to stick with the principle of a part-time House if we can. In yesterday's debate, he said:Your Lordships need me to be involved in my life in the wider church and community if my contribution here is to be of value".—[Official Report, 9/1/02; col. 586.]I respectfully endorse that remark. What noble Lords do when they are not in the House is at least as important as what they do when in the House. For that reason, and because the committee work of the House is so important, I agree with the Government that your Lordships' House will require a much higher number of Members than many other upper Houses or second Chambers in other countries.
I share and endorse the views of all those noble Lords who condemned the closed-list system. It is an appalling system and I hope that, where it currently exists, it can be expunged from our constitution in future elections.
There are other matters to which I could refer but I am aware that time is passing and I want to move on to my final concerns, which are about where your Lordships' House should go from here. I share the anger and frustration of those noble Lords who are appalled by the fact that the Government have not put these matters to a Joint Committee of both Houses. My noble friend Lord Jopling was deeply upset—to say that he was outraged is perhaps putting it too strongly—by the fact that the normal conventions about constitutional matters have not been respected by the Government.
Moreover, as many noble Lords have said, the Government have effectively broken their word to the hereditary Peers who departed from this House. From the evidence that I have seen, a clear undertaking was given to the hereditary Peers in the course of the 1999 legislation that the second stage of reform in your Lordships' House would be put to a Joint Committee of both Houses. It appears that the Government have no such intention.
814 Moreover, it is not just that the Government are wrong in that regard; they are also being stupid about it. We will never get a solution to this matter until there is consensus between another place and your Lordships' House and between all the political parties. There must be a forum in which those five different institutions can get together to decide on the best way ahead.
Finally and most importantly—this point was eloquently and effectively put by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams—I turn to the issue of powers before composition. It is irrational to decide what the future composition of your Lordships' House would be without knowing what functions and powers it will perform. The issue, as the noble Baroness rightly said, is not about the power of your Lordships' House as against the power of another place, but about the power of Parliament as against the executive. We know that Parliament has fallen a long way behind the executive. Your Lordships' House needs to get together with another place through the Joint Committee to decide just how much power has been lost, how big the gap is and the extent to which that gap must be made up.
There is also the crucial decision about which of the two Houses will make up that gap and how that will be done. The right honourable gentleman, the President of the Council and the Leader of the House of Commons, is confident that the House of Commons will quickly make up the ground that has been lost over the past 40 years. Perhaps we may then, after the meeting of the Joint Committee, say happily, "Well, we have enough power already". Therefore, according to my approach to this problem, we can remain a wholly appointed House.
However, if we reach the conclusion that another place will not increase its power over the executive, then a huge new constitutional burden will fall on the shoulders of your Lordships' House. In those circumstances, I do not see how it can be carried unless we have, excepting the Law Lords and the Bishops, a wholly elected House.
§ 11.40 p.m.
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
My Lords, I listened carefully—indeed, exceptionally carefully—to the graceful way in which the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, developed his themes. In the background I could hear solemn sounds. They came from two sources: first, the rather dull sound of pennies dropping behind him; and, secondly, the gritting of clenched teeth in ashen faces. Perhaps I may remind your Lordships what was said by the official spokesman for the Official Opposition speaking as shadow Lord Chancellor:I see no value in a hybrid House".He then went for temporal as well as spiritual support to the noble Lord, Lord St John of Fawsley, who earlier had trenchantly put his views on that topic to the same effect. The noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, said, as official spokesman for the Official Opposition:I wholly endorse those views".815 Let us pause for a moment to see where that takes us. It means either a wholly appointed or a wholly elected House. For the purposes of posterity and Hansard, the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, is nodding assent. How could he not? If we have a wholly elected House, that means no Bishops.
§ Lord Kingsland
My Lords, if the noble and learned Lord looks at Hansard tomorrow, I believe that he will find that I excluded Law Lords and Bishops from my statement about a wholly elected House. It may have been in my imagination but I believe that I did say that.
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
My Lords, if we have a wholly elected House, that means no Bishops. Let us assume that that small caveat obtains, and we can both read Hansard tomorrow. Perhaps I misheard; I doubt it.
If we have a wholly elected House plus some Bishops, that sounds fairly hybrid to me. But, according to the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, a hybrid House is wholly without value. However, let us put the Bishops to one side for a moment, without unkindness. If we have a wholly elected House with some Bishops tagged on, how do we get any significant independent component?
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
My Lords, how do we get elected to this House independent Members who are not members of any political party? We cannot get them.
§ The Earl of Onslow
My Lords, will the noble and learned Lord give way? He is being quite brilliant in answering all the wrong questions. That is why he is such a successful Leader of this House. There is an independent Member of the House of Commons who has been elected by his constituents.
§ The Earl of Onslow
My Lords, I accept that there is only one. The noble and learned Lord was being just as picky with his facts as I am being, and two people can be picky with their facts. The noble and learned Lord was arguing from a particular to a general in saying that one could not get independence. I am merely showing the noble and learned Lord that one can; it has and it is. Two of us can play picky with facts.
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
My Lords, yes, the single issue candidate in Kidderminster. If that is the noble Earl's best argument, I am happy to rest content upon 816 my propositions. He has managed to find one single-issue candidate, the doctor in Kidderminster, out of 600 plus. I repeat my proposition—which is not being picky; it is actually condescending to fact—that if we have a wholly elected Chamber there will be no place for the independents. That has been said time and time again by a number of your Lordships.
If, on the other hand, we have a wholly appointed House, does that include the continuation of the hereditaries? I heard two voices there. One, the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, said, "Sorry", the other, the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, said, "Don't answer". There is a breathless hush in the close tonight. They are waiting for Strathclyde to come out with the light. But they will have a very long wait indeed, because when my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor ventured—oh, bold creature that he is—to inquire what the Conservative Party policy might be, the authoritative, indeed ferocious, considered answer came back, "We haven't got one", or, "We might have one by 31st August"—"January". I am so sorry, I was being over-generous as always. "But we know that it now has to be one or the other. It has to be a wholly elected House, with some Bishops, unspecified in number, or it has to be a wholly appointed House". I repeat, if one has a wholly elected House one will have no independent components.
This has been a most good-humoured debate. In fact, I have not attended such a good-humoured debate since going to the Parliamentary Labour Party yesterday. The noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, the Lord Chancellor and I—the three of us—have heard virtually every speech. The Lord Chancellor and I will both undertake to reflect carefully on what has been said.
It is true that there has not been universal a claim for our little White Paper. But we still have the pride of paternity in it. The one recurrent theme is that no one can agree on alternatives. In a moment or two I shall divert to the question of the Joint Committee because there are some misapprehensions which should be cleared up.
There are an enormous number of different views across the spectrum. They have been differently expressed. One source, not in your Lordships' House, said that his policy was one Peer, one lamp-post. At the other end of the spectrum was the graceful and amusing summary by the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, of what he had heard from members of the public almost with unanimity—that they wanted an all-elected House but with no politicians here at all. It is difficult to reconcile those two views.
We are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, and his colleagues on the Royal Commission. I do not say that in the usual conventional way. We have tried to base our proposals substantially on the noble Lord's recommendations. It is true that we have not bound ourselves entirely to that particular chariot, but we have really taken it as the basis of our thinking.
I am personally very grateful to all the hereditaries for all the work that they have done, not simply the remaining 92. I say sorry to the noble Lord, Lord 817 Palmer, about my misplaced attempt at a mild tease if his feelings were hurt. I apologise for that. It was intended only as a gentle tease.
Our essential stance is this: we need a second Chamber in our constitution; and it needs to do its proper work properly. Its proper work is to scrutinise, to revise, to reflect, to advise and also—I agree entirely with the noble Lord, Lord Winston—to have debates on matters of public interest. The quality of such debates—I am not flattering your Lordships—I do not think can be matched in any legislature across the world.
However, we are not to challenge the mandate of the elected Chamber. That is institutionalised in our constitutional statutory arrangements by virtue of the Parliament Acts. It is said that we should have the power to veto secondary legislation. I think that that is misplaced. At present we can either strike down the secondary legislation or accept it. That nuclear option has been used, if my memory is right, twice in the past 50 years. We do not have the power to veto primary legislation; and I do not see the justification intellectually for saying that we should be able to strike down secondary legislation.
I ask your Lordships to consider the reasoning, as I understand it, behind the Wakeham commission recommendation. It is to say this to the Commons: we are not content with this statutory instrument, this piece of secondary legislation. We wish you to think again. Then there is the possibility of up to three months' delay. In practice, noble Lords will recognise that a delay of up to three months would be a distinct inconvenience to any government. But it gives the opportunity for them to think again. I believe that the mechanism offered by the Royal Commission is more subtle and, therefore, likely to be of more practical utility than an unused power.
§ Lord Goodhart
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord for allowing me to intervene. Does he accept that it is for the House of Commons to decide the timing of when it votes to overrule a decision of the House of Lords under these proposals and that, therefore, that decision could be taken within 24 hours?
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
My Lords, I do and, notionally, it could. But I do not think that matters will work quite like that. I repeat: a lot of thought went into the Royal Commission's proposal to give us an effective remedy within the regime that ultimately the Commons is supreme. It is an opportunity to develop our powers and flex our muscles if we want to.
§ Lord Strathclyde
My Lords, the noble and learned Lord said that he did not see the intellectual case for there being no veto on primary legislation but that there should be on secondary legislation. The intellectual case is this. If a piece of secondary 818 legislation is defeated in this House, it can be reintroduced in primary legislation where there is no veto.
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
My Lords, I still do not see the difference between being unable to veto the primary legislation but being able to veto the critically important secondary legislation which derives from the primary Act. We are entitled, I think, to challenge the detail of legislation and, as noble Lords demonstrated robustly very recently, the principle of legislation, as on the anti-terrorism Bill.
We are here to offer independence of mind and spirit, and experience and expertise. None of the sources of your Lordships' coming to this House—whether by political patronage, heredity or ordination and subsequent progression in the Church of England—has led me to conclude that it makes any one of us more or less independent. The noble Earl, Lord Liverpool, asked a specific question about the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, which I would not have dealt with but it is important to put the matter right. The noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, was not expelled from the Labour Party for anything to do with the House of Lords. He brought about his self-expulsion because he was in breach of internal party rules: he supported a candidate who was running against the official Labour Party candidate. That is commonplace in most political parties. It has nothing to do with his conduct in the House of Lords. It is important that that should be borne in mind.
We should not delude ourselves by drinking too deeply of the belief that we are always in touch, however sweet the cordial may be. On many occasions we are significantly out of touch with significant sections of the public outside this House. I want to be utterly uncontroversial, so I shall just give two examples: Section 28 and the age of consent.
That is one reason why an elected component could bring, to use a phrase used by several of your Lordships, "added value" to this House. It would be an alternative reservoir. It would brine variety. It might bring about a different age profile. It would have the benefit of engaging the regions and the nations, but it would also bring in people from the outside world. As several of your Lordships have graciously conceded, some of our expertise gets rather thin. I think that it was the noble Lord, Lord Hurd of Westwell, who said that when one stops practising a skill, after about 10 or 15 years one has got very rusty indeed. That is a perfectly good reason for having the elected component. It would be legitimate, as would any other Peer who came here under an agreed settlement.
I want to make one proposition: it is not every component of every democracy and every aspect of every democratic institution that has to be elected. The judges are not elected—thank God. Public prosecutors are not elected. Rat catchers are not elected. They are in the United States, which suits them. The monarch is not elected. We do not have a rotating elected monarchy, as does Malaysia, for example. We do not at present have time limits here on how long or for how 819 many terms one may serve. It is not necessary for every part of a democratic constitution to be elected. The prime body with legislative supremacy and primacy on taxation ought to be elected. I entirely agree with what was said earlier: it is not simply election that matters, it is the fear of being dismissed.
If that is so, there is no need to engage in debate about whet her appointed Peers, as opposed to elected Peers, would be legitimate. Both would be of equal validity and legitimacy, as would the Bishops, the Law Lords and the independents, because they would all be part of an agreed constitutional settlement. That gives legitimacy, not the bare fact of election.
My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble and learned Lord for giving way. Surely, if the will of the people can be expressed by electing Members to the House of Commons, why should there be any kind of duplication by there also being people elected to your Lordships' House?
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
My Lords, it is quite simple: because they are doing different jobs of work. If we want the House of Lords to do a completely different job of work, or an associated series of different jobs of work, there is no earthly reason why we should not have an elected component. That is not duplication, because they would be doing completely different things.
I am afraid that I have only eight minutes left, and I want to develop a particular theme. I personally believe that we should strengthen the way in which this House works. The Leader's Group has met; a questionnaire is winging its way to your Lordships to ask for your views about the future. Perhaps I can deal with one or two of the issues. One of the most effective ways in which this House challenges the Government—Ministers in particular—is Question Time. We have four Questions lasting 30 minutes. I have offered—I have not told my colleagues this—that Question Time should be extended from 30 minutes to 45, so that we might have six Questions on any one day. I have offered that we should have Questions on Fridays. I have offered that we should have a Leader's Question Time. Your Lordships may not be interested in those proposals, but it cannot be said that I am afraid of scrutiny, nor that I have not offered it.
It is a legitimate question in that context to ask whether, if we want an effective Official Opposition and an effective Liberal Democrat Opposition, they are properly resourced for research purposes. That means money. I have asked the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, and the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, to submit written proposals about that.
I hope that those are regarded as earnests of the fact that my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor and I believe in strengthening this House, although we do not think that the parroting of the cry for an elected House is the only remedy. We do not believe that that will bring about the outcome that we want. Both of us recognise that we are only trustees of our duties in this place for the moment—several moments, I must say, 820 before the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, becomes too cheerful—and we are deliberately offering these internal mechanisms to make the House better and stronger. I shall finish my theme, and I will readily give way.
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
My Lords, I shall do so, if I may.
I hope that this does not sound heretical. We are in danger of becoming obsessed with our composition. It is always a topic of enormous interest to all of us, and we always get a full House when we discuss ourselves. My suggestion—put only for your Lordships' consideration—is that we should not become obsessively over-focused on composition. The way in which we work and discharge our duties may be even more important; it is certainly as important.
§ Baroness Williams of Crosby
My Lords, does the Leader of the House accept that we on these Benches recognise that he and the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor have endeavoured to be as helpful as possible in this House and to suggest ways in which it might be improved? Is he willing to recognise that that is nothing to do with the White Paper and that our great objection to the White Paper is that it fails to recognise the way in which the public now expect the House to be more legitimate and more democratic than it is at present?
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
My Lords, I am afraid that the noble Baroness was not present, but, on many occasions, a large number of your Lordships pointed out, quite rightly, to the Lord Chancellor and me that we had been rather sketchy about methods of working in the White Paper. The noble Baroness was not here—I am not complaining about that—but I am dealing with points that were raised in depth, with scruple and with point and purpose by several noble Lords. That is why I am dealing with that.
I promised that I would come to the question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Denham. Interest in the matter was not just limited to him: the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, and the noble Lord, Lord King of Bridgwater, asked similar questions. With his unfailing courtesy, the noble Lord, Lord Denham, wrote to me saying that he would raise this question. He also kindly said yesterday that we had had a lengthy conversation last year.
The noble Lord quoted some remarks that were made by my noble friend Lady Jay and me. I am clear in my mind that we have not resiled from any commitment, but it is for the House to judge. The right thing for me to do is to put in the Library all the documents that I believe to be relevant to the question of what undertaking was given, whether it was a Joint Committee on composition, as some believe, or a Joint Committee on the parliamentary aspects, as others believe. I do not wish to put documents in the Library selectively, so I am more than happy, to be fair, to put 821 in the Library any documents that I omit but which the noble Lord, Lord Denham, wishes to add. We shall see. It is a fact, as I have said on several occasions, that we sought to have a Joint Committee, but we were unable to agree on terms of reference.
§ Lord Denham
My Lords, as I said in my speech, we all understood it as an undertaking from the Dispatch Box that would be honoured. During the whole of the passage of the House of Lords Bill, there was never, to my knowledge, any suggestion that there should be a limitation on the work of the Joint Committee.
The noble and learned Lord has quoted one wording from the White Paper of January 1999. I shall try another wording on him; it comes from page 35 of the White Paper:Once the Royal Commission has reported, the Government will then establish the proposed Joint Committee of both Houses of Parliament to examine the parliamentary implications of the Commission's work. It, too, will be asked to work speedily".That was in January 1999. We could have appointed that Joint Committee in January 2000. It is not a question of wasting time; any time that has been wasted has been wasted by the Government.
A large number of Members of this House feel that they have been given a commitment and that that commitment has not been honoured. If the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House is content for the House to feel that he has reneged on this, I do not think that that is a good idea for the House at all.
I hope that he will honour the commitment now. In the early days, no one ever explained to the House, in the three Statements which were made or during the passage of the House of Lords Bill, that there were going to be limitations. That was done only the moment the Bill was on the statute book. I feel myself that the House has been very shabbily treated.
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
My Lords, what the noble Lord. Lord Denham, has done in his citation is to underline exactly my point; that it is just as well to look at the documents. The phrase that the noble Lord put to me was "the parliamentary implications". We have been perfectly content to have a Joint Committee on the parliamentary aspects—the parliamentary implications—and we were not able to agree with the relevant parties on the terms of reference.
If that Joint Committee of the kind I have mentioned is wanted and we can agree on terms of reference, I am perfectly happy to use my best endeavours to have it set up. But I think it is very important, before an accusation of reneging is made, that one should actually consider what was said, look at Hansard, and see the parliamentary Answers and any other documents which the noble Lord, Lord Denham, wants to put in the bundle.
822 I hope that I have dealt as fully with the matter as is fair on this occasion. I am up to 25 minutes but I shall give way again.
§ Lord Phillips of Sudbury
My Lords, I am grateful. In view of the importance of the matter, would it be appropriate for a copy of the documents to be circulated to all Members of the House?
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
My Lords, I said that I shall put them in the Library. That is what it means.
§ Lord Strathclyde
My Lords, whether or not the noble and learned Lord feels that a commitment has been reneged on, and he is an honourable man, given the tone of the debate we have had these past two days and of that which took place in another place today, the Government's policy is clearly in tatters. Purely on the merits of a Joint Committee of both Houses, would it not be an extremely good idea now to set one up?
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
My Lords, before I accused anyone of having a policy in tatters I think I would be inclined to get a policy. However, as your Lordships are fond of saying, as I said at the beginning of these remarks—brief as they are—we will reflect on everything that has been put to us. Plainly, if the noble Lord puts that to us and if we see any practical virtue in it, of course the Lord Chancellor and I will reflect upon it.
Indeed, I was about to say when I was invited to give way that I would like to reflect very carefully on what was said by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford. I think we may agree that his purpose and mine are the same but that it is a question of how we get there. I thought that his speech—if I may say so without appearing presumptuous—was extremely powerful. The Lord Chancellor and I would like to look at it and perhaps have informal conversations with him to see whether we can get an agreed journey towards the outcome that we want. The White Paper makes it plain that we value the contribution that the Bishops make. We agree with the Royal Commission that there ought to be a wider representation—or it may be reflection—of other faith groups.
This has been a very long debate. I hope that we can move forward. One or two of the questions are not of headline-grabbing urgency but they are extremely important. Perhaps I can deal with them briefly. I am overrunning my time but I have given way on several occasions.
Pre-legislative scrutiny is a significant key to doing our work better. In a sense, I do not call it "calling the Government to account". I would prefer to describe it as "discharging our duty to get the best legislative product we can on any given topic". Whereas we may disagree on the principle of legislation, we ought at least to deliver as finely honed a piece of work as possible.
My noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor and I agree that we could do better on pre-legislative scrutiny of draft Bills, provided that we can achieve 823 some degree of flexibility about carry-over of Bills. It is nonsensical that in many cases we do a vast amount of work on Bills, which we then lose and have to restart in an ensuing Session. I believe, as I have said before, that there is the questionable area of European Union legislation and we might discharge a significant public duty by having more scrutiny. Those are all answers to propositions that have been suggested. I am not binding the Government to these points. I am simply suggesting how my noble and learned friend and I are thinking.
I have already dealt with the question of secondary legislation.
Our debate has been exceptionally good natured; it has been a privilege to listen to your Lordships' different views and different experience. Most of your Lordships believe that it is now time for the hereditary element to go. It is difficult to justify the continued attendance of hereditary Peers, however many there may be. That is not to say that we diminish the work that they have done. In many ways it has been sterling work. Without presumption, those hereditary Peers who remained did not cease from their efforts in doing what they could in the service of the House.
824 Other than those remarks, and the fact that no one seems enormously pleased with what we have produced, there seems to be no unanimity. I am about to finish because it is very late, but I shall go back to what my noble and learned friend said at the beginning of his introduction. If we can reach consensus, recognising that that must mean compromise, we should prefer it because we want to equip the House to do its duty. One aspect of that is composition and the other, which is much more long lasting and of substance and significance, is the way in which we do our work.
I close by thanking your Lordships and saying how grateful I am.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.