§ 4 p.m.
§ Lord Howe of Aberavon rose to move, That this House takes note of the first report of the Joint Committee on House of Lords Reform (HL Paper 17).
§ The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, I undertake this rather daunting task with some diffidence as I recognise that we are at an important stage of a historic debate; a debate that is almost as long as history, in truth. I shall try to explain where we are in the light of the first report of the Joint Committee and I hope that I shall be forgiven if from time to time I stray into expressing some of my own opinions.
§ The report marks the end of the first stage of the Joint Committee's work. It sets out the seven options on which both Houses will be invited to express their opinions on 4th February. The interval between these debates and that date is intended to provide a time for mutual reflection by both Houses on the views expressed in each House.
§ Some noble Lords have asked why so many options are set out in the report. The answer is that we were required to do that by our terms of reference. We were required to consider an all-elected and an all-nominated House and options in-between. The options effectively chose themselves.
When both Houses have expressed their views, the Joint Committee will reassemble to consider the extent to which,
the expressed views of the two Houses…might be brought closer to each other, if not actually reconciled".
That is a quote from paragraph 6 of our special report of 16th July. The difficulty of that task was highlighted a couple of weeks ago by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor when speaking on the "Today" programme. He said that opinions were "polarising" between two of the seven alternatives—the all-elected and the all-appointed. He rather sweepingly referred to the other five options as,
what many voices call the nonsense of a hybrid House".
Nevertheless, the Joint Committee was required to evaluate all those varieties of nonsensical hybridity.
The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor looks to us rather flatteringly for genius in responding to his challenge. I cannot promise that. However, I can promise the House at least a glimpse of hope, because in paragraph 2 of our first report the committee expresses and identifies an historic opportunity to enable this House,
to continue to play an important and complementary role to the Commons, with its future at last secure".
We shall see. At least one can regard that opinion as being what one might expect from a committee that was notably free of rancour or partisanship and which had a genuine sense of common purpose. For those features I think the House would wish me to express our thanks, not just to all our colleagues from both Houses who comprised the committee and to the Clerks of the committee, but most notably to the chairman of the committee, the right honourable Jack Cunningham. I had the privilege of working with him—now many years ago—when I was the Leader of another place and he was my shadow.
§ We need as much help as we can get from both Houses, after consideration of each other's debates, in order to make further progress. For that reason, when voting on these issues on 4th February, candidates—if I may state the matter in this way—are required to answer all the questions. We would like candidates in both Houses to give their views on each one of the seven options.
§ Your Lordships will be glad to know that there are many questions that are not before the House today, which have been sensibly postponed to a later stage. For example—and they are all important—the future of the Law Lords, the future of our right reverend colleagues and the pattern of elections, if any, and their timing, method and so on. So, too, the financial implications of the alternatives, very important for institutions as well as for individuals, remain to be considered.
A second group of questions—with one outstanding—was considered by the Joint Committee, perhaps in a little less detail than might have been expected. We were required by our terms of references to consider,
the implications of a House composed of more than one 'category' of member"—
the hybrid House referred to by the noble and learned Lord. In truth, we go no further in our report than to point out that this House has been a mixture of appointed and hereditary peers for almost half a century, certainly since the Life Peerages Act 1958. We expressed the rather tentative opinion that we do not share the view that that is necessarily undesirable. So that key question is left open by our report rather than disposed of one way or the other.
§ I add my own comments to that proposition; that this House has never included an elected element in its mixture. There is that significant change, which is why I must confess that our answer to the question falls short of complete clarity.
§ The second point, which has not been considered in full yet, is that if there were to be a mixed House, in my judgment it would be essential that all members should be "financed"—and I use a neutral word—in the same way.
§ There is a third group of questions, to which, I am glad to be able to say, the answers we give are largely—if not entirely—agreed. First, there is the key question in Part 2 of our report that the existing role, functions, powers and conventions regulating this House in relation to the other House should in all essential respects be 577 maintained. We make certain comments for modification and clarification, but conclude that the essential structure should be maintained.
§ Secondly, in paragraph 51 of our report, there is the proposition that, if there are to be any nominated members, they should be appointed by a statutory, independent, commission, which is empowered to scrutinise effectively all nominations.
§ Thirdly, we state, in paragraph 46, that the size of the House after reform should be about 600 and perhaps larger when it is in transition.
Fourthly, and noble Lords will be interested in the exact words of this proposal. Paragraph 55 says that,
we are not attracted by the idea of compulsory retirement for existing life peers".
Fifthly, paragraph 34 asserts that,
no one political party should be able to dominate the second chamber".
§ All five of those agreed propositions are effectively as proposed by the Royal Commission, which was presided over by my noble friend Lord Wakeham, whose detailed work on almost every issue continues to deserve very close consideration.
§ One turns to the central question: whether any Members should be elected, and, if so, how many. So far as another place is concerned, there has never—in our day at least—been any doubt about the importance of it being an entirely elected chamber. It is the function of that House, which expresses the will of the people, to choose the Government and to empower that government to deliver their programme. But the role of this House, the second Chamber, is—and we must never forget this—to respect the right of the Commons to decide and to recognise the strong advisory nature of our role to require another place to think again about matters, but in the last resort the power to decide issues rests with another place.
§ The difference between those two roles involves very different considerations. In Part 3 of our report we identify four qualities that need to be considered alongside the central proposition that no party should dominate in this House. They are, first, representativeness; secondly, independence; thirdly, expertise; and, fourthly, "legitimacy".
On representativeness, sex and ethnicity we are far from perfect, but very similar to another place. On age, no one can challenge the proposition that we are somewhat older than our colleagues in another place, but one wonders whether that is such a fatal conclusion for a body that reformers wish to describe as a senate—if we remember the derivation of the word senate, wisdom that comes with age. On regionalism, at paragraph 33, we conclude that there is a disproportionate number of Members from the south-east of England and too few from the English regions but, for the rest, regionalism is not too badly represented. We acknowledge that that could be remedied by either method, in one way or another, but at paragraph 64 we state:
An appointed House could more easily be made representative…of society…and of the regions".
The second quality is independence. Our judgments on that are clear. Paragraph 40 states:
We consider this independence an important element in any reconstituted House",
but that it,
would be significantly reduced in any substantially elected House".
Paragraph 35 states that,
any new system…needs to ensure that independence, whether arising from non-party affiliation or from less attention to the requests of the Whips, is not jeopardised or diminished".
In the present House, that independence rests on two propositions: that we enjoy membership for life; and that we have no fear of deselection nor need to submit ourselves to reselection. Curiously, that is why all the alternatives suggested to the present system of bringing people into the House, all the electoral alternatives, in many ways strive to imitate those features—length of tenure and no need for re-election—to create pseudo life Peers in place of life Peers.
The third quality that I mentioned is our expertise—of course, we all use that word with some diffidence. At paragraph 42, the Joint Committee states:
We consider the expertise evident in the existing House to be something of considerable importance which we would wish to see preserved in the new House".
There is indeed a formidable diversity of expertise in this place. It is not sufficient to judge the numbers of us who are on parade on any one day; it is important to take account of the different specialised platoons—large numbers of part-timers—who are mobilised for this, that or the other issue.
§ In the course of our deliberations, I considered one striking example: the debate that took place on the Second Reading of the Human Reproductive Cloning Bill on 26th November 2001. There were 20 speakers during three hours and 20 minutes of debate, speaking for 10 minutes each. They included the following 15 speakers. There were the heads or former heads of two Cambridge colleges—the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, who chaired the committee that inquired into the relevant matters, and the noble Baroness, Lady O'Neill of Bengarve, who was a member of the Human Genetics Advisory Committee. There were two former presidents of the Royal College of Physicians, the noble Lords, Lord Walton of Detchant and Lord Turnberg, each with other formidable international as well as national qualifications; two practitioners, the noble Lord, Lord Rea, and the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley; and two consultants especially engaged in the field, the noble Lords, Lord Winston and Lord Patel.
§ There were two others not without relevant experience, the noble Lord, Lord Rix, from Mencap and the noble Lord, Lord Alton, vice-president of Life; two other specialists in different fields, the noble Lord, Lord Brennan, former chairman of the Bar Council and the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, former chairman of the Equal Opportunities Commission; two right reverend Prelates, the Bishop of Oxford and the Bishop of St Albans; and, last but by no means least, the Minister responsible for the Bill, the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath.579
§ There are few legislatures in the world that could begin to command that range of expertise on a topic of that nature. Although they are all courageous spirits, how many of them would ever run for election in any system that one could design? The Commons is always free to accept or reject the advice given by experts of that kind, but its availability is invaluable and cannot be matched in any other way.
§ I turn to legitimacy, the last listed factor, which is often, understandably, equated with election, so as to exclude any alternative candidate for legitimacy. That is close to being the key question. However, when one considers legitimacy, one must not forget effectiveness. Does the institution work? What are the identifiable faults of the present system? What mischief is complained of? How much of that reeks from the past, not the present? If there is such a mischief, how far will it be remedied by the introduction of an elected element?
§ Legitimacy and effectiveness are, to some extent, two sides of the same coin. One asks oneself: where does this flavour of illegitimacy come from? The 92 noble Lords who qualify under this heading will forgive me for putting it like this, but heredity is regarded, very perversely, as conferring illegitimacy. Rightly or not, it is common ground that our hereditary noble friends are unlikely to be here after reform takes place—when and if it does.
§ "Cronyism" is a word that has become increasingly popular because of its rhyming capacity with Tony—"Tony's cronies" is a convenient phrase that tends to embrace a large but unidentified army. I do not pretend that the Prime Minister's predecessors have not from time to time appointed those who might be so described, but if one looks around the Chamber, of the 984 life Peers appointed under the Life Peerages Act 1958, not many can be fairly identified as cronies. In so far as that charge survives. the future legitimacy—if that is the right word—of those appointed will be assured and guaranteed, so far as one can do so in this world, by the appointment of a statutory, independent appointments commission, with all the features attributed to it by the Royal Commission chaired by my noble friend Lord Wakeham.
Finally, I return to the effectiveness of the present House. The 1998 White Paper, which we tend to forget, considered and evaluated the effectiveness of the present House. I have not brought the relevant passage with me, but it is laden with superlatives. If I may be mildly impertinent, even the document published by Conservative Central Office, of which my noble friend Lord Strathclyde was one of the two authors—I hope that he will forgive me if I do not place its authority any higher than that—pays tribute to,
the splendid performance of the old House".
Here we are: the old House. That is just one tribute.
Rather more convincingly, the report of the Public Administration Committee in another place made no significant proposals for improvement, or even for change, in the role or powers of the second Chamber. On the contrary, it stressed its,
considerable virtues, which should be preserved".
For example, the less partisan debating style; the widely acknowledged quality of Lords' committees, their distinctive role and considerable expertise; and the Lords' increasingly vital role in scrutinising legislation,
with a quality lacking in the other Chamber".
In its conclusion, the committee rejected any significant change in our powers for those reasons and described its task as,
Building on the strength of the present Chamber".
That is surely an important proposition, and means that it is important not to undermine that strength.
Another test of the effectiveness of this House is given by another example. Noble Lords will well remember our proceedings on the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001. The Commons spent about three days considering the Bill; in this Chamber, we spent eight days considering it—a total of 53 hours. As a result, some crucial changes were made. An appeal mechanism against deportation was provided; any additional police powers provided for were confined to anti-terrorism and national security matters; the offence of inciting religious hatred was struck out; and many of the Bill's provisions were subjected to a sunset clause. That was a notable achievement, which depended on the special quality of this House and its tenacity in exploiting its powers at that time. It provoked an observation that I have quoted to your Lordships before:
something important is being said about democracy when the only legislative Chamber to perform the functions people expect—deliberation, revision, improvement—contains not a single elected politician".
That quotation was from an article written by someone who is not a notable fan of your Lordships—Hugo Young—in the Guardian on 18th December, 2001.
I close by offering a slightly more impertinent personal view and posing a last, even more fundamental question, also posed and, to some extent, answered by the Public Administration Committee. The committee identified the existence in our country of,
widespread public disillusionment with our political system", something that was also identified by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, when she spoke in our debate in January last year. The committee asked what the reason for it was. The answer that it gives is,
the establishment of virtually untrammelled control of the House of Commons by the executive".
The committee goes on to offer a route towards a solution and says that we must,
ensure that the dominance over parliament of the executive, including the political party machines, is reduced… not increased".
§ The late Lord Hailsham christened that phenomenon the "elective dictatorship". The operative word in that description is "elective". How far can we be sure that it would make sense for the most fundamental change proposed for this Chamber—the introduction of elected Members—to be the one most likely to pave the way to the kind of partisanship that makes today's House of Commons a key instrument of dominance by the 581 executive? I apologise if that seems, in any way, to overstate the importance of the issues that confront us. I believe that it does not. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That this House takes note of the first report of the Joint Committee on House of Lords Reform (HL Paper 17).—(Lord Howe of Aberavon.)
§ 4.22 p.m.
§ Lord Carter
My Lords, it was a privilege to serve on the Joint Committee under the excellent chairmanship and vice-chairmanship of Dr Jack Cunningham and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon. The committee worked well together and has produced a report that sets out clearly the considerations to be borne in mind when deciding on the composition of a reformed House. My view has always been that composition is a second-order problem, so I was pleased when the Joint Committee decided to consider in some depth the role, powers and functions of a reformed House of Lords, with the supposition that composition should flow from role, powers and functions and not the other way round.
Four propositions must be reconciled in deciding on the right composition of a reformed House: first, the primacy or pre-eminence of the House of Commons; secondly, the demand for a more powerful and effective second Chamber; thirdly, the fact that, under virtually all the proposed reforms, the government of the day will always be in a minority; and, fourthly, the undoubted right—not often mentioned—of the elected government to deliver their programme of legislation. I shall deal with each of those propositions in turn.
The primacy or pre-eminence of the Commons is always stated as a first principle, but with no definition of what primacy means in practice. The possibility of gridlock involving a reformed House of Lords and the Commons has not, so far as I am aware, been examined in any depth. In its report, the Commons Public Administration Committee airily dismissed the possibility of gridlock and, in almost the same breath, said that concern to maintain the pre-eminence of the Commons was "grossly overdone". I respectfully suggest that unverified assertion is no substitute for proper analysis and argument.
Many of those who argue for an element of election in the second Chamber ignore—or are, perhaps, unaware of—the fact that, when handling legislation, the House of Lords is more powerful and effective than the House of Commons in its ability to amend or delay legislation. The powers of the House of Lords, when handling legislation, derive from its rules and, above all, from its conventions. We have no Speaker, and the House regulates itself. That means that the House can operate only if all its Members observe those conventions. I shall not take up the time of the House to spell out the conventions, but they are central to our operation.
I can give a simple illustration of the difference between a regulated and a self-regulating Chamber and of the importance of conventions in the House of 582 Lords. The Standing Orders of the House of Commons take 164 A4 pages. There are 163 Standing Orders and 27 pages of resolutions. The Standing Orders of the Lords take 42 pages in a small format document. There are 87 Standing Orders. It is sometimes argued that the rules and conventions of the House should be codified in statute. Apart from the difficulty of turning convention into law, such a process could result in the ultimate irony of having the powers of a reformed House of Lords and an elected House of Commons decided by unelected judges.
The two most powerful conventions under which we operate are that the elected government are entitled to have their business considered and that the elected Chamber should finally have its way. Your Lordships must decide which option for composition would best ensure that those powerful conventions continued to be observed in a reformed House.
Secondly, there is the demand for a more powerful, effective and legitimate second Chamber. That demand, made by some Members of the House of Commons, has always puzzled me. I was assured many times—in the long years of opposition and after forming the Government in 1997—by experienced parliamentarians in another place that the House of Commons would never agree to set up a second Chamber that would challenge and, perhaps, reduce the powers of the Commons. Now, we have that demand.
How much more powerful and effective is the reformed House of Lords to be? It hurts me, as a former Government Chief Whip, to remind the House that the Government were defeated in the Lords 56 times in the past Session alone. Should we have been defeated 112 times, instead of 56, to show that the House was more powerful and more legitimate? If the House is so powerless, why does every Bill that comes before it have a detailed "Lords Handling Strategy" attached? We introduced that change halfway through the previous Parliament. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon, said, this House gave eight days to consideration of the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Bill, while the House of Commons gave three. I am proud to have had some part in organising that business.
Do the proponents of an elected House of Lords remember the Wilson Government of 1964, who had a majority of three, or the Wilson and Callaghan Governments of 1974 to 1979, who had no majority at all? It is a curious feature of our constitution that, once a government have a working majority in the Commons, the separation of powers between the executive and the legislature is more evident in the Lords. The admitted inability of the Commons to call the executive to account may explain the demand for a more powerful second Chamber, without any definition of "more powerful". Again, your Lordships must weigh up which option for composition will produce the right balance of power between the two Chambers of Parliament and between a reformed House of Lords and the elected government.
The third proposition is that the government of the day should always be in a minority in the House of Lords. As far as I am aware, no attempt has been made 583 to think through the implications of having a minority government in the Lords, alongside the primacy of the House of Commons and the right of the elected government to deliver their programme. There is one escapable result—I must handle the point with care—of having a government in a minority in the Lords: it inevitably places substantial power in the hands of the third party in the Lords. In a reformed House, the Cross Benches might be more powerful, but, as always, that would depend on their level of attendance and involvement. I wonder sometimes whether Labour colleagues in the Commons appreciate the considerable power of the third party in a substantially elected House. I wonder whether they would welcome such an outcome. I have referred, with some care, to the "third party": it might not always be the Liberal Democrats.
The fourth point, which is rarely spelt out, is the undoubted right of the elected government to obtain their programme of legislation. Despite the figures that I give for defeats, the Government have got their programme through since 1997, albeit with substantial concessions on some Bills. I think I am correct in saying that, in the five Sessions since 1997, only one Bill—the Trial by Jury Bill—has been dropped. The Parliament Act has been used only once on a whipped Bill. That was the European Parliamentary Elections Bill, which was a very special case.
To put it bluntly, the delivery of the Government's programme in a House where the Government are substantially in the minority will always depend on two essential factors; namely, the co-operation of the Opposition parties and the observance of the rules and, above all, the conventions of the House by all its Members.
If we are to consider elections to the Lords, we must take into account the possibility of a very low turnout in such elections. The British citizen can currently vote, if he has the inclination, for his parish, his district, his county or his unitary authority councils, his Westminster MP, his European MEP, his member of the devolved institutions in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and, perhaps in some areas soon, his member of the regional assembly. The British citizen is not exactly under-represented; nor do I detect a mass demand for more elections.
To conclude, I would take a lot of convincing that any element of election in a reformed House could satisfactorily reconcile the four central propositions that I shall describe. They are: the primacy of the Commons; the demand for a more powerful Chamber; the fact that the Government of the day will always be in the minority; and the right of the elected Government to deliver their programme of legislation.
I understand and support the arguments of those who say that a proper system of independent appointment, backed by statute, would produce a House with the right balance of politics, regional representation, gender, ethnicity and occupation. Such a House would, by definition, have a secondary mandate which would not threaten the primacy of the Commons and would have the right balance of power which is central to our constitution.
§ 4.31 p.m.
§ Baroness Williams of Crosby
My Lords, perhaps I may first pay my respects to both the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon, and the noble Lord, Lord Carter, who have been very distinguished members of the Joint Committee. The whole House owes a great deal for the tremendous amount of work they have put into proposing what is embodied in the first report we are discussing today. I believe that it exemplifies the ability of this House to think seriously across party divides and about the ways in which we might reform this House to the benefit of our citizens.
I want to start briefly with a story which has echoed with me throughout my life. Many years ago was travelling in Romania at a time when it was still under communist rule. I remember going to a remote hotel in the Carpathians. When I handed over my passport which, in those days, stated as occupation, "Member of Parliament", the man sitting behind the hotel reception desk said, "Mater liberorum"—"M other of the free".
I have never forgotten that, but we often forget that the role and, indeed, the history of both Houses of the British Parliament, in standing up for the individual liberties of citizens is one of the proudest heritages we have and, I believe, one of the major obligations of this House as well as of another place. Two other obligations should be added to that. The first is to hold the executive—the Government of the day, regardless of politics—accountable to the people and to Parliament. The second is, of course, to scrutinise legislation, to amend it, and to make it as good as it can possibly be. I mention those three roles because if we forget them we may forget what reform is all about.
The primary job in all three respects rests with the House of Commons. I find one of the oddest arguments in this whole debate the strange suggest ion that, in some way, the pre-eminence of the House of Commons would be put at risk by a further reform of this House. The Commons alone has power over supply—the crucial element that goes right back to the English Civil War. There is no right of supply in the House of Lords. The Parliament Act underpins the primacy of the House of Commons. The public recognise, as do the media, the primacy of the House of Commons. There will be far fewer people in these galleries than in another place for this debate today.
I find strange the suggestion that in some way we might wish to threaten the primacy of the House of Commons. I say in very precise terms that the primacy of the House of Commons rests with the House of Commons. It is how it behaves, how it deals with its business and how it deals with the issues before it that will determine the public respect in which it is held, or otherwise, and not, frankly, anything that this House might do.
The point made by the noble Lord, Lord Carter, about the third party—I accept his argument—failed to recognise that no third party in this House can have any influence at all unless it can persuade other parties to support it and, frankly, unless it has a large measure 585 of public opinion behind the position that it and another party take. I think all of us recognise that to be true.
I turn now to the effects of the reform and modernisation of another place. I believe it to be crucial in our own argument here. There has been an increasing concentration on policy as a result of Commons modernisation. That means more and more emphasis, rightly so, on the work of Select Committees. There has also been the—I believe welcome—innovation of debates in Westminster Hall. We would be foolish not to recognise this but those two changes, together with the growing and constant demands of constituencies, virtually means that another place cannot undertake fully the tedious, boring and absolutely essential job of scrutinising legislation.
Noble Lords in all quarters of the House will know how much legislation reaches us today which has been inadequately and sometimes not at all debated, and where there has been nothing like a proper scrutiny of legislation. That remains our first and abiding duty.
It is also the case that the timetable changes make it yet more difficult for that job to be done by another place. We make no complaint. We believe that the role of Select Committees, which are departmental in large part, is extremely important. But we recognise that this means that the job to be done in this House, assisted by such improved working practices as pre-legislative scrutiny, is a job that we cannot and should not escape.
I shall now say a word—it is a crucial word—to underpin the need for reform taking both Houses together. We on these Benches and, with respect, I believe the Leader of the Conservative Party too, strongly believe that we must look at the way in which the two Chambers work together and not try to split them one against the other. We have a common duty. As regards legitimacy, we must recognise that position no longer attracts the deference it once did. Being a Lord, being a Privy Counsellor or being a bishop no longer automatically attracts respect. It must be proven on the basis of practice and example. That is one reason why the legitimacy of this House, in the view of our Benches, depends upon there being an elected element. Election today is almost the only way in which people acquire respect for their authority because it is recognised as a kind of secular anointing of individuals.
It means that there is a third choice. I have great respect for the high intelligence of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, so I hope he will forgive my belief that in saying there were only two choices—a wholly elected or a wholly appointed House—he was making a typical legal judgment, but not a typical political judgment. The essence of politics is compromise. We all know that is the only way to make politics work. It is not the essence of a proper philosophy of a judge or a senior lawyer. I would suggest that it simply is not the case that there are only two choices because the choice of a so-called hybrid House—why do we use that term?—remains open to us all.
586 We have been a hybrid House ever since life Peers were appointed. We got on perfectly well with our companions and colleagues from the hereditary establishment, and we still do. I believe that those of our colleagues who were elected by their confreres to become their representatives in this House would agree that they work extremely closely with those of us who are appointed Peers. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon, was right when he said that we have to recognise there is a great deal of distrust in a system particularly of political appointments. Whether one uses the phrase, "Tony's Cronies" or, may I suggest, "Thatcher's Matchers", it does not make much difference. The public are deeply distrustful of a House composed entirely or largely of political appointments.
I come to the penultimate part of what I want to say. The Commons Select Committee on Public Administration stated in its brilliant sixth report that it believes that two-thirds of the two Houses believe in an elected, or largely elected, Chamber. It stated that,this cross-party agreement represents the views of the vast majority in the House of Commons".The Joint Committee has taken us further. It has worked very well and it has brought with it an amount of real encouragement for reform. I quote from its words:The aim of maintaining the effectiveness and increasing the legitimacy of the second chamber has become common ground".It was once argued that there was no common ground. I believe that to be a crucial principle.
Now reform has stalled. It has stalled, and I do not know why. An article by Martin Kettle in today's Guardian states that,there are dark forces at work in this argument".Mr Kettle may know what they are, I do not. However, I am concerned by the fact that in today's Times there is reference to the probability of a statement to be made by the Prime Minister to declare his opposition to a hybrid House.
In the current edition of Parliament, its distinguished editors, Mr Blackburn and Mr Kennon, and Sir Michael Wheeler-Booth as an adviser, state:Both the initiative and the veto [for Parliamentary reform] lie with the government commanding a majority in the House".That is true, but what a tragedy it would be if the Houses of Parliament cannot themselves initiate and take further the concept of reform.
The work of the Joint Constitutional Commission, back in 1996–97, and subsequently that of the Commons Select Committee on Public Administration, and now the work of the Joint Committee, could all be at risk. I conclude with three quotations. The first is from the sixth report of the Commons Select Committee:The Government has an impressive record of constitutional reform to its credit. However, not to continue the reform of the Second Chamber, in the way that we have shown to be possible, would be a missed opportunity of historic proportions".I quote finally from today's article by Mr Kettle in the Guardian:For Labour not to reform the Lords when it has such a large majority in the Commons would be a truly epic national failure".587 We owe it to the citizens of this country to reform this House to make of it the best scrutinising Chamber that is possible and, between our two Chambers, to recover for the future the glory that the House of Commons and the House of Lords together once had when my Romanian friend spoke of mater liberorum.
§ 4.44 p.m.
§ Lord Craig of Radley
My Lords, the Joint Committee's report covers the ground well so far as the first part of its terms of reference require. But what stand out starkly from its report are the number of issues that must be resolved before the committee is able, in its own words,to develop a full set of proposals to take the reform forward".Key issues abound, as mentioned by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon. They include maintaining the existing conventions between the two Houses, conventions that were introduced because of a perceived lack of legitimacy and a massive Tory majority. Reform is supposed to ensure that there is far greater legitimacy and no domination by any one party. It is not self-evident to me that a very reformed House has to be bound by current conventions, desirable as that might be for the party in power.
Conventions and their observance are more subtle than Standing Orders. They are passed down between members from Session to Session and from one Parliament to the next. A large new intake might not be minded to be so disciplined. Indeed, would self-regulation continue to work and would the conventions be observed without a Speaker? I share the view that self-discipline would still be the best approach for the new Chamber, but the warning given by the noble Lord, Lord Carter, of the risk of gridlock is timely. I do not think that Commons' primacy is a full answer to gridlock.
The issues of the judiciary—worthy of an inquiry of its own",says the Joint Committee—and of religious membership are complex. They, too, will need special attention.
The methods and periods of election if one of the elected options were to be favoured, the period of tenure, the remuneration, the size, make-up and responsibilities of a statutory appointments commission or the size of a new House and how to reach it from where we are today, all need to be settled.
The list continues to grow. I agree that it is essential that some detailed work should be carried out on costing options. Even House reform must have some upper limit in its cost to the taxpayer. Despite the depth of work that was undertaken by the Royal Commission, I do not think that the way ahead on many of these issues is yet clear.
Experience of achieving change in this House, and throughout Parliament, is that it will not be rushed. Realism is that a new constitutional settlement will not be achieved quickly. Realism, not aspiration, about the pace and achievement of change is necessary.
What more telling example of a lack of realism has there been than the need to move to the (expletive deleted) by-election process for hereditary Peers? 588 There was great confidence—was there not?—in government quarters that this scheme would never be put into use?
It is understandable that many parliamentarians and the Joint Committee's terms of reference concentrate on the issue of democratic election and, by inference, legitimacy. However, I was struck by the Joint Committee's view that there are other routes to legitimacy, as it discusses in its report:It is also a matter that will need further careful attention in future".An election for an element of the House that fails to attract a reasonable turn-out of the electorate would not be able to claim much in legitimacy. Again, realism and not aspiration should guide the choice.
I welcome the Joint Committee's acceptance that a reformed House must be a large one—around 600 plus. Size matters and it has not been given the same degree of consideration as the elected, or the percentage elected, issue has been.
Today there are around 700 Members and over 350 committee-member places listed in Who does what in The Lords, (the grey book). Not all the current membership is able to allot the time and effort that Select Committee work entails. The vast majority of committee members rotate off after a three or four-year period.
Thus there is slim chance that a House significantly smaller than the present one would be able to discharge the workload of the existing House, even if there were an elected, and therefore more full-time, membership. Unless the roles and powers of a reformed House are to be greatly changed and curtailed from the present one, a large 600-Member House seems essential.
The present Cross-Bench group comprises individuals drawn from a wide variety of careers in which they have made their mark before they were granted or inherited their peerage. The House is enriched by this past experience and knowledge, a unique and valued feature unmatched in any other legislature in the world. For the future, special thought must be given to the incentives that will ensure that the House remains attractive to those who can contribute their experience and expertise as present and past Cross-Bench Members have done.
It will take more than a statutory label to devise an appointments system that must retain credibility over a long period of time—over years—and, albeit after a first flush, nominate only a very few independents in any one year for preferment, perhaps six or eight a year. This might even be less if some of the independent places are to continue to be filled, as I hope they will be, by recommendations direct from the Prime Minister of the day to the Monarch.
I hope without presumption to take as common ground that the involvement and valued contribution of Cross-Benchers should continue. If that is to be one of the building blocks of further reform, then the impact on the options for the proportions of elected Members—even of a large, 600-plus Chamber—is that the full or majority elected options are incompatible 589 with an independent membership of around 120 (one-fifth or 20 per cent of a 600-size House), which will not be found by any election process. I leave it to other noble Lords on these Benches to enlarge on this paradox.
It is generally agreed, both by the Joint Committee report and more widely, that the present House of Lords, following on from the 1999 Act, has continued to work well in all its roles, functions and powers identified in the report. I believe that any of the options that I have identified for further study should also be compared with the way in which the present House is working before arriving at a final judgment.
One of the features of the present House that is surely widely recognised is the great level of commitment and responsibility for the smooth running of the House provided by the hereditary Peers who remain. Office holders, such as the Lord Chairman of Committees, a dozen Deputy Speakers, the Leader of Her Majesty's Opposition, and many other hereditary Peers on all sides, contribute greatly to the House's activity and reputation. They do so because of their commitment to Parliament and duty to the House, not because of their titles.
As Convenor, I am extremely dependent on—indeed, I could not function without—the willing and totally voluntary assistance of a number of Cross-Bench hereditary Peers in discharging my responsibilities, including keeping the obligatory detailed accounts for our Cranborne money. Departure of all the remaining hereditaries in one go would leave a very, very considerable gap indeed—a gap that could affect for some time the ability of the new House to perform as well as does the present one. It would be perverse if stage two were to end in a debasement of the present capability of the House to carry out its roles and functions.
I am attracted to some arrangement—and this would fit best with a decision to adopt the fully appointed option, Option 1—that would allow the reformed House to continue to draw on the experience, knowledge and remarkable sense of duty to Parliament and the country that hereditary Peers on all sides of the House bring to its work. If they were to continue as Members for life, as has been suggested for existing life Peers, with no provision for their replacement on death because the by-election standing order was repealed, there could be a much smoother transition to a new, all-appointed House—a House that continued to function well in all its roles.
After careful thought that is the option that I favour. I describe this alternative—that is, a non-elected House that retains today's hereditary Peers as Members for life, without their replacement by by-election—to myself as Option 1A. Option 1 is a fully appointed House.
I hope that other noble Lords who speak in the debate and who also favour Option 1A will say so in the course of their speeches so that it is possible to ascertain whether the idea has support in the House. I commend it most strongly.
§ 4.54 p.m.
§ Lord Wakeham
My Lords, I add my congratulations to the Joint Committee, to its chairman, the right honourable Jack Cunningham, and especially to my noble and learned friend Lord Howe and the noble Lord, Lord Carter. Clearly as they have grappled with the issues they have shown a remarkable degree of objectivity and understanding. My conclusion from reading their report is that they still have a very difficult task, but not an impossible one, to devise a solution that ought to be acceptable to the vast majority of the Members of both Houses.
In my view, any solution must have two essential elements. First, a significant element of compromise; and, secondly, a lengthy transitional period.
I stand full square by the report of the Royal Commission that I chaired. It was designed to please no one completely—and in that respect it was a total success—but it was a carefully crafted compromise that everyone got something but no one got all that they wanted. I believe that that second objective is more clearly understood as these matters have been thought about in more detail.
One small point. Paragraph 22 of the Joint Committee's report states that I may have changed my mind about secondary legislation. That is not quite correct. I am still in favour of a reformed House of Lords having a three-month delaying power. Where I have doubts is whether the method we proposed in the Royal Commission report would in practice work. The noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, slightly unnerved me on this in the earlier debate. My objective remains the same, but the method may have to change.
If I am calling for flexibility, how would I show it myself? First, the exact numbers or proportion of so-called elected Members, especially if they do not come all at once, is not my first priority. Around 20 per cent would still be my preferred number, but I could be moved on this. The terms upon which they are elected are paramount. My priorities are: they should be elected only once, and no chance of re-election; they should have the same opportunity of being appointed for subsequent terms as appointed Members; they should serve for the same term as appointed Members, but I think that 12 years is too short and would prefer 15; there should be severe restrictions on the ability of ex-Members of a reformed House going to the Commons; and the support services available for all Members, whether elected or appointed, should be the same, including any attendance allowances. In my view, those issues are more important than the exact number of so-called elected Members.
The Joint Committee set out five qualities desirable in the make-up of a reformed Chamber with which I agree— legitimacy, representativeness, no domination by any one party, independence, expertise. I believe that, by common consent, the existing House meets these qualities fairly well, except that it falls short on representation.
Two points arise from this. The quality of the existing Chamber, which it is essential should be continued in a reformed Chamber, is almost certainly best maintained by 591 a substantially appointed element—appointed, as we said in our report and as my noble and learned friend Lord Howe said, by a wholly independent appointments commission.
That said, better representation could be achieved by a significant proportion of Members coming from the nations and regions of the United Kingdom. These could be elected or, as I prefer to look at it, appointed by the people. They would not come as Members representing a constituency but as Members prepared to play a full part in the work of the House, with a background of knowledge and expertise gained from their particular parts of the United Kingdom.
This House has always been hybrid and, in my view, it can continue to be so successfully if care is taken in the way new Members are brought in as the old Members fade away. This has to be done over an adequate period of time.
We said in our Royal Commission report that an opportunity for long-term reform of this House is an essential part of the constitutional changes taking place in the United Kingdom. We will have failed our country if we do not grasp that opportunity.
§ 5 p.m.
§ Lord Richard
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Rea has asked me to convey his apologies for being unable to take part in the debate, and to state that he is in favour of a majority elected House.
This is an important subject. The fundamental question is whether we believe that, in a system dominated by the executive, Parliament as a whole should be strengthened by means of increasing the legitimacy of this House, or whether we do not. At the outset, I state my belief that the easiest, simplest, most accessible and recognised method of increasing the legitimacy of this House would be some form of direct election.
In answering the question whether this House should be strengthened, we have been helped enormously—perhaps surprisingly—by our colleagues in another place. Indeed, we may be helped further by the debate that is presently taking place there and by the votes that will follow. Members of Parliament have recently overturned the received and accepted wisdom about their House.
Since 1969, it had been assumed that MPs would never vote for a reformed House. We do not know yet what the Commons will vote for, but we have some indications. Over 300 Members of Parliament signed an Early-Day Motion tabled by my honourable friend Fiona Mactaggart and other Labour colleagues calling for a wholly or substantially elected second Chamber. Since Ministers do not sign Early-Day Motions, that represented over half of the House.
Nor was this an isolated case. In the previous Parliament, a cross-party Early-Day Motion led by Mark Fisher and Andrew Tyrie drew wide support; and in what I believe to be the most significant development, the all-party Commons Public Administration Committee, chaired by Dr Tony Wright, unanimously reported last 592 year in favour of a 60 per cent elected House. Importantly, that report showed that consensus could be achieved from divergent starting-points.
In doing that, Members of Parliament have sent a very important signal to this House; namely, that the certainties of the past have slipped. The assumption that there is a zero-sum game between the two Houses—that strengthening this House would necessarily weaken the House of Commons and be seen by MPs as a threat—is simply no longer the case.
Many of the objections raised in this House in the past—and likely, one suspects, to be raised again over the next two days—are based on those assumptions and fears. Yet if the Commons vote for more democracy in this Chamber, those fears would be shown up for what they are—illusory and insubstantial. Once MPs—if they do—have cast those fears and assumptions aside, for Peers to cling to them would be deeply ironic and damaging. It would be a sad reversal of the position in 1969 when this House voted for reform—a piece of moral high ground that it has held ever since.
The fact is that the game has changed, as the report tacitly recognises. The old truisms are no longer true, because they are no longer believed.
This Government have shown that they can embrace plural politics—they have enabled these free votes to take place. But we do have a stronger executive in this country than exists in almost any comparable country. Neither its interests, nor those of the governed, are best served by seeking to preserve such a one-sided system.
The reality is that if we get the composition, role and powers of the Upper House right, we can have a largely democratic second Chamber without challenging the supremacy of the House of Commons.
We should recognise one other important component in the change that has occurred. In terms of the proportion of election, the debate has moved on since the commission of the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, reported. On that defining issue, in my view the commission was too cautious: the percentage peaked at 35 per cent elected members.
But, none the less, the Wakeham commission reported in favour of allowing some elections to the second Chamber. That crucial finding has led to the Joint Committee's options and to today's debate. It also produced one other important conclusion; namely, that a mixed House would work—a very important finding for those of us who favour a largely, but not wholly, elected House.
In answer to some of the questions raised by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, and by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, the proposals put forward by those of us who believe in a partly elected House would mean the preservation of the Cross Benches. No one is arguing that Cross-Benchers should disappear. No one is suggesting that the list of eminent people read out by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, should cease to be Members of this House. On the contrary, if my views were by some miracle to be accepted by the Government, the political side of the House would be dealt with by 593 election and the nominated side of the House would continue to be staffed by eminent people of the calibre of those who are here at present.
In a democratic Parliament, the House of Lords/ second Chamber is, or should be, the next most important democratic institution in the country after the House of Commons.
Given that Parliament is, or should be, a counterbalance to the executive, the objective of reform, and the test for its validity, is surely that it should strengthen the second Chamber to the point where it has the legitimacy vis-à-vis the House of Commons to perform its functions without threatening the position of the Commons. If the second Chamber does not have that legitimacy, the constitution becomes unbalanced and has to be remedied.
I turn briefly to the various options contained in the report. A wholly appointed House would ensure continuity and a range of expert opinion; but its basis would remain patronage. I do not think that patronage any longer commands the respect that it once did. It could amount to swapping one form of elite rule for another, and even run the risk of creating members who saw themselves as delegates from their interest group or policy community.
The same objections would apply to a House that was only 20 per cent elected. That option should perhaps be regarded as having expired: the Government had to drop it, not because it produced a mixed House, but because it was not democratic enough. It retained a House based essentially on appointment and patronage. Forty per cent elected is nearing the first point of legitimacy, but begs the question: what is so wrong with elections that you cannot have more than that?
Only a House with a majority of elected Members would have the legitimacy to give this country a truly democratic system. It would strengthen this Chamber to the point where it would have sufficient legitimacy to carry out its functions, but not too much. It would make the Members accountable—as any parliamentarians who are given the power to ask a government to think again should be.
But a wholly elected House would have three drawbacks: first, the superiority of the Commons might be challenged; secondly, there would be no independent element—a key component of this House would be missing; and, thirdly, one party could achieve a majority in this House.
A partly elected, partly appointed House meets those three objections. First, its composition would be less legitimate than that of the House of Commons, so it could not challenge it in the way some believe could happen. Secondly, it would retain the benefit of Cross-Bench expertise; and, arithmetically, it would be almost impossible for one party to control a majority, especially if the electoral system were proportional.
A House of that kind would be in line with Liberal Democrat policy, with some parts of Conservative policy—I shall be very interested to hear the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, tomorrow, expounding, perhaps as a 594 sole and solitary voice in this debate, what is supposed to be Conservative policy on the reform of the House of Lords.
My proposals are in line with the reports of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, and Lord Home, and with the Labour Party in the recent past. Our manifesto in 1992 promised reforms leading to,a newly elected Second Chamber".In 1993, the committee of my noble friend Lord Plant rejected nomination in favour of a fully elected second Chamber. In giving the John Smith memorial lecture in 1996, no less a personage than the Prime Minister said:We have always favoured an elected Second Chamber".I draw veils over the manifestos on which we fought the elections in 1997 and 2001.
And what of the electorate? The results were published today of a poll by a reputable polling organisation produced for Charter 88. The favoured options for reform of the House of Lords were as follows: "don't know": 10 per cent; wholly appointed House: 3 per cent; largely appointed: 5 per cent; 50–50 elected-appointed: 28 per cent; largely elected: 22 per cent; wholly elected: 33 per cent. If my arithmetic is right, according to this poll, 83 per cent of the population favour a House in which there is at least a 50–50 division between elected and appointed elements.
This is a historic occasion—"historic" is an overworked word; but, in a sense, it applies. We will not have another chance to reform the second Chamber for a very long time. I hope that, as a result of deliberations here and in another place, the opportunity will not be missed yet again.
§ 5.11 p.m.
§ The Lord Bishop of Guildford
My Lords, I know from conversations with many colleagues on these Benches that we share the widespread gratitude to the members of the Joint Committee for this report. It is clear, concise and balanced. The House owes deep gratitude to the Members of this House and of another place for producing it.
In Monopoly terms, it feels as if the report and the Joint Committee have got us out of gaol and back to "Go". We have not yet been able to collect £200, and, unless we address the board game a little differently, we face the prospect of ending up in gaol yet again on this subject. That will happen if we consider the problem as being narrowly about this House. The issue is the construction of the second Chamber. Our challenge concerns the quality of our parliamentary democracy and institutions. Surely, the opportunity of the Joint Committee in bringing two Houses together to look at the matter is for them to work together, not for one House to instruct the other about how it should construct its life. The task is to find agreement.
595 I remember the words of the late and sadly missed Lord Jenkins of Hillhead on 10th January last year, when we debated the White Paper on the subject. Of the White Paper, he said: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".He quoted from a letter to The Times by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Habgood, saying: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"'.Lord Jenkins continued:That leads me to a further difficulty about constructing an acceptable new shape for an elected Chamber at present. There is a widespread view—noble Lords will remember these words,which, on balance, I share, that such a second Chamber should not be a rival to the House of Commons … 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" —[Official Report, 10/1/02; cols. 700–01]I remember those words sinking in during the debate.
Unless we can answer the question, "what is this House for?" we shall never get its construct right. The report does not envisage—and, I am sure, rightly—any change in the conventions of the power of this House within the parliamentary system. So the future House broadly continues the traditions as we have received them.
The things we do well are scrutinising and revising legislation. I sat here, as did others on these Benches, for the debate on the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill, which was not one of the most marvellous pieces of legislation Her Majesty's Government have brought into Parliament. We are here to broaden political debate; to assist in guarding the constitution; to share the task of calling the executive to account—that is urgently needed, given the powers of government today—and, dare l say from these Benches, to bring the spiritual and moral aspects of our public life to the fore.
In considering how we can bring a greater legitimacy to this House by reforming its construct, we need to ask what sort of people need to be here to do those tasks. We have a choice between what I call the "old" politics and the emerging "new" politics. The old politics would answer the question, "who do we need here?" by proposing another 600 professional and party-selected politicians to be added to the 650 already in another place. Alternatively, they would propose 300 of the same, or even a significant proportion, who would be elected on a one-party ticket by 30 per cent—let us be generous: 30 to 40 per cent—of those going to the polls, or nominated by bodies elected by those proportions. Will that lead to this House doing its work better? And will it lead to the public having confidence in the work done on their behalf?
596 The new politics looks at what representation might mean and how it might meet today's needs. It seeks to answer the vital question: how are people to be encouraged to bring their voice to bear more directly on our public and political life? Direct elections are fundamental to democracy. That is why we need to consider both Houses in the frame together. But people are asking how direct elections in the modern political world can be complemented and enriched. The noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, has spoken eloquently on these themes in the past. I am sorry that we shall not hear his wisdom in this debate.
This debate could be quite sterile: on the one hand, elections; on the other, appointment. The first option fails to capture people's imagination today; the second looks like we are saying we do not want much change. The debate must get beyond that level if it is to capture the imagination.
I shall share some stark facts about how we are represented. I do not intend to cause offence. The total number of members of the party supporting the Government, the party supporting the Official Opposition, and the minority parties in Parliament is lower than the number attending Church of England churches last Sunday.
The people have themselves represented in a variety of ways. We all struggle about how to get people to commit themselves to inherited traditional institutions. For those reasons, people are trying new styles of politics and forming partnerships. The south-east of England regional assembly contains a significant element of people representing voluntary agencies and includes two members representing faith communities who work alongside local government representatives and those representing the community in other ways. There is growing recognition that many people in a multitude of roles represent the community and need to be brought inside our political life.
The crunch question facing us, and in many international contexts, is how to give a voice to the people through the many faces of their common life. Is it not odd, therefore, that at a moment in history when these challenges are bubbling up all over the place, we are thinking of reducing Parliament—the people's Parliament—to a narrow place for politicians alone? I am glad that the report identifies the issue and that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, set his face against it in introducing the debate.
By a quirk of history, we are still here. Every endeavour to reform this House has not succeeded. However, I accept the challenge of the noble Lord, Lord Richard; this gives us the opportunity to see whether, in the parliamentary process, there is another way of representing the people in a complementary way alongside the House of Commons. What an irony it will be if we miss that opportunity.
This is not the time to dwell on the complex issues to do with the presence of bishops as Lords Spiritual. When the moment comes and we want to get on with this business on these Benches, we shall look for inclusivity and creative ideas. There shall be no defensiveness here about our position.
597 Earlier this afternoon, we were discussing the threat of war in the Middle East. Complex issues of religious belief, which has such a deep impact on what matters to people, are at play. The Middle East is the cradle of Judaism, Islam and Christianity. Since yesterday we have watched the Finsbury Park mosque on the news and the issues that it raises. No one has a chance of tackling these confusing and complex problems without recognising the power of religious belief for good or ill. In our country and in this House, people have been on these Benches to bring faith to bear for good on our political life and on the practice of government. Surely this is not the time to narrow the life of Parliament to the realm of professional politics; it is certainly not the time further to secularise our national institutions and debate.
§ 5.23 p.m.
§ Baroness Goudie
My Lords, we are looking at the wrong topic from the wrong starting point. The true issue is not House of Lords reform but parliamentary reform. An unreformed House of Commons ensures that there must be a second Chamber. It must perform much the same functions as it performs now and be equipped to perform those functions. Nor is the correct starting point the composition of the House of Lords. Function and size must come first. Composition must be related to function and size must not be excessive. When we come to composition, we do not start with an empty sheet. There are, of course, a substantial number of appointed life Peers.
Within these constraints, what should be the basis for new creations? Should all new Peers be elected? If not, should some be? If so, by reference to what principle, if any, does one determine the proportion?
We all believe in elections and representative government. That means essentially two things. First, the representative House of Parliament—the House of Commons—must be, as it is, entirely elected. Secondly, that wholly elected House must be supreme, as essentially it is. Its supremacy must not be diluted. The second Chamber must then complement, not duplicate or threaten, the first Chamber.
The second Chamber does not need to be elected. The need for election is met by the House of Commons. Those offering themselves for election have access to the House of Commons, the European Parliament, local authorities and, under the present Government, the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and the Greater London Authority. There is no evidence of which I am aware that the public believe that there is a substantial pool of unused or under-utilised talent upon which to draw for further elections.
Not only is the need for election and representation well met by other bodies, to which regional assemblies may soon be added, but the House of Commons and, indeed, other wholly elected public bodies demonstrate what happens when one has a wholly elected body. The upside is obvious, but there are also downsides. First, the House of Commons tends increasingly to consist of full 598 timers. However, those who can contribute only part of their time have a vital role to play, as this House strongly demonstrates. Secondly, a Member who is independent of any party is a rare event in the House of Commons. By contrast, one of the undoubted strengths of this House is the Cross-Benchers. Some of the best people here, Cross-Benchers and those who take party Whips, would not have stood for election. Election, party political support and finance are effectively inseparable.
In terms of public attitude, it all depends on what question we ask. It is by no means self-evident that people would give a resounding yes to such questions as: do you want the standard of debate in the House of Lords to be assimilated to that of the House of Commons? Do you want the thoroughness of legislative scrutiny in the House of Commons to be reproduced in the House of Lords? Do you want the House of Lords to be as polarised, partisan and party-dominated as the House of Commons? Do you want the House of Lords to be much more expensive? There is no doubt that an entirely elected House would be massively expensive and exclude most suitable candidates. I suggest that an entirely elected House would not be a sensible option. It would greatly reduce the existing strengths of this House, with little benefit in return. Reform should concentrate, rather, on the methods of appointment.
A hybrid House is surely the worst of all worlds. A Chamber consisting partly of those elected and paid and partly of those appointed and not paid is surely a nonsense. It simply represents a failure to decide between appointment and election.
In truth, no one bothered about appointment, even appointments made exclusively by the Prime Minister of the day, when it was the only legitimate element in a House otherwise dominated by hereditaries. The Government's welcome abolition of the hereditary element in two stages is no reason to throw out the baby with the bath water.
We should keep the existing appointed Peers and add to them, but with appropriate provisions in relation to appointment. Total or part election is not the answer and would do much more harm than good. It would be a populist response that would ultimately, I believe, prove deeply unpopular in the long term.
§ 5.28 p.m.
§ Lord Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay
My Lords, I want to deal today with one fashionable false argument. We have just heard it repeated in the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Goudie. It rests on the simple slogan "no hybrid House". Its proponents, from the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor down, imply that they are indifferent to whether we have a wholly elected or a wholly appointed House, but reject as "nonsensical hybridity", as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, put it, any outcome between the two extremes. What short memories they have. Did not the Government's own White Paper propose a hybrid House with 20 per cent of Members elected and 80 per cent appointed?
What is so wrong, anyway, with a hybrid House? The word "hybrid" can sound vaguely disreputable, smacking perhaps of Bills that have to be sent back or 599 strange hybrid forms of plant life. However, the thesaurus simply says that hybrid means "mixture", "compound" or "combination". It actually comes from the Latin, meaning the offspring of a Roman father and a foreign mother. I would have thought that that was a stimulating and vigorous combination.
Every day we use thousands of hybrid words, such as jollification, television, disbelieve, bureaucracy, speedometer, genocide and microwave. Hybridity makes the language that we are speaking here today one of the richest and most effective in the world—and so it can be in the reform of this House.
As my noble friend Lady Williams pointed out, and as the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, made clear in his very constructive contribution, this House is hybrid already in the way in which the Members are chosen and contribute to its work. The arrival of life Peers since the 1950s and reduction of the number of hereditaries in 1999 are the most striking signs of change. An independent commission to make appointments independently of the Prime Minister could produce a significant change in the long run. My Liberal Democrat colleagues and I who arrived in this place in 2000 were partly elected in that we fought a primary election within the party before our leader picked us. Who knows what the modernising tendency in the Conservative Party will lead its selection process to in future?
The first report of the Joint Committee puts the no-hybrid House nonsense argument firmly back in its box. It states:Some of the options we set out below involve a mixed House of appointed and elected members, on the basis that neither arrangement on its own would produce the right blend of members. Some commentators have feared difficulties with a 'mixed' House on account of certain members appearing to have greater 'legitimacy' than others, but the House has for a considerable time been a mixture of appointed and hereditary peers".The House faces a stark choice when we vote on the seven options on 4th February. If we support those options with a substantial elected element, we will be seen to be seeking common ground rather than confrontation with the House of Commons. We will be sending the Joint Committee into the final phase of our work with a realistic target and a real chance of a successful united outcome. If, on the other hand, this House rejects all the options for a substantial elected element, and votes just for an appointed second Chamber or the 20 per cent elected option that sank with the Government's late unlamented White Paper, reform will run into the sand. A wide gap between the votes of the Commons and Lords will almost certainly lead to a split Joint Committee, producing majority and minority reports and no reform in this Parliament.
The danger is that the Government would then announce that reform by agreement had failed and include whatever they fancied as their own plan in their next general election manifesto, which they might force through this House using the Parliament Act. Is that really what we want? If not, let us read the writing on the NA/all and vote for options that will let the Joint Committee bring forward a plan made in Parliament, not in 10 Downing Street. We should think back to the labels used in the great battles over the powers of this 600 House 90 years ago. I ask the "ditchers" to think again and remember how much the "hedgers" managed to preserve by choosing compromise in 1911.
If there is any significant appointed element in a reformed House, the overriding priority for the new independent statutory appointments commission proposed by the Joint Committee must be to appoint more women to this place. How else can it possibly ensure a "quality of representativeness" as the report says? There are 549 life Peers, 109 of whom are women, which is just under 20 per cent. In this House there are 143 hereditary Peers, bishops and Law Lords, of whom four are women. In total, therefore, there are only 113 women Members, which is under one-sixth of the House. I notice that 14 are down to speak in this debate, which is 14 per cent.
The new statutory commission can prow that it really means business by starting its work with at least half its Members women and chaired by a woman who will be a regular attender in this House. The Higgs review, published yesterday, describes non-executive directors of leading British companies as,mainly white men close to retirement age".The House of' Lords, with its average age of 68, is mainly white men past retirement age. If we are to be truly representative of Britain, we must change as well.
§ 5.35 p.m.
§ Viscount Bledisloe
My Lords, it was a great privilege to be a member of the Joint Committee. I reassure your Lordships that although I am a hereditary Peer and therefore, in the words of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, a bastard, I do not intend to follow our Convenor in suggesting that hereditaries should be allowed to stand. Instead, as the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, and I were the only two independents among a membership of 24 on the Joint Committee. I want to speak about the position of independent non-political Members in any reformed second Chamber.
By "Independents" with a capital "I", I mean those who sit in this House without any political allegiance and who are free of Whip and party pressure. In labelling those people independent, I do not in any way overlook or underrate the fact that there is a considerable degree of independence displayed by many noble Lords who sit on the political Benches. I shall return to the value of that independence and the need to ensure that it continues.
All previous reports on the future of the House have recognised the importance and value of the independent element in the House and recommended procedures to create a separate quota of places for independents appointed by a commission. By the time the Select Committee of the House of Commons reported, it was able to identify the principle that,Approximately 20 per cent of the members of the second chamber should be independent of any party",as a fundamental question on which there was general agreement on all fronts. That seems to have been reflected by the contributions so far in this debate.
601 Everyone would accept, as the Royal Commission said and the House of Commons Select Committee recognised, that appointment as opposed to election provides the only sure way in which to secure a reasonable proportion of independent members. Even in the House of Commons, the election of an Independent is a rarity occurring only in special circumstances. With larger and less personal constituencies such as are envisaged for elections in this House, the chances of an election for an Independent are even more remote. Indeed, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, said, most of the individuals who would be suitable to be Independent Members are unlikely to be willing to stand for election, nor would they have the resources to do so. It therefore follows that a vote for a wholly elected House is an unequivocal statement by the voter that he rejects the unanimous views of all who have reported so far and sees no useful value in an independent presence in the new House. For that reason alone, although there are many other reasons, I hope that noble Lords will completely reject the all-elected option.
I also sound a warning note against Option 4, which is 20 per cent appointed and 80 per cent elected. At first blush, that might seem to accommodate the need for an independent presence taking up the 20 per cent appointed places and leaving all the politicians to be elected. Quite apart from the point that any 80/20 or 20/80 split would smack of tokenism, a 20 per cent appointed element would not sufficiently provide for adequate independent representation.
It is accepted that the Prime Minister, and perhaps Opposition leaders, must have the power to make occasional Front Bench appointments. Then there are the special appointments, such as ex-Speakers and others, and the Law Lords and religious representatives of whatever kind. If there was a 20 per cent limit on appointments, all those would eat into the independent representation and render Independents an endangered species. Unless noble Lords reject the need for a proper independent element, one cannot accept any option that does not provide for 40 per cent, at the very least, of the reformed House to be appointed.
I emphasise that all appointments—I emphasise "all"—must be in the hands of a sound and strong commission, independent of party influence and with a real knowledge of the workings of the House, established by a statute containing clear parameters for appointments. It is vital that the appointments system is not, and is not seen as, political patronage.
I turn to some general comments of my own on the other issues presented by the report. My first observation, which I make with some diffidence, is that, whereas most of your Lordships have given deep and wise thought to the issues involved, the approach of many others to this matter is simplistic and is determined without any real understanding of the complexities involved. Many people simply rely on the mantra, "Election good, appointment bad". They do not appear to have applied their mind, first, to the question of who would want to stand for regular election to the second Chamber. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, listed the experts taking part in the debate and 602 rhetorically asked whether they would run for election. I would ask whether senior politicians—such as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, himself—after a long career in another place involving numerous elections and constant constituency obligations, would be prepared to commit themselves to a further series of periodic elections in order to obtain and retain a seat in the second Chamber. With equal confidence, I believe that the answer to that question is a resounding, "No". I see the noble and learned Lord—and indeed some of his colleagues—nodding. In that case, are the candidates for election to this House to be mainly those who cannot secure a nomination for candidature for the House of Commons? If so, that hardly strikes one as a recipe for an ideal or even a very legitimate House.
Nor, perhaps more importantly, have devotees of election taken on board the substantial consequences of having a wholly elected House. To me, it seems almost inevitable that one of those consequences would be that there would cease to be any reason why the second Chamber should in the last resort defer to the wishes of the elected House. Many of our colleagues from another place seem to think that the present situation and the relationship of ultimate deference is enshrined in constitutional law and can be altered only by legislation—a view which, surprisingly, seems to be shared by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby. However, the reality of the position was set out with complete clarity in a paper written by the noble Lord, Lord Carter, which was undoubtedly the most valuable single contribution to the deliberations of the committee and which has largely been repeated in his excellent speech today. He has explained how the relationship between the Houses rests very largely on conventions voluntarily adopted by this House, from which this House could at any time depart if it felt that, in the new order of things, the rationale underlying the convention had gone.
The basis of the Salisbury convention was the fact that the Commons is elected and that we are not, and that this House was in those days politically extremely unbalanced. If this House becomes a wholly elected body, that rationale is gone and surely the convention goes with it. As the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, said in the debate before Christmas on the British constitution, there is a great risk that Members in another place will vote for an elected or largely elected element and yet insist that the status quo as regards power remain the same. If they do that, he said, they will simply set the scene for a bitter struggle between the Houses.
The natural conclusion of much of this is in favour of a wholly appointed House. However, it may be necessary to temper that ideal with realism. We do not yet know what another place will say, particularly if, as the newspapers tell us, the Prime Minister comes out in favour of a wholly appointed House. However, I believe that it is vitally important that the reform of this House proceeds on a consensual basis and that, to this end, it may be necessary for us to be willing to compromise and make it plain that we would accept a hybrid House that was partly elected and partly 603 appointed—perhaps 40 per cent elected, or perhaps, ultimately, 50/50. I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Oakeshott, in his reasons for that proposition.
It is vitally important that the only questions left outstanding—tenure, re-election and reappointment, remuneration, religious representation, the appointments commission and the whole issue of transition—are worked out to reach satisfactory solutions with a consensual approach. That will not be achieved if the Government decide that consensus is impossible and seek by diktat to impose a solution of their own devising, although I recognise that that may not be a likely scenario if, as it appears, members of the Government are themselves divided on the best solution.
Finally, I should like to make one point that I think has not been made so far. We have talked a great deal about whether we are to have election or appointment. I would venture to suggest that perhaps more important is the question of tenure and whether there are to be re-elections or reappointment. Members who are here for life have no fear of deselection or electoral rejection and thus are very free—as the Whips will have noticed—of the discipline of their party Whips. If, in contrast, we had a new House which had regularly to be reselected and re-elected or reappointed, the powers of the party mechanism would be very greatly increased and the present robust independence would be greatly diminished and probably almost extinguished. Therefore, when we come to it, in my view, it is going to be very important that we ensure that Members come here, whether by election or appointment, for one, single long term with no prospect of reappointment. That will be necessary to ensure that this House retains its independence.
§ 5.46 p.m.
§ Earl Ferrers
My Lords, it would be a dull old person who did not express a wry smile at seeing this subject being discussed yet again. It is rather like how, as a child, one watched the carousel go round at a fair. One saw the horses come round and round. Although the same ones came round again and again, that did not stop one watching them. I feel bound to congratulate the members of the Joint Committee on being prepared to try to tackle this Herculean problem, but I find it impossible to congratulate them on the result. I say that standing next to my noble and learned friend Lord Howe; perhaps I ought to stand a pace to the rear.
The first quality which the Joint Committee says it is necessary for a second Chamber to have is the word with which my noble and learned friend found such discomfort—legitimacy. He went on to say that he thought that hereditary Peers equated with illegitimacy. I must say that I thought that that was putting it a bit far. However, I was glad that the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, said that if all hereditary Peers were to go at one fell swoop, it would leave an awful hole. I think that he is quite right. I do not say that out of any sense of self-preservation, because I will frizzle into anonymity either at the 604 behest of Parliament or at the behest of the Almighty, but it actually is a fact that if all hereditary Peers go, there will be a great hole.
Legitimacy is an appallingly hackneyed word. It appears in this report over and over again, and it appeared in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Richard, over and over again. It is a buzzword in House of Lords reform; but what does it mean? The Oxford English Dictionary says that it means,Conforming to rule and principle. Lawfulness".There is nothing unlawful or lacking in legitimacy in the House of Lords as it is, or indeed as it was. It conforms with the law. Hereditary Peers were here by law. The House was perfectly legitimate. Now that the hereditary Peers have been discharged, the present House is equally legitimate. It is here by law. So I do hope that we will stop using this wholly inappropriate and offensive word when what we really mean is "acceptable"; and that is, of course, a personal judgment.
I am bound to say that we really are witnessing, if I may be so bold as to say so, the most absurd farce over House of Lords reform. The Government were determined to get rid of hereditary Peers, which is a perfectly understandable point of view if one happens to think that way. So, four years ago, they introduced the House of Lords Bill, which said, "Out they all go". Then, halfway through the passage of the Bill. they said that they wanted 100 back, and so back they came. Now, they say that they want them all to go again. It is hardly the most elegant or intellectual way of reforming the constitution or, indeed, of reforming Parliament.
The Government then said, "We must now have stage two but we do not know what to do". So they set up a Royal Commission. The Royal Commission said, "We do not know what to do either but here are three options". None of those was acceptable, so the Government then set up an all-party committee which said, "We do not know what to do either but here are seven options". If anyone does not think that that is an inappropriate and obtuse way to try to reform Parliament, I can only say that they take a different view from me.
But the absurdity does not end there. We can choose any option provided by the committee between an all-elected Chamber on the one hand and an all-appointed one on the other and, as it were, all stations in between. The one thing that we cannot do, though, is to vote to retain the House which we already have. Yet that is the one which Parliament voted for four years ago. Four years ago we spent hours debating the nuances of reform in the House of Lords Bill. That Bill eventually is what we got and that is what appears in law. Now the all-party committee says, "You cannot keep that. You must not even be asked if you want to keep it. It was all wrong. Do not touch it with the end of a barge-pole". It really makes one wonder what on earth we were doing and why we all wasted so much time four years ago.
Then we are told that we are going to vote on all seven options and that we can each vote on all of them. Another place will do the same. Of course, we have to 605 do it on the same day in case there is some kind of collusion between the two Houses which will make us all go like sheep in one direction. But how will the results of both Houses be co-ordinated? Will the votes of each House on each option be added together so, like a Miss World contest, the one who gets the most votes from both Houses wins? And what counts? Is it the highest number of votes scored or the biggest majority? If one Motion results in 200 votes being in favour and 199 against, presumably those in favour win, albeit with a majority of one. But what if a Motion receives not 200 but only 100 in favour and only three against? The majority is much higher, 97, but the total in favour is much less. Which wins there?
It would seem that between, and including, the two extremes of a totally elected and a totally appointed House, it is hoped that some kind of phoenix will rise up out of the ashes and we can all, like the reaction of footballers to a goal being scored, jump up and down and hug it and say, "Hoorah. Well done. That is the answer". I find it hard to believe that that is the right way to reform Parliament.
Four years ago the Government knew what they wanted and they propelled their view through Parliament. Now the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor—there he is smiling as usual and I am glad to see that—who is in charge of House of Lords reform says, "The Government have arrived at no view as yet but we shall be listening to the debate"—I am glad as that did not happen on the previous occasion—"and looking at the votes. Some 'genius'—a lovely word—"will have to make sense of the votes. I am pleased to say that that genius is the Joint Committee". Well, you cannot get much more of a volte-face than that, can you?
I am perfectly clear as to what I think should be done, and that is that it would be wrong for this House to be elected. There is one elected Chamber and that is the House of Commons. That is where the power lies and where it should lie. This House should not seek to vie with the House of Commons or to usurp its authority. If it is elected, it will do both. The present Members of another place may say that they want an elected second Chamber—I cannot understand why—but their successors will hate it.
My noble and learned friend Lord Howe reminded us of the astonishing expertise that was made available on the human cloning Bill. He asked the telling question to which the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, referred: how many of the people involved with that Bill would have wanted to stand for election? Like my noble and learned friend Lord Howe, my guess is not many. They would not have the time or the inclination to do so. But they were highly valuable.
A partly elected and partly appointed House would be an impossible compromise, whatever the mix. The elected ones would always consider themselves to be the top dogs and the appointed ones to be their inferiors. The elected ones would always jump up and down at Question Time—heaven forbid, it would be worse than it is at the moment—to try to appear in the media. If a constituent wrote to a Member of 606 Parliament about something over which he was aggrieved and he received no satisfaction, he would then write to his elected Peer. If he received satisfaction from the elected Peer—which he did not receive from the Member of Parliament—one can just imagine the kind of relations which would exist between the House of Lords and the House of Commons.
If there were to be, say, 600 Members of the House of Lords, of which 20 per cent were elected, there would be 120 elected Peers. But they would have five times as many constituents as have the 660 Members of the House of Commons. Most MPs have about three helpers: research assistants, secretaries and so on. With five times as many constituents, would elected Peers need five times the amount of help as an MP has? Perhaps not, but they would need a great deal more than they have at present. If elected Peers were to be paid—and they would have to be—unelected ones would also have to be paid. Then the House of Lords, together with its new army of research assistants and secretaries, would vote for another Portcullis House just like the House of Commons has, and up would go the cost. Another place costs £380,000 per Member. The House of Lords costs £85,000 per Member. That modest figure would change radically.
This is all done in order to try to find some intellectual fulcrum which does not exist upon which to build a new House. With all its drawbacks, an appointed House would be infinitely better than an elected one. But why does one need to have a revamped appointments commission? For goodness sake, the appointments commission was appointed only four years ago. Some £100,000 was spent on head-hunters to try to find the most appropriate people to put on it, and now it is said that it must be revamped. Who will the new people be? From where and how will they be found? What is wrong with the present commission? What makes anyone think that the new one will be any better than the existing one? In my view, the more we stir this water, the more the mud comes to the surface and the deeper into it we get.
I am not surprised that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, together with his right honourable friend the Prime Minister, are reputed to be sick and tired of the whole thing and wish that it was all over. The whole point of any reform should be that a new House will be better than the one which we already have. I offer again to the Government and to your Lordships the advice given many years ago by someone who was not then a Member of this House—I refer to Lord Attlee—"It works rather well. Leave it alone".
§ 5.57 p.m.
§ Lord Norton of Louth
My Lords, I welcome the report of the Joint Committee as the basis for debating the future of your Lordships' House.
The report of the Joint Committee embodies a fundamental premise; that is, that the second Chamber should be complementary to the elected first Chamber. In this, the Joint Committee is not alone. The same premise underpinned the report of the Bryce Commission in 1917, the conference of 1948 and the proposals of the Labour 607 government in 1968. It is a premise that I accept for the reasons that I shall give. It determines how I shall vote on the seven options identified by the committee.
I shall vote for the option of an all-appointed Chamber. I shall do so because an appointed Chamber alone can, and does, add value to the political process in a way that the alternatives on offer cannot.
There are two fundamental benefits to having an appointed second Chamber. First, it ensures that the accountability of the political system is maintained. Accountability is at the heart of a democratic system. Under a system of representative democracy the people have to be able to elect, and to call to account, those who determine public policy. In the United Kingdom there is one body—the party in government, elected through the House of Commons— which is responsible for public policy. A party is returned to office on the basis of a manifesto placed before the electorate. If the government make mistakes or fail to fulfil their promises, electors. can sweep them from office. Election day is, in the words of the late Sir Karl Popper, "judgment day". An appointed second Chamber is not in a position to challenge the political supremacy of the elected first Chamber. Ultimately, the House of Commons can get its way. That may be after due consideration, and in its wisdom it may take on board proposals from this House, but ultimately it can prevail. As such, accountability to electors is maintained.
Secondly, an appointed Chamber can fulfil functions that the elected Chamber has neither the political will nor the time to carry out. This House fulfils a vital function of legislative revision. That function was clearly identified by the Bryce Commission and has been fulfilled to great effect. That point is generally conceded, and was well made by the noble Lord, Lord Carter, in his excellent speech. Legislative revision can be identified as an essential and distinctive function.
The House also fulfils functions that are desirable although not exclusive to it. Those were identified by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford, and include scrutiny and debate. The House scrutinises not only Ministers and domestic policy, but notably European legislation. In so doing, it dovetails neatly with the scrutiny carried out in another place. The House of Commons goes for breadth and the House of Lords goes for depth. This House debates issues that frequently fall outside the party conflict of another place and which are important to different groups in society. It has the capacity to bring new issues on to the parliamentary agenda.
The House is able to fulfil those functions because it has a membership that is different from that of another place. I make no comment on quality. The fundamental point is that the Members of this House are drawn from backgrounds that are not the same as those of Members of another place. This is pre-eminently a House of experience and expertise. I stress experience; it is not only a question of expertise. I have previously characterised it as a full-time House of part-time Members, Members able to come in as appropriate to offer the benefit of their knowledge and experience. As such, this House adds value: it complements the work of another place.
608 It is those two fundamental benefits that, taken together, make a compelling case for an appointed Chamber. A predominantly or wholly elected Chamber has the capacity to rid the political system of the first benefit. If Members of the second Chamber are elected, they will sooner or later demand powers commensurate with the fact of election. Why should they not do otherwise? It would be difficult to resist the claim. Once they have those powers, the fundamental accountability of the system is lost. If clashes between the Chambers result in policies not acceptable to citizens, whom do citizens hold to account? If the two Chambers start making deals independent of the wishes of electors, what can voters do about it? Having two elected Chambers is a recipe for buck-passing and policy outcomes that may bear no relation to what electors actually want.
The noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, seems to think that the existence of the Parliament Acts will be able to constrain an elected second Chamber. The reason we have those Acts is that the other Chamber is elected and this House is not. Once we have an elected second Chamber, we destroy the basis on which those Acts were passed.
A part-elected House has the capacity to undermine the second benefit. Having some elected Members will not add value to the tasks fulfilled by the present House. If anything, they will be value-detracting. They will, in terms of the argument advanced for them by proponents, be pointless. A number of elected Members will not confer electoral legitimacy on the House as a whole. The argument for a part-elected House is based on the acceptance of having some Members who are not elected, and who therefore must have some legitimacy deriving from features other than election. That legitimacy will not be bolstered by the election of some other Members. They are, in essence, separate legitimacies. The argument advanced for a part-elected House thus strikes me as a logical nonsense. No one has yet managed to square the circle and explain how the electoral legitimacy of some Members will transfer and embrace the membership as a whole.
The election of some Members will inject an element of instability while delivering no obvious benefits. As some noble Lords have touched on, why will electors bother to vote if it is a small number to be elected? For what will they be voting? Who will bother to stand, and what will they be able to bring to the second Chamber that is of greater benefit than the attributes of those appointed Members that they will, in effect, be displacing? There is no clear benefit to be derived from the injection of elected Members; they will, if anything, be value-detracting.
The case for an appointed Chamber is thus, I contend, compelling. To support the all-appointed option is not necessarily to be against change. To criticise the present method of appointment is not to make the case for election. It is to make the case for a different method of appointment. A point made quite powerfully earlier this afternoon in another place by the chairman of the Joint Committee was that reform of the appointments process can ensure that Members are drawn from a wider range of backgrounds. An 609 independent and proactive appointments commission can ensure that people of ability are recognised and brought in. We can draw already on expertise in a wide range of areas, but there are some gaps in our knowledge. An appointments commission can ensure that those gaps are filled.
To be in favour of an appointed Chamber is not to be against radical parliamentary reform. I am in favour of overhaul of the legislative process, including in this House, but the most significant change required is not here but in another place.
Those who blithely claim that an elected second Chamber is necessary in what they call a "modern democracy" seem incapable of thinking beyond the slogan. The accountability that is the core of a representative democracy is best served by retaining a single elected, and hence politically supreme, Chamber. A second Chamber is worth while so long as it complements the first, fulfilling distinctive and worthwhile functions. That is what we have, and it is worth fighting for. On 4th February I shall vote for the all-appointed option and against all the others.
§ 6.7 p.m.
§ Lord Lipsey
My Lords, it is a great privilege to follow a speech such as the one that we have just heard, and indeed to participate in this historic debate. In preparation for it, I reminded myself of the debates in this House on what became the Reform Act 1832, especially the great speeches of the Duke of Wellington. Noble Lords will remember that he excoriated the then Bill as "mere democracy".
It behoves those of us who are at least sceptical of mass election to this place to ask how our words and arguments today will resound in 200 years from now. Will we seem absurd creatures, as the Duke of Wellington now does, or will things be very different? Will future generations marvel at the hyper-democracy that is the fashion of our age, in which all other previously recognised qualifications for legitimacy, such as experience, intelligence, impartiality and expertise, count as nothing?
Elections in Britain are in crisis, with turnout slumping and new elections failing everywhere to attract the attention of the electorate. One need only look at the turnout for some of the referendums on elected mayors. Therefore, will people wonder that the preference of the Commons was to invent yet another unwanted election in which people will abstain? Will they understand the argument used by those in favour of election—that it will increase legitimacy—when the likely turnout in any election is around 30, 25 or 20 per cent and when most such elections will happen under the closed list system that seems to be preferred, in which people vote simply for a party list?
Many valid arguments have been made against election in this debate, but I want to add one of my own that might be slightly different. I very much agree with the Joint Committee that the system whereby the Members of this House are chosen depends wholly on its function. I am in favour of two functions that have 610 been mentioned widely in the debate, which are our function of revising legislation, and what I like to call the "think again" function, where we say to another place, "Are you sure you are not rushing this? We want you to think again". Everything that needs to be said on those topics was said by Mr Peter Riddell in The Times today.
Another function, which is much less remarked on, may be more important; it is that in this House we have a corpus of people with a broad interest in public life but who are not wholly dominated by party. That is why, when the Government set up a committee of inquiry, they very often choose a Member of this House to chair it. The noble Lord, Lord Sharman, chaired the inquiry into audit and the noble Lord, Lord Clarke of Hampstead, went up to Burnley to study the race riots there. Neither of those noble Lords is in his place. The noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, who is in his place, chaired the Royal Commission on this place.
We are sent here with a duty to attend to public affairs, to act as a repository of public expertise and knowledge and to contribute to broad national debates from our relatively detached position. Elected Members, wherever they are, hold a different function. They hold a different duty to those who elected them and perhaps even more so—judging by practice—to the party that selected them. That means that an elected House simply could not perform the function of providing that corpus of broadly dispassionate but informed opinion, which is the chief glory of this House.
The whole point of having two Houses of Parliament is that they should be different. Choosing Ministers, holding governments to account and, if necessary, even bringing them down are the functions of the Commons, and for those tasks there is no substitute for election. But what is the point of having two competing Chambers doing precisely the same thing? That is like a man who has a large Rolls-Royce in the garage who thinks, "I will have a second car. I shall go and buy a Bentley". That is mad. What he needs is a Mini to do the other job of running round town collecting the shopping.
§ Lord Lipsey
My Lords, I am glad to be the source of such innocent amusement.
I turn to my final point. Many noble Lords who have spoken in this debate—the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, is in his place—are conservatives, with a small "c"; I am sure that they would endorse that description of themselves. They are against change. The noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, who resisted the first reform of the House, is now resisting the second; and if there are third, fourth and fifth reforms, we can be sure that the noble Earl will be in his place resisting them, too. I entirely respect the conservative views and I understand where they are coming from.
However, neither I nor quite a lot of my noble friends, who take the view that too much election is not a good thing for this place, are conservatives; some of 611 us—I place myself in this camp—are radical about this place. I do not believe that we are as effective an institution as we should be. I believe that we create enemies by too much flummery and mumbo-jumbo; in particular, the phrase "the upper House" is a red rag to the bull down in the Commons.
Despite the good changes that have been introduced, our procedures still creak. In my view, the role of the Whips in this place has increased, is increasing and should be diminished. The appointments system, even as revised, is not working. Noble Lords will not be surprised, in view of my earlier remarks, to learn that although I admire and will in due course miss many of my hereditary colleagues, I do not believe that it is acceptable to sit in this place by birthright.
So, I am a radical about this place; that places me in a minority, but I am used to that. I am a root-and-branch reformer. However, I reject one reform: that of substantial election, which would be a change for the worse, not for the better. When we come to vote on 4th February, I expect to find myself in the Lobby with some unfamiliar confrères. However, I am happy to unite with them to resist a fashionable nostrum that would do nothing to repair our existing faults and which would simply add some worse ones on top of them.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ Lord Weatherill
My Lords, there is an anecdotal story of a former Speaker of the House of Commons who, faced with a difficult point of order, leaned forward and whispered to the learned Clerk in front of him, "What do I do next?". The Clerk leant back and gave him some wise advice, which was, "Sir, I should be very cautious". It is in that spirit that I approach the debate this afternoon.
I must confess that when I first joined the Joint Committee on House of Lords Reform I had a slight inclination to support the Wakeham commission report, which was then supported by the subsequent government White Paper. However, the more that the committee probed the pros and cons of having elected Members of your Lordships' House, the more I came to the conclusion that the threats to the supremacy of the Commons were not only unacceptable but unnecessary. Despite previous votes in another place, many of my old friends down there now realise that there is a considerable threat to them if there were an elected element in your Lordships' House.
I do not know how many noble Lords have noted Early-Day Motion 529 on today's Commons Order Paper, which calls for the abolition of your Lordships' House. It notes that,much of the impetus for House of Lords reform stems from concerns about the effectiveness of the House of Commons; and would support proposals for a unicameral solution coupled with reform of the House of Commons".In view of the comments of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford about the views of Lord Jenkins on this matter, I agree with that; the House of Commons probably needs more reform than your Lordships' House.
612 I shall not repeat the arguments that have already been made in favour of an appointed House. I wholly support the admirable analysis and conclusions of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe or Aberavon, and the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, who is, as noble Lords know, chairman of the Constitution Committee.
I also support the comments of the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, about the importance of a Cross-Bench element in your Lordships' House. In a fully elected House there would be no place for Cross-Benchers; that is not an option that I support. The Joint Committee option of a partially elected House is also, in my view, suspect.
I was, until I handed over to a much younger man the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew—president of the scouts in Kent. I regularly visited constituencies in Kent, notably in the north of the county, where there were complaints that Members of the European Parliament interfered in affairs in constituencies. Members of the European Parliament are not, of course, always around; they should be, and frequently are, in Brussels or Strasbourg. An elected Member of your Lordships' House would have every right to go to those constituencies. There is no way in which those elected Members would not go to constituencies and preach their political gospels in the constituencies of Labour and Conservative Members.
Furthermore, to add yet another tier of government to the regions would create even greater apathy among the electorate, encouraging that quip of the much-lamented Lord Whitelaw about stirring up apathy. Is not one of the reasons that there is such apathy among the electorate that there are too many elections? We do not need any more.
By general acceptance, the present House is working well and performing its duty of scrutinising legislation, holding the Government to account and occasionally asking the Government to think again. I believe that we need to mark the lessons of history. When the people of the United States set about framing their constitution, it was envisaged that Congress would be, like another place, the dominant Chamber and that the Senate, like your Lordships' House, would be advisory and a longstop. Over the centuries those roles have been, to a large extent, reversed. Today, the Senate of the United States, elected by the states—or the regions—is more influential than Congress.
No former Speaker of the House of Commons would wish to see that as the legacy of his vote next week. Therefore, my vote will be for an appointed House. Despite what the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, said, I support the suggestion of our Convenor to adopt what I believe he calls Option 1A, if only to preserve the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, who would continue to entertain us with his speeches. Amusing though it was, his speech today contained some very cogent and important thoughts which I commend to your Lordships.
§ 6.21 p.m.
§ Lord Lloyd of Berwick
My Lords, I agree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, that the key question is whether there is any overriding objection to a hybrid or mixed House. If there is, then we are left with the simple choice between a fully elected or a fully appointed Chamber. My view is that there is no such objection. It is said that elected Members would always regard themselves—to use the noble Earl's phrase—as the "top dogs" in any such House or as being in some way more legitimate than the non-elected Members and that that might lead to friction. I do not believe for one moment that that will happen. There never was any such friction between the life Peers and the hereditary Peers in the old House until perhaps right at the end, and I see no reason why it should be any different in a reformed House.
Therefore, I agree with the Royal Commission view that a hybrid House is not only workable but also highly desirable. A proportion of elected Members would give the reformed House that legitimacy—I know that that is a word that the noble Earl does not like but for the moment I cannot think of another—which it undoubtedly needs, especially if the elected Members are elected to represent the regions, which seems to me to be important. The balance of appointed Peers would give the House the independence and expertise which is also needed and which is often regarded as one of the great glories of the existing House. For those reasons, I agree very much with the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, and also with that of the noble Lord, Lord Richard.
As for the ratio of elected to appointed Members, I would rule out Options 3 and 4 for the same reason as I would rule out Options 1 and 2. That leaves Options 5, 6 and 7. I shall vote for all three of those options but with a marked preference for Option 7—the 50/50 split. In many ways, that seems to give us the best of all worlds. If I have read the Royal Commission report correctly, Option 7 corresponds with Model C, which had the support of at least some members of the Royal Commission. However, in a House of 600 Members, I believe that we should have 300 rather than 195 elected Members, as proposed by the Royal Commission.
An argument in favour of having 300 elected Members is that it would go a long way to securing something which I believe in the theatre world is referred to as "bottoms on seats". I think back to my time on the Review Body on Top Salaries in the early days under the chairmanship of Lord Boyle. I remember the great importance which he always attached to the concept of having a sufficient number of bottoms on seats. It is no good having Ministers addressing an empty House, as so often seems to happen in another place.
Three hundred elected Members would secure a sufficient number of Members to be present and carry out the work of the House but there would not be so many as to challenge the democratic supremacy of the 614 other House. In any event, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Richard: the supremacy argument seems to be very much overworked. If there is any threat to the other House by a hybrid House here, the Members there do not seem to see it that way. Therefore, I hope that the relationship between the two Houses would continue exactly as it has done in the past, save that, with a hybrid House of the kind that I favour, this House would have greater legitimacy—I am sorry to use the word again—in the country.
The non-elected Members should be appointed by the new statutory appointments commission, as suggested by the Royal Commission. Since they should, in my view, be non-salaried and, for the most part, independent, except possibly for some loose party affiliations, they would be likely to attend less frequently than the elected Members. But they would obviously take part, as they do now, in debates when their expertise was relevant.
Contrary to the view expressed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, I see no difficulty at all in having part of the House—the elected Members—paid a salary and part paid allowances, as they are now. If there is a difficulty, I have not seen it spelt out and I hope that, before the debate finishes, we shall know what that difficulty is.
§ Lord Elton
My Lords, I interrupt the noble and learned Lord in order to understand his position. In which part of the House would he expect to be—the salaried or the unsalaried?
§ Lord Lloyd of Berwick
My Lords, I certainly hope to be in the unsalaried part, as I am at present. I see nothing wrong with that.
How would the 300 appointed Members be made up? Again, the answer is simply to be found by looking around the House as it is now. We would have representatives from the services, diplomacy, medicine and so on. One need not go through the list. I believe that it would be sensible for the appointments commission to be given some kind of guidelines as to how the appointed Members should be made up. Again, I see no difficulty there.
That leaves three other areas for special consideration. In my view, the House would be a poorer place without the bishops. If Parliament is to be the great council of the nation, their presence seems to me to be essential. Happily, the bishops of the Church of England would not need to be appointed. They choose themselves by seniority. However, I would reduce their number from 24 to 18 in order to give room for representatives of other faiths.
Then there must be room for the senior statesmen. They should not—I repeat, not—be appointed by the Prime Minister but by the appointments commission after consultation with the Prime Minister and the Leaders of the Opposition parties.
Finally, there are the lawyers. As the function of Parliament is to make the law, it seems inconceivable that we should not have a good supply of lawyers. Furthermore, in my view they should be drawn from 615 the profession as a whole—it is good to see the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, smile. All round me I see them. However, one then has to ask: what about the Law Lords? In my view it would be a mistake—I am serious—not to include the Law Lords who in any event, apart from anything else, like the bishops choose themselves.
I am glad to see that the Royal Commission and the Joint Committee both say that the Law Lords should be included in a new Chamber, irrespective of whether they go off at some remote time in the future to form a separate supreme court. In passing, I am totally opposed to that, but that is for another day.
I accept that the serving Law Lords do not have much time to take part in proceedings on the Floor of the House. However, they do good work in committees and after their retirement they can make a useful contribution between the ages of 70 and 75. They have all had five or 10 years in the hurly-burly of the Court of Appeal before reaching the deep peace of the House of Lords. That provides them with a special insight into how legislation works in practice. I would keep the bishops and the Law Lords. This House would have been a poorer place without a Wilberforce and a Scarman.
It is sometimes said that for the Law Lords to sit in the Upper House is contrary to the theory of the separation of powers. I regard that as a nonsense argument. It could possibly be said to apply to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor as a member of the executive, but it does not apply to the Law Lords. My reasons for saying, "Why a separation of powers?", which have nothing to do with whether the Law Lords should sit in the legislature, will have to wait until another day.
§ 6.32 p.m.
§ Baroness Blatch
My Lords, I wish to set my contribution in context because I believe that constitutional change should never be considered in isolation. The debate on the future of this House should have been considered within the context of Parliament as a whole, but unfortunately we are where we are.
In the past five years the Government have introduced into Parliament and secured much ill-thought-through constitutional change. What is regrettable about that is the Government's constant refusal to accept voting thresholds that would have to be reached to support constitutional change both in Parliament and in public referenda. Such constitutional changes include the breaking up of the United Kingdom Parliament by devolving powers to a Scottish Parliament, a Welsh Assembly and a government for London; the introduction of proportional representation using a closed list system for electing Members to the European Parliament; the creation of town mayors; piecemeal reform of the House of Lords and now proposals to create regional government.
Barely 25 per cent of the Welsh people voted for devolution in the referendum. There was a majority of approximately 6,000 votes for the whole of Wales, while 75 per cent of the people either voted against 616 devolution or abstained. That can hardly be deemed the settled will of the people or a sound basis upon which to make constitutional change.
In Scotland, although there was greater support for change, it is interesting to witness the "turf wars" that have broken out between Westminster MPs, Members of the Scottish Parliament who were elected directly by a defined constituency, Members of the Scottish Parliament who were appointed from the party lists system, Members of the European Parliament and local councillors. To add yet another tier of elected Members to this same turf would be ludicrous.
There are those who feel that elected Members of this House could come from the devolved institutions. That would exacerbate to an even greater extent the number of people who can have a say in English affairs while English Members are denied a say in their affairs.
In London the statistics were even worse. A mere 24 per cent of people voted for London government. Only 13 per cent of the electorate voted for the present Mayor, rising to only 15 per cent when one takes second preferences into account. The turnout and support for town mayors also calls into question the basis of support for such changes. As if to cock a snook, the people of Hartlepool elected a man in a monkey suit, and in Bedford, barely 12 per cent of the electorate voted in a referendum for a mayor of Bedford. In the election for mayor the successful candidate was supported by only 12 per cent of the electorate.
As a result of proportional representation through a closed party list system in European elections, the relationship between people and their Members of Parliament is dislocated. For Members of the European Parliament to be successful in future elections they need to be placed high on their party list of candidates, which means that it is the party aparatchiks who need to be impressed by them and not the electorate. When it comes to voting by region, the more densely populated urban areas will hold sway over the rural areas.
Regional government will further divide and rule the people of our country. For regional government to be established, relatively small percentages of the more densely populated urban conurbations will be able to overwhelm the vote of those who live in rural areas. It is already evident that county councils will become extremely vulnerable and, needless to say, the rural communities will find that they are more isolated from their local authorities.
Here in the United Kingdom Parliament, Ministers refuse daily to answer our questions about matters concerning London, Wales and Scotland, and no doubt the consequences of regional government will exclude even more areas from our scrutiny. Meanwhile the Prime Minister and the executive show utter contempt for Parliament. Only today in my area of interest the Secretary of State for Education has chosen not to come to Parliament but to give, using the DfES press notice expression, an "off-camera 617 briefing" to outline plans to launch an education strategy for 14 to 19 year-olds. Needless to say, reporters and photographers were invited.
Cronyism in public appointments is rife and the cost of political advisers, public relations and consultancy services has surpassed all previous records. In a sentence, Parliament has weakened, the executive has strengthened and the axis for decision making is moving to Brussels. Parliament as a whole should be strengthened.
The reason I particularly want to set my comments in context is because I believe that a strong Parliament with a largely independent second Chamber is crucial. Thinking through all of the consequences of constitutional change is also essential before making final decisions.
If an organisation or company, private, commercial, voluntary or public service, was in need of reform the first stage would be to revisit the aims and objectives. Once they were determined one would analyse the organisation's strengths and weaknesses. Then it would be necessary to decide what organisational and structural changes were necessary to achieve the aims and objectives. Only then would one deal with the composition of staffing and personnel issues. But in the case of the House of Lords reform, Parliament as a whole has been ignored and the role, powers and functions of each House have not been defined or agreed ahead of considering composition.
Whether or not at the end of such an exercise it would have been right to have replaced hereditary Peers is open to debate. However, it is sadly the case that the House of Lords Act 1999 had little to do with the role and functions of Parliament or the creation of a stronger Parliament better able to hold the executive to account. It was an act of political malice, and the manner of dismissing our hereditary friends was graceless and unforgivable.
However, we are bound to deal with the propositions before us, which deal exclusively with the composition of this House when all the evidence is that the House of Commons is more in need of reform than this Chamber.
It is not surprising that those, including the Joint Committee of both Houses, who have looked at reform of this House have found it a good deal more complex than expected. An all-elected Chamber, which I do not support, on the face of it looks and sounds the most democratic option. An all-elected Chamber would inevitably challenge the power of the House of Commons and would demand greater authority. Therefore, substantially more powers would need to be ceded to an all-elected second Chamber. The political parties would predominate and the result would be two highly politicised, highly volatile, party-Whip-controlled Chambers and, almost certainly, Titan-like struggles for supremacy between the two Houses would be commonplace. I do not believe that that would, over time, serve the people of this country well.
We have before us five options suggesting various percentages, which range from 20 per cent to 80 per cent, of elected members. It is my personal view that 618 that would prove to be the worst of all possible worlds. This is a House of Peers. When we walk through the Division Lobby we have equal worth. Elected Members of this House would—and I believe rightly—require more powers. They would demand better support, probably salaries and, frankly, over time and as night follows day, they would come to resent non-elected Members, particularly if the non-elected Members were in the majority.
It will come as no surprise that I shall support a wholly appointed second Chamber with little or no change in the balance of powers between the Houses. The Government of the day, through the elected Chamber, should enjoy supremacy and should have ultimate power; and the second Chamber should continue to influence and call government to account through scrutiny, revision, dialogue and, where necessary, by delaying, but not determining, parliamentary business.
Should an all-appointed House be agreed to, there will inevitably be a need to consider the composition of its membership and the method of appointment. However, that is a debate for another day.
Meanwhile, although I regret the passing of the House of Lords Reform Act 1999, this House, with its combination of Peers from all parties, Cross-Benchers, Bishops and Law Lords, has acquitted itself extremely well. We outperform Members of another place in every way. Indeed, it is common to receive Bills from another place with large parts that have had little or no detailed consideration. We strive, often successfully, to put flesh on the bones of an increasing number of skeletal Bills, where the Government rely upon the excessive use of Henry VIII powers, which in turn spawn endless secondary legislation. We sit for more hours, days and weeks than the Commons. We are more conscientious by far in the diligence with which we carry out the detailed scrutiny of legislation.
Courtesy and self-regulation are the hallmarks of this House, and the mix of expertise and informed opinion we bring to our work is admired well beyond these shores.
If I thought that it would secure support, my preferred option would be to leave well alone; to give more time for the earlier reforms to work; to create a truly independent appointments commission, which is underpinned by statute, to deal with the additional members; to encourage Members of another place to be more courageous in holding the executive to account; and, to leave Parliament to get on with considering those matters which affect the everyday lives of the people in our country.
§ 6.44 p.m.
§ Lord Parekh
My Lords, I warmly welcome the Joint Committee's first report on the reform of the House of Lords. It raises a number of important questions. I want to address three of them.
My first question relates to whether your Lordships' House should be elected, appointed or both, and, if both, in what proportions. There is something to be said for both election and appointment. In any 619 democratic society, public opinion is the only basis and test of legitimacy. In Britain it has remained invariably hostile to an exclusively or predominantly appointed House.
An appointed House has other dangers. No system of appointment can be entirely foolproof and will always remain subject to suspicion and criticism. A wholly or substantially appointed House of Lords will therefore never enjoy full legitimacy. That does not mean that appointment has no merits. It redresses the obvious deficiencies of election because not many talented individuals want to offer themselves for election. An election would not by itself guarantee adequate representation of women, ethnic minorities or regions.
We therefore need both election and appointment. I cannot see how it can be otherwise. The only question is the relative proportions. We should have both in broadly equal proportions. Election guarantees representative legitimacy; appointment ensures expertise as well as a different kind of representative legitimacy. Therefore, both election and appointment have equal claims on our attention.
I have often heard the objection raised against election that it would detract from the pre-eminence of another place. I am not persuaded by that argument, for at least two important reasons. First, it assumes that another place must always remain pre-eminent. I see no reason to share that view. If one carried that assumption to its logical conclusion, we would have to argue that this House should be a mere appendage to the House of Common—a relative constitutional cipher. No one here or in another place shares that view.
Secondly, election can take several forms. Another place is based on geographical representation. We could be based on other systems of election and other forms of representation, such as regional and functional. If that were so there would be no clash of legitimacy or interest between the two Houses. We could identify important professions through their professional bodies, such as the General Medical Council, the Bar Council, the Trades Union Congress, the Association of University Teachers, or the National Union of Teachers, and invite them to elect one or more of their members to your Lordships' House. That would give voice to important but otherwise marginalised groups. It would also add both expertise and representative legitimacy to our deliberations.
Whether Members of your Lordships' House are appointed or elected, it is important that there should be some limit on their tenure. The Joint Committee's report recommends 12 years, which seems about right. A 12-year period is long enough to build up familiarity with the place and short enough to prevent Members from getting stale or taking your Lordships' House for granted.
I also support the Joint Committee's proposal that Members of your Lordships' House should be free to resign when they think they have achieved what they wanted to achieve or that they will never achieve it, or 620 when they feel that it is time to give way to someone better or who has more time. A Member of your Lordships' House with no freedom to resign or retire would normally be defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as in a state of virtual bondage, and could hardly be called a Lord.
I wish to float an idea, which I hope is not too eccentric. In my opinion, Britain is the most internationally minded country. I say that as an academic who has taught in Canada, the United States and elsewhere. Thanks to our imperial history, centuries-old migration and our close ties of trade with other countries, there is hardly a part of the world where British people are not to be found, or to which they are not related by familial, economic and other ties.
As an expression of our internationalism, I suggest that your Lordships' House could provide for four or five what I may call honorary Members. I have in mind people such as Nelson Mandela, Bill Clinton, a past or present president of the European Commission, a past or present Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, a distinguished Nobel laureate with something to contribute to our deliberations or an economist or the status of JK Galbraith. Those men and women could periodically participate in our debates but not enjoy the right to vote. They would be Members of your Lordships' House for a time-bound period.
There are several advantages to that proposal, but I shall describe only three. First, it would reflect and reinforce our internationalism and show that we welcome talent and wisdom from all parts of the world and are not obsessed with narrowly nationalistic notions of sovereignty. Secondly, it would give us the benefit of the presence and views of internationally renowned figures and enrich discussion. Thirdly, it would give Britain's voice in the world what is sadly needed: a unique moral authority and make us what the Prime Minister wants us to be: a beacon for the world. Who knows, such a proposal may even inspire other countries to follow our lead and open up novel forms of international co-operation.
My proposal is not as unusual or eccentric as it may seem on the face of it. After all, we confer knighthood on those who are not citizens of our country. We invite some visiting heads of state to address both Houses of Parliament. The principle involved in my proposal is broadly the same.
For lack of time and expertise I have not gone into the detail of how we might go about appointing or collectively electing such distinguished men and women. That requires more attention than I can give it, but I hope that the idea, or at least the spirit behind it, will engage the sympathy of your Lordships' House.
§ 6.52 p.m.
§ The Earl of Selborne
My Lords, as a member of the Joint Committee, I could not help noting that we had entered the debate in its 90th year. Admittedly, the pace of the debate warmed up enormously during the past six or seven years—with legislation that we all remember. Nevertheless, it was perhaps fortunate that 621 the Joint Committee could draw on a wide corpus of work from the Royal Commission of my noble friend Lord Wakeham, from White Papers, from the Government's failed attempts to persuade their own party and from other parties engaged in the debate over a long period. It followed that the Joint Committee had an enormous amount of papers and advice on which to draw, from which it was clear that our focus could revolve around the contentious issues.
There was no serious dispute that we needed a second Chamber; and that we cannot determine the composition of that second Chamber until we have agreed on its roles and functions and whether new powers are needed. There was consensus from existing reports and deliberations that no further powers were likely to be granted, even if asked for, and should not be needed. It was clear that there was consensus that this House should continue to fulfil—as it had with varying success over the years—a complementary role to another place. That is an important principle that has not been contradicted so far in the debate. It seems to be common territory.
I find that slightly surprising. If one goes on to say that Parliament needs reforming, that it is not performing effectively and that the executive is getting away with more than it should and needs to be held accountable, one should at least ask a question. Are we satisfied that we do not need to make this House more assertive? Are we satisfied that we should happily reconcile ourselves to having Members, whether elected or appointed, who must recognise that they will be overriden inevitably—and sometimes at an early stage—by another place?
Nevertheless, that has been the consensus and it is only wise to accept that that is common territory. That is not to say that there is agreement that no reform is needed in the way that this House operates. By changing the composition, we shall get reforms. If we think about it, this House has been reforming itself by an evolutionary process at a remarkably rapid pace. We assume that we have always been a revising Chamber. That is not the case but, as the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, reminded us, we now consider that to be our main responsibility.
If we consider the future composition of the House and recognise that, on the whole, we want to keep the roles, functions, powers and even conventions as they are at present, we should analyse the House's strengths and find out what people criticise about it. There is a danger of complacency when Members of this House repeat the litany of its strengths, although I do not see why we should apologise for them.
We recognise that we have a breadth of expertise that it is unusual, to say the least, to find in other legislative Chambers. That comes from our being a part-time Chamber with people of experience who are prepared to perform much detailed work in committees well out of the public gaze, with little acknowledgement or expectation that their work will be recognised. Nevertheless, that work is, on the whole, performed 622 successfully. Those who have seriously examined our scrutiny of legislation—whether European or national—will recognise that it is a job well done.
Before we change the composition, when we recognise that as a strength, it might be just as well to ensure that what is put in its place can perform equally effectively. Of course, if we go for a smaller, fully or largely elected Chamber, it will not be part time and it will be more political. It may be able to perform that scrutiny, but I am not sure that the evidence from another place makes one automatically assume that. I issue a caution. I have spent an awful lot of time in committees during my membership of this House. I should be hesitant to throw out that expertise too rapidly—or, anyway, not to value it highly.
As my noble friend Lord Ferrers reminded us, the weaknesses or criticisms of the House revolve around two concepts. The first is its representativeness—that is a fair criticism, because an awful lot of us are male, over 60, from the South East—and, one can add in my case, a farmer, a landowner. So I accept that we are not very representative. I am certain that whether by appointment or election we could achieve a much wider representation. As my noble and learned friend Lord Howe pointed out, if we want to ensure that we achieve a mix of ages, ethnicity, gender and regions, we shall go for appointment, because we can then achieve precisely the modelling required.
The other weasel word is "legitimacy", to which my noble friend Lord Ferrers took great exception, although I think that he was prepared to use the word "acceptability". To whom are we trying to be acceptable? What are the criteria of acceptability? Those people who stand for election think that to be elected is self-evidently a way to assume acceptability. Does the evidence show that that is always the case? People also say that they are rather suspicious of the encroaching powers of political parties. They do not want the Members of this second Chamber to become creatures of the Whip. They want some independents, with a small "i", or Cross-Benchers. That will clearly be difficult to achieve in a largely elected Chamber.
I accept that, to some people, acceptability will be achieved by a greater degree of election, but I suggest, as did my noble and learned friend Lord Howe, that another arbiter would be identification with Members and respect for their contribution—in other words, their effectiveness. That is not too difficult a concept to get across. When we talk about legitimacy or acceptability, that must be brought into the equation.
So there are two fundamental propositions on which we must decide when we come to vote. Are we really certain that we do not want to be more assertive? If we do want that, we will probably favour a larger elected element. I am a bit cautious about that and favour a large element—perhaps a majority—of appointed Members.
However, I make one strong qualification. I accept that from outside the appointment procedures introduced for the Cross Benches and the previous arrangements for life Peers appear not to meet the criteria of acceptability and identification. That 623 immediately returns us to the question of what on earth will be the brief of the new appointments commission. Who will be on the commission? Its composition is, in a sense, even more critical than the composition of the House itself. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford led us into an interesting discussion on that. Like me, he would also, I think, accept that election is not always the way to get the desired cross-representation. If we want communities to identify with appointments to a second Chamber, we must take a different approach from that taken historically. It cannot be left to the Prime Minister or to a rather remote appointments commission, however many market researchers it employs.
I am not denying that we should have people who come from the community in a very real sense. and with whom people can identify. Although they may lack the "legitimacy" of election, they would, nevertheless, command people's respect, admiration and following. However, I believe that that will be achieved if the appointments commission can be seen to engage in a debate that has never happened before. I hope that, when we vote on the options, we will go for a largely appointed element. However, we must make it clear in this debate that the new appointments commission must be very different from that to which we are accustomed.
§ 7.1 p.m.
§ Lord Lea of Crondall
My Lords, the Cunningham committee has done a thorough job of nailing down the major issues in a deceptively simple report. That was admirably demonstrated by the speech of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon. Moreover, the committee picked up the exposition by my noble friend Lord Carter of the conventions of the House. In congratulating the committee, I draw the House's attention to the degree of consensus in the report, although, paradoxically, it has been said that there was polarisation. I hope to throw a little light on that paradox.
Parliamentary democracy and representative democracy in general—in a trade union or in a chamber of commerce—can accommodate different solutions to the issue of selection or election for different functions or chambers. It must be acknowledged that two facets of democracy are entailed. First, chronologically, there is the internal process of selection within the party. I shall call that "leg 1". Secondly, there is the ratio of Members from the Labour, Conservative, Liberal Democrat and other parties. I shall call that "leg 2". Regional balance and the fact that we do not have enough people from the North are distinct factors that can and, perhaps, should be accommodated, but that tail cannot be allowed to wag the whole dog. I shall give my reasons for saying that later.
The democratic ratio between the parties in the second Chamber can be ensured in several ways, as the Royal Commission pointed out. Certainly, it does not require us to pull up the whole tree by its roots. That, too, is now a point of consensus, but it is worth underlining because it is not so often spelt out. Moreover, the second Chamber is generally agreed to 624 be different from the first in another respect: I have heard no supporters for a "first past the post" system for the second Chamber.
The selection/election issue is often presented as polar opposites, but internal party democracy for the selection of candidates means that the two approaches have more in common than most protagonists care to admit. We can visualise the sequence: the constituency or multi-constituency party selects the candidate. The electorate then votes, in effect, for the party—not the other way round. Ninety per cent of the reason why most of us are here, why a particular person with a particular political label is a Member of this House or the elected House, is internal party decision.
It is about lists, in this case. The open list system sounds democratic, but, again, questions arise about the criteria for choosing candidate A or candidate B. Why would not all the usual hustings requirements of personal media profile skew perceptions of candidate A, who happens to be the local mayor, and candidate B, who is the leading expert in the House of Lords on reforming the drafting of statutory instruments—an area, incidentally, in which it is hard to get a quorum on the House of Commons side? The answer must be, "Horses for courses". Although many might say, "Hear, hear" to that, it is not always thought through.
What is the conclusion? Whereas the multi-constituency selection principle is vital for the local credibility of MPs, who must deal with local issues, it cannot be so vital or appropriate if someone is not dealing with a significant postbag of constituency issues. On 19th June, 2002, Robin Cook announced the Joint Committee, and his words are reported at column 344 of House of Commons Hansard for that day. He said that "no specific constituency role" was visualised. That is significant.
The House of Commons is based on constituencies, a fact that requires local relationships with the constituency management committee. In setting up the Joint Committee, Robin Cook said that constituencies were ruled out. That removes the case for what one might call the Lords local selection conference. The fact that we are not directly intimate with the problems specific to Burton-on-Trent does not mean that we are not intimate with issues that directly affect the people of Burton-on-Trent. As a former trade union official, I can give examples: security at work, pensions and pay issues. We deal with such issues here every other day, as well as the Communications Bill, the Licensing Bill and the Courts Bill, not to mention all the international issues. We have what we might call a national constituency, a workers' constituency, a health constituency or a university constituency.
Having considered that point, one might ask what is wrong with just saying "Good-bye" to the hereditaries but otherwise staying with the status quo. One thing wrong with that—although it should not be got out of proportion—is that there are, prima facie, too many people here from the South, as opposed to the North, in the broadest sense. Incidentally, we need some statistics on that, such as where people live at weekends, their birthplaces and so on. That would be 625 useful. Perhaps, the Information Office can work that out. The Cunningham report already asks it to do that, and there is an important recommendation in that respect in paragraph 18. There is certainly scope for experimenting more systematically with what one might describe as the different hinterlands.
The Joint Committee must now address as one of its priorities the question of striking a balance between allowing party leaders a degree of control and giving an appointments commission a degree of control. The noble Earl, Lord Selborne, just identified that point. The general principle of appointment, which, basically, I support, should not be confused with the status quo. Who can make the best assessment of someone's capacity and experience, relative to the exercise?
The conclusion is that, apart from some indirectly elected regional Members—I am coming to that point—there should be a national appointments system for the relevant party quotas, topped up in the way suggested by the Royal Commission. Not only would that give us the answer to leg 1, but it would also give us the answer to leg 2, if it were generally agreed that the composition of the second Chamber should not swing with the violence that often characterises the composition of the House of Commons. In other words, those who take that view are not persuaded of the merits of one of the biggest changes implied by direct election—the selection of candidates by local activists. It is understandable that many local activists should be keen that they should be the key people in the selection process, but it is a narrowly conceived basis for selecting Members of this House, and the logic does not stack up, for the reasons that I suggested. "Cloning" the House of Commons would not be a reasonable conclusion to reach from that analysis.
If we are not going down that road of election via constituencies, it should be pointed out that the list system has additional downsides as well. If we went down that road, the likelihood would be of those voters who were still awake wondering why we bothered.
On the regional question, the case for a modest number of regional champions can be made and there is a variety of ways of appointing them. As we move towards regional assemblies in several parts of the country, for those areas there is a strong case for an experiment of indirect democracy analogous to the German system. It is interesting that this dimension was specifically noted by Robin Cook in his Statement on 19th June. It would not be right to have endless speeches just about the regional dimension of X, Y or Z. There is a need to learn experimentally from a degree of experience implied here. Dare one suggest that stage two will need to be followed in 10 years by stage three?.
This must be put into the perspective of many other roles played here. With the advent of regional assemblies, it may be the case that 20 per cent elected not necessarily used in the connotation of 20 per cent in the voting exercise on 4th February—would reflect that the regional Members experience for themselves 626 that it would be counter-productive to put a regional angle on all, or even most, issues. One may ask: what is the position of East Anglia on the reconstruction of the Balkans?
In conclusion, I see no reason why the people involved in the regional experiment could not operate quite easily on the same system of travel and subsistence allowances as the rest of us. Everyone seems to be saying the opposite. I do not understand why. They would not be working longer hours than most active Members here today.
Finally, I have been trying to get my brain around the rather arresting metaphor of the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, that election is necessary as a type of anointing. There is certainly no shortage of anointment. Perhaps I may ask: are all full-time politicians always in touch in a way they would like the term to be understood? I give a recent example. Last summer, the House of Commons made a decision radically to improve its pension arrangements with a benefit formula that changed fiftieths to fortieths, consequently moving from 25 years to 20 years to achieve a half-salary index-linked pension. That may sound fine, but this is at a time when much of the industry is moving the other way and moving from fiftieths to sixtieths. In other words, retirement is being postponed from 25 to 30 years when members can have half pension, and to 40 years for a two-thirds pension, which is not index-linked.
The fact is that we should all keep in touch with our various hinterlands in different ways. It is not unreasonable to conclude that the rather different feedback of the different hinterlands of the two Houses adds to the total value of Parliament as a sounding board and representation of the whole of society.
§ 7.13 p.m.
§ Lord Phillips of Sudbury
My Lords, first, I should like to congratulate the Joint Committee on its report which has been admirably put together. Secondly, in view of my later remarks, I should like to say now that I have the highest possible regard for another place and the Members of Parliament who serve in it. Thirdly, in view of the opening speech of my noble friend Lady Williams of Crosby, it is probably necessary to say that these Benches are not united. The last attempt to gather where we stood on the issue of election or otherwise was organised by my noble friend Lord Dahrendorf three years ago, when the split was in the region of 60 in favour of more election and 40 in favour of less or no election.
I believe, as does the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, that the badge of democracy is elections. For us to support broadly the status quo can look like special pleading. None the less, I run both those risks for the reasons that I shall briefly enunciate. Many of the five qualities or attributes which the Joint Committee put forward—namely, legitimacy, representativeness, non-dominance by a single party, independence and expertise—are conflicting. However, as regards independence, it is clear that more election will mean less independence.
627 I should like to turn to the issue of the type of people who would enter this House by election and the manner of that election. It is fruitless for those who support election to pretend that those elected Members would be less dependent on party patronage than their brethren in another place. In fact, they would be more dependent on party patronage because the list system at elections effectively places the elective process into the hands of a tiny clique of party activists. I say that with great regret, but I believe that elections by closed party lists are a gross sham of democracy.
The second reality is the type of people who will come to this place with its inferior powers. All my noble friends emphasise that these inferior powers really do not matter, but who will want to come to a House of inferior powers if he or she is of first-class ability? This will be their second choice, and I do not much like that.
In addition, who will want to be in a hybrid House with a lack of experience and expertise? The nature of modern politics is that people can get into politics only by what one might call a professional political route. Day by day, elected Members will be exposed to the appointees in the House who are here precisely because of their pre-eminence in the real world. The final issue that concerns me is that there is a risk that the elective process will yield a majority in this place the same as the majority in another place. Then, where is democracy?
I turn now to the issue of holding the executive to power, which is the principle role of the House of Commons and, to a lesser extent, this place. I ask: how is the Commons doing? What is the best demonstration of effective holding to power of a Government? Most people would say that it is the ability of the Opposition in the House of Commons to vote down measures by the Government which they think are bad or misconceived. Perhaps we may look at the statistics. In the five Sessions of Parliament since the present Government came to power in 1997, there have been 1,640 Divisions in the House of Commons. On how many occasions were the Government defeated in a whipped vote? The answer is not one.
I put it to the House that for all the grand talk about legitimacy, the reason that there is a decline in democratic allegiance in this country is that the House of Commons is no longer able to hold the executive to account at all.
In the same period, in this place, we had 639 whipped votes. The Government won 475; they were defeated in 164 Divisions. Therefore, in one in four Divisions throughout the five-year period, the Government in this place have been defeated, whereas in another place, on not one single occasion have they been defeated in a whipped Division. In the past year, the number of defeats has risen from one in four to one in three. The Divisions are not the end of the matter because on the back of defeats governments tend to be much more pliant towards opposition amendments. If one were to add up the number of forced amendments, it would be seen to be 628 a huge number; more than at the other end of the corridor. In looking to legitimacy, it is reasonable to look at those statistics.
I put it to the noble Lord, Lord Richard, and my noble friend and colleague Lord Oakeshott, what would have been the position during the past five years if in this place we had had a wholly-elected or a part-elected Chamber? Would we then have defied the Government effectively in those 164 Divisions, so as to give some bracing to the democratic process? If we had, I suspect that the issue of legitimacy would have been in play. How could an elected Chamber here defeat the Government 164 times and the primary elected Chamber not defeat them once without the issue of legitimacy being inescapably to the fore? It is Alice in Wonderland to pretend that legitimacy is about where powers rest. It is from how the public perceive the exercise of power that legitimacy and authority follow.
If, on the other hand, we in this place had gone the way of all flesh and not defeated the Government a single time, we would have let down the traditions of this House and the country. I cannot see any in-between position.
The noble Lord, Lord Richard, quoted from a poll on the question of legitimacy. I tried to gather local opinion in my home town in Suffolk at the time of the last debate and held a public meeting on a wet Friday night in November. To my surprise, 85 local citizens tipped up. They went at it with a will. The idea that the public are not interested in this place or its reform is nonsense.
The calibre of debate, the wisdom of contributions and the awareness of the real issues were quite stirring. The only issue that I put to them— I did not speak, I merely chaired the occasion—was whether, at the end of their two hours, they would favour a more elected or a more appointed House. The result was that four out of five favoured a more appointed House.
I hazard a guess that if there were a serious debate throughout the country about the reforms that we are contemplating, that would be the general response. It concerns me just a little that we carry on these great deliberations in a hermetically sealed Chamber. There is a world out there. It is their Parliament. They have a right to express a view and what are we doing about it?
I am not deeply enamoured of referenda, but if we here were to come to a radically different conclusion from our brethren in another place, why not contemplate a referendum of the British people so that they could decide what should happen to their second Chamber?
I conclude by agreeing with the points of view expressed most notably by the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth. The complementary nature of this place, vis-à-vis another, is not only desirable, but essential, particularly since another place has become more and more a Chamber of professional politicians for reasons that I think we all understand.
I pay tribute to the Prime Minister for deciding that with the removal of the bulk of the hereditary Peers, he would not pack this place, but would leave the balance 629 of life Peers roughly proportionate to the votes that each of the three main parties received in the previous election. That has made this place a House with no built-in majority. I do not know whether your Lordships, like me, find the need to persuade people to one's point of view entirely desirable, but that is a function that could survive the reforms that we are contemplating—in particular, a higher position and profile for the appointments commission.
§ 7.24 p.m.
§ Lord Ampthill
My Lords, I have only two points to make and I will do so very briefly.
First, I would like to follow the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, in congratulating the Joint Committee on its admirable report. That means, I fear, that I have to depart from the hugely enjoyable speech of the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers. That he covered all the ground, one cannot but agree, but why he had to be so beastly to his noble friend, I am not so sure. Without the Joint Committee, we would not have reached the present stage where the point of a fully appointed House could be debated.
I disagree with very few of the conclusions of the Joint Committee or its views, all of which were expressed with great clarity. The disparity of opinions held in each House, and the requirement of the two components of the Joint Committee to settle the fate of only one House, speaks very highly of the skill of the chairman.
Secondly, I feel the need to express penitence for part of my remarks made during the debate on the Government's White Paper one year ago. After being extremely unpleasant about that document (as were the majority of your Lordships), in an endeavour to be constructive, I came forward with the 50/50 option of appointed and elected. In the year that has elapsed, I have come to believe that a hybrid House will never work. My noble and learned friend Lord Lloyd of Berwick, who has moved from his seat to avoid being stabbed in the back, goes for the proposal that I made a year ago. If any noble Lord who is a member of a political party believes that we Cross-Benchers agree with each other, he is totally mistaken. Amazingly, we spend as much time disagreeing with each other as with the parties and it is a miracle that we get so much done.
No matter what the proportions, the elected Members will inevitably feel themselves to be superior beings to the rest. The remarkable effectiveness of the House over the centuries and continuing to this day will no longer be there.
I am in favour of a 100 per cent appointed House and I deeply hope that that will be the decision on 4th February. I wholeheartedly agree with every word that was said by the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, in an impeccable speech.
The difficult task that lies ahead for the Joint Committee is to conceive a composition of the body which will do the appointing. One can only wish it well.
§ 7.27 p.m.
§ Lord Hughes of Woodside
My Lords, when a couple in the Highlands who were totally lost stopped in a little village and asked one of the local worthies for directions, he looked at them, scratched his head and said, "Well, frankly, I wouldn't start from here". That is a problem that we have at the moment. We have to start from where we are now.
My second point is that I do not believe that there is such a thing as a perfect constitution. Nowhere in the world is there a perfect constitution. People will always find flaws in it. The one thing that we need, when we finally come to a conclusion on future reform, is stability. It is no use having a second bash at it, in the knowledge that there will be further controversy, and then another bash and so on. That would not do the country or the Government much good.
The problem is that the genie of reform is out of its bottle. I am not sure that we can put it back when we think that we have had enough reform. We are seeing an inexorabale dynamic over which we have no control and nobody knows where it will finish.
The noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, made much of the fact that since the Life Peerages Act we have had a hybrid House which has seemed to work very well. It begs the question: why did we start reform? Why did we abolish the majority of the hereditary Peers with the promise that the rest would follow after a short period of time?
It is not hybridity which is the secret; it is what sort of hybridity one can achieve. Despite the hilarity caused to the noble Lord, Lord McNally, earlier, my view is that there is no in-between. The House is either wholly appointed or wholly elected. The author of that is myself and nobody else. I shall try to explain why.
The powers of this place, which have been under discussion for a long time, drive us to two different perspectives. One is in the present case, where there is a strong feeling that there should be a stronger House of Lords. The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, has said that. These views arise from the impotence of opposition in the House of Commons. The other proposal—that the House of Lords should be weakened—comes from a government who are very strong in the House of Commons but fear that the House of Lords will frustrate their objectives.
There will always be intense scrutiny on this House. We are not having an academic, theoretical discussion between the two Houses. The new House of Lords, whatever form it takes, will be under intense media scrutiny. Have we forgotten—I certainly have not—that the Labour Party used to say when it was defeated in the House of Lords that it was the hereditaries who were at fault. It did its sums and if the majority against a proposition consisted of hereditaries, it was all the hereditaries' fault.
In a hybrid House, the first time a popular—perhaps I should say populist—measure is defeated in the House of Lords, the sums will be done. If the life Peers stop this populist measure proceeding through the transitional House, I can see the red top headlines now—"It was the lifers what did it". Then, when the 631 lifers eventually disappear and there is a new appointed body, it will be the nominated upper Members of Parliament who will be responsible for stopping the popular will of the elected Members of the House of Lords. Their actions will be reduced to derogatory comments such as, "It was Numptys what did it". That will happen.
In my opinion, there is an inexorable drive towards a fully elected House of Lords. That is inescapable. The challenge between the two Houses will come when the House of Lords tackles a government with a very narrow majority. It will not come when there is a huge majority one way or the other—as there was during the Thatcher years and as there is at present—but when there is a close balance in the House of Commons. The challenge will come from here and the House will be driven to assert its authority. No elected Members will be able to rest on the proposition that he or she has no power to challenge the House of Commons.
It has been said that it would be very easy to carry on the way we are; that the conventions should remain in place. But conventions exist only as long as there is the will to allow them to exist. Elected Members are certain to feel that they are not bound by convention; that they have a legitimacy. We use the word "legitimacy" as a mantra, as if it is nothing but a simple phrase. But it is very serious. Once you are elected and have legitimacy, you must stand up for that legitimacy.
If we are to go down the road of striking a balance between the rules that govern the House of Commons and the House of Lords and their powers, we must have a written constitution. A noble Lord said earlier that government of the country cannot be settled by unelected judges. I do not wish to cast aspersions on their capacity—I have no malicious motive towards the judges—but they will have to decide on the basis of the merits as they see them. So instead of an unelected House of 600 plus Members, you will have an unelected government of perhaps a dozen judges. It does not make sense. So, quite clearly in my view, there will have to be a written constitution—and most people shy from going down the road of a written constitution.
It is said that elected Members will not have any constituency matters to deal with. An example of how that does not work can be found in the Scottish Parliament. For those who do not know, the Scottish Parliament consists of a number of directly elected Members, with top-up Members from each region so that there is a balance throughout the country. It was initially suggested that the top-up Members should not be paid so much because they would not have a constituency responsibility and would not need the same amount of research money—I am not arguing on the grounds of cost—but the fact is that before they got their feet under the table they were receiving the same salary and the same amount of research money.
Although they are not supposed to have any constituency responsibilities, what happens is that if a constituent is dissatisfied with the work done by his Member of the Scottish Parliament, he will go to the top-up Member, who has been elected indirectly. That 632 is bad enough, but top-up members have to justify their positions on the list to their own party members—a list system is used for top-up members—and so they go looking for trouble. They will sit down, look at the papers for a popular issue where they believe the elected Members are not doing a proper job, and they dive in, boots and all. I do not know—perhaps the noble Earl opposite who is a Member of the Scottish Parliament can tell the House, at a later stage, not in the middle of my remarks—how many times the Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament has had to rebuke top-up Members for interfering and going beyond their remit. Quite often, I believe. So the idea that people can operate in a kind of vacuum in this place and not interfere with the work of elected Members does not stand up.
I began by saying that we needed stability. If we are to have that stability we have to bite the bullet and decide whether to go down the road of a wholly appointed House and agree that that will be the end of the matter. I suspect that it will not be. Once the genie is out of the bottle and we start to speak about elections, we will not be able to put it back. We cannot have stability as long as we have the argument every three or four years of "We have got to have more elections"; "We have got to have more elected Members"; "The House of Lords is not legitimate".
On balance, I believe that we have got to bite the bullet and go down the road of a fully elected second Chamber. I accept that that will pose more questions than it answers. It poses the question of how the House of Lords should be elected. Do we accept the fact that in a wholly elected Chamber there would be no Cross-Benchers and no representatives of the Church of England or any other faith? Fortunately there will still be room for atheists like me, although I would go as well under a wholly elected system. I would find that difficult. I have not gone native, but I do like this place.
We are in grave danger of arriving at the wrong solution at the wrong time. I do not advocate delay for delay's sake—that would be the worst of all worlds and make us impotent—and so I shall conclude as I began. We have started the process and we cannot hold it back. We have to make a choice—and a hybrid Chamber is the worst possible answer of all.
§ 7.38 p.m.
§ Lord Dixon-Smith
My Lords, I add my thanks to those of many other noble Lords to the Joint Committee of both Houses for the work it has done in putting together the report guiding our debate today.
When listening to my noble and learned Lord friend Lord Howe and the noble Lord, Lord Carter, who both served on the committee, opening the debate, I was fascinated that they both quoted, as an example of this House at its best, the anti-terrorism Act 2002. I had some hand in the passage of the Bill through this House in the few short weeks that it was here. I agree completely that it was an example of this House working at its best, but as an example of this House working within the conventions of Parliament under the existing remit it had no status at all. The Bill was debated entirely outside the 633 normal conventions of the relationship between the two Houses. The Government said that they wanted the Bill as an emergency Bill. That gave this House enormous power which it would not otherwise have had. The Government could not resort to the Parliament Act and they wanted the Bill in a hurry. I say no more.
Historically, the reform of this House has always been difficult. The other place has had difficulty over the idea that its legitimacy and authority—most importantly, its primacy—might be reduced if the authority of this House were increased.
That right to primacy is based on the evolution of Parliament over centuries and on the sovereignty of the people—derived nowadays through elections. That was appropriate and valid. But time has moved on. I cannot see how electing Members to this Chamber would in any way endanger the primacy of the people—they would be choosing Members of this House. It is the primacy of the people that matters, not the primacy of the other Chamber. There is a clear distinction.
The Government have ensured—as the noble Lord, Lord Richard, said—the departure of the old truisms. The 1999 Act removed the ancient problem of the hereditary Peers. I could have wished for that Act to be passed more graciously and pleasantly. Sadly, it was not so. But with the removal of that obstacle to reform, it is now much easier for the process to move forward.
In any event, Parliament itself is continuing to evolve. One has only to look at developments in another place to see great change. Today, after half a century of continuing development, we see the executive arm in the other place completely dominating it—to the point where our system of government might be described, in the phrase of the late Lord Hailsham, as an "elective dictatorship".
Given that situation—and given that if you are in such a position of authority it is extremely attractive to want to continue to enjoy it—I find it sad but understandable that we see an increasing tendency for the press to report— presumably for high authoritative sources within the Government—that a minimalist approach to the reform of this place is appropriate.
The structure and function of Parliament and the relationship between the two Houses should not be determined for the convenience of the executive. It should be determined in the best interests of the people of this country. Again, there is a clear distinction.
Given that background, the issue is not whether one is in favour of an appointed House or an elected House. One can say with certainty that an elected House, or a House with a proportion of elected Members, will be in the greater interests of the British people. I have no hesitation in putting forward that general proposition. Indeed, people at large might feel in the end, whatever happened, that they were benefiting as a result.
When the committee goes back to work, after the votes have taken place, it will have, if not guidance, a knowledge of the way in which the two Houses have voted on the options before them. I hope that the committee will look again at the question of the conventions between the two Houses.
634 As the noble Lord, Lord Richard, said, the parliamentary landscape has changed. We are looking at pre-legislative scrutiny as a matter of routine. We are looking at carry-over as a matter of routine. If we have carry-over, why do we need the Parliament Act?
Scrutiny of legislation is based on a historical perception that Bills must pass in a single Session. I have been in this House for nine years, and I take the simple view that there is one Bill alone which has to be passed on an annual basis. I refer to the Finance Bill. Every other Bill could reasonably wait until it had achieved the agreement of both Houses. I hope that this issue will be thoroughly studied. I hope that we may see a slightly more progressive approach to the conventions between the two Houses.
If this were to result in a lowering of the frenetic pace of legislation passing through the House, I suggest that that might be beneficial. All too often in recent years, as my noble friend Lady Blatch on the Front Bench will recognise, we have started on a successor education Bill before its predecessor has been implemented. I do not wonder that those in the profession are demoralised. It is not surprising. They can hardly know whether they are standing on solid ground or on quicksand. Other government services suffer from the same problem. I am not referring merely to primary legislation. Regulations, guidance and targets pour out of Whitehall in a steady stream and detract from concentration on the basic services that the people of this country are trying to provide.
People are concerned that we should not create a mirror image of the other House. Several years ago, my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern indicated the method by which that need not be done. He said that if this House were fully elected, or if a proportion of Members were elected, the number of elected Members should be divisible by three, with no right of re-election and having membership for three Parliaments. That would mean a membership of 12 to 14 years on average. That would create a House, if elected by thirds, that would have the political swings of general elections damped, and it would be very different in character from another place.
I do not think that that would cause problems, even if there were occasionally greater tensions between the two Houses. In the end, the interests of both Houses and of all elected members are identical—the best interests of the people of this country.
§ 7.48 p.m.
§ Lord Jopling
My Lords, I begin with a few brief comments on the issue of elected or appointed members. I wish to add little to the points made by my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth in a most distinguished speech.
It is almost six years since I came to this House, in the face of the removal of the hereditary Peers. The comment was often made that this House would become more and more like the House of Commons. It has done, marginally. I do not think that it is any the worse for that. But it is my strong belief that if we had 635 an elected House—whether all elected or largely elected—it would quickly become a clone of the House of Commons.
Your Lordships' House has a function totally different from that of the House of Commons. It would be a huge mistake to turn it into a clone of another place. If elections are held, the parties will get hold of, and organise, them. If that happens, the Whips will get a much greater hold on this House. So, my inclination is to vote 'yes" to an all-appointed House and "no" to everything else.
I wish to draw attention to the position of the government in your Lordships' House. I have spoken about the influence of parties and party politics. We are involved in a democracy in which party politics play a strong part. We cannot expect this House to be sterilised from the party political process. In the report of the Joint Committee, which I applaud, there is a black hole, which few have recognised. I have been in the Chamber for most. of the afternoon, and the matter has been referred to very little. People outside your Lordships' House are astonished when told that, according to the figures in the report, the Government have only 27.6 per cent of the total vote in the House of Lords, while, between them, the two principal opposition parties have 41.5 per cent of the vote.
That is difficult to justify. It is unfair that the Government should have only 27.6 per cent of the vote. We have in the House of Lords a Labour government nearer the centre of the British political scene than we have seen for a long time. This Government's policies have not been as contentious as those of previous Labour governments. But, even so, we are told that the Government have been losing one vote in four in the past five Sessions.
What would happen if we were to have a government, Left-wing or Right-wing, whose stance and electoral platform was much more extreme than what we see today? If a government were elected to pursue much more contentious policies, they would be much more hotly contested on many issues by both the main opposition parties in this House. Would it be fair for a government elected by the will of the people to have only around 30 per cent of the votes in your Lordships' House? I go further: what would happen if in the United Kingdom there were an election result, like those in other countries over the years, whereby a party comes from nowhere a year or two before an election to become the government? In my time, in the 1980s, we saw the rise of the Social Democrat Party, which gave the Labour Party an enormous fright. It reached high levels in the public opinion polls. It would not have been too fanciful to suppose, if events had been different, that the Social Democrat Party, or another like it, could win an election.
What would happen if a party with virtually no members in this House were elected? That is the black hole I refer to. With a party in government with minimal representation, one of two things would have to happen. Either the government of the day would have to appoint many new peers using the Prime Minister's prerogative or Parliament would have to change the rules to enable government to have a guaranteed number of supporters. 636 Surely, if we want to avoid going through the wearisome process of Lords reform again, we should bite the bullet now and ensure that, however the electorate decide in the future, the government of the day will always have a fair chance of having their way endorsed in this House.
I have spoken about the matter before. The only way to do that is for the government of the day, after each election, speedily to be guaranteed an agreed percentage of the vote in your Lordships' House, with the opposition parties together having the same percentage. I have suggested before that the government of the day and the opposition parties might have 40 per cent each, with the Cross-Benchers having the remaining 20 per cent. I would not argue against the government and opposition parties each having only 35 per cent and the Cross-Benchers having 30 per cent. That would be for discussion.
The approach has certain advantages. It gives the government of the day a fair chance. If they suffered a long series of defeats in your Lordships' House, it would stop them from doing what I fear might be happening now: the government shrugging their shoulders and regarding the Lords increasingly as a mere nuisance to be routinely rolled over by the Commons. That would be bad. The other advantage is that it would inherently respect the ideal that no single party should be dominant in this House.
The disadvantages would be, first, that new life Peers would no longer have the right to sit in the House of Lords for life. Secondly, it would guarantee new life Peers a seat for only one parliamentary term. They would be told that, if the party remains in government, they might have a seat for further parliamentary terms. The problem would be deciding who will stay on after each election. In recent years, the hereditary Peers decided exactly that. Looking at some of my noble colleagues elected to stay on, one could hardly call them Whips' narks.
Such an approach would also deal with the problems of age limits and non-attendance, because it would be much easier to drop Peers off. I know that some of these ideas are unattractive to some, but we need to create a House that is better prepared for an election result reflecting an unusual will of the people. The House must be able quickly to readjust its membership to reflect the will of the people. Therefore, conclusion (xix) on page 28 of the Joint Committee's report, which states that 10 or 12 years is about right, would not work. If, because a government have minimal representation, a top-up is required to give them a reasonable working number of supporters in this House, the membership of the House would go through the roof quickly. We ought to make sure that we address the problem now so that we do not have to return to it in a panic in years to come.
§ 8 p.m.
§ Baroness Finlay of Llandaff
My Lords, I stand before you as a humble Member who has come here through an appointment's commission. I had no gong to my name and was no professional politician. I decided to fill out the demanding forms, motivated by 637 the words of my dead father. He always told me that if I wanted to change things in the world for the better, I must get to the top and not lose my principles on the way. That has motivated me throughout my career. As the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, said, this Parliament has fought for the rights and freedoms of the population. I will try to do my best in that tradition—to use my experience and knowledge to argue for the vulnerable and for what I sincerely believe is right. Because I continue to work clinically and in the university, the precious patients and the bright young students keep my feet firmly on the ground.
I should like to pick up briefly on a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Carter, concerning any election. In Wales in 1999, only 40 per cent of the electorate turned out to vote in the Assembly election, despite the publicity and the obvious importance to their future. Healthcare and education are delegated powers; there is a long-standing tradition of concern about both topics among the population of Wales.
Each constituency is well covered by those "elected" by this minority of the population. I shall give two typical examples. Preseli in Pembrokeshire is rural. It is covered by an MP, one constituency and four regional Assembly Members, one MEP and additionally, at local level, 60 county councillors. Wrexham in north Wales is similar. It has one MP, one constituency and four regional Assembly Members, one MEP and additionally, at local level, 52 county borough councillors and 34 community councillors. One way or another, up to 15 people can claim to represent one householder.
I, for one, would never have the resources to run an election campaign. In any case, how would independents be picked to stand? Even local political parties have not always had perfect reputations in the way in which candidates have been selected. Some selection committee would need to be held for those wishing to stand as independents. I remind your Lordships that apparently just over 3,600 applications were submitted for the 15 places that were available when I was appointed. If even half of those people had stood for election, mayhem could have ensued, and at what cost? How would the system be fairly organised? Would the electorate be asked to rubber-stamp some out of the selection committee's final shortlist?
I support the proposal of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon, that a statutory independent appointments commission is established. Such a commission must examine all the nominations. Everyone to be considered should complete the forms and be considered. They could be from any political party or be non-party independent. They could be senior religious figures or even the occasional current hereditary, whose great expertise has much to offer a reformed Chamber, as the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, eloquently advocated. There should be no patronage and no party donation to influence the process. They must be open, transparent and subject to scrutiny.
638 The commission must be charged with ensuring that there is representation across the socio-economic, ethnic and expert strata of society. I know people who would contribute a great deal but could never get elected. Let me give an example. Long-term unemployed through disability, this highly intelligent and widely read man's lame leg restricts mobility, his deafness makes campaigning without help and resources difficult and his marked facial palsy would not make a pretty picture on an election pamphlet. But his formidable intelligence and experience of poverty, loneliness and social exclusion through deformity might well inform debate.
As part of the reform, could the wives of Peers have the same non-status as do husbands? I am quite happy that my husband has no title but, I might add, my children are truly honourable.
There is another issue of powers. As the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, highlighted, the checks and balances that this House exerts over English legislation are not similarly in place for Scotland, nor for secondary legislation affecting Wales. Perhaps there are major issues lurking here. When will major incompatibilities in legislation emerge?
The expertise here is formidable. I should like to see more women and greater representation of different ethnic and social groups in society being openly appointed, with a commitment to work hard for this country and to remain up to date in their area of expertise, contributing where they should for the good of this great nation.
§ 8.6 p.m.
§ Lord Davies of Coity
My Lords, along with other noble Lords, I know that a great deal that is said in this debate will be repeated. There is no doubt that I shall touch on an argument that has previously been expressed. But I make no apology for this, as I believe that the historical development that we are embarking on needs to be addressed by all those who feel passionately about the issue.
Before us we have a range of options spanning a wide spectrum, from a totally appointed House to a fully elected House. At the outset, I immediately confess my unequivocal support for a wholly appointed House. I know that there will be those who will say of me, as an appointed Peer, "He would say that, wouldn't he?" However, such a superficial view is not of great value because, as I understand it, we life Peers are protected whatever formula is finally determined for this place.
In my arguments I hope to show that a fully appointed upper House is not anti-democratic but is in the best interests of the nation. Of the range of options before us, it is my view that the only principled alternatives are a fully appointed or a fully elected House. Although I am against the introduction of a wholly elected House, I appreciate that those who support it do so from a standpoint of principle. However, the range of options expressing the introduction of a part-appointed and part-elected House reflects a total absence of principle and only mirrors a compromise attempting to satisfy the varying shades of opinion.
639 Although I saw no justification for hereditary Peers remaining in this House, and said so at the time, there was a greater consistency between hereditary and life Peers than there will be between appointed and elected Peers. Hereditary and life Peers were appointed, one group by a system of heritage and. the other by the Prime Minister. Those are different forms of appointment, but appointment nevertheless. Far more complex difficulties will arise from the presence of elected Peers in this House.
An overwhelming majority of life Peers in this House have considerable experience in one or more areas of our national life—in industry, culture, the arts, media, the judiciary, medicine, the armed services, education, the diplomatic service and so on. That is what enables the House to make a unique contribution to the country's democratic system, and it should be reinforced and underpinned rather than destroyed or removed. With the introduction of elected Peers, I fear that the fruitful paradigm that we now display will be lost for ever.
If the experience of the introduction of the European Parliament is anything to go by, there is no doubt that many standing for election to this House will see it as a stepping stone to another place. Whether elected Peers are directly or indirectly elected, they will be more accountable because of their election than will appointed Peers. Even if that accountability is difficult to define, they will legitimately be entitled to claim it.
That will throw up further problems. For instance, elected Peers could claim that they are superior to appointed Peers and therefore entitled to all the Front Bench positions. They will feel, and claim, that their election entitles them to be more a part of government or opposition than appointed Peers. However, the much greater problem, on which I shall elaborate when I come to my opposition to a fully elected House, is that elected Peers could not possibly accept the limitations of this House, which have evolved in the interests of the country's democratic process. I hope to show that, contrary to being undemocratic, a wholly appointed House of Lords bolsters democracy, as do many other unelected institutions in this country.
Having relatively recently removed the trappings of a hybrid House with the removal of hereditary Peers, only further confusion will result from the introduction of another hybrid House through the provision of part-elected and part-appointed Peers. That is worse than jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire, if that is possible.
It is a gross oversimplification to state automatically, as I have heard so often, that election equates to democracy. The pre-eminent House in our democracy is the House of Commons. Members of the Commons fight the general elections, form the government, determine the legislation and face the electorate. They are accountable to the people of this country and responsible for the stewardship of the country's affairs, both nationally and internationally. That is as it should be, and I fully support that position, which fully satisfies the fundamental democratic position that we in this House work to underpin. Many institutions that underpin our democratic structure, such as the Civil Service, the 640 judiciary, the Armed Services and the police, are not involved in any form of election. That is not always the case around the world.
This House has very limited legislative responsibility—and I emphasise the phrase "very limited". We scrutinise and sometimes propose revision of legislation and can delay but not prevent the passage of legislation. We debate matters of widespread importance. We more often helpfully complement the Commons than obstructively challenge it. That is our unequalled contribution to the democratic process. We dot "i"s and cross "t"s.
To some that may seem boring, and I fear that that would be the case for elected Peers. I can understand that. However, for appointed life Peers who have made their mark before coming here—bringing a wealth of experience, knowledge and expertise that enables them to draw attention to the practical difficulties which can often arise from the principled legislation that is proposed—the only motivation is to serve.
The whole approach would be different with a wholly elected House. Elected Peers would not see their work and responsibilities as we see them. They would not accept the limitations which we accept in fulfilling our part in the democratic process. In such circumstances, I fear that, sooner or later, there would be an unavoidable head-on collision between the two elected Houses which, after a lengthy period of chaos that will do nothing for the well-being of this nation, could very well lead to abolition of the House of Lords. I believe without any doubt whatever that this House best serves the people, the country and the country's democratic structure by being a wholly appointed House.
§ 8.14 p.m.
§ Lord Thomas of Swynnerton
My Lords, until recently, I thought that if we had to have a new House of Lords, we should do best to have one that was directly elected on a system different from that applying to another place. I have come to realise, however, that it is our current diversity of interest that makes this such a useful and interesting Chamber. The presence of a large Cross-Bench element is desirable. As the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, pointed out, that probably would not occur if this were a wholly elected House. I think that we should go to very great trouble indeed to ensure that something like that which we currently have is preserved or at least improved.
Like many other noble Lords, I believe that we should aim at a system in which election and nomination are combined. However, both the method of nomination and the method of election should be considered originally and imaginatively. Let us suppose that we had a House of 600, half nominated, half elected, and let us consider first the nominated element. I have some suggestions. To maintain what might be called the religious reality of the country, we could, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, suggested, cut the number of Anglican bishops to perhaps 18—as was indeed suggested, in the 1960s, in the Crossman reforms—and fill their places with some Catholic 641 bishops as well as with, say, the Chief Rabbi, some Islamic representation and leaders of other Churches for their time in office.
The Speakers of the Scottish Parliament and the Northern Ireland and the Welsh Assemblies might also be appointed as ex officio Members, as the current incumbents suggested in a letter printed at the back of the committee's report. If the ceremonial side of Parliament is to be preserved and maintained, as is certainly desirable, surely there is a case for thinking that the noble Lords, the Earl Marshal and the Lord Great Chamberlain, also should remain in this House as ex officio Members. I think that, in the long run, British civilisation—or English civilisation; however one wishes to describe it—will be remembered for our poets more than for our parliamentarians. So I suggest that the Poet Laureate is another candidate for ex officio nomination.
It could also be agreed that several other office holders should always be nominated to this House. I cite the Secretary-General of the TUC, the Chief of the Defence Staff, the heads of the Foreign Office and the Treasury, the Cabinet Secretary, and perhaps the Permanent Secretaries of one or two other departments of state along with some ambassadors, such as those to the European Union and the United Nations. They might normally expect to join this House on their retirement. Such nominations happen very often now, but it might be good to have the convention formally and even legally agreed. Currently, ex-members of the Cabinet customarily join this House, as do European Commissioners after they leave Brussels. Those conventions should continue, and they might be enshrined in a parliamentary convention, if not in law. I hope, too, that Law Lords will remain Members of this House at least for some years after their retirement.
Noble Lords will see that I am making several different proposals: one for ex officio membership along the lines of what now obtains with bishops; one for ex officio membership for Law Lords; and one for membership—probably, but not certainly, for life—for some others on the ground that their experience should enable them to make a good contribution to this House.
It has always been the case that the Prime Minister has named persons to this House because he or she wants them to be Ministers. The commission's reports specifically envisaged that practice continuing. It would be desirable, if the House goes on doing more or less what it is doing now. That is all I have to say for the moment in respect of nominated members.
I turn to the matter of election. I have here another complicated series of suggestions for your Lordships' interest. Half the elected members might, indeed, be chosen by direct election based on some system different from that which pertains in the elections to another place. Perhaps it could be comparable to the proportional representation which obtains in the elections for the European Parliament, and even be carried through at the same time and in the same constituencies.
642 We could assume that the vast majority of those new members would be politicians, and the Front Benches on all sides of this House might be expected to come from those persons. That would account for a quarter of the new House—say, 150 members. As to the other half of the elected members—another 150—I suggest some arrangement whereby professional associations elect members. My noble and learned friend Lord Lloyd thought that it was not necessary to specify who should be elected in such a way, but I think that there is a case for specifying. To take an obvious example, two or three vice-chancellors could be elected members of this House by the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals. I refer also to schoolmasters and university teachers; solicitors, barristers, doctors, surgeons and vets; authors, including historians; trade unionists, of course; newspaper, television, magazine and media workers and proprietors; people who work in the social and health services; those who work in City companies or in manufacturing industry; members of the Armed Services and the police; nurses and firemen, and so on. All could hold elections too through the professional body which most of those professions have, although if necessary such things could be specially devised for the occasion of the election.
Electors might be able to choose whether they wanted to vote for members by proportional representation in the way that I suggested a moment or two ago, or in the elections within those professional groups. Some will think that this idea smacks of corporatism, as was said when something similar was proposed in the 1970s by the late Lord Hailsham. But we should not be afraid of words if they can serve us. Others will argue that what I have suggested is far too complicated. However, the way in which a Doge was elected in Venice was extremely complicated but, as your Lordships will be aware, the institution lasted 1,000 years.
I make no claim that the proportions I have suggested—150 here, 150 there, a third there and so on—are exactly right; but I do think that if we were to adopt something like these plans, we would have an upper Chamber which would preserve, even expand, the diversity of what we have now but establish it on a better moral basis.
§ 8.23 p.m.
My Lords, we have heard a number of powerful opening speeches and others that have followed, including that of the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Swynnerton, a brilliant historian. They have made a significant contribution to the discussion in hand.
Clearly, there is a variety of views still to be expressed in this important debate, culminating in a vote next week on seven options. I support a programme for the ongoing evolution of your Lordships' House, part of a process that began with the Parliament Act of 1911—an interesting example of the inevitability of gradualness.
Briefly, I should like to envisage at this stage a House part-appointed including hereditary Peers, and part-elected on the lines of the US Senate, with representatives 643 from each geographical region or county of the constituent parts of the United Kingdom. The overall membership might be in the order of 500. Each elected Peer or senator—I am attracted to that historic appellation—would serve for up to four years, with reelection available thereafter.
I realise that another place would be unlikely to agree, but any democratically elected element of the upper House should have similar voting powers to the Commons, with reasonable use of Whipping to secure the maximum possible freedom of decision-making.
Consideration should also be given for a select committee of the Privy Council or a senior advisory board on present lines to recommend appointed Members. Present and new Members engaged in a variety of key national areas would be involved, particularly all those engaged in enhancing the quality of education in science, technology, healthcare and a comprehensive range of the arts and humanities. Expertise would continue to be maximised in other priority sectors by the regular addition of further senior figures, as described by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, for the many areas of public and religious life represented in the House. The remarkable record in this country and the Commonwealth of inventive and literary genius, as evidenced by the number of Nobel Prize winners, should be reflected by a larger representation of them in this House.
The appointed Members should have the same voting rights as at present, for they would continue to make a notable contribution to discussion, with expert advice for elected Members.
As a retired businessman, I feel that there is a positive role in this Chamber for active and independent leaders of commerce and industry. Their organisational skills could help parliamentary committees to improve the value obtained in public capital investment, commensurate with the high quality standards required.
In this age of live parliamentary debate, perhaps a limited form of carefully monitored electronic voting might be contemplated.
Finally, while allowing life membership for nationally renowned figures, there should normally be an age of retirement for legislators. In order not to be controversial, may I suggest my own!
§ 8.28 p.m.
§ The Duke of Montrose
My Lords, I do not pretend to be able to match the intellectual and detailed approach of the two noble Lords who have just spoken.
I became slightly worried when my noble and learned friend Lord Howe of Aberavon began telling us that this discussion has been going on as long as history. I felt slightly more at home when my noble friend Lord Selborne said that it had been going on for 90 years. That ties in with a letter that I have at home written by my grandfather to my father, saying that the reform of the House of Lords was due and that it had gone on in the previous generation's day—that of my great grandfather.
644 The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, in winding up the debate in this House on 18th December, hoped that the Government would receive the approval of history for their record of constitutional reform. There has certainly been plenty of such reform but, as we contemplate the further reform of this House, it might be worth reminding ourselves of the sentiments of Edmund Burke in 1790 in the midst of the most fundamental changes in the British constitution or "commonwealth" that we have ever known. He said that,by this unprincipled facility of changing the state as often, and as much, and in as many ways as there are floating fancies and fashions, the whole chain and continuity of the commonwealth would be broken. No one generation could link with another. Men would become little better than flies of a summer".So it is more important than ever that whatever we do, we get it right.
I realise that there are those in various walks of life who think that our past and traditions as represented in this House were somehow misguided and a terrible mistake: a catalogue of exploitation and misery that should be swept into the dustbin of history. However, that does not appear to be the overall mood of the country. I like to think that a different view was in evidence recently at the time of the Queen's Golden Jubilee. Millions place great value in our customs and traditions, our religious persuasions and our links with our origins, however tenuous they may be.
At the level of practical experience, as a farmer, I have been able to see the marks in the countryside of the struggles over hundreds of years of previous generations with the land and nature. The structures and shapes of the past are things from which each succeeding generation has learned and benefited. I like to think that the same can be said of your Lordships' House and the concepts that have underpinned it. Of course, we have come a long way from the feudal concepts that established this place. As I see it, because of their property, the nobles in the early centuries were representatives of their areas, but also in those areas they were the ultimate authority in local government, in Church appointments, in the local courts of justice and in collecting the finance to support those functions. In those days what we now call "the local enterprise company" and the wealth of their area depended on their actions and initiatives. Along with that, they were encouraged to bring a sense of history and civic duty. So there was a reason, other than just their rank, for having them involved in the legislative process.
However, the general experience over the years, both then and now, has led us to conclude that, when individual men are given so much power, it can corrupt their judgment and self-interest can lead them to make their own interests paramount. That was the accusation that was most often levelled at hereditary Peers such as me—and sometimes, one has to say, that was done with reason. Those who come to occupy this place in years to come will have to show that they can overcome that accusation. In the event, successive governments have taken away most of that power and the structures of the country are now very different.
645 The Joint Committee demanded that the quality of representatives should be one of the major features of a new House. I would like to think that in fulfilling representativeness, any revised Chamber should be constructed in such a way as to give a voice to those different strands of our national life, whether it is of institution, geography or community.
That leads me to favour—as do the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon, to mention but two—the first option listed in the committee's report. However, in doing so we must recognise that much will have to be done to convince the general public of its authority and that that is a sensible and modern thing to do.
As was perhaps illustrated by the convictions of the noble Lord, Lord Parekh, we must face the fact that our representatives have gone to the ends of the world telling everyone that governments must have elections without pointing out that this country has gained by having within its structure an element of appointment. Not least in that regard have been the present Government, who have been able to appoint a large selection of very able Ministers to sit on the Front Benches in your Lordships' House. I have the temerity to suggest, rather like the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, that it would have been extremely difficult for some of them to be enlisted on any other basis.
If asked whether any other proposals were thought to have merit, I should not be totally opposed to having a small elected element, but certainly not one that represented a democratic mandate to challenge another place. I should see it mainly as a way of ensuring regional representation and in particular for letting the public comprehend that this House does contain a regional voice, whose authority comes from the people who live in the area.
The committee's present proposal which comes nearest to that is that 20 per cent of Members should be elected. But, following the mathematics of my noble friend Lord Ferrers, that must mean in the region of 120 or perhaps even 140 elected Members. I should have thought that a perfectly reasonable representation could be made by half that number—say, 87—based on the old European electoral constituencies. Compared with some of the others, such an arrangement might offer a little less confusion for the voters and less demand on the returning officers. If it were, as suggested in a submission to the committee, a matter of including the speakers of the various regional assemblies, then they would be among those subject to appointment.
The committee is right to emphasise the five qualities that it lists in Part 3 of the report. I believe we should have confidence that those can be met and that a reformed House will be able to attract a membership with a sense of history and of the civic duty which is required in the modern world.
§ 8.35 p.m.
§ Lord Sheldon
My Lords, among the tasks of the House of Lords is that of correcting some of the deficiencies of the House of Commons. I used to argue the case for 646 correcting those deficiencies before changing anything in the House of Lords. Now, I believe that those deficiencies have become much worse, largely due to the domination by the executive of the House of Commons. Perhaps I may give some examples of that.
What did the executive-dominated House of Commons do? It made two great errors: the poll tax and the privatisation of British Rail. Those measures were strongly opposed throughout the whole of Parliament, yet they were carried through by the strong will of the executive. Robert Adley, whom I remember with great affection, called rail privatisation the "poll tax on wheels". That is what it was. We do not need to duplicate in the House of Lords the same political representation that is found in the House of Commons. That would result in the same kind of domination by the executive here, which is not the case at present.
There are 659 Members of the House of Commons and there is little benefit in tackling the problems and the questions in the same way. But there is an advantage in having a House of Lords which, with the experience and expertise of its Members, looks at decisions made by the Commons and, in the light of the comments made, calls for further examination of the issues. That is the real gain in constitutional terms.
I played a part in the Parliament (No. 2) Bill in 1968. In my view, since those days in 1967 and 1968, the House of Commons has moved even further from what I would want it to be. As a consequence of the reduction in the hereditary element, the House of Lords has become rather more relevant. Today, the House of Commons is too dominated by the executive and there has been little separation of powers between the executive and the legislature.
Of course, as we know, that separation of powers has always been limited, but the limited independence of the legislature has weakened over the past 50 years. The power of the House of Commons has declined as more MPs have become full-time Members, subject more and more to the pressures of the executive. People who made a contribution to life outside the House of Commons with their experience and independence nowadays rather more rarely come to the House of Commons. Therefore, the House of Commons continues to be increasingly dominated by the executive.
The very limited separation of powers that we had in the House of Commons has been diminishing, partly because of the narrower recruitment taking place from outside and partly because of the improved pay, which makes a parliamentary career less of a financial sacrifice for some would-be MPs than it used to be. For some, that financial sacrifice was more acceptable in a world where the Member of Parliament could more readily play an important role in national and international affairs. That does not happen in quite the same way today.
Those who came from outside into Parliament were captains of industry and leaders of one kind or another. We had the trade union leaders, Frank Cousins and John Horner of the Fire Brigades Union; we had d'Avigdor Goldsmith, a bullion dealer and a great 647 character; and Harold Lever. Plenty of people came from outside but we are not seeing that today. Those people had background, experience and a contribution to make. They had made it outside Parliament and could make it within Parliament.
Today, on any subject, the House of Lords can field Members with experience and expertise who, even if one disagrees with them, need to be listened to with some attention. The proportion of those with that experience and expertise has increased considerably since the reduction in the number of hereditary Peers. That has changed the whole context of this House. Nowadays, the quality of debate here differs fundamentally from that in the House of Commons. Government do not have a majority here and ultimate power does not reside in this House, so crude party political points are more rarely made and argument is a more persuasive way of convincing Members.
Let us consider status and performance since the departure of the hereditary Peers. As I said, that has been enhanced. There have been more votes against the Government; their legislation has become more justifiable and has been revised well. Even Eric Forth, the shadow Leader of the House, pointed out in the House of Commons on 19th June at col. 370 of Commons Hansard that the House of Lords examined parts of Bills better than the House of Commons. There is no guillotine here; we can continue the argument. We do not leave whole patches of Bills unexamined. To introduce into the House of Lords a greater degree of party politicisation could seriously affect the progress of business. The ultimate catastrophe for the proper examination of legislation could be the necessity to introduce the guillotine into our procedures. That could well be a consequence of party political opposition in this House.
Let us consider what would be the relationship of elected and unelected Peers in the same House. It is not likely that the elected Peers would give way in debate and in Questions to unelected Peers. Even with fewer numbers they will assert themselves, indeed, as being more representative with a popular mandate, as we have heard in a number of contributions. Added to that, party politics will be more conviction based, with less compromise. The Joint Committee saw the independence of the House of Lords as important in holding the executive to account, and it is important. However, elected Peers will echo much of the confrontation that we see in the House of Commons. That danger of conflict between the two Houses would be likely to become worse.
There would be greater electoral legitimacy. Even if there were the same dates for elections in another place and here, by-elections could claim a legitimacy which would lead to greater conflict between the two Houses.
Members of Parliament would be aware that elected Peers could be an avenue of appeal against the efforts of Members of Parliament. My noble friend Lord Hughes made this point, and he is right. They could take up constituency cases. That could be invaluable. A Peer still has a certain status. It could be felt that if one failed to get a result from one's Member of Parliament, one could go 648 to the Peer. If he happened to be of the same pansy, he could well take up the case. But if they were from different parties, it would be even easier. On occasion, they could be more successful. It could be said, "If you don't succeed with a Member of Parliament, try the Peer". That is the kind of consequence we could see.
What does accountability mean when there is no reelection? If there is no re-election what, then, is the difference between appointment and election? It would be the electors who make the appointment rather than looking at objective realities and understanding of the kind of people concerned. The elected Peer could say, "Thank you for voting me in. There is nothing you can do about it now".
There is an important distinction to be made here between serving five years or 15 years as an elected Peer. For a five-year term we would be replicating the House of Commons. For a 15-year term without reelection we would be replicating the present life Peers without proper consideration of their experience and expertise. There is also a paradox in that the elected Peer, even without re-election, will still claim a greater legitimacy with secretaries, research assistants and offices, and would change the nature of the whole parliamentary process.
So, how do we make the selection? The Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition will have a part to play. What we would then see—and what this debate has shown—is that this argument is still to be continued. The various methods need to be discussed. The question of appointment is the key to maintaining the important standing of this House. I look forward to it continuing.
§ 8.45 p.m.
§ Lady Saltoun of Abernethy
My Lords, since reading the report of the Joint Committee, I am quite convinced that an all-appointed House is the only sensible option, which is contrary to what I said in debate a year ago. I am eating my words.
Some noble Lords have contended that this is already a hybrid House. I would argue that a mixture of hereditary and life Peers is not hybrid at all in the same way as a mixture of appointed and elected Peers. Hereditary Peers are merely second or third-hand, or whatever, appointed Peers—hand-me-downs, if you like. Life Peers are just new appointed Peers. We both sit very comfortably together, just as old and new furniture sits very comfortably in an agreeable sitting room. Therefore, I take issue with Peers who have said that this is already a hybrid House.
If you have a truly hybrid House, which is what a part appointed and part elected House would be, the elected Members will believe that they are much more important than the appointed Members, because they will say that they have more "legitimacy"—whatever that is supposed to mean. The noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, has already mentioned this matter. It is total rubbish, because if you are an appointed Member of this House, as all my life-Peer friends are, under the law as it stood when you were appointed, you are every bit as legitimate as anyone who has been elected.
649 Any of your Lordships or any Members of another place who think otherwise, and particularly members of the Joint Committee, should consult the Oxford English Dictionary or Roget's Thesaurus. You may not be quite as democratic, but "democraticness" is not legality, but merely a matter of fashion and political correctness, which are transient. The Joint Committee was quite rightly not concerned with whether the House was democratic.
People who depend on an electorate to keep them in office are never totally independent. They are always looking over their shoulders to see what their electorate is thinking. I think some people call it "coming round Tattenham Corner". They are also obliged to spend a good deal of time on constituency business and so would have less time for the business of scrutinising legislation, which is the most important business of this House. And it really is the most important business, since more and more Bills which come to this House from another place have been guillotined and given scant scrutiny—far more than when I first sat in this House 23 years ago—and because, for better or for worse, and mostly it is worse, far more legislation is being presented to Parliament than ever before.
The work of this House has thus increased enormously in the last quarter of a century. Whatever we do to this House must not adversely affect that work. You may say that a figure of 20 per cent elected Peers will not seriously affect the ability of the House to do that work, but their outside commitments would detract from their ability to play their part in that work. Their appointed colleagues would not like that very much and there would be ill-feeling.
Then there will be the question of salaries. At present, the taxpayer gets amazing value from this House, compared with another place, and certainly with any other Second Chamber in the world.
But if you have elected Members, they will expect salaries. Imagine the ill-feeling if you have a hybrid House and elected Members get salaries and appointed Members do not. There will be over-worked appointees and over-paid electives. So are you going to pay the same salaries to everyone? The electives will then want allowances for their constituency offices, and so on, and we know that that will cause more ill-will. The Joint Committee has said that work will have to be done on costing options, and I hope that when it comes to do it, it will keep those problems in mind.
But far worse than that, if the powers of this House are to remain roughly the same as they are now, you will be asking people to stand for election to a House that has very limited powers indeed for what, unless the Audit Commission undergoes a sea-change, is likely to be only a mediocre salary. What calibre of candidates are you going to get standing for election? They will not be people with the sort of experience that you need and have now for the purpose of revising legislation; they will probably be failed candidates for election to another place and others who are incapable of doing any other job. I mean that.
650 I am convinced that if you want the best people to do any job, you must pay either nothing at all, as now, so that you get people who are basically volunteers, or you must pay tip-top salaries—and we all know perfectly well that the Audit Commission would never agree to that.
I firmly believe that we should have an appointed House. By what means it should be appointed so as to retain a large independent element and be representative of all areas of the country, I shall not embark on now—this is neither the time nor the place. I really believe that to have any proportion of the Members of this House elected would be disastrous. I shall vote for an all-appointed House, when we come to vote, and against all other options. I say to all noble Lords who want an appointed House that it will be just as important to vote against all other options as to vote for the first one.
§ 8.52 p.m.
§ Lord Crickhowell
My Lords, in making the points that I consider most important in this debate I am greatly helped by two earlier contributions: that of my noble and learned friend Lord Howe, together with the first report of the Joint Committee, to which I shall refer in a moment; and that of my noble friend Lord Fowler in the debate on 18th December on the British constitution.
My noble friend Lord Fowler drew attention to the gulf of misunderstanding on the role of this House in another place. He said:The knowledge of the average Member of Parliament about what goes on next door is little better than zero … A popular view … is that there is nothing with the Lords that cannot be cured by elections".—[Official Report, 18/12/02; col. 672.]He might well have added the phrase, "blind to the deficiencies" of another place, to which the noble Lord, Lord Sheldon, referred.
I have spent almost 33 years in Parliament—17 in another place—and I can confirm that analysis and what my noble friend said about the conventions that limit the powers of the Lords. Like him, I should be much more militant in my demands if I were an elected Peer and would no doubt stand on the toes of MPs whose constituencies overlapped with mine—a point effectively made by the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill. The Joint Committee also places heavy emphasis on the existing conventions of a self-restraining nature, which impact profoundly on the relations between the Houses and need to be understood as a vital part of any future constitutional settlement.
I was also impressed by the possibility of gridlock as a result of conflict to which the noble Lord, Lord Carter, referred in his effective speech.
I pick up another key point made by the Joint Committee: the importance of independence and expertise. I place experience alongside expertise, a point strongly made by my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth. On 18th December, my noble friend Lord Fowler said:My guess is that the public would support a House that exhibits, as this House does, some expertise and some experience".—[Official Report, 18/12/02; col. 673.]How effectively those points were reinforced by the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury.
651 The Joint Committee emphasised that the independence came not just from the Cross Benches but from among party members, for reasons that it set out, which were repeated by my noble and learned friend Lord Howe of Aberavon. It also drew attention to the extraordinary range of expertise in the House and said that it was,something of considerable importance which we would wish to see preserved in the new House".My noble and learned friend referred in particular to the example of the Human Reproductive Cloning Bill. I shall cite two other examples. They are, perhaps, less dramatic, but they impressed me at the time. In the debate on the helicopter crash on the Mull of Kintyre, my noble friend Lord Glenarthur almost completely changed the nature of the debate by speaking of his great experience as a helicopter pilot flying in almost identical conditions. Another example was the contribution made by the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff—I am glad to see that she is in her place—to the debate on asbestos. The noble Baroness completely altered the nature of that debate, sharing with us her expertise, based on her medical and academic knowledge.
There are several reasons why such expertise is even more important today than it has ever been. I will refer briefly to the valuable reports that we produce and to our scnitiny of, for example, European Union legislation. Peter Riddell is just plain wrong on the subject in his article in The Times today. He says:reports may be impressive, but so what?".He also says that the reports have no more influence than the letters pages of broadsheet newspapers. In fact, they play a significant role in monitoring European Union activities, influencing the European Commission, as it prepares its plans, influencing the Government, in their reaction to those plans, and in implementing EU legislation in this country. However, I wish to dwell not on that aspect of our activities but on the legislative process.
The expertise of the House is more crucial than it has ever been, because of the changes that have taken place in another place over the 33 years since I was first elected to it. There is more legislation, and much of it is worse prepared. Time and time again, we see the Government table hundreds of amendments to Bills. There is far less expertise in the House of Commons—a point made effectively by the noble Lord, Lord Sheldon—than when I joined it. The professionals—lawyers, trade union leaders, people engaged in business, those who had served in the forces—who were there then are not there today. Their experience has been replaced by the far narrower experience of full-time politicians.
There are also the changes in working practices, which have meant that the scrutiny of legislation in another place is wholly inadequate. This House now performs a central and fundamental function in the legislative process. Expertise and experience are essential components of the manner in which we perform that function.
652 The Joint Committee bluntly states that, unfortunately,an elected House is also likely to have few if any independent members".Our judgment of where we go should surely be influenced by the Joint Committee's comment that:The existing House of Lords meets several of the criteria—which we have been considering—namely, lack of domination by one party, independence and expertise".As someone who read history many years ago, I listened with proper awe and respect to the contribution made by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Swynnerton. But I am bound to say that as he drew to the end of his extremely complex set of proposals, I wondered just how different the House that would result from them would be from the House of today, and whether its experience would be any the greater.
In the situation that we now confront, when I see a House fulfilling its functions really rather well, I would be inclined to stay where we now are. I note that the Joint Committee stated that:It is generally accepted that the 92 hereditary Peers should cease to be Members".I do not accept that. A large proportion of those hereditary Peers, now full Members of this House, play an invaluable part in our procedures. That contribution would be greatly missed. I hope that most hereditary Peers, if not all, would become life Peers in the House that succeeds this one.
I have a great deal of sympathy therefore with proposal 1(a) as suggested by the Convenor of the Cross-Bench Peers, the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley. But if we cannot stand exactly where we are, where should we go? I hope that those who cast their votes on 4th February will be careful not to destroy something that works and replace it with something much worse, on a basis of ignorance or prejudice, or create the "super elective dictatorship" referred to by my noble and learned friend Lord Howe.
I would add that it is regrettable, but perhaps understandable, that Members of another place should reach their conclusions on the basis of inadequate information—I put it as politely as I can. Some members of my party apparently base their support for a wholly elected House on the basis that it might embarrass the present Government. I do not believe that great constitutional issues should be decided on such shallow and shabby grounds. My fear is that if we have a wholly or substantially elected House, it will become a genetically modified House of Commons, with its independence and expertise greatly reduced. I am totally against that.
When the Government produced their original proposal for a 20 per cent elected House, I was tempted to support it on the grounds that it was the least bad option I was likely to get. But the Joint Committee produces a pretty effective argument against it—20 per cent would hardly stimulate the electorate to much interest. My noble friend Lord Wakeham, the great fixer, has again, with his usual persuasiveness, asked for "a bit more". But the trouble is that fixers usually 653 take the position at each end of the argument and settle in the middle. I can just see the genius conjured up by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor who is to resolve this great debate, saying, "Well, the Lords support 30 per cent and the Commons want 100 per cent. We'll go for 65 per cent."
Like my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth, I doubt the view that the legitimacy supposedly given to the elected Members would transfer to the others. I think that that sort of compromise in the middle would be a recipe for conflict and would mean less expertise, less experience and less independence. Therefore, I shall vote for a wholly appointed House and against the other options.
§ 9.5 p.m.
§ Baroness Seccombe
My Lords, my purpose in putting my name on the speakers' list today is not because I have some original or important contribution to make. All the issues have been promoted and fully debated. I rise to speak because I wish to stand up and be counted on where I stand, so your Lordships will be pleased to know that I will not detain the House for long. I simply wish to highlight one or two of the main issues as I see them.
I shall never forget when I first entered your Lordships' House marvelling at the wise and brilliant contributions from all Benches on any and all of the subjects that were debated. I felt privileged and indeed fortunate to be in a position to take part in proceedings in this House. I have listened carefully to the arguments on all sides and I have been convinced that an appointed House is the only way to maintain that expertise and experience.
Eminent people would not stand for election and the House and indeed the country would be the loser. It is, I believe, essential that we preserve the difference between the two Houses and not end up with the Upper House being a House of Commons Mark 2. A second elected Chamber would be not only a very costly alternative but would definitely be a threat and a challenge to the other place. I believe most strongly in the pre-eminence of the elected House and wish to preserve its status.
Changes in the procedures in the other place now mean that Bills come to your Lordships' House with whole portions having had no scrutiny at all. If legislation is to reach the statute book in an acceptable manner and in a clear and understandable language, it is the role of this House to ensure by careful and detailed examination that this is accomplished. I believe it can be achieved only by prudent appointments to your Lordships' House.
Finally, I believe a hybrid House would be a real disaster, with some Peers being in a different position from others. Various questions would arise. Would they feel and be seen as more legitimate representatives than appointed Peers? How long would their term of office last? Would they be paid as Members of another place are paid? Would they have similar back-up and support? What would be the relationship with their counterparts in another place?
654 I could go on and on, but I will not. I know where I stand. I nail my colours to the mast and I hope that your Lordships are of a similar persuasion.
§ 9.8 p.m.
§ Lord Barnett
My Lords, as so much has already been said in the debate, I do not propose to go into detail. I want merely to emphasise some of the major points. I begin by emphasising the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, at the outset. The major issue is not composition: the first and major issue is what we are proposing to do in your Lordships' House. That is what we should be examining and then how we best proceed to do it.
First, in a revised House we should not be challenging the supremacy of another place. Everyone who has spoken so far agrees with that and it is a starting point. I was a Member of the House of Commons for nearly 20 years and I am sorry to find them so stupid as to imagine that 50 to 60 per cent of Members of this House can be elected without implications on what they are doing. It seems that Members of Parliament do not seem to know what they are talking about. That is what we should not be doing. One might say that to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, who is in favour of 80 per cent of Members elected. That would be even worse. I once told him privately that I had not found another Member on his side who agreed with him—except one and that one was the Chief Whip.
What should we do in a revised House? We should do what, as many have said, we now do so well. Paragraph 10 of the report highlights what we do so well. I welcome the Joint Committee report in that respect, as I welcome its comments at paragraph 24: that at the next stage of its discussions it would hope to proceed on how to make your Lordships' House, as revised on an appointed basis, more effective than it is even today.
If one agrees with what should be done, then what kind of composition would best do it? What would best meet the objective of scrutinising government policies and forcing another place to rethink the policies it has implemented in legislation? Three choices have been put forward very clearly in the Joint Committee report and in the debate today. Essentially they are a wholly elected House of Lords or second Chamber; a wholly appointed second Chamber; and a partly elected second Chamber.
Let me take them in that order. A wholly elected second Chamber would certainly not meet the objectives that most of us want to see a second Chamber meet—that is, carrying out the kind of functions that we carry out so well now. A wholly elected House, I fear, could elect idiots as well as intelligent people like all of us here, and some elected houses do. I say nothing about another place, but that can happen.
The only objective a wholly elected second Chamber would meet and have in its favour is that it would be fully democratic. One has to accept that it would be a democratic House. But, more important, how would one ensure its independence from party control? No 655 one has yet explained to me how, in a democratically elected second Chamber, given the supremacy of another place, we can create the independence that we all want to see. No one has yet told me how that can be done and how we can avoid party control in such an elected second Chamber.
Perhaps the most serious argument against a wholly elected second Chamber—and this certainly has not been appreciated in another place or by some noble Lords who have spoken today—is that it would be quite impossible to continue the existing conventions. We would need to have a new constitution. There would be no other way of doing it. The idea that Parliament should go through the whole process of establishing a new constitution beggars belief. Frankly, we all know that that would not happen, and so I am perfectly happy that we will not have a wholly elected second Chamber.
What about a partly elected second Chamber, whatever the percentage; a hybrid House? My noble and learned friend the Leader of the House said to me on one occasion that we already have a hybrid House. I assume that he was joking, of course. The idea that a hybrid House of hereditary and life Peers could be the same as one consisting of some elected Peers and some appointed Peers and that there would be no difference, is, frankly, a nonsense. Given the intelligence of my noble and learned friend, I know that he did not mean it.
If we had a hybrid House we would have the worst of all worlds. We would have all the problems of a wholly elected House with knobs on. Even the pleasure of having the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, in your Lordships' House—I would love to see him here; perhaps he can get himself appointed in some way—would not be a sufficient reason for me to agree to a hybrid House.
The difference between an elected and an appointed House has been spelt out very clearly by many noble Lords and I shall not go into it again. But, again, you could not have the present conventions. As with a wholly elected House, you would have, for example, to get rid of the Lord Chancellor. I know that many would be in favour of that—in my view, for the wrong reasons because there have been wholly unjustified and unfair attacks on my noble and learned friend. But, having said that, even under his idea of only 20 per cent elected Members, there would have to be a Speaker in your Lordships' House—someone to select who should speak. We certainly could not have the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees sitting there doing nothing. I am not suggesting that he should do anything because under our rules he cannot.
I turn now to the question of a wholly appointed House, which would meet all the objectives and benefits spelt out in paragraph 10 of the report. The only semi-serious argument that has been put before us relates to the question of legitimacy. It has been answered by many. I merely add that if we keep the existing conventions—and especially if we keep the supremacy of the House of Commons in front of us— 656 and the appointments were checked, as is suggested in paragraph 52 of the report, we should have a better appointed House even than we have today.
The question of legitimacy comes down to this: if a few Members of this House were to be elected on a list system, frankly, the constituencies would need to be so large as to be meaningless. They would be rather like Members of the European Parliament—no one knows who they are. Equally, if they were to be elected on a list system, we might as well appoint them. It would be a better way of doing it than having the leadership of the parties preparing the list and deciding who should be at the top of it. We all know that that is what goes on. A list system or a directly elected system would create a much worse House. The new legitimacy, as has been pointed out by the Joint Committee and many others, would come from the natural way in which an appointed House would operate—and, I believe, operate well.
My noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor is reported as having said—I do not know whether it is true because I read it in the newspaper—that the general feeling is between an all elected or all appointed House. He said that most think that a hybrid House is a nonsense. I agree with him. But what I found rather strange was that he still favours 20 per cent. No, he is shaking his head. I hope that it does not mean that he is in favour of more. I shall wait until tomorrow night. But he is no longer in favour of 20 per cent so he has to make a U-turn. I am delighted.
I have made a U-turn. I confess that I have changed my mind in the light of the evidence that has been placed before us by the Joint Committee. As I have said, the idea of a hybrid House remains a nonsense; but I have always favoured either a wholly elected or a wholly appointed House. I now recognise—a view strengthened by comments in the Joint Committee report—that an all elected House, although truly democratic, would create a nightmare scenario. We should then need a new constitutional Bill. Can one imagine introducing a constitutional Bill in both Houses of Parliament? I hope and believe that it would simply not happen. I believe that the way ahead should be to come down in favour of a wholly appointed House. I certainly shall, and I shall vote against everything else.
§ 9.18 p.m.
§ The Lord Bishop of Worcester
My Lords, I address the House with some caution as one of 26 turkeys who have yet to learn the date of Christmas! Nevertheless, I feel that I should like to comment because it is clear that enormous care, weight and analytical clarity have gone into the production of the report with which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon, has presented us. We owe it to the committee to be as critical as we wish, as a sign of our appreciation of its work.
I have listened to the debate with a declining sense of hope, and for this reason. What I think I hear is a commentary on the political life of this country disguised in statements supporting an appointed House of Lords. 657 It goes roughly like this: "Those people down the corridor lack both competence and good manners, and they present us with an awful lot of rubbish legislation that we have to put right. The political parties are dreadful things. They choose MPs, and would choose Members of this House if they were allowed to, in utterly undemocratic and oppressive ways. Parties dominate, and prevent any kind of intellectual quality of discussion. Anyone of any eminence would not dream of putting himself or herself up for election".
I could not possibly comment since I am not of any eminence. But I do not understand why it should be assumed that eminent people would not stand for election. What kind of commentary is that? Many such comments were made by noble Lords sitting on party Benches. I find that at least odd. It raises the question of how the work of the Joint Committee has been affected by its being presented with terms of reference that effectively deprive it of the opportunity to consider the political life of this country as a whole and to place any recommendations about this House in that context.
I wish to go to the other end of our political process—local government. I have never been an elected councillor but I am now an independent member and chairman of the standards and ethics committee of Worcestershire County Council. It has been a learning curve towards depression as I contemplate the steady undermining of the authority and strength of local government in this country, probably over three decades. If party politics are so grubby and electoral politics so oppressively dominated by parties, somebody must be to blame. It is time that this discussion were placed in the context of a vision of what it would be like to have a vital and interested political citizenry in this country. If we thought in those terms, we would want to connect this House with the base of our political life—local life. We would want to give a certificate of worthiness to local government by allowing it some say in who sat in this House.
One of my criticisms of the Joint Committee report is that it presents us with a choice between election and appointment without considering the possibility of indirect election. Indirect election has the great virtue of leaving unchallenged the directly elected Chamber as properly having superior power, with the right to choose the government, to regulate supply and to have the decisive word on legislation. It would also give more to local government, whose members—some sit in this Chamber—spend hours, days and weeks giving themselves to the concerns of local communities and getting burdened with increasing prescription from the centre, over which they have little control. I am surprised that the Joint Committee has not addressed the possibility of indirect election precisely as a way of revitalising the political engagement of local communities.
I would not rest if I had not said that it would be unsatisfactory to allow proposals to go through on the basis that electoral politics and political life in this country are such a grubby business, and have gone so 658 far downhill, that the only thing standing between us and chaos is the House of Lords, provided that as far as possible it remains the same. That would be a very depressing conclusion.
I hope that as a House we might insist that some political vision about the politics of our country should engage future decision-making on these proposals, even if the committee could not do so because of its terms of reference. In that way, we would not simply be tinkering with what goes on at the top of the tree but reconnecting ourselves with the base of our common political life. We would be doing some small bit to rehabilitate the politics of a country where electoral turn-outs and political party memberships have decreased. It is good for people to belong to, and to be active in, political parties. I thought that most people in this Chamber would think that.
We should not rest with making proposals on the basis that we are the only good thing left in British politics. That would be a terrible shame, but it is how we would be seen. I also think it unwise for us to accept from the Joint Committee a proposal that includes the likelihood of existing Members of this House not being asked to tender their resignation when a new House is constituted. If we believe in something but then say, "This will see me out", we shall rightly be dismissed as a cynical and self-serving group of people, and that is not what I think of the Joint Committee. So I hope that that issue will be reconsidered.
Despite all the work that will be necessary to clarify constitutions and electoral methods, I hope that new thought will be given to the reconnection of this House with the base of our democracy in a way that is clearly different from that which produces Members of the House of Commons but which nevertheless has credibility and will allow this House to draw on many of the people upon whose voluntary efforts our local communities depend.
Although the Joint Committee has not yet reached the question of what to do about those of us on these Benches, it would be poor if I did not say something about it. It is a bit demeaning to be one of a series of problems that will be dealt with in due course. The bishops are in this House for a rather different reason. However, we are not here to defend our position but to draw attention to the fact that it is possible to construct a Chamber of a legislature on the basis of a real attention to spiritual values and, indeed, to prayer and reflection, without necessarily resorting to ex officio membership of particular Churches.
The Scottish Parliament, which had to begin from scratch in this respect, shows that it is possible imaginatively to create a situation in which the dimensions of spirituality. reflection and faith are built into the House's proceedings on the basis of a clear recognition of the different faith communities which, I am delighted to say, constitute our society.
Apart from the detail of my remarks, which is no doubt highly contestable, I have said what I have because before we start choosing from among the seven options, which we think is the realistic thing to do, we need to be realistic about the political environment of our country 659 and its people. We should not forsake that reality to conduct discussions about an essentially private world of our own.
It is a fundamental religious conviction that where there is no vision, the people perish. Another biblical comment that looks pretty realistic in the light of much of this discussion is that political vision seems to have become rather rare in the land.
I believe that we have a unique opportunity, which we should not avoid, to reconsider the vision of a common society united with a political endeavour that we admire and honour. We have real examples of that. When the Roman Catholic bishops, who have no seats here, produced their account of the common good, it had an electrifying effect on the quality of the political discussion at the time. When, before he has taken his seat, His Grace the Archbishop of Canterbury gives a Dimbleby lecture of important spiritual content, the response reveals just how hungry people are for politics that are genuinely spiritual. I hope that we shall attend to those dimensions as the proposals proceed.
§ 9.29 p.m.
§ Baroness Carnegy of Lour
My Lords, the right reverend Prelate has made a refreshing and important speech. He has asked us to look at ourselves slightly more carefully than perhaps we have been doing during the debate so far.
I have scrapped most of my speech, as it has all been said, particularly by my noble friend Lord Norton and the noble Lords, Lord Lipsey and Lord Phillips—and, more recently, by my noble friend Lord Crickhowell.
Given the facts, and the options that the Joint Committee has put before us, it seems to me—although I used to think otherwise—that the only kind of second Chamber able to counterbalance the present-day House of Commons would be a wholly appointed Chamber. I agree with the right reverend Prelate that there is a gap in the report, in that the question of indirect elections has not been considered. There are considerable problems with indirect elections, although many of us have thought about them for a long time. It may be that what the right reverend Prelate wants to happen could happen through a wholly appointed House. The wholly appointed House that I propose is not as far from the ideas of the right reverend Prelate as he might think.
What is needed is, as many noble Lords have said, a part-time, unsalaried House with Members of widely varied experience, most of it current experience outside Parliament. Members should be appointed roughly as proposed by the Joint Committee in its Option 1. The House's legitimacy would be based on its Members' expertise and the way in which they behave. Members would come from all parts of the United Kingdom; they could come from local government and the devolved Assemblies. The House should have the same broad answerability to the people of the United Kingdom as a whole.
Having said that, what I would like to see is by no means the status quo. I agree with the Joint Committee about the role of the statutory appointments 660 commission, the size of an appointed House—some 600—and the single term of about 12 years. I also take the view, and have for some time, that Members of the second Chamber should be separated from the peerage. I do not believe that anyone has discussed that point. Peers could still be created as an honour" but the second Chamber should no longer consist only of Peers. That is an unsuitable arrangement now. It was once needed to keep a House of equal Peers, but there is no need for it in a new House.
Linked with that point, I suggest that a new appointed House might work best if the legislation providing it gave a clean break in membership. The new appointments should start from scratch. Continuity could be maintained by a number of existing Members being appointed, as doubtless many would—it would probably be very necessary. That clean break would solve several problems, including the fact that anyone suitable could be appointed, such as life Peers, hereditary Peers and people who were not Peers at all. I do not believe that noble Lords should continue in this place until we drop—and I very much include myself in that. It is absolutely wrong, and this is an opportunity to see to it without breaking the necessary continuity.
Before noble Lords hold up their hands in horror, I suggest that they read carefully the speech made by the right reverend Prelate, as he partly made my case for me. I also suggest a brief glance at the article by Peter Riddell on page 12 of today's Times, which was mentioned earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey. I disagree with most of what he says, but there may be a grain of truth in his sketch of how we see ourselves in this House. I say no more.
I believe that there is at least something to be said for a clean break in appointing our new membership. When we come to vote on the seven options, I think that I shall vote for Option 1. I shall vote against the six other options.
§ 9.35 p.m.
§ Lord Winston
My Lords, I must declare very firmly that I feel, and have always felt, strongly in favour of an unelected second Chamber. Given the current situation in the House of Commons, where there are ever more professional politicians who have ever less experience of the working environment, I think that we need more expertise, not less, in the upper House. So I for one feel very strongly that an elected Chamber would give no advantage in the way in which it would actually work. It would simply give a merely external impression of "democracy".
This word "democracy" has been bandied around. It was bandied around by my noble friend Lord Richard—who is not in the Chamber, but to whom I owe a great debt. When I first came to the House just over seven years ago, in his great kindness, he stimulated me and made me feel very welcome on these Benches. However, in his speech—which I try to quote accurately—he said that an elected Chamber was needed if parliamentary democracy is not to become unbalanced. Is he suggesting that we have been unbalanced all these years? Is he saying that we will suddenly become more balanced by being "democratically elected"?
661 What is the gain of this veneer of being "democratic"? Why is it so essential? A huge number of British institutions, by their very nature, do a fine service in supporting this country, but they are essentially not democratic. The Law Lords are not democratic. The universities are not democratic. The monarchy is not democratic. The regulatory bodies, such as the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority and the Human Genetics Commission, are not democratically elected. The research councils are not democratic, but they need to be transparent in their working. Most important in terms of government, the Civil Service is not democratic either.
It does not seem to me that this notion of democracy is necessarily something that we should automatically accept as part of our parliamentary procedure. It seems to me that democracy lies very firmly in the primacy of the elected Chamber—which not only is elected, but also, I think, represents the various regions. That is why I do not think that we have to pay much attention to the notion of regional representation in this House. That comes simply by the very random nature of appointment.
I think that it would be only reasonable of me also to mention the Church. The Church is hardly democratic. Yet, in my view, the Church of England—I hope that I can spare the blushes of the right reverend Prelates on the Spiritual Bench—has lent a very important part to the workings of our democracy in its moderation, its liberality, its espousal of true human values and its notion of ethics. The presence of the Church here could never be democratic, but it is essential to the workings of this House in its guidance and in the way it sometimes challenges the Government and the Opposition. I would only add that it might be reasonable to consider some expansion of that representation. It would be good to see some Muslim, Catholic and perhaps Jewish representation on the Spiritual Bench. However, there is no question but that the Anglican Church, in the very work that it does, has lent a unique aspect to our British democracy. It seems to me that that work should continue.
The noble Baroness, Lady Williams, referred to the lack of respect for being a Lord. That is true. I am sure that all noble Lords know this but I should point out to others who read Hansard that being a Lord does not even get one a table in a good restaurant, as I discovered in my first week in the House of Lords. Far more respect is accorded to the fact that I am a university professor. But, of course, I was not elected a university professor. So the notion that being elected accords one respect is nonsense. I was an appointed professor in a personal chair at my university. That seems to me to be an adequate reason. It occurs after due process.
Nor do I think that there is any advantage in there being hybridity in this House. There has been a rumbling throughout the debate this afternoon and this evening that somehow the House has been hybrid and that therefore a hybrid House will work in the future—the notion that somehow hereditary Peers and 662 appointed Peers make up an appointed Chamber. But, of course, the truth is that hereditary Peers and appointed Peers are the same animal. Neither of them has democratic legitimacy. We must recognise that clearly. It is a completely different matter to structure a House that is part elected—whether it is 20, 50 or 80 per cent elected—and part appointed. For all the reasons that have been repeated in this debate, it seems to me that such a process would make the workings of this House very difficult.
One of the problems that we have concerns the failure of understanding of what goes on in this House. I think that now finally there is a glimmer of understanding in the House of Commons in that regard. I believe that there is a gradual realisation that what we do in this House is worthwhile. That is now realised in a way that has not been previously appreciated. But, certainly, the public at large are not generally aware of that. The noble Lord, Lord Richard, mentioned figures in regard to how many people would want a democratically elected Chamber. I take those figures with a very large grain of salt because it seems to me that most of those people have not seriously considered the working of this House.
Much has been said about the expertise of noble Lords. I recognise that I am extremely privileged to be here. Many other doctors could have taken my place. Many other much more eminent medical scientists than I could have been here in my place. There is always an element of luck in that regard. I need to remain here as a working Peer. I do not mean a working Peer in a political sense. It is advantageous to the House for me to be able to work in the university, the laboratory and also with patients. We have still not decided whether we want the House to be part-time or full-time and how professional we want it to be.
Last week we had what I considered to be a ludicrous debate about attendance during debates such as this. I believe that it is difficult to sustain the argument that I should sit here for two days throughout the debate in order to be able to take part in it. My university might reasonably hold different views as to how I might best use my time.
All kinds of conflicts arise, not just those concerned with work. For example, this evening as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, made his excellent speech, to which I listened with great interest—I congratulate him on his excellent summary of his committee's wonderful report—there was a meeting of the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology. If I wished to take part in this debate I was prohibited by the rules from attending the POST meeting. I chose, of course, to speak in this debate although the POST meeting was important. Such conflicts are always arising. We ought to consider making the rules of the House more flexible.
We cannot always make up our minds. One of the problems is that people like myself run the risk of losing our expertise in the community at large. For example, I note that when I am now in the Barry Room and the waiter asks me whether I want my sole off or on the bone, I say, "Frankly, you should do the dissection", because 663 I have lost my surgical expertise by being in this place. Hopefully there is still enough expertise to make it worthwhile to noble Lords.
An issue that we need to debate much more seriously is the notion of an arbitrary age of retirement, which seems unjustified. There is no question but that, over the next 50 to 100 years, our society is going to get considerably older but fitter. All the demographic projections show very clearly that, within the next century, something like 1 per cent of the population of the United Kingdom and the United States will be 100 years old or more. They will still be mentally fit. We need to reconsider our attitude towards age. A large number of Members of this House are totally alert, and to enforce arbitrarily an age of retirement seems quite unjustified.
Finally, a key issue is appointment to the House. One problem is that we clearly feel strongly about prime ministerial patronage. The notion of an electoral college is rather unsatisfactory. Perhaps the debate should be more about how we arrange a suitable appointments commission, so that we appoint those appointed Peers in a way that is truly transparent and more transparent, and better for the workings of this Parliament—and for Parliaments for many generations to come, which is what we should be legislating for in the next few months.
§ 9.47 p.m.
§ Baroness Strange
My Lords, with 99 speakers over two days, noble Lords must expect me to be even more subliminal than usual, and so I shall be. The last advice Lord Longford gave me was, "You are here to speak; do so", so I am trying.
I have an interest to declare, being a hereditary Peer, but that is something I share with all noble Lords. We all share the privilege of being Peers, and we all share the human honour of being hereditary. Like all noble Lords, I am immensely proud of my parents and grandparents and, like those of us lucky enough to have them, of my children and grandchildren.
We are also proud of our British constitution, which is one of the splendid things that we have shared with the rest of the world, like our law, our democracy and our language. We are all, I think, agreed that we need two Houses of Parliament. On that point, perhaps the colours of the carpets are significant. The Sovereign's carpet is blue, representing the sky and the heavens above; the carpet in the Commons is green, representing growing things and the grass roots of our people; and the carpet of the Lords is red, not so that you cannot see blood spilt on it, but because it is the colour of our hearts and the life blood of our people.
Each House has its own part to play. If there were any element whatever of democratic election in our House, we would only end up fighting with the Commons as to who was the more democratic. As it is, our role is to sift through the legislation—it pours out like untreated sewage, though naturally we hope that the Commons will have worked at it a bit first—to apply a brake to the executive with a power of delay and, by our debates, to contribute much to the wisdom of government.
664 There only remains our composition. I believe that we are a very good mix at the moment. First, we were all hereditaries and bishops, then Law Lords were added, then life Peers and then women. I do not believe we should all be hereditaries and bishops, nor all Law Lords, nor all life Peers, nor indeed all women. We ladies much enjoy our male companionship. Nor do I believe that there should be any restriction on age. There is a difference of opinion as to when a Peer reaches his prime; some would say not before 80, although we are particularly proud of the wisdom and expertise—and charm—of the 90 year-olds in this House.
We are a splendid mix of the best of Britain. I sit surrounded by noble friends who are air marshals, generals—not so many admirals as there should be—heads of the Civil Service, distinguished doctors, nurses, professors, judges and Speakers of another place; and, of course, bishops, Archbishops, Prime Ministers, Foreign Secretaries and Peers with long roots, such as my noble friends Lord Strabolgi and Lady Mar, who take us right back to the dawn of our history. My ancestor, the first Lord Strange, was beheaded after the Battle of Worcester for supporting Charles I. His last words were:I die for God, the King and the Law, and for that I feel no shame of my life, nor fear of my death".I can never live up to those words or to the achievements of so many noble Lords around me. But I try, in my own way, to do the best that I can. And I believe that we also have this in common: we all love each other, and we all love this House.
§ 9.51 p.m.
§ Lord Gray of Contin
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Strange. She always gives us an interesting talk on different issues. She wandered a little tonight from her horticulture to history, but her speech was equally interesting.
When one is number 40 on the speakers' list, all that really matters has already been said, by most other people but not by yourself. Perhaps noble Lords will excuse me if I do not follow my notes to the letter and reminisce a little on some of my experiences in the Commons and since I came here.
The case for an appointed Chamber has been well made in recent months by a large number of distinguished colleagues, ably led by my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth, who again excelled himself today. Indeed, it is difficult to be original on this subject, such is the breadth of the arguments already deployed.
I welcome the first report of the Joint Committee, which was ably introduced by my noble and learned friend Lord Howe of Aberavon. Recently your Lordships debated the constitution. I did not speak in that debate but I read it from start to finish and found it quite fascinating. My noble friend Lord Crickhowell has already referred to the speech of my noble friend Lord Fowler and I, too, would like to refer to it. His reference to his attitude to the House of Lords while he was a Member of the House of Commons fits well with the views of most of us who were 665 in the Commons at that time. The truth is that we knew little or nothing about the House of Lords. For my part, I am ashamed to say that I made very little effort to find out.
It was not until I came to this House that I discovered just how thorough noble Lords were in their scrutiny of legislation and how dedicated many of them were—and still are—to their parliamentary responsibilities. I suspect that there may be Members in the present House of Commons who are as ill informed about this House as were my generation. I do not wish to imply for one moment that Members of the House of Commons neglect their legislative duties or do not do a splendid job; of course they do. They are as dedicated to what they do as we are to what we do. However, the nature of the two Houses is very different and the attitude of Members illustrates those differences.
When a Bill is guillotined in the Commons it is not uncommon for very large sections to go almost unexamined. Because this House is much less confrontational and has more time to deliberate, those sections are scrutinised very carefully here. I use that as only one example of the effectiveness of this House. That point is further confirmed by the fact that in the 1999–2000 Session, for example, the Lords secured more than 4,700 amendments to Bills. The overwhelming majority of those were accepted by the Government when the Bills were returned to the Commons.
In an average Session, something in excess of 70 per cent of Lords amendments are accepted by the government of the day. That speaks volumes for the quality of the detailed examination which takes place in this House. That is due, to no small extent, to the wide-ranging experience of the membership of your Lordships' House. All the professions are here, together with a host of business and academic experience. Indeed, one noble Lord who spoke earlier listed all the various categories represented in this House. That, in itself, is significant.
Relatively few of those people—I think particularly of the noble Lord, Lord Winston, who spoke a few moments ago—would stand for election and therefore we are very pleased to have them here. It would be a tragedy if we were to lose them. In any event, so far as concerns an elected Chamber, the public show little enthusiasm for elections. If assemblies were to be created throughout England, that enthusiasm would be likely to diminish rather than increase. In Scotland, the electorate is already over-burdened with elections. The figures given by my noble friend Lady Blatch earlier were most revealing.
Originally I had some sympathy for the idea that a proportion of the Members of the reformed House should be elected. However, the more I have discussed and thought about that, the more convinced I have become that appointed membership of this House is far and away the most satisfactory way forward. I hope that we shall not be tempted to have a mixture of appointed and elected Members. I believe that that would give us the worst of all worlds.
Being non-elected, the new House would be completely independent and could complement the work of the Commons. It would neither duplicate it 666 nor seek to challenge the political supremacy of that House. Indeed, it would freely accept that the Commons, being the elected Chamber, should have the last word. How different that would be from a wholly, or even largely, elected Chamber where the legitimacy of the upper House would be proclaimed on equal terms and where the supremacy of the Commons would in due course be questioned or even contested.
The House of Lords is sometimes accused of being undemocratic, but an elected second Chamber is much more likely to follow the European Parliament and demand powers commensurate with its political powers. Even the more recent Scottish Parliament has among its Members some who seek control of Treasury matters. In a new House of Lords which was wholly or partly elected, would that body happily leave Treasury matters only to the House of Commons? I doubt that very much.
In any event, the future of both Houses will continue to be revised—a revision much more easily agreed if the second Chamber were wholly appointed than if it were to be wholly elected.
§ 10 p.m.
§ Baroness Knight of Collingtree
My Lords, time, like death, concentrates the mind wonderfully. Therefore, I shall concentrate my remarks simply on the question of elections and speak a little of my disappointment that many Peers who have spoken and who I respect greatly seem to be going down the track of asking for elections to this place or for a fully elected House of Lords.
I believe that if we go down that path we shall destroy the character, competency and independence of this place. The cost would be unbelievable. We are all realists here. We know that money does not fall out of the sky. If it is spent on this place, it will not be spent on hospitals, houses, roads or all of the other things which are so badly needed. There will be serious clashes with another place which will threaten our ability to govern ourselves.
Many times we debate issues here on which we feel strongly. We do our duty to scrutinise legislation and to seek to check what may have been unintentional flaws. We amend or sometimes even vote down a Bill. But when the Commons disagrees with our view, we always recognise, with no argument, that it has been elected and we have not, and we surrender. Does anyone seriously believe that if we are elected too, even partially, that tradition will be maintained? Of course not. "You have no such superiority and validity any more", we shall say, "for we are elected too. Democracy rules, OK!"
Another major concern for me is that we would lose the Cross-Benchers for whom I have a great regard. I believe that they form an essential element here. The report states that it is likely that we shall have few if any independent Members. That is not likely; it is inevitable. Voters always want to know where a candidate stands before they give their vote.
In over 40 years in active politics I can recall only two instances where an independent was elected to Parliament. Both were in very unusual circumstances. 667 The first was because of the situation at Tatton in 1997, which noble Lords will remember, and the second was at the last election when the question of the closure of a cottage hospital was such a burning issue that one particular doctor was elected. Those are the only two independents I remember being elected.
Everyone in this House who has ever stood for election knows that it is vital to have a political party's endorsement. It is the party that provides the money, the workers who address the envelopes and the people who go out canvassing and deliver leaflets. It does all the organising. It is the party that provides the office and the stature. Without that backing there is not a hope of being elected.
Is it possible to get round that by electing some and then appointing independents? The noble Lord, Lord Richard—I am sorry he is not in his place—advocated that. Yet he rather spoilt his argument by going on to say that the public has no respect for patronage or for those who are elected in that way. I am not sure which he wanted, but it seemed to me that that is simply not on.
Let us suppose that we go half and half. That would mean a fish-and-fowl House. Some people say that we have had a hybrid House already. However, I was never treated in any way differently from an hereditary Peer when I became a life Peer. If we had a fish-and-fowl, half-and-half House, we could not have some Peers being paid and not others. That is one hybrid too far. No one would stand for election to a busy and time-consuming job in the public eye with no pay. So, all Peers would have to be salaried, but those who were elected would have much more work than those who were not.
When a voter gives his vote, he expects a number of things in return. I refer to correspondence, for instance. When I was an MP I would have at least 30 to 40 letters every day. Every letter had to be answered and many other letters had to be written because of them, either to Ministers, local authorities, or whatever. That was a big job in itself. That is what the elected Peers would have to do; let us make no mistake. Not only does the voter want replies to letters, but he wants surgeries to be held so that he can put his case to his Member. He wants interviews, school, factory and hospital visits and a host of other services from his chosen and successful candidate. I foresee serious difficulties between elected Peers and elected MPs who represent the same area.
What is all this rubbish about the need for Peers from different areas? There is not a soul in this whole land of ours who does not have his own MP. Whatever area he lives in, he has one already. What are we arguing about? But if we have two sets of elected people, both representing the same area, there will be big trouble. If they differed politically or if one worked harder than the other, there would be trouble. The electors would go straight to the one who worked hard, whether he sat in this or another place. He would have to put in a lot of extra hours. So there would be trouble not only between this House and another place, but also between Peers who were elected and those who were not.
668 Finally, I must say that I have never heard a single peep from the electorate demanding the changes we are now debating. I have never had a single letter or conversation pressing for this constitutional upheaval that we are arguing about. People are interested in the National Health Service, transport systems, schooling, university fees, jobs, tax and housing. No one is jumping up and down screaming for this place to be reformed. I have not seen a single march. Has any other noble Lord? Has anyone seen placards? I have not. I really do not know what we are arguing about.
We have proved many times that we can do our job well. No one claims that the House of Lords does not operate effectively or work hard and well. For the life of me, I cannot understand why it should be destroyed. I shall vote for a totally appointed House and against everything else.
§ 10.7 p.m.
§ Lord Hoyle
My Lords, first, I thank the Joint Committee and the noble Lord, Lord. Wakeham, and the Royal Commission for enabling this debate.
I do not think that the noble Baroness will be too surprised when I say to her that not for the first time shall we disagree, and I hope not for the last time either.
Let us look at the sort of House we are talking about. I do not see the House in as rosy a light as the noble Baroness has painted. I believe that it is a House that is long overdue for change, that is outdated and that is out of touch. Indeed, the change has been waiting—apart from the matter of the hereditaries— since 1911. If we cannot have another look at the issue and find a better alternative, then there is something wrong with us all.
I am rather surprised that the noble Baroness talks about an appointed House—as have other noble Lords on both sides—that does not have any democratic authority and does not have a base with any democratic authority in the country itself.
The House has an average age of 68. I know that there are some very nimble 68 year olds and above. But would it not be better to have a more even spread of ages? We would have the benefit of younger people sitting here and giving us their advice. That would be revolutionary to this House, but I think that that is what the country expects. The House is also male-dominated. I was rather surprised that the noble Baroness did not say that there ought to be more of her own gender in the Chamber. Certainly, there ought to be far more people from ethnic minorities sitting here than there are at the moment.
There is also the structure of the House. It represents many people from the South East and not many—again I must hiccup with many noble Lords—from the regions. We ought to have more cross-party representation and a wider spread of people than we have at present.
So there is a need for major reform in this House. If we do not achieve it now, it will happen sooner or later. I hope that we do not wait another hundred years. Many have 669 referred to the expertise that is brought in, but we cannot depend on the appointments commission to do our job for us.
The noble Baroness said that she has not had many letters and many others have said that there has been no pressure, but when there was talk of the people's Peers, I received letters from many able and worthy people who wanted their names to be put forward and wrote to me asking how to go about it. They were wasting their time, were they not? The people who were appointed were very able, with expertise as captains of industry, people from the diplomatic service, those who run the great charities. The one thing that they were not was people's Peers. I have had no letters since then. The only way that we will get over that is through elections to this Chamber—if we want people to take notice.
Many people have been saying that our Select Committees produce good reports and have a lot of expertise. Peter Riddell wrote in The Times today that, yes, that is all good, but he has never yet been stopped by a Minister, Secretary of State or leading civil servant who has said, "I am going to take note of what is being said by the House of Lords, with all its expertise". That is probably true. The truth of the matter is that people do not understand or take any notice of what happens in this House.
We cannot continue to run a second Chamber in that way in this century. We cannot carry on like that. There is no legitimacy about it. So we must look for a change. Rightly, the Joint Committee states that it will leave the question of the Law Lords and the right reverend Prelates—who must have gone to another place; they are certainly notable by their absence—for another day. I am content to await the proposals on that question. However, again, change is needed. In relation to the right reverend Prelates, if there is to be room for them in any future House, their representation must be wider than one particular Church, or they should have no representation at all. But let us await the report on that.
Something that has not been mentioned in the debate, but was certainly mentioned by the Royal Commission, is that there must be a break with the Peerage in this Chamber. We must have a new start, a new name and be more democratic. Although many of us may prefer that the House become entirely elected, I not think that any of us would advocate that that huge leap be done in one go. That is impossible; that is why we must return to a hybrid House.
It is often said—it has been said again from all sides of the House today—that if we have a hybrid House, the elected Members will challenge the non-elected Members. I must remind the House that throughout the world there are many hybrid Houses that work perfectly well. There is no reason why there should be such a challenge. Indeed, there is no reason why some appointees should not be retained with a new independent commission, so that expertise is retained.
670 I have always advocated—quite apart from the question whether they should be in the House—that a panel of experts should be appointed from whom we can draw as and when we need them.
§ Lord Norton of Louth
My Lords, would the noble Lord care to give us an example of a mixed chamber elsewhere that works well compared with the work of this House, and can he explain why there are far more chambers elsewhere that are wholly appointed than are mixed?
§ Lord Hoyle
My Lords, that is not true. I could go through a number of mixed Chambers. Ireland is one such Chamber that works perfectly. It has people who are elected and people who are appointed. The noble Lord shakes his head, as he is entitled to, but there are many more such Chambers, and there are many parliaments that are fully elected and work perfectly, without the upper house challenging the other.
The noble Lord may care to read Reforming the House of Lords: Lessons from Overseas, and there are other reports that he might read. We could carry on all night, but the House does not want us to do that. The House wants us to differ in our opinions and present those opinions. I dispute what the noble Lord says. There must be a substantial elected element. I would recommend that it should be at least 50 per cent, if the reform is to be meaningful.
The next thing that I want to mention is the election date. We could not use any date other than that of the general election. We could not use the date of the European elections. I would like to see more people voting in European elections; they are important. However, the truth is that the turn-out is not there. To get the regional spread, we should ask people to vote in the general election and also in an open list system. When all the votes have been counted, the representation in this House will reflect the votes in each region. We should put a limit on the length of time that can be served because, as we know, there is no fixed date for a general election. That would mean that, if there were an immediate general election, no one in this House should have to step down just then. I want to see a good turn-out, so that we have a representative Chamber.
I would also like to see any reforms that are to be made carried through by the date of the next general election. The sword of Damocles cannot continue to hang over both Chambers. We must settle the direction in which we are going and be positive about it. So often this Chamber has missed the boat, and both Houses have missed the chance for reform. We have already got rid of many of the hereditary Peers, and the rest will follow in due course, whether we decide on a House that is appointed or partially 671 elected—perhaps the 80 per cent elected element that the Opposition are talking about. We should seize the opportunity. If we do not, we shall never be forgiven.
I make one last plea to the House. I am sorry to say that I must make it because of the speeches that I have heard today. Can the House, for once, instead of looking to the past, look to the future?
§ 10.18 p.m.
§ Lord Palmer
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Weatherill has already so superbly and succinctly said everything that I wanted to say.
I, too, am against any elected element in your Lordships' House. We have so many electoral systems already—for Europe, the Commons, local authorities and, for those of us who live in Scotland and Wales, a devolved Parliament or Assembly. For those who live in London, there is also the Greater London Assembly. It can surely be argued that yet another election would only increase confusion, not to mention creating even greater voter apathy. As I have mentioned before in your Lordships' House, I believe that that is one of the most worrying situations that we face today.
I did not agree with an enormous amount of what the noble Lord, Lord Hoyle, said. However, I agree that, outside Westminster, people do not know what the House does; nor, sadly, do they care. The electorate, to put it bluntly, is bored by politics and politicians. Many of your Lordships have warned that the issue is one of the most difficult to have faced politics for well over a hundred years. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor claimed that it would take a genius to resolve the conflicting views.
I think nearly all of us, openly or secretly, are forced to admit that the House as it is currently constituted is working well. Therefore there must be an overwhelming case to leave it alone. I know how disappointed my noble friend Lord Cobbold is not to be able to take part in this debate today and tomorrow. I quote very briefly from his excellent letter in the Daily Telegraph.The really important fact that the people of this country ignore at their peril, is I hat the House of Lords is a unique pool of expertise and experience, which could never be equalled in an elected chamber. There are no salaries. The House of Lords costs one tenth of the I-louse of Commons. It is made up of Cabinet Ministers., civil servants, senior servicemen, trade-unionists, businessmen, lawyers, religious leaders, farmers, academics, teachers, sportsmen, doctors, nurses and journalists. These experts are willing and able to contribute their knowledge and experience to the scrutiny of new legislation and, where necessary, to require the Government to think again".I think all those points are extremely relevant to our debate today.
I have to admit that not knowing when the second stage will be implemented is somewhat frustrating, especially in trying to plan for my own future. I have, however, always accepted that my days here are numbered and I feel immensely privileged to have been a Member of the House both before and after the 1999 Act. I have learnt an enormous amount from serving on various committees, having forged many new friendships and greatly appreciated coming into contact with incredibly helpful 672 and friendly members of staff throughout the entire House. I have found it a very rewarding experience and one that I shall always treasure.
I shall miss it greatly, and I wish the new House well. It is certainly one of the most civilised institutions of this increasingly violent and selfish society. Whatever is decided I hope and pray it will be beneficial to the inhabitants of the United Kingdom in calling the ever-powerful executive to account. I have a nasty feeling that it will just, in fact, be another layer of expensive bureaucracy. I hope and pray that I shall be proved wrong.
§ 10.22 p.m.
§ Lord Forsyth of Drumlean
My Lords, listening to the debate this evening I am not sure that the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, should quite pack his suitcase yet.
I have a small criticism to make of the Government. I listened to some of the speeches in another place today—of course, they went to bed at 7.30 p.m. The Minister announced that the Government had no view at all on these issues. I would like gently to suggest to the Government that it might have been a good idea to have a view about where they were going before they started on this process. As a member of the Joint Committee, and having spent a large part of the summer reading everything that I could put my hands on concerning House of Lords reform and associated issues, I confess that I can think of no issue where I have been in more different positions and found the issues to be more difficult than this.
When I was asked to join the Joint Committee it was probably on the basis that people thought I was in favour of a fully elected House, which I probably was at that time. I think I was in the category of those people whom the noble Lord, Lord Richard, mentioned in his speech. The Government had kicked out the hereditary Peers. It was a mess. What were we going to do? The obvious thing to do would be to have an elected House. That would carry legitimacy with voters and would also meet what appeared to be majority opinion in the House of Commons.
At the risk of being rebuked by the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, the joy of the Conservative Party overleaping the Government in Disraelian manner was something which seemed attractive—although the principle was what motivated me, of course.
I have never been in favour of a hybrid House. If we have a House of appointed Members and elected Members, I want the chance to stand as an elected Member. I do not want the phrase used by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, directed at me. She said that respect comes only from elections. That is a most remarkable thing. I do not want to be a Member of this Chamber as an appointed person and hear an elected Peer stand and tell me that respect comes only from election. That essential dysfunction would be introduced by having a hybrid Chamber with elected Members.
Perhaps I may explain to the House how I finally cleared my brain. It was thanks to the good offices of my noble and learned friend Lord Howe of Aberavon. There are two of his former Parliamentary Private Secretaries on 673 the Joint Committee; myself and Kenneth Clarke. I proved more malleable than Kenneth Clarke. My noble and learned friend focused us on the issue of the role. Many speakers have made the point that the key question is: what is this place for? What do we want it to do? What are its roles and functions? Surprise, surprise—there is almost unanimity about that. Go down the corridor or across the House and in all the opinions about the reform of the Lords there is almost unanimity that this place should do pretty well what it does now and does very well indeed; that is, to be a reforming, revising House.
In most walks of life, if one wants to set up an organisation to undertake a task, one first works out what it should do and then what is the best way of getting the best people to achieve it. What has bedevilled the debate is the fact that we have thought about composition before we have thought about functions. Another place has a major problem because it wants this place to be just as it is now. Its Members do not want us to challenge their authority or to take any more powers. They want us to do nothing different. However, they want it to be elected. That is having your cake and eating it and that is believing two impossible things at once. It is a fundamental error.
I have been an elected Member and as an appointed Member I behave differently. For a start, as an elected Member I could not have changed my mind on the committee and not had a visit from the Chief Whip. My noble friend Lord Strathclyde, as Leader of the Opposition, said, "I gather you've had a damascene conversion". I said, "I've never been anywhere near Damascus". Elected Members behave differently—they have to because they are accountable to their electorate. That is their function. They would of course expect to be paid and the press and their electors would expect them to be full-time with no moonlighting and all the arguments that we have down the corridor. And of course they must be to a degree—and to an increasing degree in all political parties—accountable to the party. As an elected Member wanting to he reelected, one will be more partisan and less independent because one must satisfy a whole range of people.
I am delighted to see that the Prime Minister is reported as being against a hybrid House. Many people have argued that the life Peers are just like the hereditary. I am not sure that that is right because the arguments about expertise relate to the reform—the Life Peerages Act—but the point is that that was done over a long period of time. There was a long transition as the life Peers came in and the House managed to find a new role; one which is carried out extremely successfully.
Perhaps I may return to the issue of role because time is getting on. There seems to be agreement that whatever reform we have, it should not challenge the House of Commons. That seems to me to point to an appointed and not an elected body. There is agreement that this House has a great range of expertise. The right reverend Prelate asked: why would people not be prepared to stand for election from whatever background? As a former Cabinet Minister, the thought of going back to surgeries and so forth does 674 not fill me with enthusiasm. I imagine that eminent scientists and doctors are not filled with enthusiasm at the thought of having to go through the full political process. People may say, "That is disgraceful. You should have a more positive attitude". Life is as it is and if we want to have a House that is composed of such expertise, we have to be realistic and that points to appointments rather than elections. The House of Lords works.
I have to say—and as its Members have gone home they probably will not notice me saying it—that I am appalled by the decline in the House of Commons. Some years ago, a taxi driver took me past the House of Commons and said, "Do you miss that place?". I said, "The place I miss no longer exists". He thought that I was having some kind of breakdown, but what I meant was that it has changed into a completely different body through the dominance of the executive. So if we want parliamentary reform, it should start down the Corridor where there is a problem, not here where there is not.
This unpaid, ageing House sits longer and works harder than the House of Commons now. If I take a long week-end, I come down from Scotland on a Tuesday—and sometimes I find Scottish Members of Parliament coming home having done their week's work.
The noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, said that we will end up with a compromise. Let us not compromise our Parliament. The truth is that the more elected people we have in this Chamber, the less independent people we will have; the more elected people, the more cost to the taxpayer; the more elected people, the less specialist expertise; the more elected people, the less room there will be for bishops, judges and others; the more elected people, the more "yah-boo" politics and partisan campaigning we will see; and the more elected people, the more the House will challenge the Commons and the executive with, as the noble Lord, Lord Carter, pointed out both in the Joint Committee and in the debate, pretty well unlimited powers. People believe that this House has no powers, but it has the power to bring the whole of the Government's programme to a halt if it chooses to do so. It chooses not to do so because of its position. Elected Members would use everything available to them in the pursuit of their constituency interests.
It is true that all of these aspects of having elected Members can be moderated. You could make the term longer to reduce patronage; you could say that there are no Ministers in this House to reduce patronage; you could do all kinds of things. But, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, pointed out, all we are seeking then to do is to make elected Members look more like appointed Members with the tenure of a life Peer.
I return, finally, to the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, and her idea that election brings legitimacy. No one argues that our judges need to be elected to have legitimacy and to command respect. The role of this House is to advise and to encourage the Commons to think again, and to do so in an intelligent and effective manner. It does not follow that legitimacy comes simply from election.
675 If I am asked what I do I say, "I work in the City" and "I am a Member of the House of Lords". I do so with a certain amount of pride. If I were a Member of the House of Commons I am not sure that I would do so with the same enthusiasm. It is true that the standards of the House of Commons have fallen and that people are disappointed by its performance. This House commands respect because of its work, not because of how its Members are appointed. When we come to the vote, I shall vote for having a fully appointed House and against all the other options—and I urge other noble Lords to do so too.
§ 10.34 p m.
§ Lord Birt
My Lords, introducing an elected element into this Chamber without materially changing its role risks, in my view, unbalancing, unsettling our constitution.
This House has a limited but valuable role, much defined today—to debate the issues of the moment; to monitor the government of the day; above all, and most importantly, to scrutinise and propose amendments to legislation.
At its best, this Chamber discharges that role with distinction, because although some here, inevitably and reasonably, follow their party's line, there are substantial numbers of independently-minded Members on all sides of this House either with long experience of government, or with true and deep expertise in a particular field. They bring wide perspective and robust judgment to bear on proposed legislation.
But our role is limited, because, in the final analysis, as we know, we offer only advice; and that advice can in the end be set aside by the democratically elected Members of the House of Commons. All we can really do is to invite the government of the day to think again.
Many hereditary Peers have made a conscientious contribution to the business of this House. We have been moved, amused and stimulated by several during the course of today's debate. But the proposal to remove them was and is surely right, both on the grounds that birth alone is an untenable qualification for involvement in the legislative process in the 21st century, and because, as a method of selection, it is unlikely, to say the least, to provide the optimum mix of talents to enable this House effectively to discharge its critical role as a revising Chamber.
So, first, the essentially advisory role of this House; secondly, the non-binding nature of the counsel it proffers; and, thirdly, a body composed by selection of the experienced and the expert—the watchwords of the day—are all of one piece.
We could have had—but have not yet had—a fundamental debate about the British constitution. The noble Lord, Lord Barnett, believes that that would be impossible. Starting with a clean sheet of paper, we could have designed some optimum mix of institutions. We could have debated whether one Church—any Church—in today's Britain should have an entrenched position in Parliament. We could have discussed the benefits of an organisationally discrete supreme court. We could have asked whether the nation's leading legal 676 officer should be a Member of the Government. We could have decided on one House or two—and if two, with what division of responsibilities. We could have determined the ideal split of powers in a two-chamber Parliament. But we have not.
If at some point in the future the role of the upper House were to change fundamentally, if it were to be given real and substantial additional powers, then direct election of all of its Members is likely to be the best method of selection for that House at that time. But, in the absence of such a fundamental re-appraisal, our role is to remain essentially the same. In those circumstances a well-constructed and democratically rooted process of direct appointment is far more likely than direct election to produce stout, independently minded Members of experience and expertise, from a comprehensive array of groups and interests, who can truly bring a different kind of scrutiny to bear than Members of heavily whipped parties in another place.
I do see the strength of the argument made by the Royal Commission for electing members to represent the interests of the nations and regions of the United Kingdom, but for me that argument falls on the grounds that partial election to this Chamber would introduce the notion of democratic equivalence with the House of Commons, and thus undermine, possibly fatally, our role as an essentially advisory Chamber.
So, in due course—and for these reasons—I plan to cast my vote for the option of a wholly appointed Chamber and to oppose all options proposing an elected element, unless and until we are presented in the House with more far-reaching proposals for a fundamental re-alignment of our political system.
§ Lord Strathclyde
My Lords, further to the beginning of the noble Lord's speech, will he remind us what he did to become a Member of this House, and what he did to catch the selector's eye? He might also explain why he thinks he should be a Member while my noble friend Lord Ferrers, a Privy Counsellor and distinguished former Minister, should be flung out.
§ 10.40 p.m.
§ Lord Swinfen
My Lords, Members of another place now treat politics as a profession. Years ago, that was not the case. It means that they need to climb the greasy pole in politics with the object of becoming a Minister. They need to follow their party's lead and abide by the Whip in order to make certain that at the next election they will be selected and re-elected. As professional politicians, if they lose their seat, they lose their income and can no longer look after their family. They may have considerable difficulty in getting a job elsewhere.
The same would apply if Members of this House—or what is to follow it—were elected. They would lose their independence of mind and would do what their party and party leader wanted them to do. Independence of 677 mind is extremely important in this House. It should also be important in another place, but it is not as important there now as it was 20 or 30 years ago.
There has been a suggestion that, if we were to have an elected or partially elected second Chamber, Members might be elected for a term of, say, 15 years, after which they would not be allowed to stand for election again. That would be a great mistake. Because what person, safely ensconced in a career, would leave for 15 years and then attempt to return to it? They would have lost it. It would be extremely difficult for them to get back again.
The function of this House is to revise and scrutinise legislation. We do it well, but we need the expertise and experience that can be gained outside Parliament. Because we are an unpaid Chamber, we need to make our living outside Parliament, so some of us attend only part time. But, at the same time, we gain experience and understanding of what is happening in the real world outside politics. We can, therefore, bring our experience to bear in looking at legislation. As the House knows, we do that well and most of our amendments are accepted by governments of all political colours.
For those reasons, this House should be wholly appointed, not wholly elected. A partially elected House would not work properly. Therefore, I will vote for a wholly appointed House when the vote comes.
§ 10.44 p.m.
§ Lord Sewel
My Lords, like some noble Lords, I shall try to speak briefly, not only because of the lateness of the hour but the fact that many of us had the opportunity to express our views on the further reform of your Lordships' House in earlier debates.
It is a truism that complicated, complex constitutional issues often boil down to simple but fundamental questions. So it is with further change in the composition of your Lordships' House.
The second and third order arguments are also important. For example, we need to ensure that any future change maintains or even enhances the ability of this House to revise and scrutinise legislation. We also want to maintain a Chamber where the Government could, on occasion—let us not beat about the bush—sort out their legislation away from the partisan cockpit of the House of Commons. As someone responsible for navigating the Scotland Bill through your Lordships' House, I am well aware of the benefits of the role played by this House. However, important though those arguments are, when they are put to one side, there remains, in stark simplicity, one important issue—the supremacy of the House of Commons. Should it be maintained or should it be eroded?
The paradox at the heart of the debate on introducing any elected element into your Lordships' House is that its constitutional impact is likely to be greater on the House of Commons than on the House of Lords. This House works as a subordinate, scrutinising and revising Chamber. It does not threaten the supremacy of the House of Commons because it cannot claim a 678 democratic mandate. As the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth of Drumlean, said, it works well within the statutory and conventional limitations imposed upon it. Indeed, if it were to work up to those limits, virtually no Government would be able to secure their legislative programme.
This virtual self-denying ordinance is bound to change with the introduction of an elected element. Quite simply, we cannot have a first and a second-class democratic mandate. It is a little like virginity—you either have it or you do not. It is as simple as that. It would be impossible to argue that elected Members of the House of Lords did not enjoy the same democratic mandate as elected Members of the House of Commons.
During the legislative battle between the two Houses, when push comes to shove, why should elected Peers give way to elected Members of the House of Commons? The balance between the House of Commons and the House of Lords would not only begin to change with the introduction of an elected element, it would continue to change. It is not an end point, but a process.
When we set off down the road of constitutional reform, it is a good idea to know, at least roughly, where we want to finish up. It is my belief that a hybrid House would be essentially unstable. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor was absolutely right when he said recently that the real choice is between a wholly elected and a wholly appointed House. I believe that is a constitutional and political reality. That choice will eventually, if not immediately, have to be made.
Once an elected element is introduced, the power of the democratic mandate argument is so strong in our political culture that there would be irresistible pressure to increase the proportion of the democratic element until we finished up with a wholly elected House, no matter what the belief and the intention was at the beginning of the process. Once we start the process, the end point is, in my view, absolutely clear. It is a stark choice between an elected and an appointed House. That House would increasingly challenge the supremacy of the House of Commons.
On what basis of any understanding of a theory of a representative parliamentary democracy would it be possible to defend the Parliament Act, for example, if there was a wholly elected House of Lords? At least one of my friends in another place has argued that it would be possible to have a wholly elected House of Lords but at the same time reduce its power. That has no consistency or sustainability whatever—it has no theoretical base at all. My argument is that the supremacy of the House of Commons could not survive as we know it the introduction of an elected element in your Lordships' House.
The noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, made it clear earlier that she fundamentally disagrees with that argument. As far as I understand her argument, and arguments like hers, it relies on an assertion that the House of Commons can remain supreme because it says that it is supreme. That will not do. The House of Commons can claim the supremacy that it enjoys 679 because it uniquely possesses an elected democratic mandate. When one makes a breach in that wall, the claim of supremacy begins to erode and continues to erode until it effectively disappears.
§ Baroness Williams of Crosby
My Lords, my argument was based on the fact not that the House of Commons was elected, although I believe that to be important, but that built into our whole historical tradition are certain rights that are exclusive to the House of Commons. In particular, there is the crucial right of Supply, which dates back to the English Civil War, and the Parliament Act, which makes it clear that when there is any conflict the House of Commons will be supreme.
§ Lord Sewel
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for clarifying her position, but I must counter it. If one looks back on that historical development, the ability to claim the right of Supply is based on the fact that, imperfect as it may be, at any one time the House of Commons was elected and your Lordships' House was not. That is the historical basis on which the House of Commons could claim the right of Supply.
I shall look again at the arguments that the noble Baroness advanced in her speech, but they boil down at the end of the day to saying that the House of Commons is supreme simply because it claims supremacy. My argument is that its supremacy is based on its unique claim to democratic electoral legitimacy.
In terms of the constitutional journey on which we have embarked, Parliament is best served by arriving at a position in which the House of Lords, because of its lack of democratic legitimacy, cannot and will not challenge the supremacy of the House of Commons. It is as simple and stark as that.
§ 10.54 p.m.
§ Lord Skidelsky
My Lords, after so much has been said, there is nothing I can do except to reinforce some arguments, dot a few "i"s and cross a few "t"s. I should say at the outset that my instincts are in favour of a wholly appointed House. I shall consider two arguments against that, the first relating to legitimacy and the second to appointments.
The noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, had some trouble with legitimacy; he did not like it. It is perfectly true that hardly anyone has tried in this debate to define it, but it is really not that difficult to explain. In political theory, it is simply what makes the powers exercised by government acceptable to the general public. In traditional societies, that could be dynastic or divine claims. In our type of society, legitimacy ultimately derives from popular election or democracy. I do not think that there is any real dispute about that. However, although we cannot have full legitimacy without democracy, we can have democracy without full legitimacy. Northern Ireland, since 1922, and many other places with ethnically divided societies have been examples of that.
So we add other requirements to legitimacy as the debate goes on. One of them is "representativeness", which I think was suggested by the Joint Committee. A reformed House 680 should be representative of the major groups in society and the major parts of the country. However, that is different from popular election and may be in conflict with it. We may not get a representative group from a general election in the sense that "representativeness'' is being used. However, how far do we really want to take representativeness? Do we want a House that is truly representative of the community in terms of knowledge and intelligence, for example—what the pollsters call a "representative sample"? Surely not.
So we come to another requirement of legitimacy, which is roughly being able to speak with authority on the particular subject of interest. That comprises expertise, so that we talk of "expert authority". Here we come very much into the area of what this House is all about. We can add other requirements, such as incorruptibility—a very important requirement for legitimacy—integrity, independence of mind and so on. My belief is that, for what this House does, we have enough legitimacy. The House does not wield the supreme power of government, but it has a great deal of what one might call second order legitimacy, which might well be destroyed if it was popularly elected—a point powerfully put earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth.
Provided that the law-making supremacy remains with another place, a second Chamber can only benefit from being able to bring the highest-available ability to the scrutiny and fashioning of legislation. The only people for whom that doctrine seems anathema are the tabloid press, which wants to drag everyone clown to its own moronic level.
From the start of the present phase of this debate on the reform of the House of Lords, I have argued that it is contradictory to want to change the composition of the House while leaving its powers unchanged, that the two need always to be considered together. It seems to me to have been a defect of many of the reports advocating different types of composition—and either a wholly elected House or a partly elected House—that they have tried to separate these two points and have either argued that the powers should stay the same or failed fully to specify what new powers and functions they want a reformed House to have that require it to be directly elected. Instead, the argument has tended to be that your Lordships' House would exercise the powers it already has more firmly or more vigorously if it were more legitimate. But surely that argument made most sense, I regret to say, when the majority of the House consisted of hereditary Peers. That was the basis of such self-denying ordinances as the Salisbury convention. But there is no reason at all why that convention should apply in the kind of House that we now have.
In other words, what we have to make up our minds about is whether we want to start on a constitutional journey which leads to a fully written constitution with a fully blown division or separation of powers, or whether we want to carry on broadly with what we have, allowing it to evolve slowly in ways that we cannot entirely foresee. We have to make up our minds about that. That is the choice which is posed by the Liberal Democrats. I speak as an historian now. I do 681 not see any such evidence of the misgovernment of this country over the past 50 or 60 years as to justify such a radical break with our constitutional past.
I turn briefly to the second aspect of my speech—how is an appointed House to be appointed? We are all very much against patronage although we are all here because of it. That applies even to those noble Lords who are the beneficiaries of patronage granted a century or two or longer ago. One must not be too harsh on the patronage system; otherwise, we would be questioning our own right to be here. But I accept the fact that once the hereditary Peers have gone, the system of appointment has to be much more open, transparent and publicly accountable than it has been in the past. The problem is to devise a system of appointment which guarantees high quality while at the same time preserving the interests of the government of the day in getting their business through the House. The latter is essential as the Lords is not a debating Chamber, it is part of the legislative process and no one has wanted your Lordships' House to be anything but that.
Any advocate of an appointed House, therefore, must accept an independent, powerful appointments commission, as, indeed, the Joint Committee has done. That would function rather like a selection committee in any other walk of life; people would be nominated and it would choose from among the available candidates. As I see it, the Prime Minister and other political leaders should have no privileged position in nomination except in two respects: in deciding the political balance of the House as a whole and for the purpose of particular appointments to Front Benches. That is where I believe that the privileged position of the political parties and the Prime Minister in particular is applicable. But for all other purposes nominators would be on equal terms. The recommendation for new Peers which would then go to the sovereign would be funnelled through the appointments commission.
There is no reason why under that system indirect elections cannot occur. Occupational groups can nominate people for membership. Normally there would be more nominees than available places but that is true of most appointment procedures; namely, that there are more candidates than jobs on offer.
I should like to add a couple of points in regard to the requirements for membership of your Lordships' House to those already suggested by the Joint Committee. First, it would be desirable to have evidence of someone's ability to put a case persuasively. That takes into account the particular nature of the business of this House. Secondly, I refer to availability and, thirdly, to age. Age is connected with availability as with successful people availability tends to increase with age.
My fourth point is more controversial and relates very much to the times in which we live. I refer to some sort of security clearance. It goes very much against my instinct, but it is something that we need to pay attention to in a world in which a Guy Fawkes might 682 well have more success than he did in 1605, if we are to preserve our freedom of access to the whole of Westminster.
My final suggestion is that a fully legitimate appointments commission should be elected by the whole of this House. Any noble Lord should be eligible to stand.
I am not against all elections. Whenever there is more than one elector and one candidate, that is an election, explicit or implicit. It is the size of the electorate that matters. In the case that we face today, I would simply echo the famous words of Kingsley Amis: "More means worse".
§ 11.6 p.m.
§ The Earl of Caithness
My Lords, I too would like to thank the Joint Committee, especially the seven noble Lords and one MP who attended every one of its sittings. I am sad that the Joint Committee's work was so limited in its remit. It has therefore told us nothing substantially new, but has served the great benefit of clarifying the confusion that the Government have got themselves into on the matter.
In the past six years there have been massive changes in the way in which the House works. One of the first things that one ought to note is that the reason for the appointment of Peers has changed. When judging this House, it is wrong to look only at the number of people in each party. That gives a very misleading picture of how the House works. A more accurate way of looking at the House is to look at the number of working Peers.
Furthermore, there are two agreed legacies of the House of Lords Act 1999. First, we have lost a great deal of experience and expertise. Secondly, the percentage of noble Lords under the age of 50 has dropped by more than 60 per cent. Now that I am over 50, I tend to agree with my noble and learned friend Lord Howe of Aberavon when he said that age was quite a good thing. However, we have also lost a great deal through the youth that we lost under the 1999 reforms. Another important point is that the powers and working practices of this House are constantly changing, as my noble friend Lord Dixon-Smith pointed out.
We have been asked to vote on seven options. I am disappointed that there is not an eighth option anyway, that of a right to vote on the status quo. I wish that the Joint Committee had at least made some remarks as to why the remaining hereditaries are no longer acceptable. It is a given that we must go, but I do not think that there has been a justified argument for that.
The Joint Committee points out that there must be more work on costings. Once again, we are being asked to make decisions when we do not know what their full implications will be. There are no details on how elections will take place, if they do take place. There must be an election for an individual. Any closed list system would be totally wrong for a House of this nature.
683 I carried out an interesting exercise on the idea of having elected representatives for areas of population. Should 50 per cent of the House be elected, that would be roughly 300 Peers. That is one for every 200,000 people. Coincidentally, that would be one representative for the whole of the area that comprises the highland council; it is about one-third of the size of Scotland and about the size of Belgium. I am not sure that that is a good way to have an elected Member.
There will not be many elections if there is a statutory term of 12 or 15 years. A number of noble Lords said that there are currently too many elections and four or five more elections in one's lifetime will not make a material difference.
I have found today's debate very interesting. In 1999, we hereditaries were told that we were undemocratic and that we had to go because we were undemocratic. Today, there has been much more about the legitimacy of patronage and its superiority over the elected system. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Worcester reminded us of that. Am I the only noble Lord in. the House who hears some similarity in today's arguments with some of those made by hereditary Peers in the past?
I turn to powers and conventions. When the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, reformed the House in 1999, she did so with a cudgel or—perhaps more appropriately—a guillotine. The present Leader of the House, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, is reforming the House with a stiletto. He is attacking the soft underbelly of the House; that is, our working practices. Carry-over is a seismic shift in the way in which the House operates.
We are at the start of a two-year trial of the reforms that have been introduced. I strongly believe that in the future our ability to revise will be continually curtailed, revised and reduced. In five or 10 years, the House that we believe we are operating as a good revising. Chamber will not be a House that is able to revise in the same way as this one is. The logical conclusion from that is that the Joint Committee's recommendations on roles, conventions, functions and powers, and the foundations on which it based its arguments, are shifting. It involves a snapshot of an historical House, not of the House today. We will probably therefore make decisions on totally the wrong basis. I am seriously concerned—I made this clear when we voted on working practices—that some of the proposals will undermine the role of the House, change its relationship with the Commons and weaken it.
Given all that is currently going on with the change in powers, my first option would be to leave the House's composition as it currently is. However, I know that that is not practical and that at some time in the future it must change. When it changes, I do not believe that it can do so without having an elected element. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, who said that once one starts with an elected system, it will be ratcheted up. I believe that it will be the policy of the party in opposition to say, "We want more elected people—senators or whatever they are called—in the second Chamber".
684 It is inevitable that we will have an elected element in the House. Otherwise—and in association with the changes in working practices—the House will lose its credibility. The noble Lord, Lord Hughes of Woodside, said that we may need to bite the bullet. He is right; we must go for a large elected element of the House now. As the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, reminded us, that will entail that the powers, functions and duties of the House must be clearly spelt out and written down. I do not like that option but given what we are faced with, I believe that it is an inevitable consequence.
§ 11.14 p.m.
§ Lord Lucas
My Lords, as an advocate of reform, I find this a fairly depressing debate. Like the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Worcester, I had hoped that, as a House, we would spend more time considering how we could make a contribution to reviving the state of the body politic in this country rather than, as we seem to have done, discussing how to preserve the undoubted virtues that we have here.
I agree with a great deal that has been said about the consequences of changing what we have. I agree with many of my noble friends' strictures on what would happen if we had a largely elected House: the influx of party politics; the challenge that we would make to another place; and the question of whether we would get people with the necessary quality to perform our existing functions.
But I am equally concerned about the idea that a House of Parliament should be appointed by a quango. I find it an astonishing idea that this should be the summit of the "quangoracy". One works one's way up through the various quangos and then, eventually, reaches the greatest quango of them all—the House of Lords—by virtue of an appointments commission which is essentially appointed by the existing House of Lords. I find that an astonishing idea in a democracy.
I am distressed, too, by the idea that we should despair of getting good people to stand for election. We need good people to stand for another place and therefore we should be looking at ways of getting good people to stand for election. In any event, anyone who has climbed the greasy pole to be, say, head of the BMA has stood for election 100 times, whether simply as a person who, among two or three others, is preferred or receives promotion or, ultimately, is the one chosen to head such a great organisation. Elections are not foreign to such people, but they do not want to become involved in parliamentary elections.
It occurs to me that perhaps we are looking at things the wrong way round. Throughout today, we have been talking about electing the politicians and appointing the Cross-Benchers. Perhaps we should elect the Cross-Benchers and appoint the politicians.
The political appointment system has worked extremely well. When I look at the Benches opposite—there are not many Members there at present—I am fairly impressed by what has been done by political appointment. Some extremely good Members on all 685 Benches in this House—in particular, on the political Benches—have been put there by politicians. They have sometimes surprised those politicians by what they have done afterwards. But they have made a major contribution to this House and they have maintained their personal independence and integrity, as my noble friend has illustrated this evening in his Damascene conversion.
None of us is subject to that strong a Whip any more, even if we are put on a key committee by the Chief Whip. A great deal of independence is to be found in political appointments. It results in people who make a key contribution to the political life of this House, and it seems to me to be a very effective way of choosing the political part of this Chamber. It also avoids dumping another party-political election on the electorate.
But if, at the other end of the argument, one asks, "What about electing the Cross-Benchers?", then half the structure for that is present in what has been proposed so far. The appointments commission can say, "We need a couple of doctors or people with medical experience in this House. Therefore, if you are going to apply for this particular slot, you must have the relevant qualifications". The people who apply for that slot will not be elected by a small closed group of people—we are not going back to university Members or anything of that kind—but they will be on the slate for election when it comes to the House of Lords. In deciding what is needed in the House of Lords, a doctor will be able to choose whether he votes for the medical candidate or for some other interest group chosen by the appointments commission. People will be able to pursue their own passions and choose their own people.
Perhaps a section of the election could even be an open category. People could propose themselves or perhaps a group such as the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection could get together with other, similar-minded charities and say, "We wish to propose a candidate for the House of Lords". There would then be a collection of people to vote for, at least one of whom would excite the passions and interests of voters.
A voter would want to ensure that the anti-vivisection candidate, the peace candidate or the doctor had enough votes to be elected. It might be that the BMA has put forward a candidate and that I want to vote for the noble Lord, Lord Winston, who would not have been put forward by the BMA. It is a much more personal choice to have someone such as the noble Lord, Lord Winston, than a medico-politico. It would be the people as a whole who would make that choice and not a closed-off appointments commission, with a question mark over how its members will be appointed. That gets down to the idea of people's Peers, but the people standing for those particular positions would have been chosen because of their 686 expertise. When they arrive in the House, they would have the necessary expertise but would be individuals chosen by the people.
Lord Butler of Brockwell
My Lords, that is an interesting suggestion. However, can the noble Lord say how he would prevent the political parties endorsing and getting behind one candidate rather than another? How would he stop the political parties' involvement in such an election?
§ Lord Lucas
My Lords, overt contributions by political parties and discussions of who they would prefer could be banned. But politics is part of life. However, given the general level of interest in politics in this country, it is clear that people's passions for other things run much higher. A candidate representing a particular section of society would look to that section of society for the vote. Let us suppose we required a countryman or two. It would not be a question of who the political parties were endorsing. People would vote for what they cared about, which is their vision of the countryside. It would be a much more direct and personal election. I think that we could break the link with political parties in a major way.
§ Lord Howe of Aberavon
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for giving way. He really cannot get away without answering one or two more questions. He pictures the people making a choice between a doctor and a countryman. Can he say something about the constituencies that would operate that? Would the countryman be elected by those who marched in the countryside march; would the people as represented by the listeners to the "Today" programme be choosing nation-wide, or would it be simply paid-up members of the British Veterinary Association who would choose? There are many questions to which I am sure the Joint Committee would be interested in hearing his answers.
§ Lord Lucas
My Lords, I should be delighted to talk to the Joint Committee. The answer would be that one could vote for anyone. I would have a choice. All those candidates would stand and I could choose whether to vote for the doctor, the countryman or whatever other category I was considering. I would vote for the person that I cared about in the category about which I was passionate. It would be very much a question that those who cared about who was elected as the doctors' representative would vote for a doctor and participate in that election. Those who cared more about who was elected as the countryside representative would vote in that election.
We would be doing very much the same if we had an appointments commission which would decide that we wanted people of this or that category and someone with these particular abilities, except that we would be allowing the people to choose rather than an appointments commission. If we could make such a system work, we would be free of any challenge from the other House because it would be a completely different method of election. We would be free of any 687 constituency responsibilities. We would have people of the quality we want because that would have been assured by the system of allowing people to stand. We would be electing people who would not demand great offices and full-time appointments but who would expect to come here on the sort of basis we have now. We would have the legitimacy of election and independence.
That seems to be worthy of consideration. I know that that is a surprise to my noble and learned friend Lord Howe. However, just because it is the opposite 688 way of looking at things to everyone else, except perhaps the noble Lords, Lord Skidelsky and Lord Parekh, who touched on this, it does not mean that it is not worth consideration.
§ Lord Grocott
My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lady Jay of Paddington, I beg to move that the debate be adjourned until tomorrow.
Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House adjourned at twenty-five minutes past eleven o'clock.