My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made earlier today by my right honourable friend the Leader of the other place. The Statement is as follows:
“Mr Speaker, with permission, I should like to make a Statement on reform of the House of Lords. Accompanying this Statement is a detailed White Paper, The House of Lords: Reform (CM 7072), available in the Vote Office. The White Paper has been informed by the excellent report of the Joint Committee on Conventions, which the other place and this House debated and approved on 16 and 17 January respectively.
“The White Paper’s publication follows nine months’ intensive discussion within government and with the other parties. I have chaired cross-party talks—the first such government-led talks to be held for nearly 40 years. The cross-party group has met eight times since June. I am very grateful to those on the group for their work and constructive approach to this complex issue.
“The starting point for the cross-party talks was that each of the three main parties was committed by its 2005 manifesto to seeking reform of the Lords. My party, as well as pledging, without qualification, to remove ‘the remaining hereditary peers’, said that a,
‘reformed upper chamber must be effective, legitimate and more representative without challenging the primacy of the House of Commons’.
The Conservatives promised,
‘to seek a cross-party consensus for a substantially elected House of Lords’,
and the Liberal Democrats to replace the Lords with a,
‘predominantly elected second chamber’.
“In the cross-party talks, a significant degree of consensus has been found on several, but not all, of the important issues. Where the Government do not agree with the Opposition or the Liberal Democrats, they have done their best in the White Paper accurately to reflect the areas of disagreement.
“All members of the group were of one mind on the fundamental primacy of the Commons, and that the House of Lords should be a complement to the Commons, not a rival to it. There was agreement that a reformed House should be partly appointed, partly elected—hybrid—consisting of at least 20 per cent non-party-political members, and that it was essential that no political party should have a majority of the whole House of Lords; that membership of the reformed House should reflect the diversity of the United Kingdom and its people, and the range of religious opinion in the country; and that the special arrangements for membership of the upper House of a limited number of hereditary Peers should come to an end.
“The group decided that introducing reform over a long transitional period would be essential. But with opinion divided in all three parties, and each committed to a free vote, we did not come to a view on the proportion of elected and appointed members, nor on the precise method and timing of any elections, although all parties agreed that any elected element should be by a form of direct election.
“It is palpable that Lords reform has been unfinished business for at least 100 years. This is not a criticism of the work of the members of the other place, many of whom give great service and the nation the benefit of their expertise and experience. But it is our judgment, shared by the other parties as their manifestos show, that the status quo is no longer an option. But moving forward is difficult. Great passions on this issue are aroused in both Houses and in all parties. Given this, the White Paper is self-evidently and unapologetically a compromise, both in terms of destination and transition. I believe that the choice we have is either making progress on a scale and to a timescale of the kind indicated in the White Paper, or seeing the whole exercise aborted altogether, in which case there would be no further progress on this for a generation.
“Time and time again, fundamental reform of the House of Lords has failed because, for some, the best has become the enemy of the good. Deadlock this time round would be easy to achieve; the prize of progress means moving forward gradually and by consensus.
“The basis for a consensus on a hybrid House already exists. All recent inquiries into the future of the Lords—including those by the Royal Commission chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, the Public Administration Select Committee chaired by my honourable friend the Member for Cannock Chase, and the cross-party ‘breaking the deadlock’ group—have come to this conclusion.
“The Government have used the White Paper to illustrate how a hybrid House might work, using a model—it is a model—where 50 per cent of the House is elected and 50 per cent is appointed, with 30 per cent from the political parties and 20 per cent with no party-political affiliation. This model, in my view, provides the most effective balance between election and appointment in a reformed House. There are myriad other views, and the free vote, including by Ministers, will enable those views properly to be expressed.
“The White Paper proposes that the size of the House should be reduced to 540 Members. Elections would be held at the same time as elections to the European Parliament and would use the same constituencies, but on a different electoral system—that of the partially open list. One third would be elected at each election. The Church of England Bishops would continue to be represented.
“Should Parliament opt for a system in which appointments to the second Chamber continue, all appointments would be made by a new statutory appointments commission, assessing both suitability as well as propriety. The commission would be independent and report directly to Parliament. The right of the Prime Minister of the day to make appointments would end.
“The proposals in the White Paper would also break the link between the peerage and seats in Parliament. Members, including current Members, would be able to resign their seats. Disqualification provisions for any Member of the Lords convicted of an offence would be brought into line with those in the Commons. All Members would be able to vote in general elections.
“The position of Peers currently sitting in the House has been an important consideration. We propose that no existing life Peer will be forced to leave.
“Let me now turn to the procedure that the Government propose for the free vote in this House. The whole House will recall that when the free votes took place four years ago, there were eight options before it: five of them—from abolition, to 100 per cent appointed, to 100 per cent elected—were put to Divisions. Every single option was voted down.
“One system of voting in this House is well tried and works to give a clear-cut decision on any straight ‘yes-no’ choice. It is plainly essential when it comes to determining the content of law. But this system is no good—it does not work—for indicating preferences; in mathematical terms, a binary system is not designed to elicit preferences and cannot do this job properly.
“Instead, the system that the Government are proposing is specifically designed to enable those voting in this House to come to a decision on this issue. Members will be invited to rank preferences in numerical order and the successful preference will be the one gaining at least half of all votes, after the successive elimination of the least successful choices.
“The Government propose that there should be three substantive votes, with the first two in the normal way: on whether there should be a second Chamber at all, and then on whether there should be any further reform. If and only if a decision is made by the House that there should be a second Chamber and both of these are in the affirmative, the House would then move to an alternative vote on preferences.
“The detailed arrangements for the alternative vote ballot itself would be under the direction of you, Mr Speaker. It is for the other place to decide what procedure it adopts.
“Although the alternative vote procedure is an unusual method of voting, a broadly similar approach has nevertheless been agreed by this House and the other place for choosing the Speaker of each House.
“I am aware—and this will, no doubt, be reflected in the questions—that the doctrine of the dangerous precedent says that nothing should ever be done for the first time. But every one of the traditions that we cherish in this House was once an innovation.
“To allow this House to give proper time to consider this procedure, a resolution to give it effect will be put to the House a week before the substantive debate on composition. It is intended that the debate on composition itself, with the free votes, will last for two days.
“I believe that, following the cross-party talks and the report of the Joint Committee on Conventions, this White Paper represents the best opportunity to make progress that we have had for many decades. As our manifesto stated, there are many reasons why we should move ahead with reform of the House of Lords: to increase its effectiveness, to make it more representative of the United Kingdom and to increase its legitimacy.
“But there is a wider issue as well, and that is to seek, through this process, to strengthen Parliament by enhancing the way in which the Lords complements the work of the primary Chamber. By doing this, our democracy as a whole would be better served.
“I commend the White Paper to the House”.
My Lords, that concludes the Statement.
My Lords, your Lordships might be forgiven for thinking that they had come to the House this afternoon at last to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Instead, we have been offered a House of 57 varieties. The Government promised consensus but, instead, are giving us a mudge of compromise, which has itself been compromised once again by the Cabinet, no less.
They offer choices but cannot even decide the name of the reformed House, and, when they make a decision, they make the wrong choice. So, while I thank the noble and learned Lord for repeating the Statement, I sympathise with him, for he has a difficult task today. On the one hand, he comes here with unpopular proposals, thought by many to be unnecessary, and, on the other, he offers an undertaking that the present House can stay for life. My response will not surprise the noble and learned Lord. This is a proud House. It does not deserve, and will not brook, another botched attempt at reform.
Whatever we think of the White Paper ideas—I find them still not fully thought through and, frankly, as they are, unacceptable—they mean much more major constitutional upheaval, more far-reaching even than in 1999. With a Government clearly at odds with themselves and thinking it out as they go along, there is not much basis for progress here.
Lords reform is like opening the lid of Pandora’s box: who knows where debate might lead if there is no firm guiding principle behind it? So will the noble and learned Lord answer, just this once, the basic question? Exactly what problem is this package aiming to solve? Is the House too strong or too weak? Is the aim to enable us to defeat all Governments more, with “more legitimacy”, as the noble Baroness, Lady Jay of Paddington, used to say, or what? The White Paper lacks real clarity of purpose or principle.
There is agreement in this House, to which I subscribe, but the only proper basis for major constitutional change is that, first, it should be undertaken only if it strengthens the authority of this House to control the Executive and, secondly, it should be attempted only with consensus across parties and across the two Houses. These proposals, I believe, fail both tests.
In other areas, too, the Statement assumes too much. For example, we have not agreed, and do not agree, that the undertakings given to this House by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, in 1999 that elected hereditary Peers will not be excluded before stage 2 is complete can be set aside just on the basis of a preferential vote in another place. Even to make the suggestions that the White Paper does is deeply dishonourable.
So areas of agreement there may be, but consensus there is not. Indeed, there is not even consensus inside the Cabinet. Confused and divided government can deliver only a confused and divisive reform. So can the noble and learned Lord say how many Cabinet members back these ideas? Has the Chancellor of the Exchequer approved them? And what of the Prime Minister himself? In 2003, he said that,
“a hybrid [House] … is wrong and will not work”.—[Official Report, Commons, 29/1/03; col. 877.]
What made him change his mind? Can the noble and learned Lord explain the thinking about the timing? Why bring this all up now, when there is so much unwelcome police attention to the appointment of life Peers? How can we have a rational discussion about the role of appointed Peers against this background?
Can the noble and learned Lord give us some clearer sense of the time that this House will be allowed to reflect on its own future? Will it be three weeks or three months? Is the aim to have a Bill this Session or next? What would the Government do if the other place voted for election and this House did not? Would it use the Parliament Act and would the divided Cabinet be whipped into unity on that? I know that of course, as the government Chief Whip has just reminded us, we will have an opportunity to debate the White Paper. No Peer should feel under pressure not to contribute. This affects us all, and brings the method of our coming here into the full glare of the public gaze. That may not always be comfortable.
Can the noble and learned Lord tell us what plans the Government have to allow us to debate this new system of preferential voting? It is a major constitutional change in itself, and the House should have time to come to a view. Is it envisaged, for instance, that the process will be used more generally for legislation? It looks, from the papers that I have seen, that another place will need to vote 11 times before coming to a conclusion. Is the same envisaged for your Lordships? The noble and learned Lord proposes that 50 per cent of the House be chosen by party lists, and another 30 per cent selected by party bosses. What kind of a democracy is that?
If there were a firm government proposal for real reform—for example, truly elected political Peers with a 20 per cent balance of independents—we could get on and discuss it. But reform should be real, not a mush of PR and political correctness that is simply appointment by another name. It should be based on constituencies to which people can relate: cities and counties, not huge, remote Euro-regions as the White Paper proposes. Why is it on European election day? If we are to have election, then the terms must be long, non-renewable and with elections staggered. In that, at least, the White Paper is right and follows the reports of my noble friend Lord Wakeham and my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay in some respects.
This House is seen as offering tremendous value: high quality at very low cost. What will the proposed reformed House cost, larger as it will be, as if the public were crying out for more paid politicians? Why is the White Paper so coy on cost? It is costing £50 million to expel 12 Law Lords from this House. How much will the total annual pay for 800 Peers be, and how big the pay-offs? These areas will get intense scrutiny in the media, and the Government must lead on them. The SSRB cannot necessarily be relied on to deliver a sensible or restrained answer.
Our talks over these past few months were constructive, and I thank the noble and learned Lord and Mr Straw for the way in which they conducted them. In particular, I thank them for giving me advance notice of the White Paper and this Statement. I cannot fault them on their courtesy and behaviour in that respect. I, the noble Lord, Lord McNally, the noble Lord, Lord Williamson of Horton, and the right reverend Prelates took part in a constructive spirit. It would have been wrong not to have sought consensus. It was right to attempt it. There is no disgrace in failure, but if the noble and learned Lord assumes assent for this paper, failure it will be.
We are now at the fag-end of a prime ministership. I understand the haste to search for a legacy, but this House is old, with centuries of work done and, please, centuries more to come. Some think that it does not do so bad a job, and cry out for reform not here, but in another place. How disappointing that the White Paper is silent on that.
If the Government try to force this mish-mash through, then our ways will part. These confused plans are not real reform, and risk bringing division and perhaps discredit on us all. The wise thing would be to pause for mature reflection in both Houses and to gather the wisdom of Parliament, treating this plan as the Green Paper that it really is and giving us all time to consider what is and is not in it in far more depth and in a less febrile climate than today’s.
My Lords, it is always a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, and it has been a pleasure to be with him on the Joint Committee looking at this matter. Noble Lords will have got the flavour of his approach on this. The Conservative Party has a radical House of Lords reform policy in its manifesto, but the noble Lord must adopt the posture of Blackadder in the series on the First World War; he must talk a good fight without actually wanting to go over the top. The reason is that if at the Dispatch Box he actually expounded Conservative Party policy as in its manifesto, he would feel a terrible tingling between his shoulder blades. I have some sympathy because I am not entirely tingle-free myself.
I welcome this White Paper and pay tribute to how Jack Straw has gone about a difficult task with great integrity and constructiveness. I know that that does not help Jack on those Benches across there, but it is true. I also pay tribute to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor; it is often forgotten that this process was started on his watch, when he called the parties together to discuss it, and Jack Straw took it over. For my party, the White Paper is a step towards redeeming a 100 year-old commitment, and we look forward to the process. Some clarification is needed. I understand that the Commons will look at it on 27 February and during the week beginning 5 March. It is widely accepted that we should be aware of the Commons’ decision before we have our debates, but it would be interesting to know where that puts us on the calendar.
I note the tribute paid to the Joint Committee on Conventions, on which I, too, sat. It provides a template for the relations between the two Houses in future. I draw the attention of the House to two points about the Joint Committee on Conventions: it drew great attention to the importance of manifesto commitments and to the supremacy of the House of Commons.
As Mr Straw said in his Statement, the three main parties were very close together in their commitments to Lords reform at the election. My party leader, Sir Menzies Campbell, today reaffirmed our commitment to radical reform of this place. I wonder whether the two other party leaders have reconfirmed theirs; it might help some of their followers in the decisions they have to make. If one follows the Joint Committee on Conventions and looks at manifesto commitments and at decisions in the other place, it is inconceivable that this House should be given a veto on Lords reform.
It is often said that the post-1998 House of Lords has done a good job, and I agree. Research by University College London confirms that it has, but there is no doubt that the House is tainted by patronage and that the status quo is not an option. Mr Straw is right to say that what will come forth in the end will be a compromise and that the White Paper gives us an opportunity to move forward. I shall not go into the details of the White Paper because I hope that all Members will use it as their Recess reading. I shall echo a great Liberal statesman from the 20th century in saying that this White Paper is not the end of the debate on Lords reform; it is not even the beginning of the end, but it could be the end of the beginning.
As Mr Straw recognises, a wrecking process would be relatively easy. I only have to look round the House to see some pretty adept wreckers. That kind of unholy alliance would be totally against what is required and against public opinion.
My recommendation to the House is to take this White Paper home, together with the reports of the Wakeham commission and the Joint Committee on Conventions, and come back in a constructive frame of mind. We may go further on this than we imagine.
My Lords, I intervene at this stage because I participated in some of the earlier discussions, and the Statement and White Paper are of manifest importance to the Cross-Bench Peers.
There are four elements underlying all future discussions—and I think that there will be a lot of them. They are: first, the conclusion, referred to by other noble Lords, that the working methods of the House are very satisfactory, as shown by the recent report of the Joint Committee on Conventions; secondly, the increasing public satisfaction with the work of the House and their manifest disinterest in any reform; thirdly, the presence of a small number of hereditary Peers, which could call for a move to a situation where a hereditary title does not alone serve as an entry ticket to this Chamber; and, fourthly, the references in the Labour Party manifesto and the gracious Speech that the Government will work to build a consensus on reform of the House of Lords and bring forward proposals.
We now have before us the White Paper, so we can see how far we can arrive at a consensus on possible changes. The Statement states that,
“the prize of progress means moving forward gradually and by consensus”.
We attach importance to that. These questions have been around for some time—some say, since 1910—and it would be good to decide whether common ground can be found between the two Houses and we can get on with the work of Parliament.
As Convenor of the Cross-Bench Peers, a large group in the House, I want to make one or two points which relate directly to us. First, I welcome the reference in paragraph 8 of the Statement and elsewhere in the White Paper that at least 20 per cent of a reformed House would comprise non-party-political Peers. I interpret that as referring to the independent, non-party-political Peers within the Cross-Bench group. It does not of course include the Bishops, who are Lords Spiritual and not normally considered to be within the group of independent, non-party-political Peers. As takeovers and mergers are the flavour of the month, I hope that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor will confirm that we do not wish to take over the Bishops.
We wish to refer to other points that refer directly to the Cross-Benchers, but the bedrock of our position is that 20 per cent of the membership should be non-party-political Peers. We believe that we contribute pretty well to the House and that our role must be continued in any reformed House.
Secondly, I welcome the proposal to put the Appointments Commission on a statutory basis. That has not been referred to by the other political parties, but it is an important point. We welcome the substantial non-party-political membership of the reformed Appointments Commission.
Thirdly, I am glad to see the continued lifetime role of the present life Peers, although with a possibility of resignation. We also welcome the assurance in the White Paper, in paragraph 10.24, that any action agreed in relation to hereditary independent Peers will be no less favourable than that for hereditary party-political Peers. The even treatment of the hereditary Peers, wherever they are in the House, is an important point, which we understand is reflected in the White Paper.
It goes without saying that we shall examine carefully the proposed 50 per cent elected membership of the House and the specific arrangements for such election, together with the procedures to be adopted in each House for expressing a view on membership. Will the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor comment on why the Government decided that elections should be timed with the European Parliament’s elections rather than at the same time as the general election? It might be argued that the people should choose their representatives in the two Houses at Parliament at the same time.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lords, Lord Williamson and Lord McNally, for their constructive responses to the White Paper. I intend no discourtesy to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, who, I may say—I take the House into my confidence in this respect—was a delight on the Joint Committee. He was so constructive and keen for reform. I find that there are two Lord Strathclydes: one when he is with me or with the Guardian and one when he is here in the Chamber.
I shall read to you what the Guardian reported the noble Lord had said to someone called Mr Patrick Wintour. Of course, the press often get it wrong, so I am quite sure that it has got this bit wrong.
“Lord Strathclyde also objected to the length of Mr Straw's transition programme, pointing out that it would take two generations to reduce the house to 540. He added that the large appointed element would still leave open the charge of cronyism. He confirmed that the Conservative party would support 80% of the upper house being elected”.
So this wild reformer over here appears to be saying “Too slow and not enough” about an elected element. Indeed, he asked: what is the problem that we are seeking to solve? Presumably, the same problem that the noble Lord is seeking to solve by suggesting 80 per cent reform. As far as I am concerned, the problem that we need to debate is: is it possible to go on in the long term with a House this effective and this good which has such a significant effect on legislation without there being an elected element? That is the question. The White Paper allows a proper debate about it.
I completely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, that no noble Lord should feel inhibited about expressing his or her views in this debate. The last time that we debated the matter, 98 noble Lords spoke on the issue, and I very much hope that there will be a similar number this time. As regards the Parliament Act, let us wait to see whether or not we can build a consensus. The costs will depend on what conclusion Parliament reaches about a new House. As far as a Bill is concerned, obviously that depends on the terms of the coming debate, promised in our manifesto and committed to in both other parties’ manifestos in 2005 as well.
I also support the proposal of the noble Lord, Lord McNally. First, do read the White Paper; it is a very impressive attempt to see whether consensus can be reached. We should attempt to reach consensus with the same enthusiasm that I saw from the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde.
I confirm to the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, that the 20 per cent element would comprise non-party-political Peers. It does not include a takeover of the Bishops. I do not think that such a takeover would be altogether successful in these circumstances. The noble Lord asked why we should have the elections for this House at the same time as the European elections rather than at the same time as the general election. There are arguments both ways. We have plumped for European elections because we think it right, when people are voting for the Commons, that it should not affect how they vote for the second Chamber, but we recognise that it is a very finely balanced issue.
This is a very important issue, where this House, quite rightly, has a voice that should be heard. I completely respect the views strongly held on both sides of the House. We see the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, and the noble Lord, Lord McNally, together supporting an elected element. We see my noble friends Lady Symons of Vernon Dean and Lord Tomlinson completely against it. Let us have the debate and hope that during it we discover the views of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde.
My Lords, I am not completely against an elected element in this House. I am against an elected element that does not have the powers that an electorate will expect of elected Members.
To follow that up, does my noble and learned friend think that this White Paper contains any firm proposals? He will recall paragraph 61 of the Cunningham report, which was endorsed by both Houses and which was, indeed, a matter of resolution in both Houses. It said:
“Should any firm proposals come forward to change the composition of the House of Lords, the conventions between the Houses would have to be examined again”.
If there are firm proposals in this White Paper—I have not had long to read it, but some of them seem pretty firm—can my noble and learned friend say when these issues will be examined again before a decision is taken in another place on how we should proceed? The White Paper refers to “an endorsed option”. Is that a decision? My noble and learned friend said that the White Paper was impressive; it is certainly very remarkable in many respects.
Will my noble and learned friend then turn his attention to the procedure in another place and say whether, in his view, it is possible to vote in another place for reform, as set out perhaps in the Labour Party manifesto, but not thereby tie oneself to voting for the principle of an elected element, on which there was said to be a free vote? Those are two very specific points. I leave the broader principles in the White Paper for another time.
My Lords, I am not sure whether that was an endorsement of the White Paper. On my noble friend’s first question, paragraph 4.17 of the White Paper deals with when the conventions will be considered further. I anticipate that the noble Baroness is referring to the fact that the Joint Committee on Conventions, chaired by my noble friend Lord Cunningham of Felling, said that if there were firm proposals, the conclusions would have to be revisited. I shall read paragraph 4.17, which is very short:
“Once the debates on this White Paper and the free votes have taken place, and in advance of any legislation on reform of the House of Lords, the Government will look in further detail at the issue of the adequacy of the current conventions to ensure the primacy of the Commons in practice, to which all parties are committed”.
Plainly, legislation is the point of decision.
My noble friend asked whether you can be in favour of reform without supporting an elected element. Yes, because you can, for example, be in favour of removing the hereditaries and in favour of a statutory appointments commission.
My Lords, I am very grateful for the assurance given by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor that no hostile takeover bid is intended, and I am grateful that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford could be closely involved in the work that has culminated in the White Paper. My question is rather similar to the noble Baroness’s. I see that there will be further discussions with the Bishops, who sit in this House as Lords Spiritual—not, we hope, as defenders of sectarian narrow interests, but as people, often from regions of the United Kingdom that are little represented in this House, who are in touch with a great range of opinions and institutions. There will be further discussion about numbers and the very important question of securing flexibility, so that the Bishops who are most able and willing to participate in the important affairs of the House can do so. How those consultations will mesh with the general progress of these reforming proposals is very important indeed. We will obviously want to hold ourselves ready to respond at the right time.
That said, we particularly welcome the emphasis on including leading members in Britain’s faith communities, who have already made a distinguished contribution to the business of this House. The Lords Spiritual have been making this point for many years. I see a reference to discussions with the Appointments Commission on how to achieve this representation, and I wonder how the noble and learned Lord proposes to consult the other faith communities about this very important dimension of the total culture of this Chamber.
Lastly, on the underlying theme of the legitimacy of this House, how is that really secured in the eyes of the public? No one has quarrel with the concept of the supremacy of another House where election is the norm, but is it not possible to argue more positively and to reiterate that many Members of your Lordships' House have been elected by the system which one might call “continuous assessment” rather than through examination? There are many noble and gallant Lords, noble and learned Lords, noble and therapeutic Lords and noble and prosperous Lords who have stood election by their peers every day of their professional lives. That is a tough scrutiny indeed, so why cannot we underline the legitimacy that comes from such election?
My Lords, on the first point, it was the unanimous view of the parliamentarians who met and discussed the matter that the Bishops should stay. As the right reverend Prelate rightly says, there needs to be further discussion of the number and selection of the Prelates who stay. We envisage that occurring after the votes have been cast in both Chambers.
The inclusion of representatives from other faith communities must be discussed with the Appointments Commission. Plainly, if it becomes a statutory commission, legislation could be significant in determining how that would happen.
I am very attracted to the idea of continuous assessment. Can you fail continuous assessment after a while?
My Lords, will the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor accept that not one sentence of the Statement or the White Paper suggests that the introduction of elected Members of this House will do anything to improve or enhance the performance of this House, to which he once again paid tribute in the Statement today?
Will he also accept that any attempt to force through legislation on the basis that these proposals reflect any kind of consensus, when he must know as well as anyone that the proposals are most unlikely to secure the assent of this House, would be constitutionally unacceptable?
My Lords, I have made it clear in reply to the Front Bench interventions that I believe that the quality of what this House does is very high. In particular, what this House does well is significantly to amend legislation without gridlock and generally without conflict with the other place. However, I do not think it is right that that is done without an elected element, and the question that arises is whether one can introduce an elected element without reducing the quality of what is done. I believe that one can do that while keeping the complementary role of this House.
The debate is intended to identify whether there is sufficient consensus to obtain reform of this House. We know that within individual political parties there is not full agreement, but is there enough agreement across the political parties to reform this House? If there is, we should go ahead.
My Lords, will the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor address the issue of public opinion? Does he share my surprise that the opponents of reform seem completely to ignore evidence of strong public support for reform? Does he not agree that to obtain and retain public consent for the institutions of parliamentary democracy is extremely important? Will he confirm that he has seen the substantial public opinion poll published this morning by the Hansard Society, showing that 82 per cent are in favour of a majority elected membership of this House and only 6 per cent want to retain the fully appointed House? When those who reckon that they understand and appreciate the work that we do are asked, 92 per cent say that they would want an elected element to this House. Does the noble and learned Lord not agree that, were the Labour Government to have 82 per cent, let alone 92 per cent, support for any of their other policies, the Prime Minister would be a much happier man?
My Lords, I am sure that many of our policies have 92 per cent support, though it would be wearisome of me to list them now. And yes, I am aware of the opinion poll. The debate in both Chambers that will reach its climax in terms of composition should also be informed by what the public think should happen. That should be our hope and it should be very much reflected in our debates.
My Lords, I thank my noble and learned friend for repeating the Statement made by my right honourable friend Jack Straw. I can assure him that the fact that it sounded no better on repetition was not a reflection of his reading of it. Jack Straw laid great emphasis in his Statement on reaching a consensus. What consensus does my noble and learned friend believe exists among his noble friends sitting behind him? How does he evaluate the level of support towards that consensus? Secondly, can my noble and learned friend explain the point, in paragraph 18, of a “partially open list” for elections? I have grappled with that concept and it is beyond me, but perhaps he can apply his legal mind to it and explain it. Finally, as there is great emphasis on the need for accountability driving change, can he explain to me how accountability is served by election for a 15-year term with no possibility of seeking re-election?
My Lords, it would be unwise of me to try to estimate how much support for change there is behind me, as my noble friend asks. I know that every one of my noble friends has an open mind and will be very keen to engage in the debate. That is why they are here and why they would pass the continuous assessment that the right reverend Prelate has in mind.
A partially open list means that one can either vote for the party list or vote for someone on the party list. If the votes that the person one votes for individually are high enough—sorry, if the party list gets to a point where someone is elected from that list, if the votes for the individual are that high, he or she gets on rather than the person at the top of the list.
My Lords, I do not think it is comprised of the widest range of views possible. The views represented here are most excellent, but given the geographical, regional, racial and gender breakdown, they most certainly do not reflect the views of this country.
My Lords, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor referred to the long-term nature of these proposals. How does the White Paper suggest we address a situation, which we have seen in recent years in Turkey and in Italy, where parties have come from nowhere and formed Governments? Such a party could find itself with virtually no Members to support it and no Ministers in this House. Is that addressed in the White Paper? Does the noble and learned Lord agree that, if it is not addressed, it makes the White Paper's proposals inadequate, especially if there had to be a sudden top-up of Members in such an event and one wished to confine the membership of the House to 540?
My Lords, I have to confess that we have not dealt with the problem of a party from nowhere becoming the leading party in the other place. If a party from nowhere did so, the least of the country's difficulties would be what went on in the Lords. We would be looking at the Commons.
My Lords, perhaps I may reassure my noble and learned friend that there is at least one supporter on these Benches who is still very firmly in favour of an elected element in this House. Is he aware that I am very anxious that the Government should proceed on the basis of various Labour party manifestos over the years in which we said that we wanted a predominantly, but not exclusively, elected second Chamber? I welcome the steps that the Government are taking in that direction.
I wonder whether my noble and learned friend can help me on something else. I listened, as I always do, to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, with great interest and some amusement. I listened as I was wondering what Conservative Party policy on this was going to be; but came it not—not a glimmer of what it was. After a curmudgeonly and negative approach, we got: “We should have a period of mature reflection”. We have been reflecting maturely on this since 1910. I can tell the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, that even I have been reflecting maturely on it for about 15 years. I do not know how much longer we are expected to go on reflecting maturely on it. The fact is that his mature reflection is designed to be a Conservative veto, and we cannot accept that.
Finally, has my noble and learned friend had any indication from the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, that Conservative policy is now to back 80 per cent? At one stage, when we started, their policy was to leave the House as it is. That changed into support for a wholly elected House. That now seems to have changed to an unwholly elected House. It makes no sense to back a wholly appointed House in the name of a wholly elected House which you cannot at this stage get. It makes no sense at all. But that is perhaps not surprising.
My Lords, without sounding too craven, I should like to express my gratitude for the noble Lord’s support. I also agree that it was very difficult to identify the policy of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. He spoke longer than I did in the Statement, but I still could not determine his policy. It is a bit rich for him to complain about a lack of consensus when he cannot even in his own mind reach agreement on his position.
My Lords, speaking perhaps as a Bernard Matthews turkey for a moment, and also, as noble Lords know, as someone in favour of a large chunk of elected power, I welcome parts of the White Paper. It has been timid in proposing only 50 per cent, and disgraceful on the “ajar” list—for want of a better word. It is also a great pity that it has not faced up to the fact that life Peers deserve to be culled just as much as hereditary Peers. I know that if that was suggested, they would behave like shop stewards of the Liverpool dock labour scheme, because I have seen it already. When the hereditary Peers were pushed out, my noble friend Lord Ferrers pointed out that it would be the turn of the life Peers next, but they all said, “Oh no it isn’t”. The Government have ducked the issue. There must be a proper limit on the number of Members. That is why I say, even though I know that I am in a minority on this issue in this House—
My Lords, can my noble and learned friend confirm that in responding to the White Paper he recognises that two of the proposals on which we have been working for some months—the statutory appointments commission and removal of the hereditary principle—are not the same as the status quo? Those are neither insignificant reforms nor reforms that would challenge the principle of the primacy of the House of Commons—unlike the 50:50 approach which, as my noble friend Lady Symons said, would almost certainly create a very difficult problem.
My Lords, I agree entirely with the first part of my noble friend’s statement. If you introduced a statutory appointments commission and put an end to the remaining hereditary Peers staying here, it would be a significant change. The question is whether one should go further.