My Lords, listening earlier to the noble Lords, Lord Strathclyde and Lord McNally, talking about the independence of the Members behind them in relation to the issues in front of us gives me hope for the Church of England. We on these Benches accept that in the institutions which we represent we have been entrusted with the spiritual well-being of the people of this country, a trust that we share with many others. That is why we are here as Lords Spiritual and not Peers of the realm. Over many centuries, it has been thought and practised that, in shaping our laws and customs in the character of the governance of our country, Parliament should take account of our spiritual inheritance.
So I hope the House will forgive me for reflecting on the meaning of the presence of Bishops in Parliament as well as addressing the broad issues at stake in this debate.
We do not see our role in these debates as being to defend privilege or necessarily to maintain the present arrangements. We are certainly not like our forebears in 1832, who seemed to be resisting democracy and the road of change. However, we have a duty to press some fundamental matters of principle into this debate. Throughout my ministry, I have challenged what I believe to be the misguided, tired and out-of-date mantra that politics and religion should be kept apart, that the government of the country should be left to the politicians and religion to the churches and faith institutions and they should be kept well separate. The classic example of that constitution is on the other side of the Atlantic, but who would dare to suggest that powerful and not always helpful religious interests are not nevertheless embedded in the heart of American politics? We cannot escape the need to recognise that deep movements and interplay of languages are between religious belief and political visions and values.
Are we not beginning to wake up to the important and powerful cultures shaped by people’s beliefs that have a deep impact for good or ill on our public life today? Let us think of the issues we have faced: terrorism, religion and violence; religion in the public context of education; the role of religious agencies in social care; and troubled issues concerning the beginning of life and its end. The 21st century has seen an awakening of consciousness in public life of the importance of religion, faith and belief in the pursuit of the common good. Many voices, including some crucial religious ones, need to be heard in the shaping of our public life. The political task cannot be done completely today, for the benefit of the people, in the absence of those many voices. That means that our unitary understanding of our constitution in Parliament is coming into its own in the 21st century.
At a time when local communities—we on these Benches speak for many local communities—are increasingly talking the language of partnership, I suspect that government, local and national, and churches and religious institutions are struggling with that. At national and international level, people are increasingly confused and concerned about the place of religion in our common life. This is not a time for dismantling those relationships; it is rather a time for building on them. I believe that the church needs to be accountable in public for its life and work and the presence of Bishops here is a sign of our seriousness about that, so I hope the House will allow me to say that I also think that Parliament has a duty to consider how religious institutions work for the common good. That is a collective responsibility that is laid upon us at this time. We on these Benches will do all we can to assist in the process of ensuring that the many voices of the faiths and the churches are heard in this place. We will do whatever we can to assist in that, by building on what we have and adapting it, not destroying it on the basis of a little-thought-out mantra about the separation of religion and politics.
I say one more thing about the Bishops. If your Lordships’ judgment is that the contribution made from these Benches is appropriate, welcome and should be continued, it will be important in considering any changes that things are not proposed that would make that impossible. I do not think that there is anything there that cannot be dealt with in conversation and by negotiation, but it needs to be said.
On the wider issues at stake in this matter I have more questions than answers. One thing I am clear about is that the idea that you can have a wholly elected second Chamber, with broadly the same conventions and powers as this House currently has, is a delusion.
Where are we beginning in this process? Is it with the concept of election or with the desirability of maintaining the fabric of our present arrangements? More specifically, are the Government still committed to their White Paper, which I believe is a bold attempt to get us all into the issues and to find a consensus and an agreed way forward, or are we back at the beginning and do we need to put these proposals to one side?
Last Saturday I had my diocesan synod. In informal conversation I mentioned that I would be here for three days this week on this issue. People bent my ear. They asked, “Do they really think that we want to see the Lords handed over wholly to politicians?”, “Are we to lose the voices of those in the Lords who bring deep professional experience to bear on our public life?”—I did not ask for these comments; I got them—and, “Have they no understanding of the low esteem there is for much political life today?”.
Whatever is decided about the balance between elected and nominated Members—and we have to face that issue—it is time that we ordered ourselves so that there is no question about the legitimacy of nominated Members being here. The public need to be sure that people are here because of the excellence of the contribution they make to public life and the well-being of our country.
I agree with the Lord Chancellor and others: this is not a time for drawing up the bridge; we need to press on. The task will be difficult but, in seeking a solution, we must ensure the integrity and the strength of this House, as we are beginning to develop it, is not compromised by any proposed reform.
My Lords, I have not spoken for some time, and so to ensure that my contribution is not too great a shock to your Lordships’ systems, I shall be brief.
I read the White Paper with gathering dismay because it recommended a hybrid, 50:50, part-appointed, part-elected House—neither fish nor fowl. Such a House, with two different classes of Members, is fundamentally wrong since all Members should be and should be seen to be of equal status. No Member should be able to claim for his opinion or vote greater legitimacy than another.
In our debate of January 2003, I claimed that the true choice lay between all appointed or all elected, and in common with the great majority of your Lordships I favoured all appointed. So the startling decision of the other place in favour of all elected is—of course I concede—tenable, but I condemn it on its merits. Commentators are united in describing the decision as “historic”. It is also an error of historic proportions.
I have two basic reasons for saying that. First, the present balance between the two Houses ensures the continuing primacy of the other place, undisturbed by a rival elected House. Our stable system of parliamentary democracy rests on a single tier of accountability of the Government to the House of Commons and through it to the people. That is the context of the consensus that the basic role of this House should remain as a revising, scrutinising and deliberative Assembly with the power to delay but not to seek to veto legislation. That limited but exacting role is best served by an appointed House, which has an appetite for it in a way that the other place does not. It is because of the nature of its membership that this House performs its core functions well and so adds distinctive value to the parliamentary process. In the other place, there are more and more professional politicians whose jobs prior to their election were often closely related to the goal of election, so that they bring less and less experience of the whole range of the world of work to the other place.
The composition of this appointed House brings, at very low cost, expertise across a broad range of experience outside politics to bear on the critical evaluation of complex legislation—through, in no particular order, businessmen, farmers, scientists, academics, heads of the armed services, faith leaders, doctors, nurses, journalists, trade unionists and even lawyers, alongside highly experienced former MPs, Cabinet Ministers and civil servants. I do not claim to be exhaustive.
It is the appointed nature of this House that best equips it to fulfil its core role. There can be no rational case—certainly, I have heard none—that a second elected Chamber could possibly fulfil that role as well, far less better. The White Paper itself makes a compelling case against an all-elected House. The one and only real argument against an appointed House performing the core role and functions that it does is the assertion that it is illegitimate. It is, by definition, not elected, but I do not accept that it is therefore illegitimate. The argument must be that all appointed Peers are illegitimate. However, the Government must believe that the 50:50 hybrid House that they propose would be legitimate. I share with the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, an inability to understand how appointed Peers are legitimate in a hybrid but not in an all-appointed House.
I say that I see nothing illegitimate about an all-appointed House subordinate to the elected House, bringing huge collective experience to the benefit of Parliament as a whole and restraining the Executive by its penetrating revising role, but not becoming capable of rivalling the House of Commons by being equally—arguably, more—representative if the method of election, PR, could be claimed to be superior.
No one would deny that we are a well functioning parliamentary democracy today merely because this House is appointed. I can see only the potential for perpetual conflict between two elected Chambers. Assurances to the contrary I reject as head-in-the-sand politics. An elected House is uncharted territory. The Government should not embark on this as if it were a voyage of discovery but only as a journey to a predetermined destination. I invite the noble and learned Lord, when he winds up, to advise us whether he contemplates, for a wholly or substantially elected House, specifying the powers of each House in statute and prescribing the primacy of one elected place over another. How would that be enforced? Is what is contemplated an embryonic written constitution enforceable in the courts?
Many other questions must be answered by the Government in detail. If a different method of election from first past the post is appropriate for election to this House, why is not equally appropriate for the other place? Will the rationale and appropriateness of the Parliament Acts be reconsidered in the context of two elected Houses? “All elected” literally means no life Peers, no independents, and no Bishops. Can the noble and learned Lord say unequivocally that the White Paper’s undertaking still holds good and that existing life Peers will continue to be entitled to remain for life? When a White Paper and Bill are brought in, will they be accompanied by costings of the proposals? Surely elected Members of this House will be entitled to remuneration, expenses, support facilities and accommodation equal to those for Members of the other place.
I know that the cash-for-peerages allegations have besmirched this House, but those who advocate an elected House should not get away with the wrong conclusion; “Let’s get away from this allegation by going for all, or mostly, elected regardless of the overriding merits of all-appointed”. The right conclusion is to retain all-appointed, but to legitimise appointments by putting the Appointments Commission on a statutory basis, with all appointments made under criteria laid down by Parliament, with the commission deciding the number of party and independent nominees at any time, and in compliance with criteria that any batch of party nominees, both collectively and individually, represent.
At a time when the public are losing faith in conventional politics, the body politic may already have a surfeit of elected politicians in the other place, in the European Parliament, in local government, in the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly. The last thing that the electorate may want is yet another tier of elected and well-remunerated politicians. I submit that they would be content with this House as an appointed, low-cost auxiliary to the other place, provided that it is transparently appointed under criteria approved by Parliament.
My Lords, the noble and learned Lord has made a powerful speech. We waited for it for a long time and it was worth waiting for. I guess his only regret is that he will not be able to sit there with that wise smile on his face for the next few months without making further contributions to our debates. We would all welcome that.
I am a great admirer of Jack Straw, who was a good Foreign Secretary. He should not have been moved, but he was, and as a result faced the problem of Lords reform. The problem, as we all recognise, seems to be becoming more difficult, not easier. He knows that no one will get just what they want. He also knows that proposing a compromise, which is what he has done, will not get him many brownie points. However, he was right to try, and I certainly support his efforts. He had three broad choices before him. First, he could have proposed a wholly appointed House. I suspect that that might have been his first choice and that of the Prime Minister. That would certainly have secured my support and, I suspect, that of a good majority in this House. However, we know that that would not have won the support of anything like a majority in another place.
Secondly, Jack Straw could have done what he has done—to produce a White Paper that indicated a way forward that would certainly not give many of us what we wanted but that might be a basis for a compromise. The third alternative was to do nothing, or at most to deal with only a few matters on which all seem to agree. Whatever conclusion we come to at the end, his starting position was a perfectly reasonable place from which to start to explore the possibilities. I submit that there must be a proper and sincere attempt to secure agreement between the Houses and between the parties. So I support the White Paper and believe it is important that we all examine it, not to determine whether it is ideal, which it certainly is not, but whether it has some concepts with which we can live. There are some good proposals which could and should command universal support; namely, to have a statutory and independent Appointments Commission, to keep the Cross-Benchers and the Bishops, and to leave the existing life Peers in place, but to produce a scheme for retirement for those who want to. I would also leave existing hereditary Peers in place and end the system of by-elections.
However, I have serious worries about some of Mr Straw’s proposals. Let me set out some of my concerns. I accept that an elected element is part of the compromise, but a 50 per cent elected element is too high, certainly for the initial period. I would start with 25 per cent, possibly increasing to 50 per cent after 15 years, which would greatly help the size of this House while existing Peers gradually slide away. Whatever the number of elected Peers ultimately, I believe that it is right to start gradually and over a longer period than 15 years.
I can see the case for a single term for elected Members—it is essential—but I can see no case for appointed Members not being eligible for reappointment by a genuinely independent Appointments Commission. I also think that retiring elected Members should be considered by the Appointments Commission for appointment. Without that, the quality of the candidates will be far too low. For example, a QC aged 45 is brought into the House. At 60 years old, you say “Thank you very much. Off you go”. A QC would simply not be interested in coming on that basis, would find better things to do and the House would lose. I gather that the proposal to disregard the existing and remaining Members of the House in the political balance is also totally unacceptable. It seems likely that if we follow the White Paper, one party will, for a number of years, end up with a majority of political Peers, if not of the House overall.
It is politically naive to think that the Appointments Commission should not have the power to appoint a new Member at the request of a Prime Minister to, say, become the Leader of the House or a Minister. It must be in the interests of the House that he should. I would go further and give the same facility to the Appointments Commission in respect of opposition parties in suitable cases. It is essential that a revising House should not have among its number people who still have political ambitions. There is enough evidence of past difficulties between Members of the Commons and Members of the European Parliament—certainly when I was Chief Whip in the Commons—to make Members of the Commons very wary of these problems. In this respect, five years’ restriction on ex-Members of this House standing for the Commons is far too short. My royal commission proposed 10 years, but I would prefer a permanent restriction. I would like to put down a marker to say that in my view it would be totally unacceptable for one class of Peer to be paid for his services to the House that is denied to others.
Finally, the elected element in Mr Straw’s proposals is not like other elected representatives. These Members would not be responsible to their electorate like normal elected Members. They are in effect appointed Members, but they are appointed by the people. They quite rightly will never have to go back to their electors to account for their actions, which is why I can support the idea and can tolerate a list system for party nominees. But there will be required a great leap of faith by those who favour—in my view, wrongly—a truly elected element in the upper House.
These are my principal worries about the White Paper. It has a number of good points, but the shortcomings are significant. Ultimately, Jack Straw and his colleagues will have to weigh up all the factors in deciding whether he can get a compromise that will stick. I have already said that he is right to try. But he will have to be satisfied that a reformed House will be a better revising House than the existing one; that it will not seek to rival the House of Commons; and, most important, that a concerted effort can be made to get across the message that a reformed House of Lords is part of making Parliament work better in the best interests of democracy.
If he can achieve a measure of agreement, he will have done Parliament a great service. However, it will also be a perfectly honourable position if he concludes that this is not the moment to proceed. So far as the voting is concerned, I will vote for the first two options and against the remainder.
My Lords, our text for the debate today and tomorrow is a hotchpotch of a White Paper, the product of too many people working too hard at trying to resolve irreconcilable views. By that I mean not only the Cabinet, which is in a mess about Lords reform, but also all the groups and committees which have been striving to find answers to very different questions. However, I have no wish to diminish those efforts and the genuine concern, even the passion, of the participants, and not least those of my noble friends here and colleagues in another place. I am sure that mutual respect will continue despite strong opinions strongly expressed. Whatever the votes taken in the House of Commons last week and the outcome of Wednesday’s votes here, as the opening speakers made clear, the saga will go on.
The role of the House of Lords, its powers, conventions, its relationship with the House of Commons and even its style remain familiar and central issues. What surprised me in the Commons debate was an apparent instinct to live in the spirit of 100 years ago. Abolishing the Lords or making a radical change now, in 2007, would be to abolish something very different from what the House of Lords was at the time of the Lloyd George 1909 Budget. Then, I would certainly have been campaigning for the people and against the Peers. Chapter 3 of the White Paper tells the story. Apart from the 1911 Parliament Act and the 1949 amendment, the Life Peerages Act 1958 began to transform the place. As a result, among its provisions it brought many women into the House who had previously been effectively excluded. That was 50 years ago and we take it all for granted, but it was a huge and decisive change.
There has been another huge change since 1997 which some Members of the House of Commons seem to have ignored. Many years ago, when I first began to think about the nature of the House, I believed that there were two overwhelming objections to the place: the hereditary principle and the consequent gross disparity of its political composition. During the ebbs and flows of my own opinions, because there have been some changes, these objections were my constants. But in 1999 the number of hereditary Peers was reduced to 92, and I hope that the hereditary principle will go very soon. In parenthesis, all the hereditaries should have been removed at the time and life peerages offered to the remaining 92—or whatever the right number should have been. Standing Order 10 made under Section 2 of the House of Lords Act 1999 has led to the ludicrous device of by-elections to fill vacancies and has attracted justified ridicule. It has been damaging to the House as a whole, especially since one or two hereditaries choose to flaunt their difference.
As for political balance, looking back over 10 years, it is stunning that we now have 210 Labour Peers, 203 Conservative Peers—rough parity—and 77 Liberal Democrats; too few but significantly more. In that respect, if not for the Weatherill amendment, I pay tribute to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg; I was delighted that he has broken his silence today—
My Lords, the only reason we are having this discussion about reform of the Lords now is because we were left here as grit in the oyster to prove that something else happened. Otherwise, it would have been all appointed Peers and no argument. We have been left here to irritate people into producing more reform.
My Lords, that is a fascinating and rather perverse argument. I did not notice at the time that all the hereditary Peers wanted to go; on the contrary, there was a negotiation, as a result of which we had the Weatherill amendment, which I think was a mistake. However, despite that, the January 1999 White Paper set the political shape of the House today, broadly reflecting its opinions. In that respect, the amendment was absolutely right.
As a proportion, we have too many Cross-Bench Peers but among them are those who make a major contribution to the House, and I would be very sorry to see them go. Whether or not further changes will take place by common consent, this is the best House ever—well informed and hard-working; above all, it plays a significant and constructive role in shaping legislation. That role is at the heart of objections to an appointed Chamber. On the face of it, it lacks democratic legitimacy, or whatever one chooses to call it.
It is difficult for Members of the House of Commons to have a rounded perspective of the Lords. I can claim no virtue during my 20 years in the Commons, half of them spent as a Minister. I barely listened to a debate here, nor did I read the Official Report. In Cabinet, the Leader of the House—this was in the late 1970s—was seen but seldom heard, except when the Lords defeated the Government in a Division, which caused a row. Many Back-Benchers found the Lords a thorough nuisance. But then, as now, we knew that in the end, the Commons would win. The Lords would irritate the Commons—usually meaning the Government of the day—delay the progress of a Bill, require Ministers to think again and, at the penultimate ping-pong stage, the Parliament Act had to be invoked. I repeat that then, as now, if it was determined, the Commons would win, even if on very rare occasions, the Parliament Act had to be invoked. Ultimately, the House of Lords is a persuasive Chamber; the final sanction lies with the Commons and the democratic legitimacy rests in Parliament as a whole.
There is certainly scope for further reform of the Lords, apart from ending the hereditary principle. I welcome a number of the proposals in the White Paper, but I shall vote for option one as I believe that a fully appointed House will serve Parliament and the nation best.
My Lords, you will not be surprised to hear that my theme is the real need for a substantial independent element in this House and that that can be achieved only by appointment. It is totally unrealistic to contemplate that, save in the rarest cases, any independents would ever be elected by whatever voting system. They do not have the organisation or the resources to contest elections and, to be frank, quite a lot of them would not have the will to do so.
Therefore, a vote for a 100 per cent elected House is a vote for everyone in it to be party political, with no independents, no Bishops, no retired Law Lords and none of the great and the good, which is contrary to the view expressed by everybody who has reported on this issue during the past 10 years at least.
Would that matter? It would, first, because it surely runs the risk of there being an overall majority in this House—not perhaps one party having an overall majority, but a coalition of Liberal and Labour, let us say, as we know the right honourable Sir Menzies Campbell has suggested. That would certainly mean that the Government had an overall majority in this House if there were no independents. That is surely contrary to what everybody has always contemplated. People have said that there must be no one party with a majority, but surely what they mean is that the Government must not have an overall majority in the House.
It matters, secondly, because the independents are a source of much, though obviously by no means all, of the expertise in and experience of how things are managed outside politics. Members of another place have much contact, I am sure, with their constituents, but few of them have managed businesses or worked in all levels of trade or in the professions.
Thirdly, surely the origins and purposes of a debate are to persuade the listener. In this House, on many issues, there is real scope for persuasion. I have frequently listened with an open mind to a debate, especially to those who have knowledge in which I place trust, and made up my own mind on the basis of those arguments. However, if the independent element goes, the nature of the debates will change and, inevitably, they will become more obviously an exercise in unashamed party political point-scoring, perhaps more in the image of another place.
If those arguments are sound, the all-elected option, as the Lord Chancellor really thinks, is out, and the only refuge for those who abhor hybridity is an all-appointed House, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, would have. However, one of the other propositions put to us is an 80 per cent elected House, but that is very little better than an all-appointed House. On that basis, the only persons appointed to the House would be the independents, but surely, as the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, suggested, the Prime Minister would inevitably want a few places to which he could appoint Members. And what about the Bishops?
We surely need to ask whether one would get top-class ex-Ministers in this House if everybody had to be elected. Surely one of their aims in coming to this place is to get out of having to continue electioneering. I see a few nods from those whom I am describing. Surely the dilemma for those who support all politicians to be elected in this place is that if being put on the list means that election is a near-formality, there is no real election; it is really appointment by another label. If on the other hand they have to have a real contested election, many—and many of the best—will not stand. What is the answer to that? We are not told.
There are questions which, quite frankly, have not been tackled. Who would want to stand in an all-elected House? Without wishing to be too controversial, I venture to suggest that the standard of those who could not become candidates either for the House of Commons or for the European Parliament would not be so high that we would really think that they would make a superb second Chamber. Another question that has been ducked entirely is cost.
Furthermore, we on these Benches must recognise that, if everybody else is elected, we will be treated as second-class citizens. On the other hand, if a lot of politicians are appointed, that will not be so, because it will be the top-class politicians who are appointed rather than elected.
One argument against political Peers being appointed is the cash-for-peerages issue, but that is in my submission a total red herring. A peerage and seat in this House are to be completely separated, and I do not believe that without the attraction of a title a place in this House with an obligation to work hard and attend is going to be anything that anyone would want to pay for. In addition, far from paying cash for peerages being a new vice it is something that has already been remedied. People have paid for peerages for many years but now, for the first time, the Appointments Commission, even without statutory powers, is putting a stop to that. It has refused to approve peerages for the suspects, so that problem is solved. One cannot conceive that, after all the fuss that there has been and the risk of prosecutions, people are going to be willing to offer money for the chance to come here as merely Mr or Mrs So-and-so, Members of a Second Chamber. Contrast the position if all those politicians are to be appointed. If your name is put on the top of a list or you are given the nomination to a totally safe constituency, you are bound to get in. That is appointment without the benefit of scrutiny, which does not seem to me an improvement.
Therefore, how should those Members vote who believe in the case for the independent Peer? Clearly, they should vote in favour of an all-appointed Chamber and against an all-elected or 80 per cent elected Chamber. What of the other votes? There is a clear choice: either one nails one’s flag to the mast of an all-appointed Chamber, which as I entirely agree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine, is the best solution; or one sends a message to the other place—which is perhaps more realistic and practical—that we might accept something like 50-50 as a compromise, because in the other place we will not get an all-appointed Chamber. But that is very much a personal choice and a question of tactics.
My Lords, we seem to have been here before, if I may say so, and on a number of occasions. I am very conscious of that fact. But there is one change that I welcome: the three Front Benches seem to be in agreement that the proper way forward is an 80 per cent elected and a 20 per cent appointed Chamber. However, one thing has not changed: my profound disagreement with my noble and learned friend Lord Irvine of Lairg—and, no doubt, his profound disagreement with me.
I have to say—and I think that I am entitled to say it—that my position has not changed at all. I remain in favour of what was expressed to be Labour Party policy in the years before the 1997 general election, when we campaigned on a platform that the House of Lords should be predominantly but not exclusively elected. I accepted that then and I accept it now. I am pleased to see that the Government now share that view, although it has taken 10 years.
The result of the debate in the Commons last week clarified the position somewhat. There was a majority for an 80:20 House and an all-elected House, and it is now for the Government to decide which option they are to pursue. The importance of the debate and the vote in the Commons, however, is that the Commons have decided firmly—very firmly indeed—that the day of the wholly appointed House is over.
There is some doubt about the validity of the 100 per cent vote. It is said on good authority that some of those who voted in favour of an all-appointed House also voted in favour of an all-elected House. I find it difficult to understand the logic of that position. It seems to me to be playing parliamentary games with a serious parliamentary issue.
So we should commend the Commons for accepting a hybrid House split 80 per cent elected and 20 per cent appointed. I have a very simple view on this issue which I hope is not totally naive. People who make laws should be directly accountable to those who have to obey the laws that they make. In other words, if you legislate, you should have a democratic mandate. What I do not think is acceptable—and in principle I do not think that many other people, even in this House, would find it acceptable—is that people who make laws should be appointed rather than elected. It is certainly not democratic, nor is it properly representational. Elections are, after all, the way in which public accountability of the legislature is guaranteed in every western democratic society; and that accountability certainly cannot be achieved by a wholly or predominantly appointed House.
The House of Commons has now voted for that mix of 80 per cent elected and 20 per cent nominated. What is important now is to look at the function that each of those two groups will be there to fulfil. The 20 per cent should, I think, broadly resemble the present-day Cross-Benchers. I take the point made by the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, on the quality and the calibre of those who sit on the Cross Benches, or at least some of them. That point was echoed by the noble Lord, Lord McNally, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine, and the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. It seems generally accepted in this House that, on the whole, independent Cross-Benchers are a good thing rather than a bad thing. I totally agree with that. It is desirable that senior doctors, educationalists, Chiefs of the Defence Staff and very senior civil servants should have some place somewhere in the Parliament of the United Kingdom. Clearly they cannot be in the Commons, because they would not stand for election, but with the history of Cross-Bench representation in the Lords it would seem to be ideal for this House.
However, if the 20 per cent are to be genuine Cross-Benchers, then the 80 per cent should represent the political side of the work of this House. In this day and age, you cannot legislate without parties and the whole paraphernalia of government and opposition. The idea that legislation could be properly considered and passed by a second Chamber that was chosen either by lottery or by indirect sectional elections is absurd. There would never be the discipline necessary to get the legislation passed. But I think that it is idle to pretend that we can turn this Chamber into one that is less political. It will still be a House through which legislation will have to pass and, if so, there are bound to be party differences on what that legislation should incorporate. It seems nonsense to pretend that we can be a proper legislative Chamber without active political parties and, dare I say it, active political whipping.
Of course there are alternatives; namely, that this House should cease to be a legislative Chamber. In that case, it would become of a group of distinguished and experienced people discussing great matters of state but having only advisory functions. Frankly, that is not how I see the future of this second Chamber. If we are to be a proper legislative Chamber, which I want, then we need the authority and the credibility to be one. That in turn means that we need to get our authority from the people and not from the Executive. To be an effective check on the power of the Executive, one needs that legitimacy. But in the end it depends what you want for a second Chamber. If you want a proper legislative second Chamber, then you have to have a majority of elected Members. If you want more of an advisory Chamber, then it does not matter.
I have often heard the argument that to move in this democratic direction would be to produce a Chamber that is in direct conflict with the House of Commons. I do not accept that that is necessarily so—nor do I accept that conflict between the two Chambers is necessarily a bad thing. Other legislatures seem to have resolved the problem of having two democratically elected chambers, one of which is predominant and the other subservient. What it needs is an acceptance by both Houses of their role and a proper mechanism to resolve disputes between the two Houses. This is, after all, the position in the United States, where both the chambers are now elected, where both know the extent and boundaries of their power, and where there is a system in which disputes between the two Houses can be resolved. For the life of me I do not see anything in principle here that the House of Commons should be running scared of.
What may be required in this country is something analogous to the concordat that was reached last year between the judiciary and the Executive. This was the first one that properly regulated relations between those two arms of government. Something similar could surely be accepted between the two Houses of Parliament and, if necessary, enshrined in legislation. Of course, the Commons are the superior House and should remain so. No one is suggesting that the powers of this House should be amended so as to make them equal to those of the House of Commons. But this is not a debate about the powers of the House of Lords; it is primarily a debate about its composition. We took a dramatic step some years ago in removing the automatic right of hereditary Peers to sit in the legislature. I hope that we shall now move to a situation in which nominated Peers will play a lesser role in the affairs of government and elected Peers will play a greater role.
My Lords, in this debate, which has gone on for a decade or so, certain factors have emerged as common ground. The noble Lord who has just spoken does not seem to acknowledge my next point, but everyone else has acknowledged that this House in its present form performs a vital role in the legislature, and does so almost impeccably. I refer to the praise heaped on this House in the very first government White Paper on this subject, which was produced by the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, a long time ago and has often been endorsed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer.
As I listened to the noble Lord, Lord Richard, I wondered whether I was hearing a man who, in seeking to create what he called a proper, acceptable, effective legislative Chamber, wants to go down the road of destroying the one that we have already. It is like a man making the case to abolish the wheel in order to make the case for recreating it. We have got it and nobody really challenges that.
The second principle that has emerged across the Benches is that the future must be determined by consensus. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, underlined the fact that that means consensus not just between the parties but between the two Houses. That is crucial. I add that that consensus should be sure of giving at least as much weight to the opinion of this House as to that of the other. Indeed, I argue that the scales should be weighted in favour of the opinion of this House.
I do so for two reasons. The first is that the working party that considered this matter—composed, in all good faith, by Jack Straw—significantly under-represented the views of the majority of this House. My noble friend Lord Strathclyde and I have been engaged in a friendly duel about this for almost as long as I can remember. I hope that he will forgive me for asking whether it is not somewhat bizarre that the views of this House, which voted 90 per cent against an 80 per cent elected Chamber, have been reflected on that working party by someone who believes so passionately in an 80 per cent elected House, and has done so for years. It is a very curious concept of democratic leadership that the Leader should ignore entirely those whose views he is meant to represent. I say that with the utmost respect—and friendship—for the skill with which my noble friend has trodden this astonishing tightrope for so long.
The second reason why I think that this House should be given more weight in deliberations is that the other place simply does not understand how it works. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Richard, acknowledged that, and certainly others who have spoken have done so. As someone who spent 25 years in that House and a year as Leader of it, I readily acknowledge that I came here scarcely ever, except when summoned by Black Rod once a year and for some occasional meetings. When I was Leader of the House of Commons, I treated my opposite number in this House with the utmost condescension. The House of Commons simply does not understand the way in which this House works and its judgment cannot be given much weight.
But there is one matter of great importance on which both Houses agree. I identify it by quoting from two distinguished Members of the other House. Andrew Tyrie states at page 62 of his book, Mr Blair’s Poodle:
“The executive is already almost supreme in Parliament, both Commons and Lords”.
Tony Wright states in an essay at page 867 of Parliamentary Affairs from 2004:
“In Britain the executive is particularly strong and Parliament commensurably weak”.
We have there two thoughtful Members of the Commons acknowledging what we all know—that Parliament needs to be strengthened against the Executive. The extraordinary thing is that they are barking up the wrong tree. It is their House, the elected House, that has so little influence on the decisions and activities of government. They do not recognise the extent to which—as others have pointed out—this House is now very different from that which existed some years ago. Mr Andrew Tyrie further stated at page 62 of his work:
“In a democratic age the lack of legitimacy of an appointed Lords leaves it almost always incapable of mounting a challenge”.
Has he not noticed the changes that have taken place in the six years or so since the bulk of the hereditaries disappeared? I am glad that we have 92 still here and I hope that they will continue to stay here. Since that change took place, the major parties each have 30 per cent of the vote and the Cross Benches and the Liberals have 40 per cent between them. We have to win the argument. It is like addressing a jury, as the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, pointed out. We do win the argument. In those six years, the Government have been—I will not use the phrase “defeated”—effectively challenged almost 400 times and have accepted the advice of this House in about 40 per cent of those cases. We have had that impact on that legislation as part of the legislature. The non-elected membership of this House has had that effect. The noble Lord, Lord Richard, said that that was terrible as we were not elected and we had no legitimacy to achieve that. But we have been doing it very well. He wants to recreate this Chamber with a different structure but with no guarantee that, if we were replaced with elected people, it would achieve the same effect. During that time we have made enormously effective changes.
One asks in what way, if at all, the present state of play, or any aspect of our performance, will be improved by the introduction of up to 100 per cent elected Members, or any move in that direction. I have sought an answer to that question in every publication on this subject that I can find. I have, of course, searched in Jack Straw’s latest White Paper. Nothing there says that the arrival of elected Members will improve our performance. I have even looked, not for the first time, in the paper of my noble friend Lord Strathclyde. Again, there is no argument that suggests that this House will be improved by the arrival of elected Members. Indeed, I have asked my noble friend to his face in public, as I have asked the right honourable Jack Straw to his face in public, to give any reason why we should believe that this House will be improved by the arrival of elected Members. But in each case the answer was silence and nothing else. That is the strength of the argument.
I conclude that the system that has developed over recent years deserves to be recognised, fortified and fully—if you want the word—legitimised by taking the steps that others have commended. I refer to the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine—I welcome back the learned gentleman, whom I used to lead long ago when we were both at the Bar—and the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham. Those steps would be placing the Appointments Commission on a statutory basis, lifelong membership for the surviving hereditaries and a reduction in numbers over time. The last thing that this House needs is to see itself filled, or half filled, with elected Members.
I end by quoting my right honourable friend David Cameron. When he announced at a press conference the appointment of his commission on constitutional affairs, chaired by Kenneth Clarke, he said:
“We are passionately committed to preserving and enhancing the integrity of the institutions that made this country great … and which guarantee our most precious British birthright: freedom under the law”.
Surely it is this House, particularly during the past 10 years, that has achieved more in that good cause than any other national institution. I profoundly hope that my noble friend Lord Strathclyde and my right honourable friend David Cameron will reflect on that and will accept the wisdom of ensuring that their thoughts about the future of this institution will match those that obviously stand out as necessary.
My Lords, I regret to find myself in disagreement with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, with whom I so often find myself in almost entire agreement, but we have to recognise that the game has changed. The votes in the House of Commons last week were decisive. We cannot go back to the debates of five, 10, 15 or 20 years ago. The question of party political appointments is now more and more difficult, and the question of cash for peerages has made party political nomination much more difficult. I suggest to noble Lords in all seriousness that there is very little point in dividing on a 20 per cent or on a 40 per cent elected House and perhaps not even on a 50 per cent or 60 per cent elected House. The realistic options for us now are an 80 per cent elected House or a fully elected House.
Secondly, this is part of the long-term process of constitutional reform. Jack Straw, on introducing the debate in the other place, said:
“Strong government must be balanced by a strong Parliament”.—[Official Report, Commons, 6/3/07; col. 1390.]
I add that a strengthened second Chamber strengthens Parliament. That shows Jack Straw to be a good democrat whose views have evolved as the debate has gone on. As he pointed out in the opening paragraph of the White Paper, the British Parliament has evolved since the Anglo-Saxon Witan—he clearly believes in the myth of Alfred and the Saxons—all the way towards the relatively open constitutional democracy that we now have. We are not yet very democratic; Britain now stands out among constitutional democracies for having fewer elected representatives per head of population than any other democracy in the developed world.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine, said that no one can deny that Britain is a well functioning parliamentary democracy; I do deny that. We have rising distrust of our political institutions and a declining electoral turn-out. The popular image of Westminster is of a closed world. The deep distrust of the electoral process that I hear in this debate is an inadequate response to all of that. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, warned of a surfeit of elected politicians. Would we be better off with a surfeit of nominated lawyers or—even worse—nominated academics? I declare an interest.
The worst of the arguments was put forward by a number of Labour Members of the other place, quoting my noble friend Lord Steel, that competition with a single Member constituency MP from other elected people on his territory would somehow interfere with the democratic process of representation. Why can we not have a little more competition in democratic representation?
Thirdly, there is the argument that an elected House would not attract the right people. There is somehow an illusion that the majority of party nominees in this House are somehow non-political nominees; party members who are above politics. We are the experts, and they in the Commons are unqualified party hacks; except of course for those former MPs who have been miraculously transformed into experts by translation to the Lords.
When I first came to this House, I was struck by the fact that those who did most of the hard work of legislative examination were almost entirely former county councillors, district councillors and people whose expertise had come through the elected process, through learning about education, local housing, local environmental issues and who had come all the way through to nomination to this House through many hard-fought elections. Those who come up from the House of Commons have not always appreciated just how much we depend on our former councillors. I was flattered in one of the many articles about constitutional reform to be referred to as one of the experts in this House who would not have come here by election. I am proud that I have stood for election several times, as have many of my noble friends on these Benches, and I do not denigrate the process of election. An elected House would have a not dissimilar balance to that which we have now. The noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, claimed that no independent would ever get elected under whatever process that we had. I remind him that there is an independent—a doctor—in the other place, even under the first past the post system. It is highly likely that under our different electoral process some independents would come through. They might even be the sort of experts who are doctors and others.
Fourthly, there is the idea that a hybrid House would not work because different classes of Members could not work together. I simply fail to understand that. This House has been a hybrid House ever since the Anglo-Saxon Witan. It consisted of the Lords Spiritual and the Lords Temporal; that is pretty hybrid. When I first came into the House, it was a hybrid House of hereditaries and lifers. I am told that on the Conservative Benches, the hereditaries would refer to their Life Peer colleagues as “the day boys”. We managed nevertheless as a hybrid House, and we could manage as a different sort of House again. A predominantly elected House would adjust in its turn.
I argue firmly that we should not delay further. We should proceed to complete reform. This is a process of Lords reform that started in 1911; let us make sure that we finish it before 2011. There are other issues of constitutional reform, including strengthening the power of the Commons against the Government. There is no reason for us to delay in strengthening the role of the second Chamber. I support the proposal of my noble friend Lord McNally that the Prime Minister should take the lead now and announce that there will be no more nominations to the House and no resignation honours list. On that basis, let us move towards a democratic framework for a reformed second Chamber now.
My Lords, some time ago, when the other place debated our future, they had what the Leader of the Commons described as a train crash. They rejected everything on offer, and the track was littered with debris. This time, the train has been hijacked. It was supposed to go to a halfway station called Hybrid, but it went on to a stop called One Hundred Per Cent, which was not the Government’s intended destination.
They brought this on themselves by mistrusting the House of Commons. Mr Straw admitted as much when he decided against a proper debate on the White Paper. He said,
“that would be too contentious and lead to us disappearing down all kinds of rabbit holes”.—[Official Report, Commons, 7/3/07; col. 1599.]
What an admission that was! The outcome was more pantomime than Parliament. It was certainly no way to treat a White Paper on a major constitutional issue. I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor for giving us greater credit. His Motion allows us to take note of the White Paper in the proper way. I should hate to see the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, get off at the wrong stop on Mr Straw’s train.
The White Paper is a good start for our preventive action, because it demolishes the case for a wholly elected Chamber in a succession of hammer blows. The hammer blows apply with almost equal force, in my view, to the case for any elected element. Paragraph 7.6 of the White Paper warns that a fully elected House might,
“find it difficult to avoid challenging the primacy of the Commons”.
Of course those elected would have the authority to challenge the Commons. Currently, there is no real doubt about the balance of authority between the two Houses. This House can ask the Commons to think again—we have done so on more than one occasion—but the Commons, quite rightly, has the last word. With the arrival of elected Peers, that process would be removed with only one result—a claim by the Lords to parity with the Commons, to the growing risk of gridlock between the two Houses. Where do we go from there? It is a hugely important question that needs an answer. Such a major change lies at the heart of our constitution, but Mr Straw in his White Paper remains silent on it. Why be so coy in coming forward with an answer? For both Houses of Parliament there is a need to know.
Paragraph 7.7 tells us that a fully elected House would make it “very difficult” for independent Cross-Benchers to sit here,
“because the political parties would be very likely to dominate any election process”.
Of course they would. We know that party machines expect conformity. Candidates would be selected on the basis of deals that had nothing to do with the aims of the White Paper. Think of the mischief that that could cause with the bait—I emphasise the word—of a 15-year term here with no accountability. The forces of law and order have enough on their plate.
Currently, Cross-Benchers account for 27 per cent of our make-up, and one-party control tends to be avoided. In a hybrid House, that percentage will be reduced to 20 per cent. In a fully elected House, the Cross-Bencher would be wiped out, as of course would the Bishops. How would that increase the effectiveness of this House, an ambition Mr Straw patronisingly tells us that he is keen to achieve? Here yet again is the absence of any argument that suggests that the arrival of elected Peers would improve present structures. The only point advanced for change is that elections would make us more legitimate. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, eloquently pointed out, we look in vain for an argument that they would in any way improve the performance of this House. The very opposite would be the result.
The White Paper argues the need for greater diversity, but warns against losing what we have—and quite right, too. I caution those social engineers in Whitehall to look closer to home before they tamper with recognised success. This House needs no lessons in ethnic sensitivity, religious tolerance, and expertise over a wide range of interests and in public service. It is in this that our legitimacy lies. Of course there is room for further diversity in religion, culture and background, which would be welcomed and could be achieved through a statutory body charged with the responsibility for making appointments which reflect the diverse society of the United Kingdom.
The threat to democracy does not lie in this House. It lies in the poor turnouts at elections, the alienation of young people, the weakness of local government, and the raising of political funds by dubious means. It also lies in the lost powers of the House of Commons to fully scrutinise legislation and hold the Executive to account. We all know that Bills arrive here, great chunks of which have never been considered in Standing Committee in the other place because of the draconian use of a new procedure, politely called programming. In my view, both major parties carry responsibility for that loss of power.
I was relieved when the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, stumbled a few weeks ago trying to explain the proposed electoral system and what the Government had in mind about it. It made me feel less ignorant, and I am grateful to him. Voting for a “partly open regional list” sounds like something dreamed up by policy nerds with partially open minds, raised in partially open spaces and favouring partially open societies. At this point, let me say that linking this House to European elections is unwelcome; we are an integral part of the British Parliament, not an adjunct to Strasbourg. I also have a view that is not shared by many and is not popular, but that I wish to express. It seems to me that the majority of the remaining hereditary Peers are working Members here. I would like to see them become life Peers and let the force of nature take its course.
I recognise the dedication and hard work that went into the consultations that Mr Straw and others have chaired over the years, but I regard the White Paper as a poor reward for their labours. It masquerades as a prospectus for progress and offers a programme for muddle and confusion. In truth, Ministers regard this House as too effective and too independent. Even the Prime Minister says that a hybrid House would not work; the Chancellor of the Exchequer says nothing. So they left it to Mr Straw to cobble together something about which the country cares not a jot, and has no idea of what the financial cost to it would be. I cannot think of a constitutional issue that has so little public resonance. In over 40 years, I fought 12 parliamentary elections and took a high profile in many others. Reform was never raised, and I think there are three reasons for that. First, the proper battleground for our political parties is the House of Commons, not the revising Chamber. Secondly, the supremacy of the Commons was settled in 1911 and should not be put at risk. Thirdly, the House of Lords is good at the job it does, and the country knows it.
What matters is that we reach the right decision here. This House is not a rubber stamp. This is a constitutional issue that lies within our competence. The future of our Parliament is at risk if we upset the balance between the two Houses that has served this country well. If, as I suspect, the Government want a last-minute trophy before the next election, I very much hope that the integrity of the House will not be sacrificed to give them one.
My Lords, I had the honour and privilege to be the chairman of the two most recent Joint Committees of Parliament looking at these issues. In spite of the kind remarks from both Front Benches on the second report of the Joint Committee on Conventions, I want to stress that I shall give a personal opinion this afternoon and do not in any way claim that the views that I express are the views of those committees.
As the debate moved on, the important word in the thinking of the Government—or at least many members of the Government—was “legitimacy”. I can accept arguments in favour of legitimacy; certainly, elections bring legitimacy. But one either has legitimacy or does not. Because the Government’s position has not been underpinned by any consistent principles over the period, they have slithered from one expedient to another. The lowest common denominator—a 50 per cent elected and 50 per cent appointed House—became the Government’s position. Where is the legitimacy in that? Half the House could claim legitimacy; the other half could not. That is the problem with all arguments about hybrid Houses. The noble Lord, Lord Wallace, said that we had always had a hybrid House, but we have not had one in which 50, 60 or 80 per cent of the Members were elected. That is a fundamental difference from everything that has gone before.
What of elections? The Government and others argue that we should make the most profound and historical changes to our Parliament, or at least to one of its Houses. I am not in favour of the status quo. In 40 years of fighting elections at all levels—local, national, student, whatever—I never stood to defend the status quo. What I cannot understand in this whole argument, and there is a great lacuna in the Government’ position here, is that the Government urge these profound changes, but quickly assert, as have some of my noble friends, that nothing will change and that the House will go on exactly as before. I do not see it. Where are these candidates, chosen by party lists or by any other means, who will say, “Yes, we are legitimate, we are elected, we have a mandate, but we have come here to accept everything exactly as it is”? What kind of candidates are they? Which party will they come from? I even heard someone say in the debate today that that they should be people with no political ambition. That makes it even worse. What an appeal to the voters of this country—to say, “We are going to accept the status quo, we have no political ambition of any kind at all, but please elect us to the second Chamber of Parliament”. It really is absurd.
The reality is—and I remind noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord McNally—that the report on the conventions made clear in paragraph 61, unanimously agreed, which was the great strength of this report, that those recommendations applied to the situation as it is now. We very carefully worded that paragraph to say that if things changed, the conventions would be bound to be called into question. I think that that was a reasonable, rational statement—not extreme in any way. It did not go beyond the evidence that we were given as a committee and that is surely the reality.
On the other hand, I can accept the argument for elections. I have been a democrat all my life. I have spent more than half of it fighting and, on the whole, winning elections of one kind or another. But the Government’s problem is that, while they want to claim legitimacy for their proposals, they do not want to face the consequences, because, as many noble Lords have said, if there are 100 per cent elections, there will be no Cross-Benchers, no Bishops and none of the expertise that people proudly say they admire and respect in your Lordships’ House. I do not want to be too unkind to the noble Lord, Lord McNally, because we are old friends and colleagues, but he said that the House should not vote again for a train wreck. Among others, he was adamant throughout the work of the Joint Committee on Conventions that this House above all else should preserve the right to say, No and to say to the other House, “We don’t agree; we think you’ve got that wrong”. So there is a dichotomy in that argument. This House is entitled to say what it wants to say about these proposals.
This might or might not please the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford, but perhaps a quotation from the Gospel according to St Mark is apposite. Chapter 3, verses 24 to 25, states:
“if a household be divided against itself, that house will never stand”.
We are talking about proposals to divide this House against itself. They are not particularly well-thought-out proposals—the Government’s White Paper leaves many questions unanswered. Are the people of Britain really keen on having a second Chamber full of professional politicians? Are they keen to face the financial and other consequences of that? Are they prepared to build Portcullis House mark II? These are really serious questions in a democracy. We cannot expect people to sign what is, in effect, at the moment, a blank cheque for proposals without much further serious discussion about the most profound consequences that will flow from them.
I hope that my noble friends and my right honourable and honourable friends in the other place will take very serious note of the views expressed in this House and genuinely go away and reflect on the direction in which, to quote the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, this train is running. One of the problems with this train is that too many people have a ticket on it, regardless of its destination. We should think very, very carefully before taking what will be irrevocable steps in changing fundamentally the constitution of our country. The reality is that we have checks and balances now, but it is also the case—and all my experience shows this—that it is possible to fragment power, it is possible to disperse power, it is possible to dilute it and share it, but it is never possible to get it back again.
My Lords, at the risk of appearing naive to the point of eccentricity, I propose to take the Government at their word; that is, I am prepared to accept, against all the evidence, that they really want an effective second Chamber, but are concerned that it cannot be effective as at present constituted because it lacks legitimacy—an attribute which they mistakenly believe can derive only from directly elected Members.
At least, as has been pointed out so eloquently by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine, and a moment ago by the noble Lord, Lord Cunningham, this should dispose of any support for a hybrid House, since, if legitimacy can be conferred only by election, a partially elected house will be considered only partially legitimate, which is clearly unacceptable. This seems to have been accepted by the other place in its overwhelming support for a wholly elected second Chamber which, at least, clears the air, and to which I will return in a moment.
First, we need to recognise that just as democracy is not the only important characteristic of an acceptable constitution—the rule of law and respect for individual freedom, for example, are at least as important—so democratic legitimacy is not the only form of legitimacy. Indeed, of all the institutions that embody an acceptable constitution, democratic legitimacy is required only of the Government, in the sense that the people must be given the opportunity, at regular intervals, peacefully, at the ballot box, to remove a Government who they no longer want. That is the essence of democratic legitimacy.
An appointed second Chamber is wholly compatible with this, provided that that Chamber is unable to prevent the Government from governing. That is the important justification for the primacy of the House of Commons and that, in the event of any dispute between the two Houses, the Commons has the last word after only a moderate delay. It is also the reason why we do not for a moment believe that an appointed and non-elected judiciary in any way lacks legitimacy.
Noble Lords will recall also that of all the constitutional changes enacted so far by this Administration, the only one that has enjoyed almost universal acclaim was the first: the transfer of responsibility for monetary policy and the setting of interest rates from a democratically elected Minister, directly accountable to the House of Commons, to an independent Bank of England and an appointed Monetary Policy Committee. This, as it happens, was something that I had long advocated, only to be told on every occasion that it was undemocratic. But today, only 10 years after its inception, the legitimacy of a system whereby interest rate decisions are taken by the appointed Monetary Policy Committee is unquestioned.
Within the overall framework of a democratic system of government, not only are non-elected institutions like the judiciary and the Bank of England rightly regarded as fully legitimate, but the expertise and independence that they embody are rightly seen as precious attributes in the service of the nation. That we in this House, as at present constituted, possess a range of experience, expertise and achievement, which the House of Commons cannot to the same extent demand, is generally acknowledged. What is not so generally recognised is that we, and not simply the Cross-Benchers, are also genuinely independent. The fact that very few of us on this side, for example, accept the policy of our Front Bench is one indication of that.
That independence stems largely from the logic of life tenure. In the old days, university professors enjoyed life tenure to give them complete academic independence. I have to confess that our independence also stems from our age. Some of our great organs of the press—incidentally, I would not dream of accusing the fourth estate of a lack of legitimacy because its editors are appointed and not elected—appear to believe that our average age of 68 is somehow a disadvantage. As someone who celebrated—if that is the right word—his 75th birthday only yesterday, 68 seems to me rather young, but the fact that most of us are too old to seek advancement or preferment is an important dimension of our independence in this House.
So the case against an appointed House of Lords has little merit. Nevertheless, the House of Commons has voted by a substantial majority for a wholly elected second Chamber, and that has to be respected so far as it goes. However, before that change can come about, the whole question of the relative powers of the two Houses would have to be revisited, as the report of the Joint Committee on Conventions made clear—we have just been reminded of that by its chairman, the noble Lord, Lord Cunningham—and as common sense dictates.
There is also the practical aspect. It is hard enough to get sufficient people of real ability to embrace the hurly-burly of electoral politics to fill the lower House. If an elected upper House is to remain as thoroughly subordinate as it is today, inevitably the best will enter the House of Commons, and they will stay there if there is no possibility of being appointed to the second Chamber. The second best, if they are Scottish or Welsh, will choose the devolved Assemblies, and, if they are English, they will choose either the European Parliament or their county council, depending on the nature of their interests. That will leave a second Chamber of third-raters. Is that what we really wish to see? Is that how you enhance the effectiveness of the second Chamber?
In brief, if we are to have two wholly elected Houses, their powers should be roughly—I do not say precisely—equal. That is not something that I advocate but I recognise that it is a perfectly workable constitution, as the example of the United States demonstrates. Should that be proposed to us at any time in the future, I believe that we would have to accept it, and accept that the day of a non-elected second Chamber is over. But, until such a proposal is put to us, it is our duty to preserve the integrity of our constitution by continuing with a wholly appointed House. I believe most strongly that that is how we should vote on Wednesday.
My Lords, I am afraid that I rise to contradict my Front Bench in that I believe in a wholly appointed House, and I feel that I should say so.
I have some experience of elections, including the first election to the European Parliament, which I fought very hard. I organised my own district and my family were a great help. I polled a good vote but was beaten by a good Conservative. A totally negative Labour chap came within 50 votes of me, despite my enormous effort and the fact that he had put in no effort whatever. That meant that the election was one of parties and the efficiency of the party was all.
Voters are currently a bit cynical about the number of elections that they have to take part in. The European elections polled 38 per cent; the general election was the best of the lot, running from 77 to 61 per cent on the last occasion, and it appears to me that that is the election that we should go by. There is also, as the previous speaker said, no question that the winners of an election to this House based on the European constituency would be party nominees. Someone referred to the doctor who won an election in his constituency because of anger at the state of a hospital there. That is true and it can happen in a reasonably sized constituency, but in the large groups which constitute the European constituencies—under which elections for this House would apparently come—reasonable results are not achieved other than through votes for a party. So, in fact, democracy would be better served by taking the total vote, as opposed to the total number of seats, and allocating seats in this House according to that. In my view, that would be a far better system.
If we went for an appointed House—we might, because the House of Commons has changed its mind two or three times already—that would simplify matters enormously, quite apart from saving a huge amount of money. There are 199 Peers in this House over the age of 75—at 87, I am one of them—and 300-odd over the age of 70, and we really need to get rid of us. We cannot be shot—I understand that that would not be possible—but I think that a retirement scheme could reduce the numbers to the required level without waiting for people to die. It is rather macabre to calculate how many are dying each year; it would be far better to have a retirement scheme.
Many of the arguments that I had rehearsed have been ably put, so I simply end by saying that an appointed House, rather than an elected one, would be far more in the tradition of this House. An appointed House would be an improvement on the present arrangement and it would be able to continue the traditions. In spite of my Front Bench, whose members I admire greatly, I am all for an appointed House.
My Lords, it would be easy to say that I entirely agree with many of the comments made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, and the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, and that having referred to them, I almost feel as though I could rest my case. However, perhaps I can put my own arguments in a slightly summary form. The noble and learned Lord was absolutely right in his analysis that the choice is essentially between an appointed body and an elected body. The arguments put against hybrid bodies are unanswerable, so that is the choice.
If there is an elected body, the points that came out from the excellent report of the Conventions Committee apply. As the noble Lord, Lord Cunningham of Felling, has said, that report was careful to say that it was dealing only with the present situation, and that if an elected element comes into the House the conventions will be reconsidered. That is true. Elected persons will want to exercise their mandate. The theoretical powers of this House are enormous; they will want to exercise those theoretical powers and they will not regard themselves as limited by conventions which are based on the fact that this House is not elected. One simply has to state that to see that that is the case.
The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor seemed to be arguing that the only way of restraining the tendency of elected members to exercise the theoretical powers is by legislating in some way. If one were to legislate on that, inevitably one would be drawn towards what appears to be the position of the Chancellor of the Exchequer—that we should move towards adopting a formal, comprehensive written constitution. That is an enormous undertaking and it would result in bringing the courts and the judges into Parliament to arbitrate, which is not our tradition and would not be welcome to everyone here.
The train of thought that I am developing seems to lead towards the conclusion of the noble Lords to whom I referred at the outset—namely, an appointed body. But, for a variety of reasons, there is distaste for the concept. I want to lay before your Lordships an example of procedure elsewhere, which managed to combine a form of election with retaining, completely unaffected, the supremacy of the lower House. It worked quite satisfactorily and, as far as I am aware, it has not been mentioned so far in the literature—I have not read as widely as some and I may be corrected. I refer to the experience in Northern Ireland between 1922 and 1971 with our Senate, the upper House.
That House was almost entirely elected, with only two ex officio persons. The members were elected by the Northern Ireland House of Commons by single transferable vote—proportional representation—for an eight-year period, with half of them elected every four years. Although the members were elected, their electoral mandate stemmed from the Northern Ireland House of Commons and they were, in a sense, accountable to that House. The upper House acted as a revising chamber, as this Chamber tries to do, without in any way challenging the authority of the Commons.
Those who were elected did not have to canvass and campaign. They were relieved of the need to seek election, which is a significant factor in getting people into a revising body. Plenty of people with valuable expertise do not want to stand for election, so it was beneficial in that respect. As the electorate in the Commons could tell from their composition how many persons they would elect, in substance the Senate was appointed, so that was a way of squaring the circle. That may not be considered appropriate, but I thought it worth mentioning. By doing so, I do not want my fellow Cross-Benchers to think that I want to get rid of the Cross Benches—I say that for my own self-preservation, if for no other reason.
I have been a Member of this House for less than a year. I was in the other place for much longer. Like almost everyone who has come from the other place, I approached this issue wanting to maintain the authority and the supremacy of the House of Commons. It has been said here quite rightly that the House of Commons does not really understand what happens here. That is not the question. The problem is that the House of Commons today does not seem to understand the effect its vote will have on the Commons, if it is ever carried into law and those changes are brought about. I do not think that MPs appreciate fully the extent to which what they appear to want to do will bring about a massive change in the Commons, and a massive transfer of power away from the Commons to the elected element here. Some of those who voted for the 100 per cent elected option may well be aware of the spanner that they were appearing to toss into the works.
I have agreed with some of those who spoke earlier but I end by disagreeing. I am sorry that my disagreements are almost entirely with the Liberal Democrats. I do not think it is appropriate to speak about the vote in the other place last week as being a decisive fact. It was a significant factor, but it has not decided anything and decisions are some way away. If the noble Lord, Lord McNally, will forgive me for saying it, it is wrong to start warning us of the dangers of confrontation. We are nowhere near that point yet. We are entitled to take whatever view we think of the matter and we are entitled to ask those in the other place to think again. I add to that a strong plea to those in the other place to think again, because if they proceed further down the path on which they have started, they will do enormous damage to themselves and hence to the functioning of this Parliament as a whole. I think we should do what we can to avoid that consequence.
My Lords, I was very interested by the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Trimble, and I regret that time does not allow me to engage with it, as I dare to endorse the principle of an elected majority for our second Chamber. Appointment of 20 per cent independent Members is indeed a way to deliver high-calibre people with particular experience and diversity, but it would not be impossible to devise public participation in that choice. Nor is it difficult for party lists to include such people. As I travel, I have seen 100 per cent elected second Chambers, as well as hybrid legislatures, which work effectively. The key, surely, is the powers and the constitutional role they have. In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Trimble, I say that in fact it would surely be simpler if we had a written constitution. It would be clearer to operate, easier to communicate, easier to teach in schools, and a much easier way to reflect our sense of national identity. We shall need to give more thought to powers and limitations on powers, and to the nature of the second Chamber’s constituency and the task its Members should have. I hope we do this by way of a coherent, codified constitution. The next Prime Minister and his Government can be the founding mothers and fathers of the new order.
If we were designing a second Chamber de novo, surely it would be a secular one. Declaring an interest as a vice-president of the British Humanist Association, I should say that although the individual contribution of right reverend Prelates is extremely valuable—perhaps because I often agree with them—I think it odd to give a right of legislature to a faith, even that most closely associated with our history. Other faiths of our land, even other branches of Christianity, do not entertain this concept. Indeed, they find it would compromise their independence, and I know members of the Church of England who feel the same. We can profit from a valued perspective without needing an anomalous constitutional status for it.
What I do want to defend is the ancient and honourable tradition of the right of people to choose their legislators, or a majority of them, to make decisions in their name. That is what I understand by political legitimacy. It is far from a modern idea. In Britain, it dates from the Anglo-Saxon Witan, as we have heard, and from the Norse people’s assemblies, which were overlaid by the feudal systems of privilege brought in by the Normans, whose descendants grudgingly conceded back the argument of democracy bit by bit over the centuries. I believe the first so-called parliament of the 13th century in fact grew out of an appointed body, the Curia Regis, chosen by the king, long after the Witan and the Thingvellir had been repatriated to the lands of the much maligned Vikings and their neighbours. Only the Tynwald of the Isle of Man remains here as a much attenuated reminder from979 AD. Incidentally, it was the first in the world to give women the vote. I will not strain the comparison. I simply suggest that the political tradition we share with the notably democratic Nordic societies should have more claim to our respect than the Norman panoply of hierarchy which took its place. It did not disappear, of course. When John Milton said,
“the ground and basis of every just and free government … is a general council ... chosen by the people”,
he reflected exactly that tradition.
This powerful impulse, now underground, now overt, has always faltered at the gate of your Lordships’ House, chipping a bit at the edges, never refreshing the foundations, not for want of trying but because of obstruction from within Parliament. Of course your Lordships’ House does a very good job in many ways, though I did not find all the votes in my short eight years here enlightened, and nor have I heard many representative voices from our nations and regions. But although British institutions have a talent for practicality and work—to a degree—in spite of the system, we should not confuse the baby with the bathwater. The baby is our democratic values.
We need to look at the foundations. We could make a better job of making them deep and clear and straight. We have in prospect a structure which would make much better sense of our Parliament to those many outside it who are alienated from and mistrustful of politicians. They do not know what the House of Lords does. They do not understand how people are appointed, or even the difference between hereditary and appointed. Indeed, I am rather uneasy with the ambiguity of the title I bear. Apart from the fact that “baroness” has a confusingly ornate sound, resonant with puzzling genealogical associations—too much baggage, one might say—the conversational term of address, “lady”, could equally be applied to the wife of a knight; the wife of a hereditary baronet or baron, or for that matter a life one; or, I think, to the daughter of an earl, of all of which, of course, I am unworthy. I would prefer a clearer job description.
Finally, particularly now, without wishing to dwell on the current misfortunes of all parties, it is astonishing that it can still be held, in our secluded Chamber, that the appointment of political Peers is an acceptable principle. I do not think that that is the view outside; in fact, I know it is not. I am sorry to disagree with some of my peer group, whom I admire very much, but I am comforted by the fact that in the outside world, which is what our legislative activities are concerned with, very few share their view. YouGov’s highly professional and representative poll has 82 per cent supporting a fully or partly elected House and only 6 per cent in favour of a fully appointed one. I cannot help thinking that the fact that so many Members of your Lordships’ House are apparently immune to this reasoning and to these values may be more susceptible of sociological than logical explanation. Mark Twain’s remark comes unbidden to my mind: “I'm all for progress. It’s change I can't stand”.
My Lords, our debates today and tomorrow are taking place ostensibly because the Government’s view is that they need to ensure that this House is,
“fit to meet the demands and expectations of this century”,
as the White Paper puts it. The White Paper also asserts:
“The legitimacy and authority of the second chamber continue to be called into question”.
There could be many reasons for wishing to reform this House—manifesto pledges, certainly; awkward headlines, perhaps—but public clamour for increased legitimacy and authority in this House really cannot be prayed in aid.
By the standards of this House, I am a newcomer. It is 22 months since I ceased to be an elected Member in the other place. In those 22 months, much may have changed, but I can only say that in the 18 years when I was there I received no letter criticising the functioning of this House, no demand for improved legitimacy or increased authority and no suggestion that the House of Lords is unfit for purpose. Nor did I receive demands from my constituents that they should be given more opportunities to elect more politicians at an increased cost to them. Indeed, to say that they took the opposite view would be to understate the position.
However, there is increasing dissatisfaction with the democratic process. Other noble Lords have mentioned turnouts at parliamentary elections, which hover at around 60 per cent. In European and local elections, they are nearer to 30 per cent. A lot of reasons are given for that apathy—some have been rehearsed today—but one is undoubtedly the wholesale and, on occasion, somewhat unthought-out constitutional change introduced by this Government since 1997. There has been a proliferation of non-elected bodies with budgets but no accountability. Regional development agencies, partnerships and assemblies are answerable to no one. In addition, power has been devolved to the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh and London Assemblies. Devolution in itself has virtues, but not if it is embarked on with no clear idea of the consequences, especially for the clarity of accountability, which is the essence of the democratic process. As Dr John Reid said:
“There is no route map for it and no textbook that we can consult”.—[Official Report, Commons, 27/7/99; col. 103.]
Quite so. The cumulative effect of that hasty, even if enthusiastic, approach to devolution has been to obscure, but not to enhance, accountability. In London, for example, people are asked to vote for a borough councillor, two kinds of London Assembly member, the mayor, a Westminster MP and an MEP. Yet people in London still do not know to whom to turn for a hole in the road, which is the acid test of accountability. Constitutional change for the wrong reasons, or without careful thought for the consequences, does not enhance the democratic process if accountability is blurred.
That is exactly what we are being asked to consider today. That there is dissatisfaction with the state of our democratic process is undoubted, but is it to reform of this House that we must look to make it better? The Government have made it clear in their pronouncements on these matters that they believe that the primacy of the House of Commons is of paramount importance—it is interesting to note that the primacy appears to apply to one of the votes there last week, but not entirely to the other, but there we are. If that is the Government’s belief, they should begin by asking themselves whether what they have done to the House of Commons since 1997 has contributed to that primacy—for example, the truncating and stifling of debate by rigid timetabling, the announcement of important measures, such as the independence of the Bank of England, not to Parliament but by press conference, and the habit of sofa government. If they wish to take sensible steps to correct the democratic deficit, they could do worse than begin with the House of Commons.
However, if the Government are determined to proceed with reform of this House—and I accept that there are manifesto commitments—they really must consider the consequences for our democracy and for people's understanding of it first and not afterwards. Moreover, they should begin by setting out clearly what they believe should be the functions of this House, and its constitutional relationship to the House of Commons, once there are elected Members in it. If they really want to confer elected legitimacy on this House, they have to realise that the PR system is simply appointment by another, more opaque system; they must accept that a single 15-year term of office would confer absolutely no accountability on the elected Member; and they must get real and understand that, if people are elected to this House, by whatever means and in whatever proportion, they will eventually challenge the primacy of the Commons, because that is what happens.
Before the Government ask themselves whether any of the above would actually improve the House of Lords, they should ask themselves what complaints they have received about its current functioning—apart perhaps from appointments to it—the effectiveness of our committees, the standard of debate, our very often non-partisan approach, and the expertise on which we can call from within the House to inform what we do. These qualities could be lost in the rush to confer some kind of legitimacy on this House. The only justification for any constitutional change is that it will strengthen the democratic process by enhancing accountability and people’s confidence in the system.
We were urged earlier by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, to have as our priority in these deliberations the interests of our country and our democracy. We should think long and hard before taking this House, our nation and our democracy to an unknown destination.
My Lords, I confess that I have argued with myself for some time on this subject. I begin by saying how much I have learnt to appreciate the work, the tradition and the friendship of Members of this House in my seven years here. Having said that, I feel committed both by the 1911 pledge of my party and by my basic view as a democrat.
I have a good deal of sympathy this evening for the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor because, having listened to the debate, I think that it will be difficult to find a consensus or to take forward this process of reform. I will concentrate on one or two points of detail rather than repeat some of the larger arguments that we have heard so effectively stated but which I do not feel are likely to persuade people on either side.
This is a debate to take note of the White Paper. Unfortunately, to some extent the votes last week in the House of Commons have made the White Paper a little less white; I am not sure that it is grey yet, but it is certainly not as white as it was. Much of the White Paper, as has been made clear by a number of noble Lords who have spoken, will now have to be reconsidered.
At one stage, I read in the press that the Leader of the House of Commons suggested that the Cunningham committee might be reconvened to look at the implications of the new situation. Is that likely to be the case? Like a number of others who have spoken, I believe that, as I said in our debate on the Cunningham committee’s report on 16 January of this year, a change to 80 per cent or even 100 per cent elected will require us to consider very carefully the need for a written constitution. That is a much more substantial exercise. I am not convinced that it would necessarily mean bringing the judges into action, but a clear definition of the respective powers of the two Houses would be needed if they were both elected or overwhelmingly elected.
Last week’s decisions have led me to think more carefully about the choice between 80 per cent and 100 per cent. The arguments against a fully elected House have been put fairly carefully, but there are also arguments against hybridity. If the 50 per cent, 30 per cent or 20 per cent solutions in the White Paper had led to agreement between the two Houses, it would have been worth putting up with those arguments for hybridity, but now that we may be coming to an 80 per cent elected House, it is worth looking at those arguments again.
It is not altogether clear, despite what has frequently been said, of whom the 20 per cent would consist. Under the proposals in the White Paper—and with 50 per cent elected—those Members would have been Cross-Benchers, but now presumably, as has been suggested, some space will have to be provided for government nominations of Ministers, for Bishops, for the Prime Minister’s nomination of holders of high office on retirement and possibly for nominations by other party leaders. It is not clear whether the whole of the 20 per cent in that situation would necessarily totally be available for the Cross Benches. That is one of the matters that will have to be clarified in the months to come. The number of Cross-Benchers in a House reduced to perhaps 450 might be only 50. In those circumstances, is the case for a hybrid House so strong and might the logic of 100 per cent not increase? That is something that we should at least consider, although we would have to take into account the costs, which were made very clear to us by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford.
I raise a second issue in considering what is frequently described as the most essential function of this House; namely, its function of revising legislation. I had a chance while I was Chief Whip to see a lot of the work done in committees in this House, and I have been reflecting on the fact that some of the most effective Members of this House in the detailed consideration of legislation are those, as my noble friend Lord Wallace of Saltaire said, who had experience in local government before coming into this House. It may very well be that a natural place for political parties to look in choosing their candidates will be among the senior members of local authorities, which would mean a continuation of people with that sort of background and that particularly useful capacity.
However, I have always been attracted by the system of indirect election to a second Chamber, as in the French Senate or in the confusingly named First Chamber of the Netherlands Parliament, by an electorate built up from local and regional government. Election by, or selection of, regional or local government provides a second-order democracy, but also ensures an important differentiation between the two Chambers and the primacy of the directly elected House. I realise that arguments for indirect election have not been particularly popular in early discussions, either in my party or in the wider debate, but I now wonder whether, if we are to go to a wholly elected House, the question should not be re-examined—I was particularly interested in what the noble Lord, Lord Trimble, said about how the Northern Ireland Senate was elected between 1922 and 1971. I should make it clear that having a system like that in France or the Netherlands does not imply that all those elected come from local government, although a number do; in such systems, the electorate are from a regional and local government base. It may be that a proportion of the House could be indirectly elected in that way, if it was thought that otherwise there would be too much bias towards local government.
We shall certainly return to the subject, but I wish the issues that I have raised tonight to be considered by those taking the matter forward between now and the next time we discuss these matters.
My Lords, I served as a member of the royal commission chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham. We spent a year of our lives thinking deeply about the role of this House and taking a wide range of evidence about it. I supported and continue to support the royal commission's conclusions. Overall, those recommendations did not get a very good reception when they were published—especially, if I may say so, from those who had thought less deeply about the issues than we had. But at least in some respects experience has brought people round in favour of them. The most obvious example is the method of appointment to your Lordships' House.
The royal commission recommended that the final decision on all discretionary appointments to your Lordships' House, including party-political appointments, should be in the hands of an independent, statutory Appointments Commission. We recommended that the Prime Minister should no longer play a role in appointing members of the second Chamber. We made that recommendation because we recognised that, while the power to make appointments remained in the hands of the Prime Minister and other party leaders, the suspicion of corruption could never be removed.
There were no takers for that recommendation at the time. Now, for reasons that are not very hard to discern, all parties seem to have come round to it. The noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, quoted Mark Twain. I am reminded of another quotation from him:
“When I was 14, I thought my father was a fool. When I was 21, I was surprised at how much he had learned in the past seven years”.
I just want to make one simple point today. There is a deep division in the other place among those who voted for an 80 per cent elected and a fully elected House. As other noble Lords have remarked, the option of 100 per cent was opposed not only by the Leader of the House but by the leadership of the Conservative Party. They voted for a 20 per cent appointed element to ensure the continuance of a non-political element that would prevent any party from gaining an overall majority in this House.
This is not just a matter of degree. I believe that, with 80 per cent of this House elected, the important aim of the Leader of the House of Commons and, apparently, on the basis of today's debate, of all parties in this House could not be achieved. The Father of the House in another place put it succinctly and very well. He said:
“Just think of the realities of a political Chamber where the elected Members—whatever percentage there happen to be—time and again find that the unelected Members are swinging the majority away from them ... Once we start down this road, we will eventually arrive at a fully elected House of Lords”.—[Official Report, Commons, 6/3/07; col. 1427.]
Of course, that is certain to be true if the whole point of the reform is electoral legitimacy. If I may say so, that seems to me to be the fundamental flaw in the position of those who favour an 80 per cent elected House.
Most of those who voted for a 100 per cent elected House wanted something different; they want a fully political Chamber. The right honourable gentleman Kenneth Clarke, whom I greatly admire, said that,
“if any new state proposed a new constitution and suggested having an upper House that took the same form as ours, it would be regarded as utterly ridiculous”.—[Official Report, Commons, 6/3/07; col. 1430.]
That may or may not be true, but it is not the situation that we face. We are not a new state. We are a very old state which has developed its constitutional relationships over a long period. With respect, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine, said, those relationships are subtle, they are not ridiculous and they work.
I firmly believe—and I think that much of the population believes—that this House does a valuable job. With my colleagues on the royal commission, I believe that we can survive a small element of hybridity for the specific purpose of ensuring that some in this House can speak for regional interests in the country with the confidence that comes from being elected by them. If we go beyond that, the inevitable consequence is a fully party-political House, which, as other noble Lords have said, will not be content to be a subordinate partner to the House of Commons.
Those who want an independent element in this House must make a choice. They will not get it with an 80 per cent elected House—even less with a 50 per cent elected House. This is not a matter of being willing to compromise. It is a matter of thinking clearly about what will work in the national interest. It is a matter of producing a House that is fit for its revising purpose. I can vote for a 20 per cent elected element or for a fully appointed House, but I cannot vote for a larger elected element than that.
My Lords, I am often amazed at this House. I listened with great attention to what is being said, but a number of speeches completely ignored what happened last week. One cannot ignore what happened last week. I am sorry about that, my Lords, but we now have a different situation. When there is talk of democracy, I am reminded very much of the Reform Act 1832, on which there was talk of the dangers that lurked if one went for democracy. That was about introducing democracy to the House of Commons. That seems to be repeated here again.
The other thing that puzzles me is the number of Members of this House, including me, who have always depended for their career on being elected and being part of a democracy who, when they enter here, turned their back on democracy and argue what a bad thing it is when it is applied to this House. Yet the whole of their career has depended on the will of the people. I say again that there is nothing better than trusting the people. I am quite certain of that. I believe in a democratic House. Whether it is properly elected, 80 per cent elected or any percentage elected, there must be legitimacy. I agree that once you have introduced democracy to the House at whatever level, the demand for it will begin to grow.
I have heard costs mentioned. It is not a question of cost; it is a question of having a democratic Chamber. That is what it is about. If you have a Chamber based on di amica, of course it will cost less. We must think about the situation in which we now find ourselves. This House can speak from a position of strength. We can say, “Yes, we recognise what the Commons has said. Let us see what agreement can be reached between the two Houses”. Or we can go on ignoring what has happened there and, at some time, face the consequences of that action. Many things need to be decided. If it is to be a democratic House—if there are to be elections—what sort of House do we want? If we want a reforming House, should Ministers be in this House or should they all be in the other place? Should we be completely a reforming House looking at legislation pre and post its passing? There is a lot of work to be done. In a real democracy, that work must be done.
Just burying our heads in the sand is not an answer to the problems that we must face. If we go for elections, we must consider what kind of elections we want. I believe that they should be based on regions. As one who has always been for first past the post, I think that there is a case here for PR. That would lead not only to a different Chamber but to a different kind of Member elected to it. On a regional base, there will be no conflict between Members of the Commons and Members of the Lords in elections. They would be completely different animals, as they are in European elections. We must also decide when we want the elections to take place. Do we want them when there is a European election or should we not have them when there is a general election, when more people are likely to partake in it?
If we adopted a different, open-list system—I say open-list because the electorate has the right to select the people of their choice—we would get different results. There is also a case to be made that smaller parties would be elected through that kind of system. We would be getting to the root of democracy if we went down that road. There is much to be decided and much to be done. If we turn our backs on what was decided last week in the House, we will not get much further forward. This House might suddenly find that it is not the perfect House that it imagines itself to be. If I took some of the people here into the bar of my local pub, they would be amazed at what the locals had to say about what they believe they do. It is simply that people very often do not consider what is being done. That is why we need to look again at where we are going.
I do not think that the Cross-Benchers are perfect, either. I think that they provide a valuable service, but they come from a narrow section of society. Is that really the way in which we want to go in the future? I can think of a lot of people who could be real independents and who could sit on the Benches and contribute to the work of this House. And where are the ethnic minorities represented on the Cross Benches? There is just the odd one. I am glad that the noble Lord put his hand up; there are not many more. When we talk about numbers in the House and how many of us there are, how many people actually run this House? If we look, we find that the House is run by about 380 people—give or take a few. The number is just below 400, in any case. There is a way in which we could almost immediately reduce the number in the House. Could we not look at those who do not attend? Why should they not be struck off the list?
There are many ways in which we can move forward. All I am suggesting are one or two things that we should be thinking about. I hope in the vote on Wednesday that we recognise the step that was taken last week and agree with it. I have always said to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, that only the two of us believe in proper democracy. Not many people on the Benches around him do so. One rarely hears a speech from the Benches opposite that actually supports the position that he has taken when he talks of voting for 80 per cent. How many of his colleagues will join him? Noble Lords might say six. Well, there we are; that is rather more than I thought. Nevertheless, we at last have a chance to deal with an eccentric anachronism and to get rid of the amateur from our society once and for all by having a Chamber with a majority of elected Members. Let those who denounce democracy not forget that many of them are here because of democracy. Many of the others will turn around and say that we will have only people who have been elected. I know that many of them have tried to be selected for election and have ended up here. That does not make them second-class citizens, either.
My Lords, if anyone had doubts about the value of this House, those doubts would have been allayed by listening to this debate. It has been an extraordinary occasion. Noble Lords have spoken with extraordinary conviction and sincerity. Yet there has never been a moment of rancour or party-political point scoring; the issues have been discussed and considered on their merits. The quality of the debate has also been quite extraordinary. I think of the heavenly twins who have been sitting in front of me: the noble Lord, Lord Lawson of Blaby, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe. What a duet we were treated to, one after the other. I think of that amazing speech of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, the star of stars. I do not know where he has gone. Perhaps he has gone to recover, but I thought I saw him there a minute ago.
What do we look to this House for? First, we look to it for discussion of great issues. Secondly, we look to it as a revising Chamber, in which revision is thorough and competent. Thirdly, we look to it as a warning Chamber, so that we can give the House of Commons a warning when we think that it is wrong. All these things are being done. What on earth more do people want? The one thing that on the whole was lacking from the debate until the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell, introduced it was an historical perspective. Yet that is vital for appreciating this House.
I shall quote from a great constitutionalist from the 19th century. Perhaps it will come as no surprise that the name of this person is Walter Bagehot. After all, I spent 20 years of my life with him when I wrote those 15 volumes. We must, said Bagehot, always act carefully, slowly and by agreement when dealing with our institutions, because all important English institutions are relics of a long past:
“like old houses which have been altered many times, they are full both of conveniences and inconveniences which at first sight would not be imagined. Very often a rash alterer would pull down the very part which makes them habitable, to cure a minor evil or improve a defective outline”.
Those words are as applicable today as they were when he wrote them.
My second point is this: we are in danger of becoming obsessed with the question of Lords reform, which is leading us into a constitutional cul-de-sac. This is preventing any constructive way forward on the major constitutional issue of our time: how this Parliament can control an overgrown and over-powerful Executive. That is what we should be discussing. We made a start in the House of Commons with the Select Committee system, but one department—I use that word advisedly—was left out: the Prime Minister’s department. If there were to be a Select Committee for the Prime Minister’s department at No. 10, that would be a major constitutional advance. If that committee had existed at the time of the cash-for-peerages scandal, which is what it was, the scandal would never have happened. Nothing annoys me more than to hear people repeat like parrots that it has besmirched the reputation of this House. It is nothing to do with this House. If there is one body of people who have had nothing to do with it, it is us, so why should anyone say that we are besmirched by the sins and omissions of other people?
I have one vital question to ask the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, who was in irenic mood. That is always the best mood for him, as he is at his most persuasive then. What is the position with regard to the Parliament Act? It is vital to know the answer. Until we receive a clear answer, there can be no move towards the consensus that he wants. We had the present Prime Minister’s promise that the Parliament Act would not be used in this discussion. What is the status of that? I ask the Lord Chancellor to interpret it for us. If he does not want to do it now, perhaps he will do it in his summing up? What is the value of that pledge from the Prime Minister? I think of Marlowe’s play “Edward II”:
“But what are kings, when regiment is gone, But perfect shadows in a sunshine day?”
Is that not the position of someone who is attempting to lead us forward to a major constitutional change? Without that point being adequately answered we will never get a consensus.
However, there is a way to get consensus. Paradoxically, we will get it eventually if noble Lords stick to their convictions when we vote in the Lobbies in a couple of days. If noble Lords stick to what they really believe is for the good of this House and this country, and vote against the majority of the Motions which will come before us, that will bring a consensus nearer and not drive it further away. The choice is up to us.
My Lords, I suspect that I am not the only Member of the House to have looked up what they said when this matter was previously debated in the House in 2003. Having done so, I can say that matters appear to me now very much as they seem to have appeared to me then. I was then one of very few Members who spoke in favour of a hybrid House. Of the various options before us, I came down firmly in favour of 50:50. I remember being teased very much by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, when I expressed that view and, more particularly, my view on how they should be paid. I do not know whether now to be comforted, or perhaps gratified, to find myself on the same side as the Government in this matter.
I never have understood the objection to a hybrid House. We have the tradition of getting on with each other, as has been so well put today by the noble Lord, Lord St John of Fawsley. There has been no rancour of any kind in this debate. No one has ever argued, for example, that a hereditary vote is worth more or less than the vote of a life Peer or that the vote of a Bishop is worth more or less than the vote of a Law Lord. I cannot see why that ability to get on should change just because some of our Members are elected. So I do not accept the view of the noble Lord, Lord Cunningham, that we would become, if we had an elected element, a House divided against itself. Of course, the elected Members could claim additional legitimacy—to use that word which has been used so often—but there are other forms of legitimacy represented in this House, as was so well explained by the noble Lord, Lord Lawson.
We need an elected element. As the noble Lord, Lord Hoyle, said so convincingly, we must take account of the vote last week at the other end of the corridor. Surely, we would look somewhat foolish if after all these years of discussions we were to exclude the hereditary Peers only to exclude also members of the public from seeking election to this House. Moreover, I am uneasy about a statutory Appointments Commission appointing 100 per cent of the House. It would give the commission much too much power.
So I am in favour of an elected element. However, we should not go too fast in that direction. We do not yet know how many people will seek election. More importantly, we do not know what sort of people they will be or the sort of qualities that they may have. As a first step, we should go for a 50 per cent elected House, which we could always increase later if we thought it desirable. At the other end, the Cross-Benchers currently make up 27 per cent. I see no reason why they should not make up at least 30 per cent of the House with advantage to the House as a whole. The remaining 20 per cent could thereafter be appointed from among those who have earned their spurs in the House of Commons. Obviously, there must be room for ex-Home Secretaries and so on, who would form part of the remaining 20 per cent of those 50 per cent appointed.
The elected element would bear the heat and burden of the day putting through government legislation. Therefore, they should be paid a salary—a point very little touched on in the White Paper—which should probably not be as much as Members of the House of Commons. The appointed Members, the Cross-Benchers and the other appointed Members with a political background, should be paid as now an allowance when they turn up and contribute to the work of the House.
When I was an original member of the Boyle commission, which subsequently became the Top Salaries Review Body, I queried—it seems almost strange that I should have done—that people should not come to the House simply when they had a contribution to make and not be paid for it. Boyle said, “No. It is very important in any legislative Chamber to have bottoms on seats”. One way to secure that is to make sure that appointed Members should be paid for attendance. Elected Members should receive a salary and appointed Members should be paid as they are now.
My Lords, the other place last week was not Philadelphia—the House of Commons did not vouchsafe the wisdom of the founding fathers. It had a vigorous debate for sure, but its conclusions were the result of a random collision of opinions and tactical improvisations. The Front Benches of both major parties were defeated by their own Back Benches. The other place did not find the consensus that the Prime Minister and Jack Straw have acknowledged is desirable to validate major constitutional reform.
Surely, the only test that matters for reform of the House of Lords is that it should improve the performance of Parliament. The Government assert that there is another standard that reform must satisfy—democratic legitimacy. But democratic legitimacy is satisfied by the primacy of the elected House of Commons. That is not to say that the House of Commons as we have it is a perfect vehicle of democracy, and there are other debates that need to be had about its reform. But a Parliament in which the House of Commons is accountable to the people in regular elections, while its primacy is acknowledged axiomatically by the unelected second Chamber whose role is to advise but not to determine, satisfies the democratic principle.
There is a serious argument for a fully elected second Chamber. It is that it could hold both the Executive and the House of Commons, which is so dominated by the Executive, effectively to account. It could restrain the “elective dictatorship”. But the House of Commons is not willing to face the logic of its own vote. Supporters of a fully elected second Chamber in last week’s debate in one breath expressed the hope that its Members would be spirited and independent, and partners in invigilation, but then insisted that the primacy of the House of Commons must be upheld.
Jack Straw cites the Czech Republic, Japan and Poland as comforting examples of countries with elected second Chambers that have few powers. Those instances are irrelevant. The political institutions of a country are the product of its history and political culture. The British people demand of their elected representatives in Parliament that they should hold the Executive to account, be spirited and independent, and respond to the wishes of their constituents—whatever the failings in practice of the House of Commons. To be fair, there was much breast-beating about them in the Commons debate. If people of real ability and character are to be elected to the second Chamber, the primacy of the House of Commons will not go unchallenged. The Parliament Acts, framed to restrain the power of a non-elected House, are at least of uncertain application to an elected House. The conventions that today govern the relationship between the elected and unelected Houses will be shattered. Members of a fully elected second Chamber, elected by proportional representation and possibly elected more recently, will claim a democratic authority at least as great as that of the House of Commons. No longer will Governments be able to carry business that is complex or controversial without more searching and prolonged scrutiny and without more compromise. Some may think that a good thing.
Other consequences, however, will surely be undesirable. There will be much more contention between the two Houses at Westminster, not occasional ping-pong but routine wrestling. With two elected Chambers, one of the virtues of Parliament as we have it, that it is capable of taking clear-cut decisions in a reasonable timescale, will be lost. So too will the clarity of Parliament’s present accountability whereby voters, knowing that it is the House of Commons which must take responsibility, give their verdict on the day of the general election. The principle of the single-member constituency will be lost, and MPs will hate having another Member of Parliament, from the second Chamber, wandering around their constituencies, legitimately claiming also to represent their constituents and funded by the taxpayer to make political mischief. Coexistence between MPs and AMs and MSPs is already less than harmonious, but how much scratchier it will be if both lots are Members of the same Parliament.
Because neither the Government nor MPs actually want a vigorous and powerful elected second Chamber, they seem minded to seek to entrench limitations on its powers. They will find this technically difficult to achieve, as the report on conventions has explained. If they succeed, it will be a large step towards a written constitution and will render both elected Houses of Parliament significantly subordinate to an unelected judiciary. Here I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Roper. Beyond that consideration, if toothlessness is to be entrenched, why should voters bother to vote in elections to such a Chamber? And what politicians worth electing would stand? All political parties have problems finding enough candidates of quality for the elections we already have. The media call us former MPs in your Lordships’ House hacks; they ain’t seen nothing yet. These people will of course require for themselves salaries, pensions, staff, offices and allowances to match those of MPs—at prodigious cost. If they are to sit for a single term of three Parliaments there will be no accountability anyway, and they will never need condescend to come among the people who elected them; quite old-fashioned, really. What a price to pay for a functionally useless extension of democracy.
The party leaders, appalled by what they have let loose, may try to slide back to the 80 per cent elected, 20 per cent appointed option. Despite the advocacy of the noble Lord, Lord Richard, that seems the least worthwhile of all the options. It would produce the problems of a hybrid House—and I put it to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, who says that he does not understand the problems of a hybrid House, that they are inequality between the two classes of Member and instability arising from the capacity of the unelected to combine with the elected to defeat the Government in the House of Commons—together with the minimum advantage of having appointed Members. With no more than 20 per cent appointed, there would be far less opportunity to benefit from the contribution of distinguished individuals or to progress towards a better balance of gender, region and race among appointed Members than we have now.
No case has been made that either a wholly or a partly elected second Chamber would improve the performance of Parliament, a point argued very powerfully by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe. It seems far more likely that, in terms of quality of scrutiny and debate, capacity to reach decisions and accountability, Parliament would be damaged.
I hope that the Government and MPs will, after all, look carefully at the case for a reformed but wholly appointed second Chamber. It would not challenge the primacy of the elected Chamber and would continue to offer considered advice from its Members, people eminent in many walks of life as well as people with much political experience but no longer in thrall to ambition and tribalism. We need a reformed appointments commission, statutory, its membership approved by the House of Commons and charged by it to bring into being an appointed second Chamber that will indeed be,
“effective, legitimate and more representative”;
a House whose strengths complement those of the elected House.
For all the historic and present contribution of hereditary Peers, I do not see that in the future there can be a place in Parliament for anyone by virtue of heredity. I hope that those who wish to do so will continue to serve by appointment.
We cannot accept that Parliament should be so damaged in consequence of a spasm of embarrassment over party funding, misplaced democratic sentiment, a glib compulsion to modernise, a spurious equation between legitimacy and election, and confused tactical voting. Unelected though we are in this House, our responsibility is to improve our parliamentary democracy, not collude in its harming.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Howarth. We used to be colleagues. I do not mean to embarrass him, but we both used to be members of the No Turning Back Group. It is a long time since I have been able to say that I agree with every word he said, and he has shown his characteristic intellect and analysis in addressing this problem.
The Companion suggests that we should not repeat arguments that have already been used in the debate, so perhaps I may point to a couple of speeches which seem to be signals for the House of Commons. The speech made by the former Speaker, the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, was absolutely stunning in its passion and analysis, while the speech of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, set out the arguments convincingly and persuasively. He is a former Speaker and a former Lord Chancellor. I read the debates held in the House of Commons. There were a number of good speeches. I think I have seen two Members of the House of Commons come up to listen to our debate. No doubt they will read our speeches carefully when they are published in the days to come. They should do so because what is so striking—I hope this does not seem patronising in any way to the House of Commons—is that people who have had real experience in the front line of our democratic system are passionate about the importance of not upsetting the balance between the House of Commons and the House of Lords.
Sometimes we are presented as “last ditchers”, as those who are not prepared to change or envisage reform. What is notable about all the speeches today is the willingness to see change and to embrace reform, but on the basis that that reform is definitely going to improve the House or Commons or the House of Lords. I accept that there is a case for reform: the turnout at elections; the contempt in which politicians appear to be held by the electorate; the failure of scrutiny by the House of Commons, where we are left with the tidying up at the end of the day; the use of the Executive of this Chamber in order to implement last-minute second thoughts for ill-considered legislation; the over-mighty Executive; the development of presidential government; and the complete emasculation of the Cabinet, which no longer seems to count for very much at all in our system. These are all important issues which need to be addressed. I refer also to the rise of the special advisers, many of whom no doubt would be candidates for an elected House of Lords, and the undermining of the Civil Service. There is a deep need for reform and for strengthening the role of the House of Commons in particular.
So far as the White Paper is concerned, I agree with the objectives. Mr Straw says he wants an upper House which is independent, which has outside expertise, where people are not under the whip from party managers, and one which cannot challenge the House of Commons. What I cannot get my head around is the fact that this is what we have now, and the proposals for change would undermine it. The debates in the other place referred to powers and how it would be possible to set out in the statute the powers of this House. A point made regularly by the late and much-missed Lord Carter is that it is perfectly apparent that the powers of this House are extraordinary. If this House wanted to, it could destroy a Government. This House could bring a Government’s legislative programme to a halt. We do not do so because we are not elected, because we do not have the legitimacy of election.
I understand that in the end a Member of the House of Commons is able to claim the legitimacy of a democratic mandate, but if I am asked to stand for this House as an elected person, then I will claim the same mandate. And I am being asked to be elected at a different time, so attitudes may be different. Would I stand on a manifesto if it was an elected House? What would be in my manifesto? Would it be the manifesto on which I was elected on a 15-year term 15 years ago that would count, or the one at the last election? On that basis, all kinds of difficulties would arise for parties which have changed their policies, which includes mine on a number of matters. If the powers of the House were to be defined and enshrined in statute, we would be into the business of a written constitution.
If I may refer to that cliché which is endlessly used, the House of Lords is not broken—72 per cent of the public think that it does a good job. As my noble and learned friend Lord Howe of Aberavon keeps asking, how would having an elected composition enable us to do a better job?
I am a democrat. I accept that the House of Commons has voted, pretty overwhelmingly, for a fully elected House of Lords, and we need to take that seriously. But we also need to look at the arguments and the reasons that have been given. For example, Mr John Bercow asked whether there was a single Member who would argue that an elected House should have control of taxation or expenditure. Well, yes, there is. If I am elected Member of a second Chamber, then I want to address what the Institute for Fiscal Studies tax law review committee said about the quality of scrutiny of tax legislation in the House of Commons. It said:
“In relation to Parliament’s role in authorising appropriations, the Hansard Society Commission concluded that the House of Commons fails to scrutinise government expenditure in any systematic or effective way. In the case of taxation, the unfortunate reality is that the House of Commons fails to scrutinise the rules (if not the levels) of taxation in any real sense at all”.
In the 2005 Finance Bill, less than 5 per cent of the clauses and three out of 165 pages were discussed—only three pages. Indeed, the biggest measure—the imposition of £1 billion in tax on oil companies—was not debated at all. The notion that the House of Commons is doing this perfect job and that there is no need for reform is clearly misplaced. But if reform is needed, it is needed for Parliament as a whole. It is impossible to look at the role of this Chamber and at reform without doing both together.
Similarly, Andrew Tyrie and Theresa May, both members of my party, were arguing for greater powers for the House of Lords and for an elected House of Lords. Andrew Tyrie argued that the House of Lords had not done its job in stopping the poll tax. Theresa May argued that the House of Lords would not take greater powers if it were elected. There seems to be confusion in the arguments being advanced.
What do we do now? At the very least, we need to reconvene the Joint Committee of both Houses. We need to look at the arguments for a fully elected House of Lords, as the House of Commons has advocated. We need to look at the implications for the House of Commons. We need to be certain that the pre-eminent Chamber—the House of Commons—understands fully the implications of what it is suggesting and that the matter is properly considered. The nature of the list system, for example, would give enormous power to the political parties. All these things need to be considered. I believe that if the House of Commons understands the implications, it may very well think again. As the saying goes, “Be careful what you wish for”.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, is in for a second shock, because I agree with him, too. That is most unusual.
To some extent, we have only ourselves to blame for last week’s substantial vote in the other place. We all know that there are things in this House that require reform, yet we have done very little about it. Let me mention three things. First, there is no doubt in my mind that the cash-for-peerages issue, however it turns out, has done great damage to the body politic as a whole and, in passing, to this House. There is a growing consensus in all parts of the House in favour of a statutory appointments commission, but we have not advanced it.
Secondly, we could dispose of the last of the hereditary element simply by ending the by-elections for hereditary Peers, thus at a stroke turning the existing hereditary Peers into de facto life Peers. These by-elections are particularly ridiculous on the Labour and Liberal Democrat Benches, where there have been more candidates than voters. It is impossible to defend that system.
Thirdly, as my noble friend Lord Mackie pointed out, we have 740 Members of this place; about a third hardly ever turn up, largely because of reasons of increasing age and infirmity. We ought by now to have had some decent arrangement in place for some 200 or so to be able to leave with dignity.
If we pressed ahead with these three reforms, we would be in a better position to argue for the continuation of the House of Lords rather than its abolition and replacement by an elected Chamber. For a House with very limited powers, these three reforms would make it more acceptable and popular in the country than it already is.
Since so many Members have harked back to Mr Asquith, I would like to quote from the preamble to the Parliament Act 1911, which said that,
“it is intended to substitute for the House of Lords as it at present exists a Second Chamber constituted on a popular instead of hereditary basis”.
As my noble friend Lord Rodgers pointed out, the House of Lords has changed substantially—out of all recognition—since that commitment was made. It is no longer anything like the House that Mr Asquith faced. But it is not even the same House that existed when I was Leader of the Liberal Party. In response to my leader, who had some gentle fun at my expense, during the 12 years in which I led the party, I did regard myself as the hereditary keeper of the Asquith promise. The Ark of the Covenant was safe in my hands, you could be assured of that.
What has changed, then? The simple answer is that the House of Lords has changed. The hereditaries have all but gone and could easily go completely. The primacy of the House of Commons has been accepted in a way that was not accepted even in my time as leader of the Liberal Party. We had an inbuilt majority of one party in the House of Lords. More importantly, the lack of clearly defined primacy was evident in the fact that during my time as a Member of Parliament, a Foreign Secretary, a Defence Secretary and two Secretaries of State for Trade and Industry sat in the House of Lords. I do not believe that any Government would do that today. The primacy of the House of Commons has been accepted fully.
The third change is more recent. It has been agreed that no one party should have an overall majority in this place. That is a new development and it is an agreement. The irony is that the last of those two gains will be lost if we go for an elected Chamber, because there could be no guarantee that the fine balance of the parties would be maintained by an election. That would be up to the electorate, not an agreement among the parties in this House. The primacy of the Commons would be more difficult to defend. In fact, it could not be put better than it was by the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, last year when we were dealing with ping-pong. He said:
“We have concluded that, in our judgment, it would be wrong for us as an unelected House, having faced two repudiations from the elected House, to send this back one more time. If we were an elected House, I am sure that our decision would be different”.—[Official Report, 7/11/06; col. 654.]
Precisely so. The noble Lord had it absolutely right.
When colleagues of mine in the other place say that I have gone native, and if they mean by that that I have learnt from my 10 years’ experience in this place, I plead guilty. One of the problems we have is image. Members of the House of Commons, among whom I include myself, do not know very much about what goes on here and how the place works, until they arrive here themselves, when it is quite a revelation.
The noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, referred to what one Member of Parliament said. Let me quote another, although I had better not name him. He said that,
“all the people who inhabit that place are, first, incredibly wealthy”
You could have fooled me. He went on:
“I believe that the House of Lords is an unnecessary, underworked, overpriced institution”.—[Official Report, Commons, 6/3/07; cols. 1459-60.]
Overpriced institution? There is no need to argue about the theoretical figures of the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, which have been bandied about; the figures are in the new book which has just been published about working in the House of Lords. The figures from last year showed that each Member of the House of Commons cost the taxpayer £726,000 and that each Member of the House of Lords cost £149,000. In other words, the taxpayer is getting a revising Chamber at a very low cost, and the proof is in the annual accounts approved by Comptroller and Auditor-General.
We also have enormous expertise—much has been said about this—but I could not understand the argument of my noble friend the leader of the Liberal Democrats. In the other House, the person who is most mentioned as an expert is the noble Lord, Lord Winston. He is not a Cross-Bencher; he happens to sit on the Labour Benches. It is one of the glories of this House that it does not really matter which Bench one sits on; people are respected for what they have to contribute to the debates. That is one of the House’s great distinctions from the other place. My noble friend, who made such a powerful speech in favour of an elected Chamber, then said, “Oh, but we must keep the Cross-Benchers”. Why? If we are going to have an elected Chamber, let us have an elected Chamber. If there is something wrong with an elected Chamber, let us not have an elected Chamber. The idea that we have some sort of hybrid is an abomination.
If we are going to press ahead with an elected Chamber, let the other place and this place do so with their eyes open. I think that there will be five consequences. First, the careful party balance here that has been agreed will not be guaranteed. Secondly, the primacy of the Commons will be less able to be defended clearly. Thirdly, this place will become a refuge for those who do not get elected to the other place, the Scottish Parliament or the European Parliament, especially in the party list system. Fourthly, there will be elected Members who interfere with constituency Members—we thought that that would not happen in the Scottish Parliament, but I am sorry to tell noble Lords that it does, and that I spent a lot of my time as Presiding Officer dealing with complaints from Members of the Scottish Parliament, constituency MPs in Westminster and local authorities about the activities of regional Members. We never thought that we would have offices for regional Members scattered throughout Scotland at great public expense. That has happened, and I am afraid that it will happen if we have an elected Chamber here, whether one believes it or not. The fifth consequence will be the extra cost of an elected Chamber—not just the cost of running it, but the cost of the elections as well. All of these issues need to be taken into account. It would be preferable to go ahead with a reform package for this place on the basis on which there is such widespread agreement already.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to be the third resident of Scotland in a row to speak, most especially after the powerful speech of my neighbour, the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood. I am also only the second elected hereditary Peer to speak today or, as one of my colleagues so tactfully put it, to put my head above the parapet.
It seems extraordinary that whenever the Prime Minister is in trouble, he appears to put reform of Your Lordships’ House back on the political agenda. To the vast majority of the electorate, reform of this House is of no interest whatever. I believe that if a random poll, asking, “What are your views on the reform of the House of Lords?” were carried out, the pollster would be looked at in utter disbelief.
It is interesting to note how the press savaged the White Paper on its publication. It was “a half-baked scheme for the Lords”, according to the Financial Times. “Why bother changing the Lords?” asked the Independent. “Labour reforms for the Upper House are a costly mess”, stated the Sunday Express. I could go on with endless quotes, all of which, without exception, continue in the same vein.
The noble Lord, Lord St John, asked about the use of the Parliament Act—I am sorry that he is not in his place. I have made extensive legal inquiries and have been reassured that the Parliament Act cannot be used where any reform of this House is concerned. I, too, look forward to hearing what the Lord Chancellor may have to say on this.
I reckon that I have a dozen or so friends in the other place, of all political persuasions. Only one of them has admitted to having received any correspondence from his constituents about reform of the House. That was one, very short e-mail.
I fully support the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne. The idea of another election for the electorate to have to encounter is a farce beyond belief. At the previous European elections, the turnout was below 40 per cent. I often wonder how the police would be able to man the barricades at the polling stations for an election for Members of this House. I feel certain that the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, would agree with that.
Many of your Lordships who served in another place have often told me that, until they arrived here, they had not the slightest idea of what was done in this House or of its role. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, alluded to this most forcefully, as did the noble Lord, Lord Steel.
I have always believed that our job is to be a revising Chamber, as many other noble Lords have mentioned. I also believe we do it extremely well. I shall give one small example. The noble Baroness, Lady Barker, called a Division during the Mental Health Bill. She won by 103 votes. If this House is to be a rubber stamp, there must be a strong case for its total abolition. However, as a resident of Scotland, I live in great fear of a unicameral Parliament and believe that, in its present form, this House has a very valuable contribution to make to the political process.
It is often said that one of the strengths of the House of Lords is its committee work; I agree wholeheartedly. I have the privilege to sit on Sub-Committee D of the European Union Committee. We published a report on the EU strategy for biofuels on 20 November. I find it insulting that, after all the hard work that went into producing it, there is still no date for the committee’s report to be debated. In this case, the biofuel movement is changing, literally, daily, while our report gathers dust. As a result, the United Kingdom will be left lagging behind its European partners.
The White Paper suggests a reformed House of 540 Members. That simply is not enough if the committee work is to continue. There are roughly 405 committee slots. I admit that some of those slots are duplicated, by which I mean filled by the same Peers. I, for example, sit on three different committees of Your Lordships’ House. If the new House is restricted to 540 Members, there will be hardly anyone left in the Chamber to scrutinise legislation.
There are very many more important things for us to be discussing than reform of this House. I intend to support the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, in the Lobby on Wednesday.
My Lords, it is with pleasure that I follow the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, whom I meet not only in this Chamber, but very frequently on east coast main line trains as we make our way to and from this House each week. I speak with some trepidation, partly because of the excellent quality of the debate so far, but also because I sense that, if the weight of speeches is anything to go by, I shall be in minority in this House in my views.
As a Member of the other place, I was a member of the first committee on House of Lords reform, presided over by the noble Lord, Lord Cunningham of Felling. During my time on that committee, I favoured, and still favour, the option of a wholly or substantially elected House of Lords. I have not changed my mind, notwithstanding the great respect that I have for the way in which this House conducts its business. However, the basic reason for my favouring a largely or wholly elected House is simply that, in a democracy, the authority of Parliament and government derives from the people, the electorate. The way in which this House is currently composed denies people any say and any sense of ownership of it.
This would not be a problem if we were simply an arm’s-length advisory body, giving opinions to Parliament and government in the same way as do economic and social councils and committees in other countries. However, I believe that it becomes a problem when we are an integral part of the legislative system and of the parliamentary scrutiny of the Executive.
When I put my name down to speak in this debate, I did not imagine that the outcome of the votes of the other place would be as it was. I am surprised and pleased by the outcome; I note that some have claimed that those who voted for a wholly elected House included some cynics about the process but, if that is true, they have simply made a big majority into a near-decisive one.
How should the Government move forward? First, I should like them, despite the fact that their 50:50 preferred option was rejected, not to abandon the many good and detailed provisions in the White Paper. I believe that the provisions in the White Paper went a long way towards securing two important objectives: first, that a reformed second Chamber should not be a clone of the House of Commons and, secondly, that it should be largely complementary to it and not a rival to it. The provisions concerning the timing of elections, the length of terms of office and the barring of re-election, the cooling-off period in the rather unlikely circumstance of ex-second Chamber Members wishing to enter the House of Commons and the career route into government clearly remaining through the primary Chamber are all very helpful features, to which I hope the Government will hold fast.
Reading previous debates in your Lordships’ House, I find there are frequent concerns on which I would like to express my view. There is rightly a concern to retain expertise in the second Chamber. However, there is sometimes behind this premise an assumption that elected politicians are incapable of being experts. I hope that we do not think that that is the case because, in fact, many former and even current elected politicians often have years of expertise behind them. Furthermore, although the presence of experts in this House is very welcome, given our varied legislative programme for much of the time experts here are voting on issues which are not related to their expertise. I urge the Government, in taking these arguments and the issue forward, to look to ways in which to involve experts, particularly in the relevant committee work in the future of this House, and harnessing expertise in a more targeted way than perhaps has been the case up to now.
The cost of a reformed Chamber was raised most recently in the debate by the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, and the point has been made that the House of Lords does its job effectively but cheaply. Indeed, this point is always mentioned when the expenses of MPs are published. But it is fair to say that we are not comparing like with like, since MPs have constituency offices to run and a great deal of local commitments to be involved in. I am sure that I am not the only ex-MP in this House to notice a very big reduction in workload as a result of no longer having constituency responsibilities.
A third concern frequently made in debates on this subject, including today, is that an elected second Chamber will automatically demand and get new powers. This was forcefully argued by the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, in the debate that we had in January 2003. But an elected second Chamber, even if it wants more powers, cannot give itself those powers. I know of no second Chamber in the world which can unilaterally grant itself powers; indeed, in all countries such changes can be sanctioned only with the approval of the primary Chamber, and usually it has to be by a substantial majority. Furthermore, one encouraging aspect of the situation that we are in is that there is an impressive consensus already across the House about what the powers of a second Chamber should be. I urge the Government to build on this consensus in the coming months and years.
A point of agreement in previous debates that has been mentioned somewhat infrequently today has been the importance of better and fairer representation across the countries and regions of the UK. I was very interested in the document which, I am sure, other noble Lords have seen, that was prepared by the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon. In some ways the figures in his document about the variety of regional links that Members of this House have were valid, but some others of his figures worry me a great deal—for example, that there should just be one Member with a definite connection to Merseyside and 24 from Sussex, or 125 from Greater London and only three from Tyne and Wear. I think that the noble Lord said that there was only one the noble Lord from Tyne and Wear, but by my calculation there are three. As a north-easterner I feel very concerned about regional representation in this House. Elections would solve this problem by automatically ensuring representation from across the UK.
I urge the Government to move forward along the lines of the White Paper so as to correct the unsatisfactory aspects of the way in which we are constituted while retaining the maximum number of our strengths. Of course, that is not easy—the devil is in the detail—but I do not see why the devil should win. Jack Straw was right to insist that we should not let the best be the enemy of the good. There is no perfect system, but we need to identify the better of the many alternatives. I, for one, hope that the Government will not run away from reform and from responding to the vote in the other House. I hope that they will confront the challenges ahead and not be daunted by them.
My Lords, unlike the previous speaker, whose dedication I admire, I have not recently spent many hours considering House of Lords reform, perhaps because the irreverent side of my nature says that reform is a bit like buses—if you miss one, there will be another one along in a while. However, I found it educational to read the Official Report of the proceedings of the two days last week in the other place. Like the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, and other noble Lords, I was struck by the antiquated views that seemed to be held by some Members there. It struck me how many Members of another place seemed to think that this House was made of belted Earls, or something similar—hence the embarrassment of the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker. I confess to myself being a belted Earl, among other things, but the number of Divisions on which Earls have swung the vote recently would not go beyond the fingers of one hand.
Anyone spending any time looking at this place would realise that being an Earl is far from the qualification that has brought most of your Lordships here. Until the creation of the Appointments Commission, life Peers were all appointed by their very own politicians. The Library tells me that we have 13 here who took their seats under Harold Wilson, three under Heath and so on in increasing numbers until we reach 336 under Tony Blair.
The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor mentioned that the tension that we create makes us unpopular with some in the other place. I have heard it said that every young man who goes for officer training likes to think that he has a field marshal’s baton in his knapsack. By the same token, there is always a danger that every young man or woman elected to the other place thinks that he has an autocrat’s baton in his or her briefcase. One role of this place is to ensure that those who begin as democrats never become those autocrats.
Paragraph 6.25 of the White Paper makes the point that the Government would like representation of the regions and nations to be “inbuilt”, but wishful thinking to that extent might not be enough. Noble Lords may understand if I go back to our deliberations in 1999 on reforming this House, when we considered certain things to do with Scotland. Amendments were debated to establish if there were restrictions based on Scottish membership of the House laid down by the Treaty of Union. When the Government had rejected these, in a final exercise my friend Lord Gray of Contin had a Motion passed in the House to refer the issue to the Committee for Privileges to see whether the Treaty of Union was likely to be breached. The three noble and learned Lords who sat in judgment were all of the opinion that there was no conflict as long as Scotland received adequate representation in Parliament, but listening to the reasoning in their case, as it was presented to them, makes interesting reading.
The outstanding comment of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, is that the implication of the then House of Lords Bill, as opposed to any Acts that preceded it, is that there is no longer any guarantee that a Scottish Peer resident in Scotland will be a Member of the House. It was agreed that the treaty, with its conditions, existed even though the legislation that referred to the appointment of Scottish Peers in the two Acts from which it had been constituted had been annulled, but that apparently cannot take away what is in the treaty. I raise the issue merely to alert those so keenly promoting election to this House that it may be all very well to say that we believe that all Peers should be elected, but triggering an elected system that does not guarantee an element for regions, or particularly for Scotland, could run into trouble with the Treaty of Union.
The idea of hereditary Peers is, of course, completely counterintuitive to modern society. Our philosophy has become the disposable society: use once and consign to the rubbish bin. But I should like to dwell briefly on the contribution of the hereditaries.
I am sure it is not so long ago that being British was not just about accepting certain concepts and philosophies for today but was also to do with owing allegiance to a whole history, good and bad. I get the feeling that some would like the history to which they claim allegiance to reach back to a point only about 50 years ago when, in their mind, they would feel they were always on the side of the angels. Speaking in this Chamber, one feels there can be no doubt that the Victorians wished future generations to be conscious of a vast array of history so that even the barons of Runnymede and Magna Carta continually look down on our deliberations.
The presence of hereditary Peers in this House has also ensured that history was a living tradition, because there were people walking about not just supporting the names that conjured up both the fame and the infamy of the past, but contributing the view that that particular background gave them. I venture to suggest that it added an extra dimension to our considerations. If the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, finds the method of re-election and replacement of hereditary Peers irksome, dare I suggest that it might be possible to change the method of election?
Judging from the deliberations in another place, one might think that a hereditary component has no place in the minds of our present-day politicians, whatever solution they eventually consider they have found. But whenever they do, if it really does mean that there are no hereditary Members, I hope that at least the barons of Runnymede will still look down on this House. But there will be increased responsibility on the academics and historians to remind politicians—as Garl Russell did so frequently—of the road we have travelled and the lessons we have learnt along the way.
My Lords, as a rather neophyte Member of your Lordships' House I have not hitherto spoken in any of the debates we have held on reform and other constitutional matters such as our conventions. But, having now served for nearly six years in the House, I hope that a short intervention by one of the first generation of Members appointed on the nomination of the existing non-statutory Appointments Commission might not be thought amiss. I shall focus mainly on the rationale and the role of the House’s independent Members, of whom I am one. While tempted to address the outcome of last Wednesday's debate and votes in another place, I shall resist that temptation other than to remark that the more favoured of the two preferences they expressed looks to me like one of those decisions reached in haste which then have to be repented at leisure. Meanwhile, I will confine my remarks to the Government's White Paper.
First, I have a few general thoughts. I do not find many of the arguments advanced against a wholly appointed House particularly convincing. If one accepts, as I do, the present balance of powers and influence between the two Houses as broadly right, for this country at least, then it seems to me far from sure that one needs to or will benefit from moving away from a fully appointed House. So when that option of a fully appointed House is put to the vote later in the week, I shall vote for it.
Secondly, however, neither do I find some of the arguments against a hybrid House—part elected, part appointed—particularly convincing. I note that the strength of the language used against a hybrid House, as so often in my experience, seems to reflect a certain weakness in the line of argument. I suspect that the strong culture and conventions of this place will ensure that a House elected and appointed in this way would function effectively and satisfactorily; but if we are to have a hybrid House, then I believe we should aim for a model that has stability and durability built into it. So I will vote for the Government's preferred option of a 50 per cent elected House, but I will not support the other options, including that of a wholly elected House, all of which I would regard as inherently unstable.
I have one other general point. If we are to have a hybrid House, then I believe we really must seek from the outset to ensure that all its Members, whether elected or appointed, are treated equally and regarded as equals. That point has been raised by a number of others in this debate already. There must be no question of elected sheep and appointed goats. To ensure that, I hope that the drafters of any legislation will establish that point clearly on the face of the Bill. I am sure I will be told that equality goes without saying and that this is not the sort of thing one normally puts in a Bill. But I am equally sure that if it is not said and not formally established there will be a real risk of friction and divisiveness within the House.
It would be churlish not to thank the authors of the White Paper for responding positively and for recognising the contribution that appointed independent Peers make to the work of this House. They have done so in the White Paper so cogently and fully that I see no need to go over that ground again. They have also recognised that a satisfactory number of independent Peers will simply not be achieved under a wholly elected system. So I hope that we can regard “at least 20%” of appointed independents as a given in any reform that the Government put forward after further consultation.
However, amidst all the complexities of a hybrid House, it will be extremely important to ensure the genuinely independent nature of all the Members of that particular cohort and to guard the cohort against erosion or dilution from the outside. To achieve that will require, first, a clear definition of what constitutes an independent Peer to be set out in any Bill that is brought forward. That definition will need, I suggest, to exclude any person who is a member of, supports publicly or gives money to a political party. The current members of the Cross-Benchers’ group who do not meet those criteria will of course have the opportunity to gain a seat in this House by election.
Then, it will be equally important to have an objective body to police the definition and to ensure that the independent element is not nibbled away at its edges and is at all times kept up to full strength. That task can certainly not be left to the usual channels or to any other mechanism that might suffer from a conflict of interest. I would suggest that the obvious recipient of such a mandate would be the statutory Appointments Commission itself, a body set up by and answerable to Parliament as a whole. If that is the solution chosen, then the commission’s mandate will need to be set out clearly and fully in the definition that is brought forward.
The White Paper covers a number of other issues which will affect the composition and diversity of the independent Members of the House. So far as the Lords Spiritual are concerned, it was helpful that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, when introducing the White Paper, answered so clearly that they were entirely separate from and outside the group of “at least 20%” of independent Peers. They will not be appointed by the statutory commission, nor will they count against the 108 independent Members of a 540-Member House. Not all the calculations in the White Paper are totally consistent with the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor's reply, but no doubt these inconsistencies will be remedied in due course.
Then there is the question of the retiring members of the Supreme Court and of any persons appointed for the purpose of achieving diversity and representativity as a consequence of their membership of other faiths than the Church of England. Clearly the presence in the reformed House of some retired members of the Supreme Court will be highly desirable, as will be the presence of non-Anglicans. But if there were automaticity of appointment for every retired Justice of the Supreme Court, then the representation of the law among the group of independents could over time become disproportionate. So far as others faiths are concerned, any sort of automaticity would run up against the absence of hierarchy in many of them and the difficulty of deciding which ones should and which ones should not be represented. Would it not therefore be better to leave both these matters in the hands of the statutory Appointments Commission? Then the names of those who wished to be considered for appointment could be considered, and an appropriate balance and proportion achieved.
By concentrating on the independent, appointed element of a reformed House, I am conscious of having ignored many important issues and of having sounded perhaps a bit self-serving. However, I genuinely feel that the independents make a positive and irreplaceable contribution to the work of this House, and hope that, as our work on reform moves forward, this aspect will continue to be considered in a sympathetic and constructive manner.
My Lords, consensus is one of the most overworked words in the general debate leading up to the White Paper and in the discussion of House of Lords reform. My right honourable friend Jack Straw claimed from the beginning that he was trying to get consensus between the parties, within the parties and between the Houses. Of course, if that was one of his goals, he singularly failed. Last week we saw Labour MPs voting against their Government’s preferred option, Conservative MPs voting against their party leader’s preferred option, and I am sure that we will see disagreement in this House between ourselves and the House of Commons.
The only consensus that has been reached is that of the Joint Committee on Conventions under the chairmanship of my noble friend Lord Cunningham. I certainly agree with the proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, that if we are going to reconvene anything, it ought to be that Joint Committee, trying to get consensus on how we go forward. However, I gather that the threat is that Jack Straw proposes to reconvene what he calls his “cross-party group”. That cross-party group is not representative of anything much. The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, clearly does not command overwhelming support from his noble friends.
Oh yes he does!
My Lords, it may shock my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer to find out that he also has more people behind him who disagree with him than agree. I suppose that the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, and the right reverend Prelate will go along with this attempt to seek consensus in the hope that Jack Straw meant his 80 per cent vote, which leaves them with residual hope, rather than the 100 per cent vote which he also cast, showing his consistency of thought and commitment to principle. I can see that happening. Consensus is in danger of being my right honourable friend Jack Straw offering himself as the dog whose tail is to be wagged by the Liberal Democrats. That is not the sort of consensus that will greatly lead this House forward in the discussion that it must have.
My noble and learned friend Lord Irvine of Lairg broke the monastic silence he has suffered over recent months with a wholly admirable speech and clear conclusions about his voting intentions. I fully welcome his views and share his voting intentions. During our discussions, ever since the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, produced his Royal Commission report, I have asked a succession of Ministers in private meetings the same question about your Lordships’ House. What added value does election bring to it? If it is high, why only 20 per cent at one time, 50 per cent at another and 80 per cent now? If it is low, why even those figures? So far, there has been a singular failure to define the perception of added value that election will bring. It tends to be summed up in a couple of words: incantations around the word “legitimacy” on the one hand and “accountability” on the other. My noble and learned friend Lord Irvine demolished the argument about legitimacy, and what sort of accountability is there in a system where you would be elected for 15 years, in which you can create any sort of mayhem anywhere in the country because you will never be allowed to seek re-election? Accountability comes through seeking re-election, and is specifically debarred in these circumstances.
We have the very antithesis of accountability. Neither legitimacy nor accountability demonstrate added value. The noble Lord, Lord Richard, was eloquent about accountability, but the accountability in the White Paper’s proposals is mythological. What on earth does this sort of structural non-accountability, accompanied by a party list system on the mysterious basis of a partially closed list, mean? We will not see the independence of an Appointments Commission, but a party fix on the ordering of places on a list. I do not know about other parties, but we saw how that worked in mine with the first operation of a closed-list system in the European Parliament elections, when it was used to cull those regarded as awkward.
I am not opposed to change, but it must be rational. There must be a clear addressing of specific problems, with a possibility of solving them and creating a better solution. We have had a White Paper in which a particular voting system for determination of the outcome was regarded as imperative, and was dropped a couple of weeks later because Jack Straw saw that he could not get it through the House of Commons. We saw a government view committed to 50:50, followed by, “Well, 80:20 might be okay, but I shall vote for 100 per cent as well”. There is no rationale in that. It addresses no problem other than change for change’s sake.
What is the problem that this sort of approach seeks to address? Before I vote for change I need to know what is the problem to be addressed. To judge the relevance of any proposed solution, and if election is part of that solution, I need to know with precision the basis of constituencies, the system of election, all the problems of the list and, above all, what the relationship will be with another place. None of those things is clear in these proposals, and that is why, like my noble and learned friend, I will be voting this week for an all-appointed House and opposing the other options.
My final word is to say to those who argue that we must take note of what was said down the other end: of course we must, but consensus does not mean that we capitulate to their point of view. We take note of it, but, if they want it to be taken seriously, it has to be much more cogently argued than it has been at present.
My Lords, it was with some diffidence that I put my name down to speak in this debate. My reasons were that all the arguments had already been aired many times before, and I would guess that all but a handful of noble Lords have long since made up their minds about how they are going to vote. In addition, the noble and learned Lords, Lord Irvine of Lairg and Lord Howe, have presented my arguments far better than I ever could.
However, two factors have overcome my reserve. First, I ought perhaps to declare a passing family interest in these matters, stretching back for nearly a century. Although my distinguished ancestor held a more jaundiced view of this place than I do, times and circumstances have changed markedly in the intervening period, a point powerfully made by the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood. The House of Lords has become more expert, more hardworking, more representative, more finely balanced and, indeed, less party political—all factors of which he would have approved.
My second reason for taking part is that I was engaged in the first attempt at discussing Lords reform in what, if I may so describe it, is the current burst of activity on the subject. It was more than 11 years ago that the late Earl Carnarvon, on his own initiative, got together a small group to start a discussion on the reform of this House. Of that number, apart from myself, only the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, whom I am glad to see in the House today, and our very able Clerk, Mr Douglas Slater, remain. As an informal group we did not feel it was appropriate to make any recommendations, but merely to concentrate on the role and work of the House and to list some of the options available for its reform. In performing that self-allotted task, we were extremely grateful to have been able to obtain the views of many distinguished parliamentarians at the time.
I hope that noble Lords will not feel that I am being unduly biased when I say that, on re-reading the report, I feel it may have been a helpful contribution to early thinking on the subject. Later, as a Cross-Bencher in the office of the then Convenor, my noble friend Lord Weatherill, I had a peripheral role in the continuing negotiations on questions relating to reform. I say immediately that I share the reported early views of the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Commons; namely, that this should be an all-appointed House. I much regret their departure from that position, which is no doubt due to political, rather than rational, considerations, a change of view that is sometimes inevitable in the toing and froing of parliamentary tactics.
The Government White Paper, I think it is fair to say, has hardly been received with acclaim. In view of some of the detailed comment contained in it, however, that is a pity. Its commitment to a Statutory Appointments Committee is to be welcomed, particularly if, like me, you feel that such a committee should play a major role—the major role—in the future of this place. Further, if there is to be a hybrid House, and I fear that there is every likelihood that that may well be so, there is something to be said, despite certain views to the contrary expressed today, for basing future constituencies on the European pattern, with elections at the same time as those for the European Parliament in order to maximise voter participation. However, the White Paper does not recognise sufficiently the dangers of a “them and us” culture being created within the membership in any hybrid House, a point that has already been made this evening. It is also surely right that the House should continue to have its own Ministers. I do not, however, propose to go into detail extensively, since many speakers have already done so or will do so. I shall merely comment on various points that seem to be of the greatest importance.
Certain questions can quickly be asked. What sort of democratic legitimacy is there in partially closed list elections? Voters in various parts of the country have already experienced this so-called “benefit” with mixed feelings. As we have just heard, how much accountability can be expected from someone elected for 15 years with no possibility of standing thereafter? How can one ensure the same degree of experience and knowledge as is available in the House today from those who may have tried, and failed, to get into the Commons or European Parliament first? The noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, has already provided his own carefully crafted estimate for the additional cost that all these proposals may entail.
As a Cross-Bencher or, if I may use the more appropriate term, independent, I welcome and fully support the important points made by my noble friend the Convenor and my noble friend Lord Bledisloe. Whatever may be said, the greater the elected number in the new House, the greater the threat posed to the precious 20 per cent quota for independents. In the event of an all-elected House, it is difficult to see how any independents could survive. Indeed, with a fully elected House, in my view we might just as well have a unicameral system in this country, for diversity of opinion and independence of thought would be banished and we would be in the vice-like grip of party machines and party patronage will reach new heights. Some reform that would be, and some contribution to winning back voter disenchantment.
The White Paper acknowledges that many of those appointed to the Lords to date by the Appointments Commission have,
“made important contributions to discussions in the House on key matters”.
As a committed supporter of the appointment route to reform, I enlarge on that cautious and rather measured compliment. As a Cross-Bencher I am perhaps as well placed as any noble Lord to declare unequivocally from personal experience over many months that the quality of those coming in by this route has been quite outstanding over many different areas. I apologise for any embarrassment I may cause my noble friends by saying this but it is a relevant point that must be made in these discussions again and again. Anyone who believes that similar talent can be unearthed by, say, election from a partially open regional list system is living in cloud-cuckoo-land. This House, and more importantly this country and its future laws, would be very much the poorer for such a change.
It is surely a remarkable irony that as the percentage of votes cast in general elections continues to decline, so the clamour for increasing the number of elections held increases. There are those, of course, who would seek elections for every post, from judges to quango members, but what really matters surely is whether the people chosen are up to the mark for the job they are required to do. No one would claim that this House is perfect, far from it, but its breadth of knowledge and experience guarantees that its debates will be informative and productive and that its recommendations on legislation will, for the most part, be constructive. If we tamper thoughtlessly with this place too much in future to attain some democratic nirvana, we will inevitably end up seriously damaging Parliament itself. I accordingly invite noble Lords on Wednesday to vote for an all-appointed House.
My Lords, I came into this House in 1992, having spent some two or three years prior to the election in that year working with the then right honourable Neil Kinnock, the former leader of the Labour Party, on aspects of constitutional reform. I came into this House after the election firmly convinced of the need for it to move, over time, to being a wholly elected Chamber. I still hold to that view and I shall say why.
It seems to me a fundamental democratic principle that power should be exercised only with the consent of those over whom it is exercised. That would be an argument in favour of some kind of electoral basis for this House, although obviously it could be elaborated a lot more. The counter-argument, very powerfully put by my great friend Sir Patrick Cormack in the debates on the reforms proposed by the late Robin Cook, was that that was an irrelevant argument, because the House of Lords did not have any power. That is a mistake. Power is exercised when people are compelled to do things that they would not otherwise do or when they are compelled not to do what they would otherwise do.
In the case of the House of Lords vis-à-vis the House of Commons or vis-à-vis the Government, the House of Lords does exercise power in that way. There are endless examples of government legislation that has been modified to accommodate the Lords. Usually the Government have not made those modifications because they are convinced by the intellectual case deployed on the Floor of the House; they have usually been convinced because they have lost the vote in the Division Lobbies. Compared with how often they give in over Divisions, how often have the Government said that they will do such and such because they believe that the House of Lords has figured out an argument that they had not fully accepted previously? I do not think that the score would be all that high compared with how they react to losing in the Division Lobbies.
When I was a Front-Bench spokesman in the early 1990s, Baroness Blatch, who was the junior education Minister, introduced a large Bill—I cannot remember its name—containing a lot of clauses about university student unions that, given the hostility of this House, were jettisoned. That is power; it may not be fantastically great power, but it is power. It should be subject to consent, which seems to me to be a basic democratic principle.
People will say that expertise itself confers authority, and that legitimacy or authority can come through the exercise of expertise and is not just given by consent. Despite being an argument that goes back to Plato, it is a mistake. To be an authority or an expert on something does not put you in authority in relation to anything without someone consenting to it. My cardiologist is an expert, but he is only in authority, so far as he is, over my life because I want to get my heart fixed. I choose to endow him with authority relating to his expertise. Consent is ubiquitous. I consent to the exercise of the authority. Authority and expertise are important, but expertise does not create authority in the sense of being in authority; being an authority does not make you in authority over anything without the consent of those over whom the authority is exercised.
Nevertheless, if we move towards an elected House, which would have to happen over quite a long period, there are issues that the Government will have to take very seriously. First, there is the relationship between the two Houses. When I was working on the material for Neil Kinnock, the committee that I chaired took the view that the relationship between an elected House of Lords and an elected House of Commons would have to be based on statute. If it is based on statute, that would have to embody precisely defined accounts of the various powers of the two Houses and, when push comes to shove, as it undoubtedly would, it would have to be interpreted by a judge. I am in favour of that and of a more codified constitution than we have, but it would be entirely fanciful to think that an elected House of Lords would stick with the powers that it has. We would have to have a statutory relationship between both Houses. Eventually that would mean judicial interpretation of the meaning of that statute. I suspect that many of those who voted for 100 per cent election last week did not contemplate that, but it is an inevitable consequence.
I echo my noble friend Lady Quin about engaging experts in other aspects of the legislative process—in committee work and in pre-legislative scrutiny. You do not need permanent experts with seats in the House. You can engage current and diverse expertise in much more creative ways through, for example, committee mechanisms and pre-legislative scrutiny.
As my noble friend Lord Tomlinson said, there are big questions to be asked about the length of time that elected Members would serve. It does not seem all that plausible to think that it should be 15 years, partly for the reasons that he mentioned. There is a very good article in the London Review of Books by Bruce Ackerman, the American philosopher, about why accountability has to do with getting rid of people as well as electing people. On the proposed basis, they would not be got rid of, because they would have tenure for 15 years and go at that point without the possibility of re-election. That is a serious point.
There is another point. The House would be elected by a form of PR, which means that members of small parties would get elected, which is a jolly good thing. However, small parties are extremely vulnerable financially, as we discovered in the case of UKIP and Veritas, if it still exists at all. People could be elected for a 15-year period, yet within nine months or so the party that they represented could have imploded, because its financial basis was tenuous. That would be a serious problem. Also, to pick up a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth of Drumlean, small parties can be vulnerable to ideological change and takeover, because they do not have many members and the leader or whoever could push the party in one way or another. Again, one could be elected for 15 years on one platform, while the party could represent something different after a very few years.
So there could be major problems, both with the relationship between the two Houses and the length of time to be served by elected Members. Nevertheless, I remain convinced that the only way forward is that of elections to this House, although we must be open-eyed about the fact that that will require a much more codified constitution.
My Lords, one of the problems in speaking at this stage of the debate, when so many have already spoken—and it will be much worse tomorrow evening—is that many of the points that one would wish to make have already been powerfully made. I shall not rehearse all the arguments for the position that I take, and that I took some years before I left the other place, that debate and decisions on the role, powers and functions of this House should come first, with decisions on its composition coming afterwards. If no change in the role and functions is recommended, I would strongly favour an all-appointed House. After all that I have read and listened to, I have not changed my view.
I spent a happy Sunday yesterday reading the Hansards of the debates in the other place, and I wish to offer three reflections on them. First, I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, that there is no demand in the country for Lords reform. No votes in any election will be made on the basis of Lords reform. For a number of reasons, there is great ignorance of how the House of Lords works, the relationships between the Houses and all the issues that we are discussing today. I entirely agree with my noble and learned friend Lord Howe and the noble Lord, Lord Steel, that there is also great ignorance of this House and how it works among most Members of the other place. I certainly reinforce the point by saying that in all the years that I was in the other place—I was a Minister for many years and Leader of the House—I hardly ever came to this House, nor had I any need to.
It is striking that so many who have come here from the other place, especially in the past five years, have been impressed by what they have found when they have understood the nature of this House and how it has changed in its seriousness and the amount of time that it spends on matters; those people have become among the most powerful and trenchant advocates of an appointed House. That message has been striking in today’s debate. Why? It is because we see the differences between the Lords and the Commons; we see the added value of the Lords; we understand now the complementary nature of the Lords; and we see the dangers, to the House of Commons and to MPs in their constituency capacity, of an elected House of Lords. The House of Lords would of course change if it were all or largely elected. There would be demands from the Members, once they were elected, but, well before that, there would be a big issue in relation to the Bill itself. I shall return to that point later.
Last week, many of the shrewder and more realistic speakers in the other place clearly recognised that point, including the Father of the House, Alan Williams, to whom the noble Lord, Lord Butler, referred. That brings me to my second, crucial point. The main point that advocates of a largely elected House constantly make—indeed, the whole basis of their case—centres around “democratic legitimacy”. That was the constant refrain in last week’s debate among all the advocates of an elected House. Here I follow the question asked by my noble and learned friend Lord Howe and the noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson: how would the functions and role of the House of Lords, which even the advocates of reform accept and do not wish to change, be improved by elections? What value is added? No one in the debates last week answered that question and, like my noble and learned friend Lord Howe, I have never received an answer from anyone to whom I have put it. The mantra “democratic legitimacy and accountability” is simply repeated. Here, I follow the noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson. What is democratic about an election for a fixed term of 15 years, no re-election and partially open lists? We all know that that is virtually a system of party-political appointment. In fact, it is appointment by another name. I notice that, because there had been criticisms of the system, Jack Straw said in last week’s debate:
“The best that can be said as a summary of the proposal for the semi-open list system, which has been my preference, is that it is judged as better than the closed-list system, but not much more”.—[Official Report, Commons, 7/3/07; cols. 1598-99.]
Frankly, I do not think that that is a ringing endorsement of the partially open-list system. Admittedly, he said that there had been serious objections to this system which the Government would have to take into account.
We all know why the once-only, 15-year term was suggested. It was to avoid concerns about rivalry with Members of Parliament. But a 15-year term and no re-election mean that none of the elected Peers is democratically accountable. In the Commons, the crucial point is that the elected MP has a constant relationship with his constituents and is accountable to them, as is demonstrated at each election. None of that would apply to an elected Member of the Lords.
So I conclude that, in an attempt to make the elected Lords Member different from the Commons Member, to prevent the Lords from becoming a clone of the other place and to protect the constituency function of Members of Parliament, the principle of democratic accountability is destroyed. I also agree very much with my noble friend Lord Wakeham that the proposed system would mean that the quality of candidates was likely to be much lower. I think he said that it would be far too low, but certainly it would be much lower.
That brings me to my final point. I disagree with what my right honourable friend Kenneth Clarke said about an appointed or elected House, but I very much agree with him on one thing. He said:
“The real devil lies in the detail, and we will find that there is no unanimity, either among reformers or among non-reformers … on all the other issues that would be raised in a Bill. That will make the legislative process fascinating”.—[Official Report, Commons, 6/3/07; cols. 1431-32.]
I agree, although I might have used a different word from “fascinating”: it will be tortuous. There will be many different views on many of the issues that are still to be properly debated. My noble friend Lord Strathclyde referred to a number of them in his opening speech. They include the method of election, which, judging by the debate, now has few friends in the other place and, I think, very few here; the timing of the elections; the size of the constituencies; the fixed-term issue; the transitional period; the proportion of appointed Members; the basis and purpose of selection of the appointed Members; and, above all, the role and function of the House and the relationship between the Houses.
I thought that, in his opening speech this afternoon, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor sent us some subtle messages about that. I may have misunderstood but I thought that there was an innuendo there. He was keen to stress that, whatever option was accepted, the powers of and relationship between the two Houses should stay the same. He implied that this was most likely to be achieved by an elected proportion of 50 per cent or less, but he went on to say that the ramifications of adopting an all-elected or even an 80 per cent elected system would need to be carefully considered. I think he said that a detailed and accepted definition of the relationship between the two Houses would be needed—a point that has just been made by the noble Lord, Lord Plant. I agree, and I think that it would have to be in the Bill. There will certainly be many attempts to include it if the Government do not.
That is why I very much agree with my noble friend Lord Strathclyde and the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, that before we see the Bill we should spend a considerable amount of time exploring in detail all these issues, which have not yet been properly discussed. I think that my noble friend Lord Strathclyde said that we should spend the rest of this Parliament doing so, and I do not disagree with that.
The current White Paper has been substantially up-ended, if not destroyed, by the votes in the other place. However, in his foreword to the White Paper, Jack Straw recognised that broad agreement on the changes and the need for their introduction over a long period was,
“to say the least, highly desirable”.
There is still a long way to go.
My Lords, I apologise to all noble Lords for coming late to the House today. It was due to illness in my family. Four years ago, troops were pouring into Iraq and we were debating the pressing issue of Lords reform. And here we are again. We all know that, sadly, this will not be the last time.
I register my disappointment with the votes last week, as I shall in the Lobby. It may have appeared to have been a clear majority, but it was muddied by tactical voting and showed a bewildering lack of understanding among MPs of what we do. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord MacGregor: if a few more could take the trouble to visit us, and not wait to be summoned by Black Rod, we might have a fairer result.
The probability of disagreement at every stage, even in the Commons, seems certain to run the Bill into the sand again. My guess is that the three sticking points will be the form of elections, the number of independents and the timing of the departure of the hereditary Peers. Those issues alone will cloud the whole debate and prevent any consensus between the two Houses.
On the other hand, Mr Brown, as a practical politician, whose ideals are positioned somewhere above and beyond the future of our House, may yet see the light. He will have calculated the amount of parliamentary time available; and he will have taken in the cost implications because that is his job. He could have the common sense to adopt a modest set of proposals for reform that really does have the hope of passing into law because they have the elements of agreement between the Houses. Those proposals are set out in what we call the Norton Bill, and I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Norton, for all that he has done. His group has demonstrated that a growing number of Peers are genuinely concerned to move on, to remove the residual rights of hereditary Peers, to ensure the survival of independents and to make the sort of reforms that are both feasible and urgently needed.
Let us examine Conservative motives. Some Conservatives profess democratic ideals for this House and they actually believe in elections. But for Members like Douglas Hogg, who is a very old friend of mine, and his colleagues, including my own MP, Oliver Letwin, there is another agenda. They want us to strengthen their opposition to an overbearing Executive. They seem to have given up on the Commons altogether. The Lords are seen as the new democrats, galloping over the hill to the rescue. That is surely absurd, wishful thinking. They should be talking of reform of the whole of Parliament, not of the Lords. Democratically elected Lords would be bound to challenge the present conventions, as has been said so many times.
As for the Government, who originally had their money on 50 per cent, I can think only that the excitement of getting such a deceptively clear result has blinded them from all the unforeseen consequences that lie ahead. One such consequence will be that a radical constitutional change could not possibly be achieved in one or two moves and will require further interim stages of reform. The balance between the Houses is bound to alter. The more representative the Lords become, the more representative they will want to be. I wonder whether some of you heard Mr Alan Williams putting it very well last week when he said:
“hybridity is not a solution. It is a holding position and a stalling of the inevitable”.—[Official Report, Commons, 6/3/07; col. 1427.]
I foresee every sort of problem for the Commons, and delays in their own legislation. That is why the Prime Minister opposed elections in the first place.
I am also concerned about the disregard for the Cross Benches, expressed through the 100 per cent and 80 per cent solutions. After nearly 12 years in the House, I respect the role of the Cross Benches, not just as individuals, but as a political force, and I think many people have recognised that outside the House. They have often made all the difference in many of those critical Divisions, for example, on human rights, which have attracted public interest. I doubt that the Government, after so many assurances and protestations of faith in the Cross Benches, from the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, to the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, to our present administration, really want to throw them out, but anything is possible in the present climate. Preserving only 20 per cent of the present House would be the thin end of the wedge, because it would exclude the Bishops and the Law Lords. I favour a much more independent Appointments Commission, and a re-examination of gender, diversity and regional balance—a point that has been made very well—but neither of those is possible with just 20 per cent.
Some MPs even argued last week that there is enough expertise in the Commons already, although they admitted that generals and admirals were hard to reproduce. However, I quote from our excellent new booklet on the work of the House:
“Debates about the environment... involved former chairs of electricity boards and oil companies, scientists, former secretaries of state … farmers”,
and so on. The Second Reading debate on 12 May last year on the Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill attracted 90 speakers including lawyers, judges, doctors, scientists and members of charities and religious bodies. How on earth could an elected House ever achieve that level of expertise or have the time to achieve it? Are we to throw all that away?
As a hereditary Peer, I recognise that our time is up again, and I have said before that I am ready to vote for abolition if the Government are serious about reform. I have supported many of the Government’s reforms over the past decade. However, the 100 per cent solution belongs to a make-believe world and will never happen. Until the Government fulfil their undertaking to the Cross Benches, think more seriously about the consequences of elections and recognise the value of what we already have, I will be unwilling to support them in the lobbies.
My Lords, I have enormous respect for this House, I value many of its conventions and traditions, the high calibre of many of its Members and, above all, its traditions of tolerance. I think that by the time I sit down, it will be the tradition of tolerance that I shall most want to hang on to. In the years to come, we shall look back on this and similar debates about reform and wonder not how we ever came to change things but why it took so long to get there. After every major reform, when we look back, we say that it was so obvious that it was amazing there was any discussion. A number of noble Lords have asked what the added value of the change is. If that question had been asked in 1832, 1911, when life Peers were first introduced or when many hereditaries were taken away, I wonder whether anybody would have answered it or whether the answer was so obvious that nobody bothered to ask it.
I shall address two issues in particular. The first is why we are here. We are here because we are part of Parliament and we want it to work well. Why is Parliament here? It is here to serve the people. If the people of Britain want us to stay as we are, that would be an argument. I appreciate that this is not the burning issue that people are talking about in pubs all over the country, but in so far as ordinary people are consulted, they overwhelmingly tend to want us to be elected. They opt for that in opinion poll after opinion poll. In an ICM poll taken about a week ago, 63 per cent of people wanted the Lords elected and 26 per cent did not. That is the most recent poll I have. The other reason for no change is if the House of Commons says that there shall be no change. That is what happened four years ago, and nothing happened. This time, the House of Commons seems to have said clearly that it wants changes. Either the people of this country or the House of Commons want change, but if neither of them does, we should not change things. However, they are both relevant. If we had no powers, it would not matter very much. Some people argue that we have no powers, but we do have some. We have exercised them, and it is therefore important for us to come to terms with how they are exercised and whether they are exercised in the right way by the right people. I shall probably vote for all the options from 60 per cent to 100 per cent elected.
I noted what the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, said about my right honourable friend Jack Straw. I think that Jack was worried that the Commons would reject all the options like last time, and he worked hard to persuade people that they should vote for elected options. In the event, he was much more persuasive than he had expected to be. While this House must make up its own mind, and will do so, I hope we shall still take note of what the House of Commons did last week because we ignore it at our peril.
We want this House to have a healthy independence from the Executive. That will be helped by ensuring that no one party dominates in a reformed House. However, it is curious that, if I felt unconvinced by the Government’s arguments on an issue, I would find it easier to break the party Whip if I had the backing of local people or my local constituency party. One has much more strength in ignoring a party Whip in that way than if one simply says, “Well, I feel like it, so I am not voting the party line”. At least, that is my experience of both local government and the House of Commons.
We have a party system here. Anybody who gets a weekly Whip will see what it means. We must have a party system if Governments are going to get their legislation through. Our job traditionally has been to make the Government think again—I hope not again and again.
I would argue that we already are a hybrid House. We have the Cross-Benchers who play a valuable part in our deliberations. Then there are those of us who are involved in election campaigns for our parties and after a general election we come back here. Some of us have been campaigning and knocking on doors and have the battle of election ringing in our ears, while others wonder what all the fuss is about. Obviously, they were on holiday while we were doing that.
Some years ago there was a parliamentary by-election. I went and spent the day knocking on doors. All day I was assailed with arguments about housing, jobs, schools, hospitals, transport and planning. When I returned to the House in the evening for Divisions, I reflected that while I had been subjected to all this, as had some other Members of this House, there were many people who had not had that criticism. It may not have made me a more effective Member of this House, but it certainly gave me much pause to think about what ordinary people were saying, from which we are rather sheltered.
I agree with my noble friend Lord Tomlinson in one respect: I do not like closed lists. They give party machines too much power over the individuals on them. That is wrong; it would be against the traditions of this House; and it is unhealthy. I also favour smaller constituencies as they give local people more chance to select the people they want to stand for them. If their constituencies are as large as is suggested in the White Paper, I fear that the party machines will dominate. Again that is not healthy. I also wonder about a 15-year term. I believe in accountability; and a 15-year term with no further re-election is not really accountability. It is a neat way of doing it, but I do not think it is right.
My most important argument is that I believe in accountability. Being accountable makes people into a different sort of politician. Anyone who has represented a constituency at a local or national level will be aware of the relationship with ordinary people who put them there, and the need to justify why one votes in a particular way. One may not vote the party line, but one needs to justify why one has done what one has done. Here we do not have to justify it at all. We can go home; we have done it; and so on. The process of having to justify how one votes to local people—whether to one’s local party or to the local electors—is a key element of democracy. It is, after all, what distinguishes democracies from other sorts of country. Because we make decisions which involve ordinary people’s lives, it is right that we should have that accountability. Therefore, I believe that an element of election—a pretty large one—is the right way forward for this House, for Parliament and for the country.
My Lords, I will speak with extreme temerity and great brevity as the many points I would wish to make have of course already been made by those with far greater political experience and wisdom than I will ever attain. I wish to put on record my deep commitment to the case for an appointed Chamber on three interrelated principles: first, the teleological argument; secondly, the complementarity principle; and, thirdly, the principle of legitimacy.
First, the teleological argument—that structure should be derived from function—was very well emphasised recently by the noble Lord, Lord MacGregor. Given that this House is a revising Chamber, its composition must ensure the spread and depth of experience and expertise essential to ensure that proposed law will be good law in every aspect of society affected by such law. Such spread and depth of experience and expertise cannot be guaranteed by the lottery of elections.
Secondly, there is the principle of complementarity. Given the immutable primacy of the House of Commons as the democratically elected Chamber, the House of Lords must fulfil an alternative and complementary function. Many noble Lords have emphasised the inadequacy of the other place’s role in detailed scrutiny of proposed legislation. Therefore, I see no point in replication with an elected clone of the House of Commons.
The principle of complementarity is also supported by the relative political independence in the House of Lords. That was exemplified for me by the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, when, as Prime Minister, she asked if I would be willing to consider a place in your Lordships’ House. She could not have been fairer or a more honourable example of the principle of relative political independence in your Lordships’ House. She said to me:
“I hope you might support us on education. I know you don’t always agree with us on healthcare, but you always have freedom to speak and vote according to conscience”.
That could not have been more fair or more honourable. I accepted on that basis and came as such a novice into the political arena that I was the first Baroness I had ever met.
More seriously, the freedom to be able to speak and vote on the basis of expertise and conscience, without having to look over one’s shoulder at whatever narrow section of the electorate put one here, whichever it may be, is an invaluable attribute of a revising Chamber.
That leads me to the third issue: the issue of legitimacy. That issue has been raised again and again, perhaps most eloquently by the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, when she said that legitimacy and legitimate authority are derived from a job well done. I believe that an elected Chamber would inevitably and inherently reduce the ability of your Lordships’ House to do that job well, with the invaluable contribution to the parliamentary democracy that it distinctively makes and which, it may be noted, also commands international respect.
That is why, given the appropriate procedures to ensure a membership that can fulfil the exacting responsibilities of a refining and revising Chamber, I strongly—passionately—oppose the option of an elected second Chamber; and, equally strongly, support the principle of an appointed Chamber as teleologically sound, complementary to the other House and legitimated by its ability to make its distinctive—indeed, unique—contribution to our national democracy.
My Lords, we are on our own on this. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor spoke tellingly of our long partnership with the Commons—a partnership, it seems to me, born of a mutual disregard, if anything, but many marriages are like that. It has been an effective partnership and one that has lasted a long time, but the Commons has now thrown it into the waste-paper bin. It is very unclear what it means by its vote for 100 per cent elected; exactly what kind of Chamber, with what kind of powers and what kind of system, is clouded in mystery. The one thing that is certain is that it does not want us—not even the noble Lord, Lord Dubs. That has consequences.
We have a comfortable life here. We are looked after by our parties and by the usual channels. Both of those props have been kicked away from us. Our parties all believe in the 80 per cent option—or indeed in something further, the 100 per cent option. The usual channels are, quite properly, the servants of our parties and the servants, in effect, of another place. That is the way that it has to be. That leaves us on our own and we must take our duties and responsibilities seriously and learn—a lesson long forgotten—what it is to be a House of Parliament without, in this regard, the domination of party.
The first decision that we shall be faced with is what form the consultation will take after our debates. Will we leave the choice of those who will represent the House of Lords to party machines that are already set on a totally or largely elected House of Lords, or will we seek to influence that choice in a way that properly represents the balance of our views? That is a terribly important question. I very much hope that the usual channels will respect that position and seek to consult widely before they nominate people to the committee, whatever form it takes. I am sure that that would be the best way to do it without having any open rupture, but they must recognise that in this, they are not in a position to take a decision and expect that we shall treat lightly the selection of people who do not in a broad sense represent the wishes of this House. We go deeper than that. However optimistic the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, may be about nothing coming of what is going on in the Commons, I disagree. There is a real sense down there that it wants an elected House of Lords and that it will push hard to get us a Bill with that in it. In those circumstances, we have to decide where we stand, what we will defend, and where our Thermopylae is. Do we think that we will take the issue of an elected House of Lords to the Parliament Act? I do not believe so. In the end, we have to respect the House of Commons on a matter such as this.
What will we stand for? What will we defend? We have heard a good deal about that today. We want Parliament to be stronger vis-à-vis the Executive. We want individual Members of this House to be stronger vis-à-vis their parties. Those are the tests that we will apply to any Bill from the Commons. However, we must decide this among ourselves. There is a great diversity of views, but we must come to a view as a House. We must give ourselves the time to come to a view as a House and not be over-ridden by party business managers who may say, particularly in the later months of a parliamentary term, that there is no time. They have chosen this time, and we must take our responsibilities seriously. We must set aside the comfort that we have all become used to, and we must not let our responsibilities and duties go by default.
My Lords, there are many strong views in this matter, and we have heard many of them today from all parts of the House. My strong view is this: it is necessary to make change only if there is clear evidence that such change will improve the work of this place and therefore of our Parliament. There is no such strong evidence. In the speeches made in another place last week, there were many assertions about elections that would bring about effectiveness, legitimacy and more accountability and that would be more representative. There were many assertions, but there was not a great deal of evidence. Nor was there a great deal of evidence in the White Paper. I do not believe that a wholly elected, or partially elected, House will necessarily be more representative of the people of this country than the House as presently constituted. Indeed, no matter how much all the political parties seek to refer to their manifestos at the most recent general election, none of them called for a wholly elected House.
This House has undergone considerable change in the past few years, and it is close to common ground that there is a need to complete the matter of hereditary Peers sitting in the House. However, I take the view that this can be readily resolved by ending the system of election for vacancies and therefore allowing the remaining hereditary Peers to continue to sit as if they were life Peers. With that and putting the Appointments Commission on a statutory footing, we will have done a great deal. In fact, we should then leave the matter well alone. We are all aware that politicians may not be as highly regarded as they ought to be. Save for the fact that we in this House are invariably shown by the media, including the House Magazine, as always dressed in our robes, I do not believe that it is this House that has contributed to the state of affairs regarding the public’s view of politicians.
I have lived in Dumbarton for a number of years, and no one there has ever told me that they want another set of elections or that they want me to be replaced by an elected Member. Rather, some of them complain about a surfeit of layers of democracy—with councillors, MSPs, MPs, European MPs and the attendant costs. I support a Parliament in Edinburgh, so I do not completely agree with that line of thinking, but it is much more real to most of the population than any demand for full-blooded reform of this place. Whether in Dumbarton, Downpatrick, Durham or Denbigh, people are not lying awake at night worrying about reform here.
Nor do I know of any Members of another place who find people queuing up at their surgeries to complain about the make-up of this House. Nevertheless, MPs of all parties are certainly exercised by the issue. Sometimes that is because of history, and sometimes because of political advantage. Sometimes it is because of personal views or human prejudice.
One of my daughters said to me some years ago that when the Commons gets around to saving foxes, it will get around to getting rid of me. I thought that she was being cynical, but she was probably prescient. I want to make it clear that my opposition to anything other than a wholly appointed House is not driven by enlightened self-interest. The White Paper proposals seem to provide sufficient and reasonable safeguards for most existing Members. These safeguards may be torn up now as a result of the votes last week, but no matter—I do not change my view. Neither is it, as newspaper columnists want to put it, that those of us who support an appointed House have grown used to the feel of ermine. I venture to suggest that those of us who argue thus do so because we think that it is right.
We are told that an elected element will confirm legitimacy, which will, in turn, increase confidence in our work. We are told that it will lead to a House more reflective of different groups in society and that this elected House will somehow start to reflect multi-faith Britain. There will have to be some planned democracy if elections are to do better than an appointed House. Like other speakers, I have little time for the list system, but at least it allows for planned democracy. My party’s machine, and every other party’s machine, is unlikely to allow otherwise. For those at the top of the lists, it will be in effect a shoo-in and an appointment for a career of 15 years or thereabouts.
We have many clever women on all Front Benches of this House. There are two outstanding black women Ministers, one of whom is Leader of the House. I do not have any comparative figures to show how this House fares with another place on representation of the different faiths, but I venture to suggest that we are as well or better placed than down the Corridor. The paper by the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, appears to bear out my views, although I accept that we have some way to go, but that could be assisted by a statutory Appointments Commission.
Elections, of necessity, do not confer legitimacy—otherwise we would need to follow the United States example of electing all sorts of public officials. No one suggests that judges in the United Kingdom should be elected. No one questions their legitimacy or that of many other holders of high office. On accountability, if Members are to be elected for something like 12 to 15 years, what does that mean? Are we looking to people to give up a career at perhaps the age of 45 to 50 to stand for a once-only election? Even if there is a very high salary on offer it is unlikely that there will be a huge rush of talents. As we have already heard, there may be a rush from many of those who have failed to get into the Commons, the Scottish Parliament or the Welsh Assembly.
If we have a hybrid House, what will happen, beyond peradventure, is that elected Members will take the view that they are more legitimate than appointed Members. The press pundits will gleefully report on the balance of elected versus appointed Members, particularly in government defeats. Elected Members, whether able to seek re-election or not, may interfere in constituency matters because they will get correspondence and will want to act on it. They may disagree with their MPs because they come from different political parties. They may just want their photograph in the local paper. The dog’s breakfast of list MSPs in Scotland tramping around the patch of constituency-elected MSPs, as well as the propensity of many Members of the Scottish Parliament who want to get involved in matters reserved to Westminster, should serve as an apposite illustration of problems to come.
It will not stop there. A partially elected House will, certainly in the medium term, prove to be unsustainable and, as sure as night follows day, will become a fully elected House. Any House with elected Members will not leave the powers between the two Houses as they are. There will have to be change, as the committee chaired by my noble friend Lord Cunningham of Felling has said. What about the costs? The White Paper is silent on these. Elected members will want sufficient funds for support. They will want salaries and pensions for their staff and for themselves commensurate with their duties and responsibilities. They will also require accommodation. There are various estimates, all of which are costly. If the estimates given by my noble friend Lord Lipsey are even remotely accurate, certainly my friends in Dumbarton will not be contemplating whether these can be justified.
If we want an informed debate about what the people really think, we have to put evidence on how this Parliament can be improved and the estimates of these costs into the public domain. No doubt one or more of the tabloids will tell us how many members of my profession—nursing—could be employed for that sum of money. I am not against elections per se. I have stood in elections: I have lost some and won some, including being elected unopposed. But in my world it was only on the wilder shores of Trotskyism that it was claimed elected people were the only sources of legitimacy. Therefore, I will vote for a wholly appointed House and I will vote against all other options.
My Lords, the question I should like to pose is this: should those of us who would like to keep an appointed second Chamber now modify or abandon our position in the light of the vote in the House of Commons last Wednesday? I think not. First, how robust is that vote? Surely there is some unreality in the House of Commons voting to establish a second Chamber in the form most likely to challenge its own authority, so there is at least room for doubt whether the vote would be maintained when it came to votes on actual legislation. But we are in any case a very long way from being presented with legislation. It is quite easy to imagine scenarios in which legislation never does get presented. Neither major party now knows how to craft proposals that will ensure the support of its own Back Benchers. Will a Government with a small majority attempt to introduce legislation on so contentious and peripheral a subject? Are a fresh Conservative Government really likely to begin their career fishing in these unpromising and unnatural waters? With the future so clouded, it seems quite wrong for those who believe in an appointed House to throw in the towel at this stage.
I turn to the merits of the case. I cannot see the point of incurring colossal expense for the sake of creating a second Chamber that is very likely to challenge the primacy of the House of Commons and in no way likely to do a better job of legislative revision than the present House. The fact is that we have now very much the sort of second Chamber that the Government and most other people say they want. Indeed, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor today could hardly find a bad word to say about the present House of Lords. It has wide expertise and a high degree of independence among its Members. It is not dominated by any one party. It is complementary to, not a duplication of, the House of Commons. It has continuity of membership. Even the question of its representativeness has been addressed by the Appointments Commission, which has also acted to clean up the process of Prime Ministerial appointments. It has the confidence to challenge the Government on details of legislation, but the good sense and experience to abide by the conventions and not press things too far. It functions very well as a political House of Parliament, with the opposition parties and the House as a whole able to call on the Government to explain and defend their policies on a daily basis. The only thing wrong with it is that this admirable and widely desired result has been reached apparently by the wrong means. The House of Lords is working fine in practice, but it does not work in theory, so it must be replaced. But of course, in trying to replace it, you risk producing quite a different result.
It is in the nature of a second Chamber that it walks a tightrope, if I may put it like that. Too little legitimacy, and it fails to be a sufficient challenge to the Government of the day. That was the weakness of the pre-1999 House of Lords. The issue was addressed by this Government and this House has manifestly more legitimacy and functions as a much better check on a Labour Government than the unreformed House could ever have done. But give it too much legitimacy, as an 80 per cent or 100 per cent elected element would surely be bound to do, seems to be a recipe for constitutional chaos, and for that to be handled it might well require a written constitution. The Commons votes last week also make a nonsense in other respects of the Government’s White Paper. With a House that is 100 per cent elected on party lists, there would be very little expertise among the membership, no independence of party whatever, no role at all for the Appointments Commission, and no place for the great and the good. In an 80 per cent elected House, there would be a little of all that, but the 20 per cent would have to accommodate whatever Bishops room could be found for and whatever other faith leaders it was found necessary to balance them with, and every other worthy candidate for appointment, including the ministerial appointments. Also, I very much doubt whether a House of Commons calling for a House that was 80 per cent or 100 per cent elected would have the patience to permit life Peers to continue here for as long as they wished or as long as they lived, a process which would span itself out over the next 50 years.
I do not believe at all that the push for legislation is proceeding from a demand by the general public for more say over the composition of this House any more than I hear calls for the election of judges, company chairmen, newspaper editors, television producers or radio interviewers. Yet many of those figures can acquire huge political influence far more than most Members of your Lordships' House.
I hope that the Appointments Commission will not be given powers—or, at any rate, exclusive powers—over party political appointments. Vetting for propriety is one thing, and the commission has been effective in that area, but it seems a step too far to propose that ministerial appointments should be made by the commission rather than by the Prime Minister and other party leaders. Surely it is they who should decide who should speak and act on their behalf in this House.
To conclude, those of us who would like to keep an appointed House—devotees of pragmatism, not dogmatism—should take heart. We should remind ourselves what a very long road there still is to travel before any further major “reform” is likely to be attempted, let alone enacted. We should signal very clearly on Wednesday that it will happen only in the face of the most determined resistance by your Lordships' House.
My Lords, last week’s vote in the Commons is a challenge. I have long supported the idea of a substantial elected element in your Lordships' House, but 80 per cent, let alone 100 per cent, is too radical and will surely lead to a challenge to the supremacy of the House of Commons. It will also destroy much of the strength of your Lordships' House, both in wisdom and experience in making the Government of the day think again, and as an effective revising Chamber. We need change—we need fresh blood—but it must be carefully thought out, evolutionary change.
In their White Paper, the Government were beginning to make what seemed good progress in building a sensible consensus. It is quite right that no party should have a majority in this House. I also believe that it was broadly right to canvass a 50:50 split. On this basis, I set out my views.
First, change should be evolutionary. No one should be removed from this House now. Existing Peers, whether hereditary or life Peers, should be able to continue to serve for their lifetime. Both categories have shown service and dedication; both are a repository of wisdom and experience. Time is needed to introduce the elected element on a rolling basis. One-third should be elected in each Parliament on the day of the general election to serve for three Parliaments. Since 1945, this would have meant terms of an average of 11 and a half years, with a minimum of eight and a quarter and a maximum of 14. They should be elected by proportional representation but not on a party list basis.
Elected Peers certainly should be entitled to stand again, otherwise there will be little continuity or incentive to make a long-term career in the upper House. Long careers should be encouraged, if endorsed by the electorate. The chance for re-election also enhances accountability to the electorate.
We need the source of fresh blood that elected Peers will provide. With rather too few exceptions, this House is an ageing, if not an aged, House. Based on the statistics for 2005, more than 60 per cent of your Lordships are over 65 and 25 per cent—more than 180 Peers—are over 75. Only 20 per cent of Peers are under 60. A substantial proportion of elderly Peers, of whom I make absolutely no criticism, do not come very often, and some never do.
The 50 per cent who are and will be appointed will continue to play the valuable role that they play today—the Cross-Benchers, the mandarins, the leaders of our Armed Forces, academics, doctors, lawyers, journalists and other professionals, leading scientists and leaders from business—as will former Cabinet Ministers and a proportion of others with long and distinguished political experience. There are currently around 40 former Conservative Cabinet Ministers. The Lord Chancellor will forgive me if I look forward to the day when there are a good many ex-Labour Cabinet Ministers in the House. There are also the former Law Lords, the Bishops and representatives of other faiths. All play a key role in the strength and prestige of this House.
As to the size of House, the proposal for around 540 Members may turn out to be about right, but it should be allowed to evolve. A House with very senior appointed Members should allow for a proportion of wise but infrequent attenders. Precise numbers are not important provided that no one party can command a majority. Before 1999, when the theoretical size of the House was more than 1,300 Peers, the bulk of the business—I looked at this very closely at the time—was done by around 300, of whom more than 100 were hereditary Peers, hence the wise compromise of the 92. I have not seen formal statistics, but my impression is that, today, the bulk of the business is still done by 300 Peers or possibly fewer. Some 40 per cent of current Peers attend comparatively infrequently. It is not necessarily a weakness. When they do come, some make very fine contributions. However, as I have stressed, there is a need for a source of new blood.
Some people argue that elected Peers will generally be of poor quality: allegedly, just those who fail to find a seat in the House of Commons or the European Parliament. I do not accept this argument. I believe that people of real calibre will stand and will serve. It is a huge privilege to be a Member of this House, and, without the pressure of constituency representation, elected Peers, like Members of the other place in an earlier era, will be able to combine membership of this House with a real existence outside it. Once again, we shall see leaders of business and the professions, lawyers, doctors and academics willing to stand for election as they used to do for the other place. Many will go on to serve in governments of all parties. They will rapidly blend to our traditions. Many details are yet to be worked out, but the hybrid solution—the combination of elected and appointed Peers—will provide a way ahead which, far from damaging the House, will sustain and enhance its reputation for some generations to come.
My Lords, I am a relative novice in this House, but I have the temerity to speak because the fresh eye of a novice may be worth something and because, in a previous existence, I taught constitutional law, which I shall address.
Perhaps I may first set on one side the argument about scandal and sleaze. To argue that the House of Lords should be radically reformed, or rather that that reform should be pushed forward, because of an alleged cash-for-honours scandal is rather like saying that the House of Commons should be radically reformed whenever there is a voting fraud or too much money is spent on an election. The shame, if any, is personal; it is not institutional. In the brief period available to me, I shall refer to how recent constitutional reforms have fared and to what is really required in a democracy.
English constitutional law works by evolving practically. Over the centuries, it has changed as required, without too many sudden jolts. It has always been distinct from virtually all other countries’ law. In the rest of the world, they tend to change their constitutions in a manner as radical as the one under consideration tonight by violent shifts, usually because there has been or is about to be a revolution. That has not been our way. In the past 10 years or so, we have suffered some rather sudden constitutional changes. I put it to your Lordships that the results of some of them have been surprising—or, perhaps, not thought through—and have not always turned out as well as they might.
I shall give a few examples. First, on devolution and the possibility of break-up, if the nature of your Lordships' House changes, the West Lothian question will turn out to be child’s play in comparison with what is to come. The process of judicial appointments is fairly new, but it has not been very efficient as yet. The removal of the judges into a Supreme Court outside your Lordships' House has brought about much trouble and controversy at the moment, but we shall see how it works. Postal voting, as your Lordships know, has led to fraud and some undermining of belief in our voting system. On the changes in the position of the Lord Chancellor, it is too early to tell, but, obviously, there are many questions to come in that regard. Now we are faced with the possible break-up of the Home Office because of recent troubles. Who knows how that will turn out in due course?
If your Lordships' House is to change—and I shall not touch on provisions that others have dealt with—clearly the powers will change. I shall raise one point that I do not believe has been discussed today. Your Lordships' House is actually the bastion of democracy; it is the ultimate safeguard, in the sense that under the Parliament Act, as your Lordships know, there is one element that the House of Commons cannot force on your Lordships' House. There cannot be an extension of the life of Parliament; in other words, an election cannot be got rid of without the consent of this House. That is safeguarded in the Parliament Act. If your Lordships' House is to turn into an elected House, with undoubtedly very close contacts through the party-political system with the House of Commons, that safeguard goes. Although it is just a small possibility, in theory it could then happen that in the other House it is said, “We do not want an election now—we have work to do, we need a few more years; there is a crisis”. There is no guarantee that this House, being an elected House, would not go along with it.
At the moment, the provision in the Parliament Act is the ultimate fall-back; it is the central part of our constitution, largely unwritten though it is. That ultimate safeguard will be weakened if this House becomes an elected House unless at the same time there is a full written constitution—and even such a constitution could always be amended if one had the political agreement of both Houses. The rock-solid unchangeable nature of this House in not having any personal interest in a forthcoming general election has been the guarantee that those elections will take place as they should.
I turn to what is really required of a democracy. Lord Hailsham said that we had an elected dictatorship. As has been said several times today, there is too much power in the Executive. There is nothing more depressing for a novice Member of an elected Parliament than to see Members trooping along the appropriate Corridor or Lobby without necessarily having absorbed or agreed with the arguments, simply because that is the party’s wish. That is something that I am sure your Lordships would not wish to see happen in this House. If a party system took hold strongly in this House, there would be no point in debate; it would be a question of counting numbers and the day would come when the click of a computer from half a mile away would be regarded as a vote instead of the need to sit and be persuaded by the force of your Lordships’ arguments on any particular question.
True democracy means that it is not for the House of Commons to cannibalise the other half of a dual legislature. We have a constitutional structure in which this House plays a legitimate part. Democracy means being free of party tyranny. I only wish that there was less party strength, in the sense of having to vote in the House of Commons, rather than bringing that same system into your Lordships' House. This House has existed by law for many hundreds of years. It does not primarily make law. It complements the Commons and revises legislation. There will be no motive to do that if this House becomes an elected House. Finally, if we are to make a change of this nature, or if this change is to be thrust upon us, would not true democracy demand that it go in a party manifesto so that the people can vote on it whenever the next general election comes about?
I urge your Lordships to vote to keep the existing House as it is or to have an all-appointed House appointed by a statutory commission, simply because your Lordships' House is that safeguard, as in the Parliament Act. If all else crumbles, that is the job of your Lordships' House.
My Lords, it should perhaps be no surprise that the detailed options from the White Paper—which is in many respects short on detail—put forward for debate and discussion include only the selection process, albeit that some inferences can be drawn from many of them. I agree with the excellent opening remarks of my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor on the nature and wisdom on the current conventions on the relationship and operation of the two Houses. I interpret the lack of debate on the role and future responsibilities of your Lordships' House, and how they may change, as acquiescence in its present role, which it performs so admirably, in revising and scrutinising legislation. To do that job the House needs elements which it already has and for which it is so well respected: the ability to uphold liberties, independence, expertise and diversity. Trying to add democratic legitimacy to this list without undue effect on its unique abilities is a worthwhile objective, but one which is unachievable by aping a direct election process.
Democracy, and how to improve it to be relevant to the 21st century, is a problem for the House of Commons to address and a challenge for its own reform. We must not forget that the Commons also has a role to play in restoring public confidence. Scrutiny, detailed deliberation and correction and revision skills are rarely uncovered by elections. While the present inquiry regarding political donations for honours brings disrespect to the political process, I do not believe that there is a genuine desire among the public to partake in more elections. The political parties are already challenged by the public’s apathy. Indeed, I heard commentary this weekend that the date of the next general election may well be in June 2009 and that this election will coincide with the European and local government elections to encourage the electorate to take part. Will it not diminish this House if in future its elections are tacked on to the end of this?
My friends in the United States already point to election fatigue. The cost and funding of elections is another aspect. I am sure that the taxpayer is unwilling to fund parties, which is why we are where we are. The rising domination of parties over the political process is another element in the growing disenchantment of the public and taints the election process as regards ensuring continuing independence and expertise in your Lordships' House. Although I am in favour of a multi-channel process of selection for your Lordships' House, I find it difficult to see how direct elections would operate and leave intact without negative consequences the skills that the present House possesses in fulfilling its role.
If legitimacy is to improve through reducing all opportunities for patronage in an appointed House, I contend that this could only come through some element of indirect elections and creating a strong statutory Appointments Commission, trying to build diverse elements of independent channels from society’s diverse estates or communities into the process. The debate should concentrate on that to invigorate public participation, bring relevance to people’s lives, build partnerships, develop the relationship with the House of Commons and be innovative in developing our democracy. That points the best way to creating a stronger House of Lords.
Notwithstanding that your Lordships’ House is a revising one, your Lordships should now take up reform and steer forward this House’s future and, in doing so, challenge the Commons to address its own shortcomings. For example, hereditary elections should cease. That there should be no party in overall control could be enshrined in legislation. Professionalism being increased through improving the work of Select Committees and some form of retirement being introduced could also be worthwhile improvements. The convention that the House does not examine Finance Bills must be challenged, and the House should examine and undertake ways to explain and publicise its work for the better understanding of the public and, dare I say, MPs. Perhaps considering how the work of your Lordships’ House could be further improved and communicated could prove a sound constitutional basis for its role to be enhanced.
My Lords, it is not long since the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, said that everything that could be said has been said—but I say, “Not by everybody”. I start from the premise that when I ceased to be the Chief Whip in 1997, the complexion of the House was 481 Conservatives taking the Whip, and 116 Labour Members. I am reminded of the spin and protests that have been made since, that that situation was almost a golden age in this House. At the end of the day, I intend to urge the House to vote for the solutions that came to us from another place.
I see the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde in his place, as always. He started by saying that the debate was of unusual length. I remind him that in 1999, when the major Bill of change took place, I spoke at position 183 in a list of 192 at 2.30 pm on the second day. We have been through this before, and I have no doubt that we will do so again.
We are a country with a Government which is going to war to bring about democracy in other countries. Yet we have tolerated a medieval system of governing this country for far too long. I simply point out that those here by virtue of their bloodline, the hereditaries, have had the opportunity to act as lawmaker in the gift of their family for centuries. We in this House make laws for millions of people, yet they have not had an opportunity of electing us to this place.
Where we are going is steadily changing. Reference has been made to the vote last week in the Commons being indicative; I accept that. We have the White Paper, the arguments and the Government’s reflections. I am quite certain that what has been said around the House tonight, to which I have listened with great interest, must be taken on board by the Government. There have been warning shots across the Government’s bow. When Jack Straw produces his Bill, whenever that might be, it will undoubtedly not make much progress unless it contains elements mentioned here this evening.
After the vote last week, and particularly after 1 May 1997, we are in a new ball game. I get the sense that many people opposite me—in general and in politics; certainly opposite me here tonight—have not yet fully grasped the fact of the major change that took place on that date. Their world fell apart. In this place, a Conservative Government could rely upon a benevolent reception to all the Bills they sent up. A Labour Government, however, could look forward to hostility. There are many here tonight, good friends of mine, who were here during that time, who will know that when the Government were defeated, it was rarely on a matter of policy. Often when they were defeated they were ambushed—like cowboys and Indians—in the full knowledge that whatever was achieved would be put right, from the Government’s point of view, when the Bill went back down the other end.
I have taken part in many rearguard actions in my political life, and I know that I am in the midst of masters of fighting rearguard actions on this and many other issues. They will continue to fight, as they are entitled to, and I respect them for it. They will argue that the elected element has no place in this House. I do not think that is so.
In 1942, when I was 17, I joined the Labour Party. One of the tenets of being a member then—one of the beliefs—was that we were going to abolish the House of Lords. I have here a facsimile of a poster, showing workmen bashing down the doors of the House of Lords. On it is written, “Labour Clears the Way”. That was for the election of 1910—nearly a hundred years ago. I am delighted to say that we are still here. The institution of the House of Lords, as part of our constitution, is still here. If anyone believes that on the Opposition Benches there is an urge for change, they should just reflect on how much change they sought to bring about between 1979 and 1997. Not a word—not a bit.
We are indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, for producing a document that is full of fascinating aspects, and I applaud him for it. He gives us the list of life peerages of the current House of Lords granted by Prime Ministers since the Life Peerage Act 1958, and chides Tony Blair for having made so many. I remind the House that from 1979 to 1997 Margaret Thatcher and John Major made 45 Labour life Peers. In the same period, they made 92 Conservative life Peers. One might have thought that they needed to make more because they were behind, but there were 481 against 116. Then the noble Lord says that:
“The reason for the exceptionally high level of Life Peerage appointments by Prime Minister Blair, compared to those of any other Prime Minister, is difficult to understand. The only logical conclusion seems to be a determination to increase Labour representation in the House of Lords as rapidly as possible”.
I cannot think of a better reason, or of a better case. Even today, with the increase in Labour Peers and the standstill in other parties, we should bear in mind that, although Tony Blair has made more, he has not made as many as in the other parties. We are invited to do our job of revising, taking note and working together.
All my life, I have favoured the principle of election to this House. Whatever results from the legislation and the debates, that is the way we must go forward. Unless we go forward, we shall stand still or go backwards. It is a nonsense for this House to pride itself romantically on the good old days when it was a bulwark against the overweening power of government. Between 1979 and 1997 that was absent. I very much look forward to supporting any proposal to give this House an elected element.
Here endeth my case.
My Lords, in preparing for this debate I was reminded of the old adage, “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it”. There is nothing wrong with the present composition of this House and I would prefer to leave it unchanged. Any debate about this system would lead to a frustrating inability to achieve any consensus on moving in one direction or the other.
In these new circumstances, we should reconsider the need for an elected chamber. The great strength of your Lordships’ House is that it contains not just a group of experienced retired Ministers and Members of Parliament but a whole raft of individuals with specialist knowledge and experience from the worlds of commerce, medicine, the services, the Civil Service, academia, the unions—the list is endless.
I was introduced to your Lordships’ House in 2006. During the first few weeks I listened and observed. I found that I was indeed in the company of men and women of wisdom who had acquired great expertise and valuable experience. It was a pleasure to listen to the debates and I was greatly impressed by the quality of speeches. If there is any element of election, my fear is that a number of existing Members are unlikely to stand and that would be a sad loss.
The enthusiasts for an elected chamber say, “We could retain an appointed element, whether 20 per cent or 50 per cent”. I can think of nothing more destructive of the present harmonious atmosphere in the Lords. Elected Members would be justifiably incensed if the votes of appointed Members happened to determine any issue before the House.
Members of the other place should ponder what would happen if Members of the House of Lords interfered in their constituency affairs on the grounds that they, too, had a mandate. That would be likely to cause irritation.
Some people say that the second Chamber should be elected. This is a knee-jerk reaction. Do they realise the expenditure involved? We should ask them whether they want another 500 elected politicians with their secretaries, offices, expenses and salaries and see whether there is the same knee-jerk reaction. In any case, where is the public enthusiasm for more elections? We have trouble persuading people to turn out in large numbers for the present elections.
I am also concerned about the possibility of domination by members of one party in both Houses if that party is popular with the British public. That may interfere with the role of your Lordships’ House, which is to keep a check on the Government.
The House of Lords plays a significant role in the work of Parliament. Its key functions are making laws, holding the Government to account and providing a forum of independent expertise. Our Chamber does not obstruct government legislation; we have the useful power to ask the Commons to think again. An elected Chamber would not be satisfied with that; in time, it would seek to flex its democratic muscle. Your Lordships’ House played a very valuable role when the Terrorism Bill and the Identity Cards Bill were debated, and it keeps a watchful eye on the Government.
Changes to the composition of the House of Lords must protect its crucial function in British democracy. We should concentrate on what would improve your Lordships’ House, not destroy it. First, we should create a statutory Appointments Commission to choose the independent Cross-Bench Peers and to approve those proposed by party leaders, thus avoiding any future cash-for-peerages scandal. Secondly, we should end the ludicrous by-elections for hereditary Peers and transform the existing 92 hereditary Peers into life Peers. The hereditary principle would thus be extinguished.
Those changes would ensure a far preferable House of Lords that complements the House of Commons in its composition and functions. We all agree that there needs to be primacy of the other place. Given that in today’s House of Lords we have something unique, which in practice works very effectively, why sacrifice it because it fails to satisfy a narrow and modish theory of legitimacy?
My Lords, the debate has examined all the possible ramifications of the proposed reforms of the House of Lords. I would like to go over the reforms that have already taken place, and in so doing underline their value and their contribution to a very different second Chamber.
The Government came to power with the promise of reforming this ancient institution to make it more legitimate, more representative and more effective. Since 1997, there have been a royal commission, two Joint Committee reports and four government White Papers on Lords reform. In 1999, three major changes occurred: all but 92 of the 759 hereditary Peers were expelled from the House, a nominations commission with a clear mandate began its work and, for the first time in history, life Peers became the majority element of the Lords’ composition. Those seemingly small changes have had a profound impact on this House.
Let me briefly run through the results of those earlier reforms. Here, I rely heavily on research carried out by Dr Meg Russell of the Constitution Unit at University College, London. The reduction in the size of the House, by means of expelling 655 hereditary Peers, immediately brought the House into something like political balance. Previously, the House was dominated by the Conservatives, with 301 hereditary Conservative Peers but only 19 hereditary Labour Peers, which necessarily threatened Labour legislation. While Tory Governments had been confident when in power about getting their legislation through, new Labour could not have the same confidence. The two main parties are now more or less equally matched, with the balance of power held by the Liberal Democrats and, to some extent, the independents.
The House has become more representative than was ever the case before, and possibly more representative even than the other place. Our general election system tends to inflate governing party majorities and conversely under-represent smaller parties in the House of Commons. Thus in the 1997 election, new Labour won 63 per cent of seats on 43 per cent of the vote, and in 2005 new Labour won a majority of seats on only 35 per cent of the vote. However, the figures for the Lords more fairly represent public opinion as indicated in general elections, with the independents or Cross-Benchers perhaps representing the 30 per cent of the electorate who do not vote at all. So the distribution of seats is far more proportionate in the Lords than it is in the other place.
One consequence of this new balance is that the relationships of power between the two Houses have shifted significantly. However, since the present House of Lords has no mandate to interfere with legislation, it has necessarily acted judiciously. Nevertheless, the second Chamber is more confident and far more prepared to challenge proposed government legislation. One measure of that, again put forward by Dr Meg Russell, is the number of government defeats, or challenges, as someone put it, on amendments. For example, in the parliamentary Session immediately before the 1999 reforms the Government suffered 39 defeats, whereas in the parliamentary Session of 2002-03 there were over 80 defeats. Those figures may well provoke any Government into reform, but at the same time they appear to demonstrate a degree of effectiveness that has not previously been experienced, a greater degree of democracy or legitimacy in the more balanced composition and more involvement in scrutiny than was previously the case.
The point can be made that reforms have altered the House of Lords fundamentally in the past eight years. There have been unintended consequences, many of which have perhaps not been widely acknowledged. Further reforms will also have unintended consequences. Do the Government not wish to examine with more care what those might be? Can it not be said that further efforts to “democratise” the House of Lords may not, and most probably will not, weaken it but have the opposite effect? Finally, do the Government want the House of Lords to have a mandate beyond scrutiny?
My Lords, 10 years ago I was one of a small band of 45 Labour Peers, to whom my noble friend Lord Graham referred, created under a Conservative Government. In those 10 years, I have not only enjoyed being a Minister in this House—well, mostly—but come to respect the experience, the wisdom and the quality of the debates in this House, the reports that our Select Committees produce and our influence over legislation presented to us from the Commons. Often that legislation has not been fully thought through and has required a revising Chamber.
However, I have to say that I have not been impressed sufficiently to change my basic view: that anyone who makes laws to govern the people in some way has to have the consent of the people. There has been some lamentation in this debate that colleagues in another place, the public and the commentators do not fully understand what goes on in this House. That is undoubtedly true, but I gently have to say to the House that there is the reciprocal point of view: that some of the speeches today and some of the chatter around the bars since the decision last week show that we sometimes fail to see ourselves as others see us. The fact of the matter is that politicians in another place, media commentators, the general public and foreign commentators all find it difficult to see any justification for a fully appointed body exerting the legislative influence that we do.
In addition, I am afraid that many of them see us as the beneficiaries either of birth or of patronage—or, more recently, of buying our way into this House. It is not impossible that the same people on occasion applaud the way in which we stand up to the Government, but they do not see any legitimacy in the basis of that power and influence. As my noble friends Lord Plant and Lord Dubs said, they want to know that anyone involved in legislation has, one way or another, directly or indirectly, the consent of the people. It is an old principle: no legislation without representation.
There is another point that I hesitate to make, but I will gently say it. The impressive piece of work by the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, to which my noble friends Lady Quin and Lord Graham referred, sets out the interests and the backgrounds of people in this House. But I draw exactly the opposite conclusion to the one that the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, did: his work underlines what an elitist and metropolitan group we are.
So we are neither representative of the people nor the people’s chosen representatives, and we now have the opportunity, at least in part, to change that situation. I shall therefore vote for both the propositions that were accepted by the House of Commons and I shall oppose all others. Like many other noble Lords, I should have preferred it if we did not focus quite so much on composition; I should have preferred it if we equally, and possibly as a priority, focused on the role and function of this House. There is a lot to be said about that and, of course, the two issues are related—if we change the composition, the balance of power changes, as many noble Lords have said.
Under the current proposals, we would become more legitimate but we would not have quite the equivalent legitimacy. As my noble friend Lord Tomlinson said in his polemic, accountability is also part of democracy. This House will undoubtedly be more legitimate if it is elected and, although we may not be accountable in the sense of having to seek re-election, it is no part of democracy to say that those who have been elected should have no respect for their democratic credentials simply because they will not be re-elected. On that basis, the most powerful elected politician in the world would at present have no legitimacy. Although the president’s legitimacy has been queried in certain respects, his democratic credentials have not been. So the balance of power would change. We also need to change the conventions and to build on the work done by the Cunningham committee in setting out those conventions to see how they would apply and how they would need to be modified for a wholly or largely elected body.
There are a number of other issues relating to a fully or predominantly elected Chamber that the White Paper does not adequately address. That is largely because the White Paper was written in the expectation that we would have a 50:50 or a 60:40 hybrid House. The outcome of the Commons votes is likely to be somewhat different from that. We need to return to a number of those issues—for example, size and composition. The figure of 540 was chosen to reflect, in part, the degree of hybridity. I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Palmer: I think that 540 is far too high a number. In fact, this House is run with a maximum of 350 people, and that is all that is needed for it to do its job.
I am glad to see some right reverend Prelates in their place, as the contentious issue of the position of the Bishops of the Church of England also arises. I have a hereditary position on this matter. My grandfather, good socialist though he was, ranted against the House of Lords not because of the fox-hunting landowners or the grasping plutocrats represented here in 1910, but because of the representation of the Church of England. He was a Methodist before he was a Marxist, and I run in that same dissenting tradition.
We should perhaps also query whether we will need Ministers in the House of Lords under the new proposal. After all, there will be no appointed political hacks such as me and my noble friend on the Front Bench; all Members will be elected. If we want a slightly different sort of House that does a somewhat different job—a job that entails scrutiny and revision and asking the Commons to think again—rather than it being a ladder to political appointments and ministerial office, will we need Ministers? I think not. We will need business managers but will we need executive Ministers? It would help the proceedings of this House and the relations between the two Houses if Commons Ministers were required to come and explain themselves here. That might be something that we could address during the course of the reform.
There is also the question of whether the elections should be held in precisely the form suggested in the White Paper. There are many objections to that. You could have a PR system based on regions smaller than the standard ones but not on a closed system and not even on a partially open system, as proposed in the White Paper. Some of these issues need to be revisited.
So although I fully approve of the general direction that the Government are taking and will support in terms the decisions taken in the House of Commons, a number of key issues need to be returned to. To that extent, I agree that we should review them and reconvene the various bodies that have been looking at this matter—both the cross-party body and the Cunningham committee or something very like it. This is an opportunity to make this House more representative. In those circumstances, I do not think that the guarantee for life, for those of us who sit here now, will be valid, but we should support, not oppose, a gradual process of change to a more representative House.
My Lords, there is a suspicion that the Government thought that this was a good time to bring forward a White Paper on proposals for House of Lords reform in the hope that the cash-for-honours scandal would somehow bring the House of Lords into disrepute. I hope that is wrong because this House is certainly not disreputable; it is those who are under suspicion of misusing the appointments system to reward their friends with seats in the House of Lords in return for substantial donations to the Labour Party, who are disreputable.
This House has been doing its job increasingly well while, over the years, unfortunately, the House of Commons has not been doing its job as well as it should have been. This House has been doing the real job of scrutiny and correcting the mistakes of the other place and the Government that have arisen from ill judged and badly prepared legislation and it has turned back highly questionable policies, especially in relation to human rights and individual freedoms.
The original recommendation by the Government was for 50 per cent appointed and 50 per cent elected Members in this place. That was a silly and unworkable proposition. Members of the House of Commons rightly saw it as such, threw it out and opted for a 100 per cent elected House of Lords. That was a perfectly rational thing for them to do; they were saying, “Either leave it as it is or make it fully elected”. Those are the only two real alternatives.
Having done that, the House of Commons cannot expect to retain its primacy. A fully elected second Chamber—this has been said time and again but it is worth repeating—and the constituents of that Chamber will demand that power and sovereignty is shared between both Houses. Like it or not, that demand will have to be met because those who are represented in this House will demand that, if they are electing people to this House, they must have some power. It will not be good enough for them to sit here as it is, with no power, and for all the power to be vested in one elected Chamber.
At present—I do not know whether the House of Commons understands this—we have a unicameral system masquerading as a bicameral system. The House of Commons can legitimately claim that it must, as the elected Chamber, have primacy and the last word. As I and others have said, that cannot and will not continue if the House of Lords is fully elected. That must be understood. All history tells us that that must be understood. The Senate of the United States was once appointed. When it became an elected House, it demanded and got power and is now the senior House in the United States Congress. People should really read their history and see what happens with a fully elected House. To think otherwise is silly and short-sighted.
Looking at Parliament in the broader sense, I wonder whether the House of Lords is the right target for reform. As many noble Lords have said, it has been doing its job well and has gained respect over the past few years. But that is not so in relation to the House of Commons. Respect for it has been declining and trust in MPs among voters has fallen to about the same level as trust in estate agents. The deplorably low turnout at general elections reflects that loss of confidence in and respect for parliamentary representatives. Furthermore, the House of Commons has been failing in its job of holding the Government to account. Indeed, it has allowed the Prime Minister to undermine many of our institutions, including the Cabinet, which he apparently does not feel he needs to consult, and Parliament itself, which he often treats with contempt. The House of Commons has allowed the Prime Minister, who should be only primus inter pares in a cabinet-type government, to run a presidential system without the proper checks and balances necessary for such a system. Furthermore, the role, power and duties of the House of Commons have changed and have been reduced in large measure. Devolution to Scotland and Wales, and shortly to Ireland, has reduced the workload considerably and since 70 per cent of legislation and regulation now emanates from the EU, the influence of the Commons and its opportunity to scrutinise are further circumscribed.
In the light of such changes, is there still a need for 646 MPs? It is clear that their parliamentary workload has declined and that must be reflected in their constituency workload as well. So could we make do with, say, 500 MPs or perhaps only 450? It would be much cheaper. It is also vital to examine whether the House of Commons should have better means of controlling the Executive and whether individual Members should have increased power and influence in relation to political parties and the party Whips. There are many other reforms that ought to be made to the House of Commons, including the timetabling of all Bills. Timetabling was the most undemocratic thing, and the greatest loss of power that the Commons could have had, yet it allowed it through.
I recommend that the whole institution of Parliament should be reviewed and reformed before anything is done with this House. Such a review would involve both Houses, the relationship between them, the role of each House and, indeed, whether we should have a bicameral system at all or should have a unicameral system. Such things should be examined in detail. I hope that the Government will think about all this again to see whether we can have a proper examination of what is needed in our parliamentary system.
My Lords, I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Steel, who referred to the muddy field in Runnymede as the first point of origin. I do not think many noble Lords have been here for all 792 years, although at this hour of the evening, it may seem like it.
The impact of those years is not necessarily just the physical presence. We have an extraordinary assembly, which in its own very real way has been here for the whole time as this is one of those unique institutions which carries forward collectively its experience and traditions from one generation to another in an absolutely inseparable web. That is what has given the great strength to this House, which is a great asset and a great virtue, and which will be very hard indeed to maintain in any major transitional phase.
I have to ask how such a gathering, which is divided so that there is 20 per cent of the old gathering mixed with 80 per cent of a new one or even more, will have the ability to carry on the training of the new 80 per cent with such a small base as 20 per cent. Over what period of time can the tradition and continuity be passed on? I would be deeply sceptical of that. That is an institutional and traditional factor, which many places have found to their cost is very hard to achieve; and I think that the matter needs great care and thought.
One of the first things that occurred to me when I came to your Lordships’ House was the incredible impact of the teamwork and the way we all bounce off each other in our ideas. This is not a political House. It is a matter of a powerhouse of ideas and the inter-relationship of ideas which knows exactly when to react, and to react collectively on a cause on which we unite. This is not a political thing; it is where principle overrides everything. It is the most impressive feature of your Lordships’ House.
Another factor greatly concerns me as I look at what may now be proposed. To a very large extent it seems to me that your Lordships are already all very much elected by the very best constituency available to anybody, which is that you are elected by your real peers—the people with whom you have worked, who have seen you in close contact and who know the virtue, the quality and the abilities that you bring. That is what has brought you here in the first place. It is extraordinary to think that the same system could be applied to the looser electoral process which is now suggested and that it could bring in the same quality and concentration of talent and ability that has served this nation so well for so long. I would have a real concern about that.
On the principle that something is going to happen, let us give some thought as to what might be done to preserve the great benefits of the continuity of the House and to maintain it at the same level of ability, which is its greatest jewel and pride at this time, or should be. The House as it stands today is an amalgam of a great number—I have worked it out as 17—of separate constituencies from which the bulk of the House is drawn, something like 84 per cent on my calculation. Those constituencies embrace the law—the lawyers separately and the Law Lords as one—there is a military presence, a significant presence of medics, as well as a very large and separate one of medical administrators. There are trades union representatives and people from local government and the police. It has all these elements together. Is it possible that the right way forward would be to think in terms of mandating the statutory Appointments Commission to authorise each of these to create an electoral college of their own. They in turn would provide a list which would effectively replicate the same criteria by which all of your Lordships have come here, because it would be peer-group selection for their memberships to select and vote on. It would not be a general election but effectively a much more precise election—a laser-guided election you might call it—which would bring in comparable quality to that which we have today.
Think of the great virtues of savings that would flow from this. We would first of all not have the costs of a major national election. We would not have the problem that has been so well trawled today that the election for our House would become an overlay on the elections in the other place. We would no longer cause offence to them because it would not be a territorial overlay. There would be professional acknowledgment by the peer groups that they were getting exactly what they wanted. There would probably be a complaint that these were not direct elections, but they could be made direct elections if each electoral college called on its membership for their own vote.
We also have the delicious prospect—on my list I put the right reverend Prelates in as one category—of the right reverend Prelates clustering around a bucket into which they have put all the Order Papers and are trying to ignite them to see whether they can produce enough white smoke to announce that they have actually arrived at a decision—or is that a little too ecumenical for you, gentlemen?
The only point of variance that I have with one earlier speaker—who is, unfortunately, not in his place at the moment—was with the noble Lord who said that we are on our own and that we should not let responsibilities and duties go by default. I should like to assure that noble Lord, when he reads Hansard tomorrow, that I have no intention whatever of letting my responsibilities and duties go by default. When I walk through the Division Lobbies on Wednesday, I will feel not alone but that I am in the presence of the citizens of this country, whom this House has served so well for so many centuries and, I hope, will continue to do so. Therefore, I will go with the process of staying as we are.
My Lords, I intervene in this debate to focus only on one issue: the issue of the hybrid principle and practice. I have been around all the tracks about fully elected Houses and fully appointed Houses but, in recent years, I have come to the conclusion that the principle and practice of a hybrid House is exactly what we need in the United Kingdom, which does not have a written constitution. In our situation, the case is strong.
I want to make that case because one problem that has bedevilled our arguments both here and elsewhere for many months has been the assumption that a hybrid principle is somehow, on the one hand, a fudge or a compromise or, on the other, a stepping stone to a fully elected House. My view is clear that the principle is right. A number of other countries, great democracies, have hybrid Houses—India and France to take two for example. They do not drift towards fully elected Chambers, so the assumption that that must happen is wrong.
I also take the view that, as long as the fully elected first Chamber, the House of Commons, can over-ride everything that is done by this Chamber, there is no question of democratic legitimacy. Where I disagree with my noble friend Lord Whitty is that if you go down the purist principle and say, “Any influence on the legislative process must mean that you should be elected”, you must also elect judges. Judges have an enormous effect on people’s lives and interpret the law with far more latitude than we have in here. So we move towards the situation where—I understand the principled argument in favour of this—everyone in public sector jobs of that type must be fully elected.
I think that a fully elected first Chamber—the House of Commons, in our case—and an appointed second Chamber is good. But there is something missing in this Chamber: the hybrid part. I want to talk about how that could be done in practice to benefit the structure and functioning of the United Kingdom. Just before I do that, I say that one of the great principles bound up in this would be that this would have to be the second Chamber. Anything that is hybrid is bound to be less legitimate than the fully elected Chamber. Therefore, we would always have that secondary role. The principle of hybridity makes it clear that we are the second Chamber, not the first.
I also make the point that the great strength of this place is, as many Members have said, that many of those appointed here are appointed not just as experts but also as genuine voices of a wider community. They are very valuable in their own right. That is a great source of strength. That adds to the democratic principle because it informs the legitimate, fully elected first Chamber.
The other side to the problem of having general voices who are appointed—I noticed this as a recently appointed ex-MP—is that you do not hear the voice of the street as effectively as you do in a fully elected Chamber. Nothing brings you up to the hard-edge issues like knocking on people's doors and asking for their votes to get elected again.
My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord. May I ask the two people on the Front Bench to quieten their voices so that the rest of the Chamber can hear what the noble Lord, Lord Soley, is saying?
My Lords, the other side of the argument is that this leads us to the idea that the hybrid principle can in fact be valuable by adding the power that I just described to the voice. What should the elected part be? Again, this is one of the issues that we have not fully addressed. The assumption that has been made in all our discussions is that an elected part is a stepping stone to a fully elected House or is some sort of fudge to get a compromise through, but that ignores the question of what the elected sector should do. There has been little doubt in my mind for at least a couple of years that the elected part of the second Chamber, which I hope will be a hybrid Chamber, should represent the regions of Britain. I cannot emphasise that enough, because the regions of Britain will grow in power as we devolve more power. This is not the only Government who will devolve power; other Governments will also do so. Given that the second party, the Conservative Party, is weak in Scotland and Wales, the case for the devolved parts of the United Kingdom being represented here again is very strong. Those regional representatives would be the voice of those regions. One of the great weaknesses of Britain compared with the continental European countries is that we do not have a regional structure. By having such representatives, we would to a considerable extent help to put that right. It would give those regions the sort of voice that we need, particularly if we structure it in the right way and—I do not have time to go into this now—without being a challenge or a threat to the elected Members in the first Chamber.
The strength of such diversification in the constitution is important. Because we in this House can appoint, we have the big advantage of being far more representative of ethnicity and disability than the House of Commons is. The House of Commons will catch up fairly soon on gender, but it is not there yet. This can be done in an appointed Chamber, which is a big plus. The other issue which it is very important to take on board is the question of whom you represent. The noble Baroness, Lady Deech, made a very effective point about one of the great constitutional strengths of this second Chamber that cannot be over-ridden by the first Chamber; namely, the right to have a general election so that the first Chamber, having been elected, cannot stop a subsequent general election. That is very important for this reason: sometimes noble Lords and honourable Members in the House of Commons make the assumption that democracy is a safeguard against authoritarianism. It is not, actually. The law and various other things are safeguards. Democracy is part of that, but it is very important to remind ourselves, particularly in the European area, that both Hitler and Mussolini were elected. It is often worth reminding ourselves that such people are elected at times of acute economic distress and social and political disturbance. That is when they win, and it is quite useful to have people who are not dependent on the street to vote.
It is a complex area, but I shall wrap this up by making the plea not to throw out the principle of a hybrid House because it is thought to be some sort of stepping stone or fudge. It is not; it is a very good principle for a country that does not have a written constitution and that would have to write something very much like a constitution if it went down the road of a fully elected second Chamber. To avoid that, we must draw on our strength to be able to appoint, but to appoint to a part of the legislature that can always be overruled by the elected first Chamber. The one golden rule is that the first Chamber cannot over-rule us on protecting the right of the people to have a general election. The strength of the hybrid principle has been understated. It is strong, and it is why I would prefer about 40 per cent to be elected and 60 per cent to be appointed. I agree with my noble friend Lord Whitty that this should be a much smaller House, as should the House of Commons. That principle could be very strong and could take this House on to many other greater things.
My Lords, the other place has voted strongly for a fully elected House and less convincingly for an 80 per cent elected one. But has it really thought through the consequences? I wish to focus on five key areas: first, the powers of the reformed Chamber; secondly, the composition; thirdly, the form of election; fourthly, the cost of the change; and, finally, my personal reform thoughts. I do not agree with the other place or official Conservative Party policy that we should have a fully or predominantly elected upper House. The excellent Cunningham report on Conventions, as the noble Lord, Lord Cunningham, said earlier, made the following point clearly in paragraph 61. If the composition of the reformed Chamber changes to an elected House, the Members would wish to review its powers. Elected Members of a reformed Chamber would want more powers than the existing House. This whole subject of powers should be part of any Bill to reform the composition before the reformed Chamber gets going, otherwise there will be major scope for deadlock between the two Houses.
If we are to have an elected reformed Chamber, does the other place realise that it may become much more assertive, like the US Senate? Elected Members could well demand major changes, such as the removal of the Salisbury convention, abolition of the Parliament Acts, the ability to amend orders and to vote them down more regularly, more aggressive behaviour in regard to ping-pong and greater powers in connection with Bills starting in the Lords.
Do Members in the other place realise that elected Members of a reformed Chamber could well focus on increasing their powers with respect to financial legislation? In the USA, the Senate is equal to Congress with regard to money Bills. As Woodrow Wilson wrote:
“The Senate’s right to amend [money Bills] has been allowed the widest possible scope. The upper house may add to them what it pleases; may go altogether outside of their original provisions and tack to them entirely new features of legislation, altering not only the amounts but even the objects of expenditure, and making out of the materials sent them by the popular chamber measures of an almost totally new character”.
The approval of both the US Congress and Senate is required for a revenue Bill to become law.
I can see many advantages of the USA political process with regard to finance Bills and would like to adopt them in the current House of Lords. We have the ludicrous situation in the UK where many parts of our Finance Bills are not scrutinised by either House, which makes for bad law, and a change to this system is overdue. But would the other place be happy with that, because it might well happen? Elected Members might wish to increase the reformed Chamber’s power by following another US Senate convention. The US Government, as I understand it, are not able to ratify treaties without the Senate’s consent. Perhaps we should extend that to ratifying overseas wars. In the USA, the President cannot make important appointments such as ambassadors, members of the federal judiciary, including the Supreme Court, and members of the Cabinet, without the advice and consent of the Senate.
On composition and associated issues, in table 7 of the White Paper, the current figure for the House is 732 Members. The table assumes that no fewer than 299, or 41 per cent, of Members will have retired, resigned or died by 2014. Given that the average annual number of deaths since 2000 is, according to my noble friend Lord Selsdon, 20, that figure extrapolated means160 will die by 2014. The Government are expecting the remaining 140 or so to resign. Is that realistic and what do the Government plan to do financially for those who resign? Should that not be extended to those who lost their seats under the House of Lords Act 1999? Let us assume that none of the 140 mentioned above wishes to retire, which is a strong possibility. We could still have a reformed Chamber of over 700 Members for a long time to come.
Another issue with regard to composition that concerns me is how the proposed new elected Members represent their constituencies. Under paragraph 7.95, the White Paper says that the simplest approach is to use the regions used for elections to the European Parliament. We have currently 78 MEPs. We will have 540 elected Peers under the White Paper’s 100 per cent elected proposals. Doing the mathematics, for example, for the European south-east region of the UK you will have 69 Members of the reformed Chamber. But who are they representing? Will MPs be happy with 69 new Members stomping around their constituencies? The Scottish experience, as disclosed by the noble Lord, Lord Steel, tells us that local MPs are distinctly unhappy with MSPs overlapping on to their territories.
The 100 per cent elected option has failed to mention the Bishops. Can I ask the Minister what is the position of the Church of England if all the Bishops are removed? If there is to be a change—and is this really necessary?—I believe that the 26 should constitute more of a multi-faith mix, and this number should be appointed.
The problem of the nature of who the new Members represent is compounded by the form of election preferred by Jack Straw. It is the partially open regional list system. However disguised, this is an electoral method that strengthens the hold of political parties on the Chamber. The partially open list system proposed allows electors to make some changes to the order of candidates, but most electors and even the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor on the Floor of the House recently, find understanding the system difficult. Indeed, I see great scope for disagreement on the form of the voting system in the other place. The people who would be put forward for election would be on party lists and would not necessarily be those with the greatest ability. To replicate the Commons’s lack of experience outside politics in the reformed Chamber would in my view be a big mistake. Are the electorate really going to give their vote to any candidate to be in a legislature for 15 years? I would like to be proved wrong, but I cannot imagine a very high turnout. This does not appear to be an obvious recipe for generating a mandate that will enhance popular confidence in the second Chamber. Some commentators have suggested that a better proposal might be the Danish list system which allows parties to choose between closed, semi-open and fully open lists. By leaving it to each party to decide which option to use, it would be seen which party is most willing to let voter choice over-ride party management.
I turn now to the subject of cost. According to a press release from the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, he estimates that the cost of the proposed reform of the House of Lords will be more than £2 billion. Unlike the Government’s dismissal of his figures, I find them eminently plausible. The assumption that each Member of the reformed Chamber will cost one-third less than a Commons Member seems sound. He takes into account the saving on fewer life Peers, redundancy packages and the cost of additional accommodation. Does the Minister agree with these figures, and if not, can he give the Government’s forecast?
My personal solution for reform is generally not to make major change. I feel the current Chamber works very well. One small improvement would be to have ex officio the heads of commercial, industrial and service industry organisations in the House, so that in a non-partisan way their expertise could be made use of. The House is a little weak in these areas as a lot of business expertise was lost as a result of the House of Lords Act 1999.
The other place has expressed its view. It believes that the reformed Chamber will be more democratic. This in itself is doubtful. As I said at the beginning, it has not thought through the consequences of what it has done and has failed to realise that it could weaken its own power. Is that what the other place wants, and is it right for Parliament? I know that our Back- Benchers on this side of the House will for good constitutional reasons strongly oppose a Bill for an elected House, as will many from the Government Back Benches. I remember that the House of Lords Act 1999 only just got through, and my soundings on these and the Government Back Benches suggest that that was a piece of cake when compared with any Bill for 80 per cent or 100 per cent election. Let both Front Benches be advised of this.
My Lords, my Chief Whip has just told me that, on the face of it, I have an hour and a quarter in which to talk to your Lordships about the matter before us. I assure you that I shall not.
Most of the points that I want to raise were made in the excellent speech of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, with whose views I have a great deal of sympathy. I came into this House as a relatively callow youth, in House of Lords terms—I was about 50—and with little experience of Parliament. I sat on these Benches, where I sit now, but I was a member of the SDP, so I disengage myself from the implications of eccentricity made about Liberals by my Chief Whip.
At a very early meeting, there was a request for a volunteer to speak to one of the remaining grammar schools in Essex about our bicameral system. That evening I had supper at my club, where I met a well known Tory Minister who asked me how I was getting on in the House of Lords. I said that it was all right, that I had got engaged in the business of the House and that I had friendly and agreeable companions. When I said that I was thinking about talking to a school, he said, “You must. You won’t be able to take your part in political life adequately unless you speak to different audiences”. So I went and spoke to schools until the curriculum changed. I do not know whether it was because of the subject or the way in which I presented it, but I was asked back to several schools. They were helpful to me and I was helpful to them. We went over our parliamentary democracy, why it worked and what improvements could be made, particularly to the House of Lords.
When I was talking to sixth-formers and other groups—indeed, I once spoke to some academics at Oxford, which was a very daunting experience—I cannot recall anybody ever saying that the House of Lords was not legitimate and that it needed to legitimise itself by becoming an elected Chamber. I am at variance with my party on this, but I have always been in favour of an appointed House. I learnt in my early days, and it was reinforced by the people to whom I spoke, that the most important thing about our bicameral system is that it is a check not only against the abuses of democracy—the Americans recognised this when they created the United States—but on the Executive. We have done that extremely well in this House, and very seriously.
One of the things that may have moved the Government to have this in their manifesto and to produce it in the form in which it is in the White Paper is that the public and the media view us in a strange light, almost deriding what happens in your Lordships' House. For example, whenever there is a Lords debate of any interest on television, they flash up the same picture of Peers sitting in their robes. I have even met people from the House of Commons who thought, until they came here, that we sat in our robes on a regular basis. Perhaps they thought that it was for secondary legislation. But there is an extraordinary ignorance about what we do in this House.
I came here to hide from a broken marriage and the possibility of changing my job, but I stayed, although I need not have done, because it was so fascinating. I was so impressed at the work done by others in the House that I became interested; my colleagues were kind enough to put me on the Front Bench, perhaps to stop me voting against my party, as I probably will this week. It was an experience that I am honoured to have had. I still have a very high opinion of this House and of the relationship with the other Chamber. It is a subtle one which is not fully appreciated.
The cash-for-peerages scandal has done immense damage. It shows the contempt in which some people—no names, no pack drill—hold this House if there is any truth in the allegations that people have offered a seat here in return for money. I cannot for the life of me see why anybody who has made a great deal of money in their life and who is facing a comfortable retirement would want to come here and be a working Peer. I can only assume that it is to buy the wife something that she has not got—she has everything except the privilege and status of being a Peer’s wife. That is the only reason I can see for paying. If I were a rich man, I would not pay £1 million or £2 million to become a Member of your Lordships' House, but my wife might like it.
This is a respectable vote—let us not listen to all the gossip about a rigged vote to kick the issue into the long grass, although there is undoubtedly an element of that—because an elected House, however it is engineered, is likely to be a threat to the other place. The weakness in the White Paper is the 15-year term. Fifteen years seems to be nonsense. If one is to have an elected House, let the term of office be five or six years, or the same amount of time for which people are elected into the House of Commons; then the electorate can elect them again. But 15 years is ludicrous. Professor Ackerman, professor of law and political science at Yale University, although he approves of change in our system, stated in an article in the London Review of Books that all that the proposals will produce is mediocre people, or people whom he calls “media hounds”, who feel that they cannot do anything and so become media celebrities. There is some truth in that.
The cheapest and best way of proceeding in the short and medium term is to maintain an appointed House, but a properly appointed House: a House that is appointed by a body that is separated from the Prime Minister or others who wish to use it for other purposes. That is the easiest of the problems facing us. It is much easier than creating an elected House which will mirror to some extent, however much one tries to avoid it, what goes on in the other place.
Time is running short. I think that taxis have already gone, so I have probably not pleased the staff of the House, but I cannot help that. Somebody messed around with the speakers list: I was No. 24, then found myself No. 53; I now find myself in the Cinderella spot.
We should not talk about legitimacy; I never like the term “legitimate theatre”—it means absolutely nothing. Legitimacy in Parliament means absolutely nothing. “Legitimacy” as far as I am concerned means “lawful”—I think that that is what one means. I was lawful when I came here with a writ as a hereditary Peer; I am lawful now as an elected hereditary Peer. Whether I shall remain lawful for very much longer, I do not know, but if I stay here any longer, I shall enjoy it and contribute as best as I can, if rather less than I have done in the past.
I have heard some wonderful speeches in your Lordships' House. We have already shown in this debate what we are: we are a serious House, dealing with serious problems and trying to produce a proper resolution of them. It is difficult. I hope that it does not go on too long. I suggest fine-tuning and keeping an appointed House.
My Lords, I apologise for taking your Lordships’ time, but I am bothered that cash for honours has been raised a number of times. There is a police investigation; nobody has been charged; and if anybody is charged, they will still have to go through the legal processes. For this House to use it in this debate bothers me, so may we please leave it out and simply debate the case on which the White Paper is based and its merits?
My Lords, I beg to move that this debate be now adjourned until tomorrow at noon.
Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.
House adjourned at 10.55 pm.