Debate resumed on the Motion moved on Monday 12 March by the Lord Falconer of Thoroton—namely, That this House takes note of the White Paper The House of Lords: Reform (Cm. 7027).
My Lords, the first thing that strikes me about yesterday’s excellent debate is that whatever we on the Back Benches may think, our Front Benches—or at least the Front-Bench spokesmen on this issue—are in broad agreement. They want an 80 per cent elected House. That must give the rest of us some food for thought.
My right honourable friend Jack Straw backed the 50 per cent option; indeed, he predicated a whole White Paper on that option and was soundly defeated, not just in the Commons but within his own party. The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, having argued persuasively for the status quo, cheerfully went on to back the 80 per cent option, acknowledging as he did that his own Back Bench in this House would not support him any more than his party supported that option in the Commons. The Liberal Democrats want a 100 per cent elected House but will settle for what they can get—and who can blame them? Of course, the Cross Benches rightly prefer an 80 per cent elected element because it preserves that independent expertise, which we all acknowledge is such an important and valuable attribute in this House. Meanwhile, the House of Commons, the elected House, has voted decisively for a 100 per cent elected Lords—and, as Jack Straw remarked last week, the genie cannot be put back into its bottle.
How will the Government pursue the consensus without which, we are told, we cannot proceed? The Government will be against any vote in this House for 100 per cent appointed Peers, but they are clearly deeply uneasy about the Commons’ decision for 100 per cent elected Peers. There is no consensus between the parties in the Commons and it is pretty clear that there will be no consensus between the two Houses, but the Government have said that they will seek consensus between the Commons vote and the Lords vote, and the Lord Chancellor said that the cross-party group—that is, Mr Straw and the Front-Benchers—will reconvene.
I return to the question put by the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth of Drumlean, yesterday about a range of views in that group, a point elegantly sidestepped by his noble friend Lord Strathclyde. I put it this time to my noble and learned friend. How will Back-Bench opinion in the political parties be represented? We have had no such representation hitherto, on that group—no one to argue for what I suspect this House will vote for. A consensus based on the current cross-party group will be no consensus at all; it will be a sham.
The Government’s unease is understandable because the decisive vote on the 100 per cent model has clear implications—at least it does for any person of common sense—for the primacy of the House of Commons. That may be why such large numbers voted in another place for the 100 per cent appointed and 100 per cent elected Peers. Some 70-odd did so, by my calculations, including 60 or so of my own party. That is an impressive number voting for two apparently contradictory positions—and, in time, those 70 will have to reach a decision to back one option or the other. However, I think that their vote at present is defensible, because this is an argument about hybridity.
The argument is that hybridity will confirm legitimacy because this House will have an elected element, which my noble and learned friend claimed provided what he called democratic connection, or the legitimacy claimed by many others. We can be legitimate, but not too legitimate, because legitimacy would challenge Commons primacy. The 20 per cent appointed Peers will be the bulwark claimed against a challenge to the primacy of the House of Commons.
The 80 per cent political or elected Members of this House will still believe that their individual legitimacy is every bit as valid as the individual legitimacy of those elected to another place. They will recognise that the cap put on the elected element in this House will be there to protect those in the Commons to the disadvantage of the electoral mandate that they have in this House. Moreover, the first time that a vote in this House turns on the 20 per cent appointed votes, there will be a constitutional crisis. An elected majority will simply not tolerate being overruled by an unelected minority, nor should they.
What of the relationship between the two Houses? Why should an elected Member in this House subvert the mandate from his own electorate to the mandate of an MP in another place? That is not democracy; it is a doctrine of, “all elections are equal, but some are more equal than others”. It is this that will be used to protect the primacy of the Commons. That primacy is not challenged—it is right that the Commons has primacy, and there is no question of it. Members in the Commons are elected, we are not—end of story. But sooner or later—and, given the vibrancy of our politics, it will be sooner—the 80 per cent elected Members of this House will challenge another place, will feel an equal legitimacy with the all-elected Commons and the 20 per cent artificial constraint will not hold. It will be attacked and defeated and primacy will go.
The truth is that last week’s vote in the Commons has put primacy into play. The all-party Cunningham committee said unanimously that at this point the conventions between the two Houses must be reconsidered. It was a unanimous committee position, adopted by unanimous resolution in both Houses. How would this vital issue be examined again? We already know what the Government want on the conventions: the status quo. But who will they consult? Will there be another “understanding” with the Front-Benchers, with no Back-Bench representation? Or will the Cunningham committee reconvene? There is only one respectable answer: the issue must be dealt with by an all-party committee of both Houses. No other means is acceptable, and I ask my noble and learned friend to confirm unequivocally that that will be the case.
If this House has a majority of elected Members, the primacy of the Commons as currently understood will go. The argument that it can be protected is both unsustainable and undemocratic: unsustainable because neither electors nor elected will abide by it, and undemocratic because it denies the elected the power to act on behalf of the electors. Democracy is not just about voting, but about voting for people who will act on the basis of the mandate that the electorate have given them. The election of political members of this House will give them such a mandate. It is misleading to give the electorate the right to vote without the right of the elected to deliver on that vote. A mandate without means to deliver is meaningless; worse, it is a deceit.
I shall vote against all the options on hybridity. Hybridity is a connection not to democracy but to constitutional uncertainty and electoral unfairness. I shall vote for a 100 per cent appointed House. I could vote for a 100 per cent elected House, but only if there is a new settlement between the two Houses reflecting that all elections to the British Parliament really are equal, without some being more equal than others.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, with whom I served on the Joint Committee on Conventions. I find that her main point is one that I would reinforce.
It is a privilege to speak in this debate. Yesterday, we had many fine speeches. There were outstanding speeches from the government Benches by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine, from the Conservative Benches by my noble and learned friend Lord Howe and from the Cross Benches by the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd. They all agreed, and I agreed with what they said. I shall not repeat their arguments, but there is a consensus across the Benches that ought to be followed.
The voting in the House of Commons last week was not, as was feared, a train crash; it is probably better described as a nuclear missile that went off at half-cock. Yesterday, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor said that we must take the vote on 100 per cent elected at face value. That would be extraordinarily naive. In reality there was an enormous amount of tactical voting. It is important to analyse how people voted last week, and I shall do so, reinforcing the point made by the noble Baroness a moment ago.
I first make one or two simple points. First, I support the views expressed, as quoted yesterday, by Mr Alan Williams in another place. He was my pair for some 33 years, succeeded me as chair of the Liaison Committee and is now Father of the House. He pointed out that hybridity is not only the worst of all possible worlds, but intrinsically unstable. At the end of the day, the choice can only really be between wholly elected or wholly appointed.
Secondly, the idea that democracy would be increased in this country if we had elected Members of this House is false. We already have a system that is 100 per cent democratic; one cannot make it more than 100 per cent. Having elected Members of this House would change the balance between the two Houses. We would lose what is now an effective system, both in revising legislation—I see the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, opposite, with whom we did a great deal—because the Commons is no longer revising and scrutinising legislation as it should, and in holding the Government to account. It is inconceivable that this House would hold the Government to account—let us say at Question Time last week, on defence or the National Health Service—with the same expertise if we had elected Members.
The Government, in support of their view that an elected element in this House would be all right, points out that other countries have elected double chambers. However, they did not point out in the evidence to the Select Committee that all those countries have written constitutions. As far as I know, the Government do not propose that for this country, although given the rather oracular remarks of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor yesterday, I am not sure that he is not moving in that direction.
As to the future and the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor said yesterday that we will reconvene the cross-party group. If one analyses the votes in the House of Commons last week, however, it is clear that the official policy of the Conservative Party is not supported by a majority of Conservatives in the Commons; nor, as I am sure we will find, is it supported by a majority of Conservatives in this House. The Government’s preference is not supported by 128 to 188 Labour Members in the House of Commons. We shall wait and see what happens on the Labour Benches in this House. In reality, it would be completely absurd to reconvene that committee without having effective representation of the views of the majority of each party in each House. We simply must sort that out, because there will be no effective progress without it.
No doubt my noble friend Lord Strathclyde will make many points with which I agree—for example, on the dangers of proportional representation and other issues. On the fundamental issue of whether we should have elected Members of this House, however, it is clear that that is not the case. If we are to move forward, we must follow the line which—to my surprise, because I had not anticipated it coming immediately before my speech—was laid out by the noble Baroness. We must sort this out. It is an unusual situation, but it is essential to do so.
That is the immediate problem. The other problem is that there is much speculation in the press that this will all be kicked into the long grass—Mr Gordon Brown, or whoever else happens to become leader of the Labour Party, will not be keen to have a constitutional confrontation in the first two years of their period in office—although it will turn up in the manifestos. If there is one feature of our democratic system that is very doubtful, so far as democracy is concerned, it is manifestos; they are agreed behind closed doors, there are no free votes and one is stuck with them. It may be that at the next election the manifestos of all three parties are in favour of an elected element. The Joint Committee will then have to examine in great detail whether or not the Bill is a manifesto Bill. I hope that we will look again at what the committee says, because the whole question of whether a manifesto Bill must not be opposed in this House is rather doubtful.
I refer to one point in the committee’s report, when it qualified what it said about manifesto Bills. It said that it offered no definition of a situation in which an attempt to defeat a Bill on Second Reading would be appropriate, save that that would include free votes. I leave noble Lords to consider the implications of that point in relation to manifesto Bills. It may well be that, whatever the manifesto, there are those of us who would still feel that we ought to oppose any elected element in this House.
It is important that we should not get to that stage. We should try to resolve this matter before the next election. All that needs to be done is to have an Appointments Commission that is not open to criticism in the way that the present system is. I also believe that the continuation of the by-election system for hereditary Peers is not helpful to our overall situation. Its removal and the establishment of a proper Appointments Commission are all that is needed at present. Parliament is working very well now. One of my hereditary colleagues said to me a little while ago that it is working better than it has done in the past 700 years, and that is probably true. Therefore, while I am not in favour of the status quo—there are changes that need to be made—the right approach is to oppose any elected Members of this House. I shall vote for a wholly appointed Chamber, and oppose all the other options.
My Lords, I agree with the previous two speakers on only one point: you either have an appointed House or an elected House. I am not trying to curry favour with people whose opinion is against an elected House. The principles are very important and cannot be ignored. The democratic principles of a reformed second Chamber must surely rest in the accountability of the membership through election and the legitimacy of a diverse candidature to contest elections to this House. The elected Members must surely represent all nations and regions of the United Kingdom, many of which are under-represented here at present. Not only that, but they should be representative and inclusive of all social strata and occupations. It must be a House, preferably a Senate, with no overall majority, identified with people of different political philosophies and allegiances and of none.
I have always believed in an elected second Chamber, and after five and a half years here that is still my view. The second Chamber must scrutinise and revise legislation; it must be complementary to the House of Commons and not usurp its primacy. A substantial vote in the House of Commons to have a 100 per cent elected House of Lords endorses that principle.
Arguments will rage over a number of issues. The first is whether the powers of the House of Lords should be strengthened, diminished or remain unchanged. The second is the method of election to the second Chamber. Other factors come into play. No party or grouping should hold an overall majority in the House, as is widely accepted; indeed, it is incorporated into the White Paper. The position of independent Cross-Benchers should be incorporated into the second Chamber within an electoral system, and I do not believe that to be impossible. With those caveats, I believe that it is possible to have a representative Senate to bolster democratic accountability within the UK. To address some points that have just been made, the primacy of the House of Commons will surely continue to be protected by the Parliament Act.
If we take all these factors into account, the concept of an all-elected second Chamber now has legitimacy through the indicative vote in the House of Commons. That concept has certainly been endorsed by Liberals and Liberal Democrats for the past 100 years, though I note from the voting in the other place that a majority of Conservatives still do not accept that principle. It is my belief that we should get on with it, work out a fair electoral system for all and at the same time, at least initially, retain the status quo so far as this House’s powers are concerned in the Parliament of the United Kingdom. We would not then present a threat to the House of Commons at this time.
It would be vital to incorporate an electoral system of proportional representation. I detect that that is anathema to some noble Lords, but in fact it is enlightenment. Let us hope that they learn that over time. I would prefer a single transferable vote system. If a list system is introduced, it is crucial that open lists of candidates are deployed. Power must remain with the electors and not with the political parties or factional interests. It is important that this should be a parliamentary legislature that fairly represents all parts of the United Kingdom, including a fair representation from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. There will also be an opportunity to create a gender balance in the Lords, which is best secured through an open-list, single transferable vote system. That follows almost automatically.
Recent experiences in the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly show that closed electoral lists have caused problems, especially as there has been a mix between first-past-the-post elected Members and Members elected from a regional list. The perception of some is that there have been two classes of Members; not only that, but the closed lists have specified which party member is nominated to get elected. I believe that these same weaknesses would occur in a hybrid House in this Chamber. A single transferable vote system gives the same status for all elected Members. Such equality is transparent, and an open list ensures that those elected are the choice of the electors. That ensures that the legislature is both legitimate and democratic. I will support an elected second Chamber created on that basis.
The resolution of the vexed question of Cross-Benchers and their unique contribution to the House can be resolved through election to this House, possibly—and this needs investigation—by an electoral college of prescribed institutions and occupations—
That could be entirely representative of the country, my Lords. I am not saying that this is the answer; I am saying that it should be investigated. I know that there is great scepticism about this, as can be heard, but the future of the House rests on accountability, and indeed legitimacy through election to it. That, surely, is the way ahead.
My Lords, we have now had two attempts to reach agreement on the composition of a hybrid House of Lords—partly elected and partly appointed. It seems to me that, as a result of the proceedings in another place last week, many of the speeches here yesterday and two very notable speeches today—from the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, and the noble Lord, Lord Higgins—the search for a hybrid solution has reached a dead end. It would be most useful for our discussion if we were now to put on one side discussion about hybrids, even a hybrid with 80 per cent elected Members, to which, in any case, at least 80 per cent of the pros and cons of 100 per cent election apply, and to continue the discussion in terms of a choice between wholly elected and wholly appointed.
As the noble Lord who has just spoken said, before we try to make that choice, there is, or should be, a prior question: what do we want a second Chamber to do? That question is barely touched on in the White Paper. The general assumption seems to be that we want it to do pretty well what the House of Lords does now—certainly not to have greater powers, and to be if anything slightly more restricted than now.
If that is our position, it is one of the factors that affect the choice between wholly appointed and wholly elected. To make the second Chamber a wholly elected body would be a profound and fundamental change in our parliamentary constitution—a change with many consequences and ramifications, many still unforeseen, that need to be thought through over a considerable period. At this moment do we really want or need to undertake such a change, if there are to be no significant changes in the functions of the second Chamber?
It is suggested that a wholly elected Chamber could be subject to rules and conventions similar to those by which this House is content to be bound, so as to protect the primacy of the other place. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, on that. I doubt whether the Members of such a Chamber would be content to submit to such constraints. Before long they would surely come to feel that they had as good a democratic mandate as the other place and should have the same or very similar functions and powers. There would inevitably be unremitting pressure to stretch the rules and conventions, and constant unproductive tensions between the two Chambers. Thus the second Chamber would soon in effect constantly be challenging the primacy of the first.
The White Paper has more to say about the disadvantages of and objections to a wholly elected Chamber than about its advantages and benefits, and it does not succeed in arguing away all those disadvantages and objections. I am not convinced that membership of a wholly elected second Chamber, constrained as we are content to be, would attract people of the standing and capacity that we should wish for. Why should such people be prepared to subject themselves to the process of submitting for election to such a Chamber? Whatever the process by which Members were elected, I wonder whether the British voting public would have sufficient enthusiasm for electing the Members of a second Chamber to go out and vote for them. I suspect that the British public are beginning to suffer from a surfeit of elections—from election fatigue. A second Chamber elected on the votes of only about a quarter of the electorate would lack the democratic mandate and the degree of democratic representativeness and authority that such a Chamber ought to have.
A wholly elected second Chamber would not have room for the independent element that those who sit on these Benches provide, and by which all those who have discussed these matters set great store. Our all-appointed House is thought to be deficient in representativeness, so we should be searching for a way of making it more broadly representative. I suggest that other ways than a process of direct election could deliver this objective. “Legitimacy” is not and should not be used as a synonym for “direct election”.
The proposed independent statutory Appointments Commission could be given instructions as to the balance that it should seek to preserve between the representatives of the various political parties and between those representatives and independent non-political members. It could be instructed to invite nominations for the appointment of members representing the various social partners—for example, from the political parties, from the world of local government and regional communities, from the world of industry and commerce, from the trade union movement, from the financial world, from agriculture, from the churches, from non-government organisations, and from the world of charities. Nominations could also be invited from the professional bodies representing, for instance, the health professions, the legal professions, the academic and educational professions, and the media professions.
The people so nominated would not need to be politically independent. Some no doubt would be; others would be supporters of one or other of the political parties. The political affiliations of nominees would have to be declared so that the commission’s recommendations could take into account the balances of representation in the House. The commission could put forward lists of recommendations once or twice a year. Its recommendations would be made to the Prime Minister, who would be expected to put them unaltered to the Queen. The Prime Minister might need to retain residual powers to make his own recommendations to the Queen, for instance when he wanted to appoint as a Minister someone who was not a Member of the other place. In other cases—senior public servants on retirement from the armed services or the Civil Service, for example—he would send his nominations to the commission for consideration by it.
We should no doubt continue to examine the pros and cons of a wholly elected second Chamber, and the means by which we might seek to differentiate an elected second Chamber from the other place and so maintain the primacy of the other place. But that would be a profoundly radical, even revolutionary, change in our constitutional parliamentary arrangements—a great leap into the unknown, with unforeseeable consequences. This is a field in which, if we want to press forward to make early proposals, we should do better to proceed by a process of gradual reform.
I suggest that the time has come when we should concentrate on building and improving what we have, on reform which would give us a more broadly representative House and which would be achievable and manageable within a reasonable period.
My Lords, I, too, share the view that Jack Straw has tried his best to reconcile conflicting opinions about Lords reform. However, in my mind the key issue is how to maintain freedom for the nation and for each and every individual within it. In modern Britain, a two-tier Parliament has, to date, provided a very effective means for this to happen. The House of Commons represents a form of democracy in which everyone aged 18 and above has a right to vote for its Members. It has been throughout the previous century, and even longer, a symbol of British freedom and, indeed, since the Magna Carta there has been a culture in this country of ensuring that the rights of all could be seen to be valued.
However, full election in both Houses may not be in the interests of freedom. The noble Baroness, Lady Symons, highlighted some of the problems that need to be addressed. Our 21st-century fashion for a particular form of democracy may, in the end, not give us freedom; election and freedom are not necessarily coterminous. Voting does indeed provide a peaceful way of changing government, giving a political party to form Her Majesty’s Government or to become Her Majesty’s Opposition in Parliament, but it does not necessarily guarantee freedom or success. Given voter apathy and low turnouts, the House of Commons should take the warning of the Teacher of Galilee of taking the beam out of its own eye before it tries to take the speck of dust out of the eye of your Lordships’ House. Energy should be spent rather in persuading the electorate to reconnect with politics. That is a far more urgent and necessary task.
Where is the empirical evidence for the bold claim in the White Paper, at paragraph 6.12, that “in many people's eyes”, the House of Lords,
“still lacks the … legitimacy to carry out its current role”?
If I am not mistaken, a survey soon after the last general election suggested that two-thirds of the public backed the House of Lords’ right to delay unpopular legislation, even if it comes out of the party in government. What gives the House its legitimacy is simply this: it is established in law and is part of the parliamentary constitutional agreement of this country. For me accountability in the end has to do with transparency. Is what we do here transparent or not? If it is, then it is legitimate. No one serves in your Lordships' House or the House of Commons until they have taken their oath of allegiance to the Queen. That is what gives Members a seat.
L Blake, barrister at law, in his book, The Royal Law, locates for the reader where our freedom really lies. He says that few people realise how important for our civil liberties are the words of the coronation service for the sovereign—a service embedded in an Act of Parliament, the Coronation Oath Act 1689. The service is not a meaningless pageant. Blake says:
“The Coronation Service is where the Divine Law is placed before the law of the State, acknowledged and reverenced. It reminds us of the source of all our law, in truth and in justice. We should not forget the words in which are conveyed the truth which inspires our Common Law”.
As a 13th-century lawyer, Bracton, rightly said, the king or queen,
“must not be under man but under God and the law, for the law makes the king”.
In forcing King John to sign the Magna Carta, were the barons not insisting that he observed this principle and his coronation oath?
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford spoke yesterday of Parliament needing to take into account the spiritual dimension of people as it legislates—that beliefs affect people, and that the voices of a religious life need to be heard. The presence of the Lords Spiritual is a necessary reminder of that. I want to go further and say that the Queen in Parliament is sovereign, but is also Queen in law, in council, and in the Executive. That is the constitutional arrangement. Are we going to preserve it? The Lords Spiritual remind Parliament of the Queen's coronation oath and of that occasion when the divine law was acknowledged as the source of all law. We see ourselves not as representatives, but as connectors with the people and parishes of England. Ours is a sacred trust—to remind your Lordships' House of the common law of this nation, in which true religion, virtue, morals and law are always intermingled; they have never been separated.
As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine, and the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, reminded us yesterday, the aim of your Lordships' House has always been to provide a wise check and balance for the nation using the diversity of skills and experience in revising legislation, delaying ill thought out or hasty legislation, being deliberative and acting as a bastion of democracy by not allowing a party in government to extend its life beyond the timetable set in the Parliament Act. That is the role of this House. Your Lordships' House has always been in the interests not just of democracy, but of that higher freedom which supports our values and the culture of this nation.
It was right that the House of Lords be reformed, but why not allow time to assess whether further reform is needed? Is not evolution a better way, compared to activism and pressure to modernise? We should think very carefully before losing the breadth of experience of hereditary Lords, appointed Lords, retired Supreme Court Justices and others with the automatic right to sit here. In an age where our House of Commons is ever more homogenous, with more and more professional MPs in all parties and less and less breadth of experience from a wide range of operational life, we should note that election does not bring an age range of 18 to 90, the breadth of experience through luck in life, sheer hard work which leads to some appointments, specialist gifts in areas of life, and conscience and values which stem even from beyond the elector. These make for wisdom and, most importantly, freedom—freedom to think and say what is right, freedom to check and balance legislation for the whole nation, and freedom to learn from the diversity within the House itself. I have been here a short time, and I am most impressed by what I hear, see and experience.
Blake's book also shows that there is a government behind Government, with a greater purpose and permanence than the changing spectrum of party-political strife. This government consists of institutions, mostly of medieval origin—the monarchy, Parliament, common law, jury system, church, universities, the police and the Armed Forces. The powers working through these institutions, which meet in the House of Lords, are made available to the Government of the day. The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, told us yesterday that who makes the law must get the consent of the people. What would he make of Lord Atkin in the case of Donoghue v Stevenson, in which the law of the duty of care towards one's neighbour was clearly established, based on the story of the good Samaritan? What about Lord Denning in many of his judgments, where he was clearly not interpreting law but making it? What matters in the end is how people behave when they get here. Are they equal to the task? Will the suggested changes lead this House to be a better House?
Despite the apparent surface of fairness of a second elected House—it may seemingly be in the interests of democracy—it may ultimately fail this nation in its desire to value freedom. We should think very carefully to be sure that the rumours of self-interest of various parties within the House of Lords are not merely a smokescreen to cover something which we might miss horrendously once lost, never to be recovered. For those reasons, I shall vote strongly for option 1, a House fully appointed by a royal commission established by statute. I may look at the possibility of a hybrid, but I have not yet heard the argument to persuade me, and would need to.
My Lords, in every debate in which I have spoken on House of Lords reform for the past 11 years, I have argued for a wholly elected House. I never thought that such a dream of mine would ever have a chance of fulfilment, but the House of Commons made a revolutionary decision last Wednesday. It would not do to examine the entrails of that decision—how many tactical votes there were this and that way. If you start down that road, you could unpick every other decision of the House of Commons, so let us not do that. Grown-up people were given a choice and made a choice; it is our duty to examine its consequences.
Even an 80:20 hybrid House would not be a stable solution. In attempts to reform this House in 1999, a big wedge of 75 or 92 hereditaries was left in. Now we know that that will have to go, because it is no longer tenable. If we implement a hybrid House, very soon the 20 per cent will be the first victims of the next stage of reform, because reform of the House of Lords would not stop there. We should actually grasp the nettle and see what the consequences of that revolutionary decision by the House of Commons are. It is revolutionary because, again and again, a chance was given to another place to make up its mind and it failed to do so. After 96 years, it has done so.
It is true that if we have an all-elected House of Lords, it is a new constitutional arrangement. The status quo will not last, and all the conventions that we have carefully fashioned will have to be re-examined. We may have to face up to a written constitution because, unless it is written down, old conventions based on a system when this House was unelected and the other place was elected will no longer suffice. As my noble friend Lady Symons said, if people are elected both here and there, all elections have to be treated the same way. This is the time for us to give up our prejudices and frankly examine what is going on.
In this debate, I have found our self-regard astonishing, and the contempt we have for elections and democracy amazing. I do not know how many of the ex-MPs who have come here suddenly found that, from being ugly elected ducklings, they became beautiful appointed swans. Why do we fear that, if there were elections to this House, no good candidates would come—that only third-rate people would come, because all the first- and second-rate people had been exhausted already? If you give somebody a chance of independence—of serving here for 15 years and not being worried about re-election—some good people will want to come here. It is up to us to devise methods in which we can make sure that nominations come not just from political parties but, as the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, said, from a variety of bodies—not for an appointed Chamber, but for people to submit themselves for election. I do not see why we should not have a wide open list; let the parties nominate, but let lots of other people nominate and let us see what the people of this country decide. If they are convinced, as we think that they are convinced, that the present arrangements are good, they will try to reproduce the present arrangements when they have the choices for elections.
We should not prejudge the issue by saying that elections are no good, that the candidates will be no good, that we are the best and that any attempt to displace us from here would be a constitutional disaster. I remind noble Lords who were here before 1999 that our debates then were full of dire warnings that if the hereditaries were eliminated it would be constitutional vandalism; that our great unwritten constitution and our beautiful traditions of freedom would be destroyed. What do we find now? Everyone thinks that they own that reform and that they actually made it. They say, “The 1999 reforms have made this House much better and much more legitimate; why do we need more change?”. That is the pattern, not just in the House but in the country: every time change is threatened it is opposed. When change happens, suddenly it is owned and all opposition is forgotten. I am sure that the Magna Carta was opposed by some—and so on down the line.
I do not agree with the most reverend Primate that we have always had freedom and democracy from the word go. Women did not have the franchise until 1916. What kind of freedom was it when half the population did not have the right to vote? Workers did not have the right to vote until the late 19th century and not fully until the beginning of the 20th. Democracy is a progressive process. We are not yet at the best level and until this House is elected, we will not be at the best level of democracy. We have no reason to fear that if somehow we were removed the world would come to an end. I have the humility to believe that perhaps there are other people, maybe not as good as I am, who, once they arrive here and have settled down for a few months, could become as good as me, and—perhaps—dare I say?—even better.
Let us give the reforms a chance and let us make quite sure that we are not churlish and are not seen to be people defending our narrow vested interests.
My Lords, I rise to speak to the Motion that will stand in my name on tomorrow’s Order Paper. I wish to make it absolutely clear right from the start that I am not opposed to reform of your Lordships’ House. I therefore need to explain my Motion, which calls for the composition to remain as it is—anyway, for the time being.
Your Lordships will recall that the House of Lords Act 1999, when first introduced, provided for the full and complete removal of all hereditary Peers, including the two great hereditary offices of state, namely the Lord Great Chamberlain and the Earl Marshal. At that time, of course, the Conservative Peers could command a considerable majority in your Lordships’ House, especially with the hereditary Peers who then belonged to the Conservative Party and could have delayed the passage of that Bill to the point that it could have been enacted only by means of the Parliament Act. As everyone knows, the Parliament Act is a blunt instrument for its stated purpose and at least involves considerable delay.
The Government therefore entered into negotiations with the leader of the Conservative Peers in the House of Lords at that time, my noble friend, the then Viscount Cranborne, now of course the Marquess of Salisbury. The essence of that agreement is well known: 90 hereditary Peers, elected from among themselves, would be allowed to remain, being topped up by by-elections as necessary; and the two offices of state to which I have referred would also continue to be Members of your Lordships' House. The noble and learned Lord the then Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine of Lairg, who we understand was the principal government interlocutor with my noble friend, subsequently gave a clear and unqualified undertaking to the effect that the hereditary Peers so excepted from the provisions of the 1999 Act would remain until the process of Lords reform was complete.
By no stretch of the imagination can any of the proposals in Motions 1 to 7 which will be before your Lordships’ House tomorrow be described as completion of the reform process so far as your Lordships’ House is concerned. Nothing is said about the role of the new Chamber, the powers of the new Chamber, the arrangements by which Members will be either appointed or elected, the place of the Bishops, or many of the other important matters that will need to be decided before any Bill can be drafted let alone enacted.
Thus I believe firmly that reform of the House of Lords—which, I say again, I most certainly do not oppose in principle—must be a comprehensive reform and not piecemeal reform as we have had so far. The 1999 Act was the first piece of piecemeal reform. There should be no more until the Government are ready with thought-through plans for this momentous change that have been agreed by the other place and agreed on a cross-party basis, as the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, suggested.
I suspect that the majority of your Lordships are in favour of a largely or even wholly appointed House. As it happens, I take a different view. I am in favour of a largely elected House with a smallish number of appointed Members to include, for example, the retired Chiefs of Staff and the two ex officio hereditary Members to whom I referred earlier. But I also believe that change in that direction would necessitate some increase in the available powers. It is simply not credible to suggest that persons of quality could be found to go through all the rigmarole of election, including exclusion from standing for the other place, just to join a revising Chamber. So whatever powers may initially be granted to a newly elected second Chamber, they will, as sure as night follows day, soon appear inadequate.
I do not believe that that is what honourable and right honourable Members voted for last week. Indeed I am much mystified by the outcome of those votes. I have not laboured through all the figures but I am told that 70 or so honourable Members from the party opposite—and maybe from my own party—voted both for a largely elected House and for a largely appointed House. It is all very puzzling. I cannot believe that, in voting for a largely elected House, they were thinking of the proposition quite correctly put by the noble Baroness, Lady Symons: that an elected House is a House with more powers come what may.
More importantly, the Government’s present plans are a departure from the categorical undertaking given to facilitate the passage of the 1999 Act, and are, furthermore, incoherent and confused. For myself, I stand ready to consider and perhaps to support a full and thought-through comprehensive reform proposal for your Lordships’ House. What we have before us is nothing of the sort. So let us leave matters as they are until such time as the Government are able to present a full reform proposal for our consideration.
I have been a Member of your Lordships’ House for 44 years. I have no talent and no brains but I do have the experience of those 44 years, which has taught me one thing at least—that an undertaking given in the circumstances which I have described is absolutely binding. I invite the noble and learned Lord the present Lord Chancellor to be guided accordingly.
My Lords, I feel justified in speaking in this heavily oversubscribed debate for two reasons. First, I was the first person to make a television documentary on the House of Lords; that was in 1970, a few years after the Wilson Government had seriously attempted to reform the Lords and failed. Incidentally, it was the House of Lords, not the Commons, which first allowed television cameras into the Palace of Westminster. Secondly, as a hereditary Peer, I have already been abolished once and I do not particularly want to be abolished again. Not quite yet anyway; it really is very unsettling.
The Wilson Government’s attempt to reform this House in 1968 collapsed because of the famous unholy alliance between the left and right wings of the two major parties. The right, led by Enoch Powell, believed that the House of Lords had historic legitimacy and that, although it should be allowed to evolve the change organically, it could not be bisected or hacked about without doing it fatal damage. Let us remember that in those days it was an overwhelmingly hereditary and Conservative House and, from the Conservative point of view, no doubt that was no bad thing.
By the way, at that time Enoch Powell had just completed a 671-page tome entitled, The House of Lords in the Middle Ages, with the subtitle, A History of the English House of Lords up to 1540. He tried to sell me a copy but I found the thought of actually having to read it a little too daunting.
On the left wing of the Labour Party, the view succinctly expressed by Michael Foot was that the House of Commons was the only democratically elected Chamber and that, as such, it should be supreme and the House of Lords should be abolished. However, if total abolition was not acceptable to Parliament, the next best thing was to retain the Lords as the self-evidently undemocratic and absurdly unfair body that it was in the hope that it would eventually become completely discredited and wither away. The last thing that he and his supporters wanted was a reformed House of Lords, because that might give it some legitimacy and therefore a right to challenge the elected House of Commons. It is perhaps not surprising that similar arguments are still being expressed here in this debate.
In the event, in 1968, as most of us know, that unholy alliance of the right and left succeeded in torpedoing the Government’s plans for Lords reform and the attempt was abandoned. However, it struck me at the time—and in those days I think that I was a more-or-less objective observer—that, in spite of its anachronistic and unbalanced nature, the House of Lords seemed to work surprisingly well. A predominantly hereditary and Conservative House was only too aware of the precariousness of its constitutional position and therefore very careful not to be seen to obstruct the will of the elected House, even when it passionately disagreed with it. The Conservatives employed a sort of internal self-censorship. Only when confident that it had public opinion on its side did it dare to bare its teeth and, even then, it would almost certainly give way.
A House of Lords that was primarily concerned with its own survival seemed to work in practice but, of course, it did not begin to work in theory. In the mean time, I was very struck by the high standard of debate in the Lords. Peers tended to speak on subjects and issues only when they knew what they were talking about. Now that most of us hereditary Peers have been ejected and a much greater number of appointed life Peers is here, it is still the quality of the debates and the ability to amend Bills through intelligent reasoning and argument that shows this House at its best. It is particularly during the debates on amendments, when sheer weight of knowledge and professional expertise compel the Government to change their mind, that I feel most proud of being a Member of this House, and, as I think we all agree, its primary job is to be an effective revising Chamber.
However, in order to remain an effective revising Chamber, the House needs to be composed, as it now is, of wise men and wise women and experts and representatives of minority interests, with only a limited number of professional politicians. Yet it seems that the view of the Commons and the official policy of my own party is to convert this House into a Chamber of professional politicians—not top-rate politicians either; the most able ones will surely look for a seat in the House of Commons, where real power will continue to reside.
Scrutinising legislation, amending Bills and debating important issues, then, is what this House does best. That is its purpose, and its skill is due to the expertise, wisdom, experience and specialised knowledge of its Members. How could that be better achieved by a House made up of what I would regard as second-rate professional politicians? Do we really want a dumbed-down second Chamber to match increasingly dumbed-down television and newspapers? Surely we must seek to preserve the best qualities of this House and not throw the baby out with the bathwater in the name of democratic legitimacy.
That is why I believe that we must continue with an appointed House, although we could of course have 20 per cent of its Members elected if that made us feel better. Only by appointing Members can we engineer the right mix and ensure that some of the most able and experienced people in our country can be Members here. The only real issue is: who does the appointing? The cash-for-peerages scandal has clearly discredited the present system. Perhaps it is the members of the proposed independent Appointments Commission who should be democratically elected—or some of them, anyway. But that is just a thought and a subject for a whole new debate.
My Lords, what we are debating today marks a defining moment in the history of this House and our country. In fact, the decisions that we make here may have far-reaching consequences in influencing the policies and politics of democratic institutions across the world, for the system of government which has developed on this site by the Thames for more than 700 years has been adopted across the world and has delivered stable democratic government to billions of people. Any sudden leap that we may be tempted to make in reforming this House may therefore have serious and far-reaching consequences for future generations. As Shakespeare said:
“Wisely and slow; they stumble that run fast”.
As with much in modern life, the pace at which this debate has developed has left little time for reflection. For many, the reform of this House has become a bipolar issue. However, it should not just be considered as a choice between “elected” and “appointed”. Instead, we should ask ourselves six fundamental and interconnected questions. What is the role of the House of Lords? Who are the people best suited to fulfil this role? From where will they be found? Do appointed Members lack legitimacy? Can elected Members demonstrate the required experience, expertise, quality and impartiality? And, finally, will a largely elected membership of the Lords challenge the primacy of the Commons?
After seven centuries of parliamentary evolution, this House plays a vital part in our democracy. It does not select Governments; it does not dissolve Governments; and it does not overrule or veto the will of the Commons. It does, however, play a crucial role in scrutinising government and revising and guiding legislation. In doing so, this House serves as an important check and balance on the power of the Government and nothing should challenge or modify this role. This House also brings together people from a diverse field of expertise, as we have heard. They are objective people, eminent people and, most importantly, people who are willing to think independently of party politics. We must be mindful not to dilute this quality in any way.
So, who is best placed to scrutinise, revise and guide? For many, that question is superseded by the consideration as to whether, first, these people need to be elected or appointed. Unfortunately, I believe that this is where we are guided by the baggage of the past and the need to sound politically correct. This is where, instead of “being right”, a lot of people try to “sound right”. Both options are not without their merits.
Perhaps I may quote an example from India. In 1991, India was almost bankrupt when Prime Minister Narasimha Rao appointed Dr Manmohan Singh, an eminent economist, as India's Finance Minister. Dr Manmohan Singh initiated reforms and, within a decade, far from being the “sick man of Asia”, India is now one of the fastest-growing economies in the world. What would have happened if India's constitution had expressly forbidden any such appointment? It would have been denied the services of Dr Manmohan Singh, who is now one of the world's most respected leaders. By the way, Dr Singh subsequently stood in a general election—for the lower House in 1999—but, sure enough, he was not enough of a politician and lost it handsomely! As we all know, today Dr Manmohan Singh is Prime Minister of India and sits in India's upper House.
Would we miss out on the services of such experts here in Britain if we abolished appointments? I have no doubt whatever that we would. The issue that we should address is not whether this should be an appointed House but the system of appointments that needs to be in place to ensure that those selected have been selected on merit and have not prospered out of patronage.
To be clear, I believe with every fibre that, if we stand for anything, we must stand for democracy. The voice of the people is both the moon and the tides, the push and pull, to our great nation. But we must note also that, just as appointments supposedly give us patronage, elections give us politicians. Neither appointments nor elections are bad in principle; indeed, each plays a vital role. Again, it is a question of checks and balances and of how we can maintain that system.
Not everyone is a politician; not everyone can stand for, fight and win an election. While I have the greatest respect for those who can and do, we must be mindful of what we could lose in creating two elected Houses, not solely in terms of repetition or redundancy but, potentially, in losing the breadth of experience, expertise and wisdom that is the great strength of this upper House. Again, I have no hesitation in saying that if its membership came through elections alone, this House would have missed out on the services of many eminent Members, both historically and in this House today.
The Leader of the House of Commons has informed us that the popular view is that for the House of Lords to be legitimate, it must be elected or have an elected element. We have also heard a great deal about an appointed House lacking legitimacy. If appointments are clearly and demonstrably without patronage, there will be far less debate over legitimacy. Indeed the calibre of Members and the respect they command are the greatest forms of legitimacy one could ask for. It is the permanence and independent nature of this House that has commanded respect over the years and contributed so much to Britain and to British democracy. The independence of this House is, I believe, truly one of the cornerstones of our democracy.
Looking ahead, I have no doubt that if we take the route of elections to this House, there will at some point be competition and fractiousness and that the Lords and the Commons will start competing for primacy. It would take us right back to where we were 100 years ago before the passage of the Parliament Act. However progressive these measures may look, I fear that, ironically, they may amount—as the noble Lord, Lord Desai, said—to a step backward. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, that if what was on the table was a complete reform and a rewriting of our constitution—of two elected Houses with equal powers—that would be a separate matter. But that is not on the table today.
As has been said, we have a House that is functioning well—be it in attendance, the quality of the debates or the independent nature of the House. What is needed is further evolution, not revolution. What we are not good at is communicating our strengths to the people. I am often asked by friends and colleagues to explain the role of the House of Lords. I tell them that this House is the guardian of our nation; that it provides scrutiny, oversight, and line-by-line examination of legislation; and that it performs its important function with integrity, independence, objectivity and without regard for point-scoring and private interests.
My team recently conducted our own straw poll asking people whether they felt that Members of the House of Lords should be elected or appointed. Initially, many favoured an elected Chamber. However, once the role and function of the House was explained to them, most changed their view. I believe that they are not alone. I believe that if we put more effort into communicating what we do here, more people would see the appropriateness of appointed Members.
This House is very much at the beating heart of democracy in Britain; it has been for centuries, and long may that continue. Let us not shake these great foundations. We always need to remember the rules of home improvement: we can change the layout of the House, we can add or remove walls, but when we meddle with the foundations we risk bringing the whole House down.
My Lords, first make it more legitimate and then castrate it. That is the recipe recommended to us from Jack Straw’s cookery book mark two, but I cannot see it being dished up any time soon—it may be washed up before it is dished up. One of the reasons why the Leader of the Commons, despite his great courtesy, which I salute, led the Commons into this predicted morass—many of us predicted it in terms—is that he has drained the word “legitimacy” of any meaning, just as happened some time ago with the word “democratic” and now with the word “consensus”. If we are now heading towards what is called a consensus, my name is Marco Polo.
Speaking of consensus in the proper sense, the Leader of the Commons has, of course, looked a gift horse in the mouth by not concentrating on addressing two immediate issues: that of making party-political appointments more transparent and that of finally saying goodbye to the hereditary principle and practice. He should have stuck to that because, at the moment, we are a million miles away from a consensus on the most fundamental question of all: do people want more checks and balances, fewer or about the same? The majority in the Commons seems to be saying the first but means the second. Hence we have a false prospectus.
How did the Leader of the Commons, and the Commons more generally, get there? If the case had been examined by Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson, the latter would have remarked, “We have here, I am afraid, a strange case of schizophrenia”. In any event, when Jack Straw, in an interview in the Guardian, said that we can simply bolt back on the primacy of the Commons, he adduced no reasoning or evidence to suggest that that would be possible if this House were to continue to have the power to amend Bills.
How would that new statutory primacy rule be translated into practice? Would the Commons simply be able to wave aside any amendments it did not like from the Lords on the Legal Services Bill or whatever? The civilised version of ping-pong that is played today would by no means be the name of the game between a much more partisan second Chamber and an equally partisan Commons, where majorities may often differ and issues could be and would be pressed.
Indeed, on the 100 per cent elected hypothesis, a separate point arises in that it is difficult to see how, when—it is “when” rather than “if”—the governing party in the Commons is not the leading party here, we can carry on with the tradition that the leading Front Bench here is provided by the same party as in the Commons. Why should that be? Perhaps my noble friend the Lord Chancellor can deal with that point among others. If that issue does not arise and it is to make no difference whether more people in this House are Labour or Conservative, what will people want to change by voting one way or the other? It is known that there will be roughly 200 Labour Members, 200 Conservative Members and so on, for the foreseeable future, in the second Chamber.
The second part of my remarks deals with thinking through the procedures of a reformed appointments system. We can certainly build on criteria such as regional balance, a point well made by my noble friend Lady Quin. It would be perfectly possible to have a number of indirect elections through different hinterlands, including local government, industry, the City, trade unions, ethnic minorities, and so on, as was spelt out in the speech of the greatly respected former Secretary to the Cabinet, the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong of Ilminster.
I will say a word now about how I think the Labour Party could do that and I would be very grateful if a member of the Conservative Party would indicate whether it could be done in that party in similar terms. The Liberal Democrats have some sort of halfway house, but I do not think that that form would necessarily work well in a party with the rather more complex structure of the Labour Party. Given the 200:200 balance, the White Paper, whose status is very obscure, made some limited proposals. Naturally and correctly, they were largely on the role of the statutory Appointments Commission and did not consider how the Labour Party and the Conservative Party would go about it. That has led some people—in my view inaccurately—to conclude that the main responsibility would lie with the statutory Appointments Commission.
On the contrary, one needs to pause for a moment to see that the whipped Members of this House—Labour or Conservative Members, as we are talking about political Members—will not be chosen by the statutory Appointments Commission from a larger number. That is because that process would be rejected by the party conferences as it would be tantamount to the statutory Appointments Commission preferring, or being perceived as preferring, more right-wing people or more left-wing people. It would not and could not work like that.
So how would it be done? I shall sketch it briefly. Each of the parties would need to draw up criteria and write them into their rules. They would have to be in their rules because party conferences and executives could not interfere in detail with selection as there would have to be some degree of confidentiality. The parties would register the criteria with the statutory Appointments Commission and then submit names to it, and the statutory Appointments Commission’s override would, as at present, be restricted to grounds of probity. My final point is that a shadow run on this in the next couple of years would be helpful to test out some of the issues that arise. However, there is no reason why this House should not proceed with a Bill to establish a statutory Appointments Commission.
In conclusion, given the massive majorities we can expect in this place tomorrow for a modernised, reformed appointments system and against election, the tabloids will want to have a field day in caricaturing them as “Lords puts up two fingers at Commons”. I do not believe that the voting here would have been any different if it had taken place in the week preceding the vote in the Commons. As the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, said, it is now for the Government to take a long look and reflect on how opinions in both Houses can be brought together to see where we go from here.
My Lords, I feel slightly uncomfortable standing here because, although it may not be news to your Lordships, I am a hereditary Peer and, I remind your Lordships, one of the few elected Members of your Lordships’ House. I know that being a hereditary Peer is one of the lowest forms of political life, but there seems to be a common cause—almost a bizarre ganging-up—among those who want to reform your Lordships’ House in the quasi-inevitability that the remainder of the hereditary Peers will have to go. They seem to want to see hereditary Peers vaporised, as it were. I suppose I should declare an interest as I do not particularly agree with that, and I hope that it will not happen. It is really very unwelcoming and rather anti-social, too. I think that people who try that should be issued with anti-social behaviour orders to make them a little more welcoming.
I have always been of the view that, if there is to be change—and I see no reason for it as the House works so well—the House should be 100 per cent appointed. The House of Commons is where political and parliamentary power rests, and it should not be compromised by another elected Chamber, whatever the proportion of elected Members. Power is finite. If there is to be an elected second Chamber, it will, of course, be more powerful than the present one, and that additional power can come only as a transfer of power away from another place.
One of the great virtues of your Lordships’ House as it is at present is the remarkable blend of history, law, church and achievement, and I sometimes wonder whether all this clamour for change is because the Government have so tarnished the standing of the House of Lords with their cash-for-peerages row that they are trying to deflect attention away from that by saying, “Let’s reform the House of Lords again”. It is rather like the politician who scribbled in the margin of his notes, “Weak point. Shout”.
One frequently hears people say, “Thank God for the House of Lords”. One very seldom hears people say, “Thank God for the House of Commons”. The present Members of another place may say that they wish for a second elected Chamber, but I can tell them that their successors will hate it. The two Houses will frequently be in opposition to each other. The new upper House will say, “We have just as much right to see that our views prevail as has the House of Commons. We have been elected, too”. There will be constant constitutional clashes. Members of Parliament will intensely dislike having another person prancing around their patch vying for votes. Members of the House of Lords will have to be paid, the elected ones and the appointed ones, too. As the noble Lord, Lord Cunningham, said, they will want another Portcullis House, and where will that go? The power of the House of Lords will be increased at the expense of another place and the cost will be prodigious.
The two Houses have different but complementary roles. Many Members of your Lordships’ House who have been in another place have said, like my noble and learned friend Lord Howe of Aberavon, that when they were there they did not realise what your Lordships did and now that they are here, they realise and are amazed. My noble and learned friend Lord Howe once made a telling speech—he has made many telling speeches but, for the purposes of this debate, he made one that I well remember. He was talking of the value of your Lordships’ House as it is at present and of the value of its remarkable and varied composition. He gave as an example the Human Reproduction and Cloning Bill 2001, which was very technical and sensitive. There were 20 speakers in the debate and they included the head, or former head, of two Cambridge colleges; two former presidents of the Royal College of Physicians; two general practitioners; two consultants specifically involved in the field; the president of Mencap; the vice president of Life; a former chairman of the Bar Council; a former chairman of the Equal Opportunities Commission; two bishops; and the Minister who was responsible for the Bill. That was a formidable list of experts. As my noble and learned friend said, there is no legislature in the world that would begin to command that range of expertise on a topic of that nature. Ministers and Members of another place are free to accept or reject the advice given by experts of that kind, but its availability is invaluable, and it cannot be matched in any other way. Does anyone think that those people would ever want to stand for election and be pestered by constituents about their council tax or their local hospital? Of course they would not. They make just as great a contribution to democracy—the will of the people—as the person who is on the party list and has been drafted in to the second Chamber. Your Lordships are often more in tune with the sentiments of the public than are Members of another place.
So, what do the Government want to do? They want to throw it all away and replace it with a half-appointed, half-elected Chamber. However, if an all-appointed House is illegitimate—that awful word—then a half-elected House will presumably be only half-legitimate, so that does not get us very far. Then what happens? According to the White Paper, once elected for 15 years, the Members of the second Chamber can do and say what they like and they can do the opposite of what they campaigned for. Indeed, they do not have to do anything at all and can just collect the salary and go away, knowing full well that they do not have to stand for re-election. There is no redress. They will be elected, but they will be unaccountable. As one third of them will be elected every five years, the full complement of elected people will not be in the Chamber until 2020, but that puts 850 people in the House. So the size of the House has to be reduced to 540. How can that be done? It can be done either by letting the grim reaper do his stuff and waiting for your Lordships to die—which, although inevitable, may not be immediate—or by paying your Lordships off. That would go down a bundle with the electorate. How do you pay people not to do something for which they were never paid in the first place? How much will they be paid: £10,000, £20,000 or £50,000? For those who have given, or who have lent, £2 million to party funds, that may not seem to be overtly attractive. If cash for peerages has created a row, it will be nothing compared to the row which will be created by cash for giving up peerages. Making a person a Peer and then paying him to stop being a Peer is hardly a decorous or constitutional way in which to behave.
When the House of Lords Bill, which removed hereditary Peers, was going through your Lordships’ House, I gently advised life Peers to take the smiles off their faces because it would be their turn next and, sure as eggs are eggs, so it is. But the really astonishing thing about all this is that the Government are proposing a new Chamber which will not be fully in existence until all the present Members of your Lordships’ House and half the present electorate are dead. How can we possibly impose, not on ourselves, but on our successors, such an obtuse concept?
What have the Government actually done under the careful direction of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor? They have removed the majority of the hereditary Peers, thrown out the Law Lords and disposed of the Lord Chancellor. Now they want to remove the remainder of the hereditary Peers and reduce the number of Bishops, and they will have to remove some of the life Peers—and all of them if the House is to be 100 per cent elected. The Government really have got a tiger by the tail over this, which is pulling them, the constitution and everyone else all over the place; the direction and the consequences of which are unknown and unfathomable.
After so many changes, why cannot we just leave your Lordships’ House alone for a while? Let it settle down. If, in five or 10 years’ time alterations are thought desirable, let fresh minds and fresh thoughts, bereft of the cascade of bruising which the House has been obliged to suffer, be brought to bear.
I commend to your Lordships the words of one person who was a Member of your Lordships’ House, but who no longer is. He is not a hereditary Peer your Lordships will be glad to know, but he was on the Episcopal Benches as the Lord Bishop of Norwich, the right reverend Prelate Peter Nott. He once gave a very clear description of the important differences between what is old-fashioned, what is traditional, and what is extinct. The right reverend Prelate said:
“Old-fashioned is flared trousers, Morris Minors, the quickstep, Bing Crosby, stone hot-water bottles and”—
in his profession as Bishop—
“gaiters. Tradition is Trooping the Colour, the State Opening of Parliament, getting married in church and the 10 Commandments. Extinct is the dodo, brontosaurus and gramophone records which break when you drop them. When the differences between those three are not recognised”,
said the right reverend Prelate,
“there can be confusion. What is extinct has gone beyond recall. Fashion changes often and is essentially ephemeral. Tradition is more complex, for, unlike fashion, it contains elements that have shaped our present, and influenced the way we think and act. Traditions can be changed, rather like fashions, or discarded, as if extinct. But those who have the power to change traditions should think very hard indeed about what they are doing; because some traditions, like sacraments, often have a deeper significance, the loss of which would harm our life as a community or as people”.
So said the former Bishop of Norwich.
The Government are on dangerous ground in what they are doing. Indeed, they do not know what they are doing, nor do any of us, and I just hope that they, and, indeed, another place, will, if nothing else, reflect on the right reverend Prelate’s words.
My Lords, I suspect—I cannot prove because of the paucity of polling evidence on House of Lords reform—that the public’s apparent indifference, or at least lack of excitement on this issue, stems from three factors, of which the most important is this: we are debating and voting on composition and not content. That means that our focus is ourselves, not the public, or the public’s interest.
For the other place the question is therefore: do we stay or do we go? Do 20 per cent go, or 40 per cent, 50 per cent, 60 per cent, 80 per cent or 100 per cent? It is a parliamentary version of “Big Brother” and, not surprisingly, the goodies in one place eventually plumped for all the baddies being expelled. The “how” to be determined later—perhaps far later.
From the public’s perspective that is perhaps all right, as far as it goes, especially as no one is really spelling out what it might mean for them—more voting, more costs, a written constitution, proportionality at Westminster and/or a revised role for the Commons. For the time being the focus is composition not content and composition not consequence.
Likewise, our focus is mainly internal. Do we stay or do we go? How many? When? What about the Bishops? What about the Cross-Benchers? Or do we just defy the baddies down the corridor?
It is a great pity that the Government chose to approach the issue in this way. There has been a strange combination of almost hyperactivity on Mr Straw’s part, and apparent lethargy or non-involvement on the Prime Minister’s part. The result is that we seem entirely focused on internal matters. Therefore, I think that the public’s reaction is predictable.
For the public I suspect this impression is buttressed by a second factor: the alleged and oh so long-running cash for peerages scandal. It has—does it not?—a certain Gilbert and Sullivan timbre to it—Yates of the Yard versus the nobs. While, as was pointed out yesterday, this House is in no way responsible, there can be no doubt that it leaves it reputationally diminished. That has encouraged those who, above all, want to ridicule this House. Thus on this week’s “Question Time” on BBC television, the former editor of the Mirror—a man better known for his bravado than his accuracy—regaled the audience with the tale of his one visit to this House, when, so he said, his host—a Peer he did not name—fell asleep in his soup during lunch. Occasionally some of us have nodded off in both this Chamber and that of the other House; but in our soup? I think not.
It is no wonder then that, faced by our own introspection, by the allegations of scandal that fuel further introspection and caricatures of this House, the public sits back and sees this as something that essentially does not have very much to do with them, or with their lives.
However, that is quite wrong. The likely outcome since last Wednesday’s vote in the other place will and should have a great deal of impact on the public. The cart has been put before the horse, but the cart is now rolling and the horse may well break into a gallop and catch up.
I will vote tomorrow both for a wholly elected House and a wholly appointed House, something which I know a significant number of people in the other place also did. By voting for appointment I wish to demonstrate my respect for this House; for the work it does in the Chamber and in its Select Committees, for the time, effort and skill, and for the experience, judgment and commitment Members of this House bring to this House and the country. I want to celebrate what we know the public most appreciates about your Lordships’ House—its robust independence, exemplified not only on the Cross Benches but also on all Benches. It is a House which, as an appointed House, could and should be improved—particularly in the three ways advocated yesterday by my noble friend Lord Steel—by establishing a statutory Appointments Commission, by ending the by-election of hereditaries and by setting an age limit.
All that said, this House since its last reform is fit for the purpose of a revising Chamber. But now we come to the nub: should this be simply a revising Chamber? Democratic legitimacy is discussed as though it was a kind of chemical potion which can be dropped into this House to constitute 20, 40, 50, 60, 80 or even 100 per cent of the whole without changing the essential role of the House. I do not believe that; and because I do not believe it I will also vote for a wholly elected Chamber.
Once wholly elected, a second Chamber will challenge our over-mighty Executive as never before. In so doing it will challenge the House of Commons. It is inevitable, and I am for it.
Perhaps inadvertently, the Commons has made itself the focus for future reform. An elected Chamber will mean a new balance between the two Houses; a new vigour and vitality in holding Government and No. 10 to account; and, yes, a proportional voting system here at Westminster. When, in yesterday’s debate, the noble Lord, Lord Hoyle, conceded as much, my Liberal Democrat heart leapt.
For many in the other place, all that may mean that their goal was an own goal. So be it. Now the game must resume, and it must be won for and by the country. Thus, I will vote tomorrow for a fully elected House. When content has replaced composition, when we have before us, as I hope we will, a Bill for a fully elected House elected proportionately, able and expected to challenge the Executive and in a new relationship with the Commons, I will vote for it and for no other option but, as of now, I will vote for both.
My Lords, I had the privilege of being a member of the royal commission a few years ago and I begin by paying tribute to its chairman, the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, because many of the key ideas in that report have survived to today, gathering momentum on the way. To mention just three, there is the separation of membership of a reformed House from an automatic link with a peerage; long fixed terms of office for both elected and appointed Members; and a long period of gradual change to a new order. Those and other recommendations are now widely accepted.
Paragraph 7.97 of the current White Paper proposes that all Members should sit for 15 years and that,
“there would be no prospect of re-election or re-appointment”.
I believe that that is wrong and that the Wakeham alternative on the issue is better: that after 15 years, both elected and appointed Members could, under exceptional circumstances, be appointed by the statutory Appointments Commission for a further term of office of up to 15 years. Otherwise, we shall have the very unhappy situation of someone being elected at, say, 30, serving the House with distinction and then at the age of 50 no longer being able to contribute much valued wisdom and experience.
The noble Lord, Lord Grocott, advised us at the beginning of the debate yesterday that we should not repeat arguments advanced by other noble Lords. Therefore, on the question of Bishops, I simply say that I fully support what was said by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford. I urge something that we took some trouble over on the royal commission: that the statutory Appointments Commission, when it is appointed, takes very seriously the question of appointing distinguished people who can be seen in some way to be representative of Christian denominations other than the Anglican church and of other faith communities. I know that the religious dimension is not welcomed by all your Lordships, but the fact is that religion is now a major player on the public stage of both this country and the world as a whole and it is vital that voices who want to be heard are connected with this House in some way.
In the other place, I listened with particular attention to the powerful speech of Mr Douglas Hogg, in which he set out the options with clarity and a hard reality to which not all in that House have faced up: the hard reality that the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, spelt out this morning with great force in her powerful speech. The Member in another place said that he wanted a stronger second Chamber better to hold the Executive to account, a job he feels that the Commons does not do very well at the moment. To achieve that, he said that he would, with a very great sense of loss, go for a totally elected House as the only way to obtain the necessary legitimacy and power to do that. I do not want a stronger House. I believe that our present powers of revision and delay are about right.
I would also like to tackle the argument about legitimacy that is often put forward: that the sole way that that can be achieved is by election. There are many different kinds of legitimacy and authority, if you like. There is the authority of proven expertise, for example, represented among both the political and non-political appointments. A Select Committee has legitimacy, but it is appointed, not elected. I do not accept that if we have a significant appointed element in this House, it is thereby less legitimate, especially when you focus on what we are actually asking the House to do, which is to work hard on the detail of legislation, trying to avoid pitfalls and to improve it along the way.
Personally, I support a small elected element, not because I believe that it will add to the legitimacy of the House but, first, because I would like the regions to be better represented here. Secondly, we should add another pathway through which a person could come to this House, thereby giving a wider, different group of people an opportunity to become a Member.
I do not believe that the political element in this House should come solely through election. One reason why the House works well now is that a large number of your Lordships have served either in the other place or in local government. What about someone who wants to retire from the Commons, either a long-serving Back-Bencher or an ex-Minister, whose experience would be valuable to this House? People have said to me, “Oh, they could stand for election and just go on a party list”. Is that really what we want those lists for, if we are having lists? That way, we would not bring in new people with a different background. We should welcome political appointments without apology and they should be transparent, as well as being scrutinised by the statutory Appointments Commission.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine, in his powerful speech yesterday, was rather dismissive of a hybrid House, saying that the House had to be either totally elected or totally appointed. That theme has been pursued by a number of your Lordships. But in recent decades, we have had a hybrid House and it has worked well. There is no reason why a hybrid House of elected and appointed Members should not work equally well, but much depends on the percentage of each element. If we were 80 per cent elected and 20 per cent appointed, there would be a danger that the appointed element would feel somehow surplus or supernumerary—aside from the main action.
However, the other way round, with 20 per cent elected and 80 per cent appointed, there would not be the reverse danger, for the elected element would rightly have the confidence of their election. They would add to the House without being able to dominate it. My preferred option, therefore, is for a 20 per cent or 40 per cent elected element, with 20 per cent non-political appointments and the rest appointed by the political parties, scrutinised by the Appointments Commission not just for probity but for the balance of the House, especially gender and ethnic background.
Such a House would preserve the best of what we have now while rightly opening itself up to new perspectives and a wider range of members. It would be legitimate and representative, fit for its proper purpose of improving legislation while leaving the supremacy of the Commons unquestioned.
My Lords, in a perfect world, this debate would not be necessary. As other noble Lords have said, our forefathers intended to move from a hereditary House to an elected House. Instead, they chose to move from a hereditary House to an elected House via an appointed House. Who is to say that they were wrong? Slow change is a feature of life in this country, and I am in favour of it as long as we are moving in the right direction. Last week’s vote in another place indicated that we are moving in the right direction. The excessive patronage provided by a fully appointed House now seems totally out of place on the 21st century. Cash for honours has made it even more so. But a single move from an appointed House to an elected House is too drastic. That is why I am in favour of a hybrid House—a transitional hybrid House. I was in favour of this when we debated the House of Lords Act in 1999 and, indeed, was the joint author of a paper arguing then that we should have a hybrid House on the way to an elected House. As my noble friend Lord Desai and a number of other noble Lords have said, reform is inevitable.
As ever, the devil is in the detail, and this is not the time to deal with it. However, there are some principles that I would like to assess in detail. The first principle must be that we now have a bicameral system. Indeed, this is what the other place voted for by the largest majority. My second principle is that the primacy lies with the other place. We are a revising Chamber to complement and challenge, but not to replace. This primacy is defined not only by the conventions between the two Houses and the Parliament Acts, as other noble Lords have pointed out, but by the fact that the other place forms the Government and is in charge. It controls the budget and holds the purse strings. This is what defines the powers of this House and of the other place.
The Cunningham conventions will certainly need revising to enable the Government to get their business through a hybrid House, while still enabling Members of this House to exert their independence. Much of that independence comes from the fact that this House does not form the Government. The electors cannot remove us. That is the source of our independence. There may be members of the Government in this House, but Executive Ministers are responsible mainly to senior Ministers in the other place. I join my noble friend Lord Whitty in asking whether we need Ministers in this House. The third principle is that there should be a majority of elected Peers, leading to an elected House. I agree with my noble friend Lord Hoyle and others that this acknowledges that we rely on the judgment of individual electors and that we entrust the public with our democracy. After all, this is what we stand for. As my noble friend Lord Graham said, this is what we have gone to war for and what we are fighting for. My fourth principle concerns the membership of this transitional House. To ensure their independence, I would like elected Members to serve for a single period of 12 or 15 years, with one-third elected every fourth year. As some noble Lords have said, who will want to bother with being an elected Peer, with little promise of political advancement? I disagree. This will attract a different kind of person from the Commons—perhaps older, wiser and more experienced; yet wanting to serve. Many people want to serve. Look at the large number of people who are joining the voluntary sector. It is quite incredible.
My next principle deals with numbers. I would like to see 300 elected Peers and 150 appointed Peers who would sit on the Cross Benches. I think that 450 is more than enough to do the job here. Unlike many other noble Lords, I think that the two kinds of Peers would work perfectly well together. I am told that the same arguments about incompatibility between different kinds of Peers were used by the hereditary Peers in the debates in the 1950s when the Life Peerages Bill was being debated in this House. You cannot have two types of Peers, they said, so they opposed the Life Peerages Act. Life Peers and hereditary Peers have worked perfectly well together without any conflict over legitimacy. Indeed, the life Peers have now taken over the territory. In turn, I think they will cede it to the elected Peers. During the transition, which of necessity will be long, life Peers should be offered an inducement to leave. There will have to be a retirement age, and I would hope that those hereditary Peers who have given exceptional and distinguished service to the House would be treated as life Peers.
I say to the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, that of course Members will have to be paid a proper salary. This would be in return for a commitment to attend and to work, as happens in many professions, so that the years of service in this House could become part of someone’s career pattern. Age and need would not stand in the way. Basing the membership of the House of Lords on these principles would make it more modern, more representative of the union, and more independent. It would ensure the primacy of the other place and ensure that there is no overall majority. With no majority party in the House, we would have to work with the discipline of having to persuade other parties or the Cross-Benchers in order to form a majority. That is a very important discipline. Most importantly, however, this would enable the House of Lords to carry out what may be its most important task in the future—to be the place where the Government are held to account, as this seems to be declining in the other place. The noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, spoke about this.
There is a vast amount of detail to be looked at, but if we are going to have a bicameral system that in the end is to be wholly democratic and elected, a hybrid House of Lords is a sensible stop on the way. This is a different House since the House of Lords Act 1999. Much has changed. The noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, who was in his place, said that we are poor at explaining ourselves. I agree, because we now know that once Members of Parliament and the public fully realise and understand this, and learn of the quality of our Select Committees, the depth and rigour of our revision work, and our concern for the liberty and freedom of the citizen, they want us to retain these valuable assets. Many noble Lords argue that these qualities are the reason why we should stay as we are; to retain them. They are wrong. These qualities are the baby we must not throw out with the bath water. They justify our existence, and we must retain them while moving towards the goal of a democratic second Chamber.
My Lords, I start with one observation. A number of speakers yesterday said that they heard the public clamour and the thunder for reform of this House. The noble Lord, Lord McNally, even invoked the Reform Act 1832. Last night, I read again about that Act. There was certainly a clamour at the time. In Birmingham in 1830, Thomas Attwood addressed a dinner attended by 4,000 prosperous middle-class citizens—rather more than I used to get for my supper club. He was received with continuous cheering when he asked:
“Where is the man among you who would not follow me to the death in a righteous cause?”
His audience had made its point by lustily joining in the singing of the “Marseillaise”. Unless I missed it, I cannot recall such demonstrations for change of the House of Lords. Certainly, I know of no dinners in my part of Birmingham that have had that vigour. I can say only that when I was an elected Member of the House of Commons for 31 years, I received letters on virtually every subject, and certainly on every animal known to man—from dangerous dogs to urban foxes—but I never received one letter about reform of the House of Lords. If you ask old Members of the House of Commons, you will find that that was substantially their experience.
However, my service in the House of Commons established two important truths. The first is that most MPs know nothing, or very little, about the working of the House of Lords. We may be only 200 yards apart, but we operate in separate worlds. Ignorance is king. I make it clear that that was an ignorance that I fully shared. For 10 years when I was in the Cabinet, I had Ministers in the Lords. I remember one young man called Strathclyde and another called Trefgarne, who was much more modest about his talents than he should have been. My noble friend Lord Glenarthur was another, whom I sent out badly briefed to defend my policies. I am sure that they would all agree with that. I apologise to them, but I had only the sketchiest idea of what they did here. In extremis, when I was really in trouble, I would crouch on the steps of the Throne and smile, I hoped, benignly around. I noticed Jack Straw last night doing exactly the same thing. However, this explains one of the glaring defects in last week’s debate in the other place. The obvious starting point is how 80:20, 60:40 or 50:50 improves the service that this House gives the public. There is no point in most MPs addressing that question, because they have very little idea of what we do.
The second truth is that not all quality judgment and experience resides in the other place. I have served with outstanding Members of the House. I have also been opposed by outstanding Members of the House. Being a Minister on the receiving end of a speech from, say, the noble Lord, Lord Kinnock, in full flood is an alarming experience. But I have to say softly that not all MPs are quite of that same quality.
I do not want to claim that this House exhibits every virtue. We should beware of saying that we are beyond all change. But this House at least has experience which, by definition, most young MPs could not have acquired. There were not many generals, consultants or senior nurses in the other place. That is not a criticism of the Commons, but it is perhaps an argument for this second Chamber playing a complementary role.
I shall be frank. I am rather attracted by my noble friend Lord Strathclyde’s vision of a Senate, not with less power but with more power and strength. I am even more attracted by proposals for the reform of Parliament—the House of Commons as well as the House of Lords. It is a disgrace that we receive Bills here, large parts of which have simply not been considered in the other place; it is a disgrace that important statements are made first outside Parliament without proper questioning; and it is a disgrace that we still do not have a proper procedure for post-legislative scrutiny, an area where all the major mistakes of Governments are made. It is also open to very serious question whether we have too many Members of Parliament in the House of Commons, which was an issue not much mentioned in the debate last week.
The only trouble is that these ways forward are not on offer. I heard much yesterday about the primacy of the Commons, but precious little about more strength for the Lords. The Government’s proposition is that the powers of this House, even if elected, should stay the same. I simply say that that will not work. It is a central flaw in their proposals. Whether Governments like it or not, an elected House or a substantially elected House will try to use its muscle. If I came to this House as an elected Peer, my attitude would change. I would not accept the conventions of the old appointed House. I would say, “My vote is as good as yours down the Corridor”. I would also say, “I have a duty to represent my voters”. I do not see how that position of potential deadlock is in anyone’s interest. Unless this question of powers is addressed, all one is doing by going ahead with an elected House is building in an institutional conflict, which is not in the public’s interest.
There are other serious defects in the proposals in the White Paper. I shall mention just two. I regard the list system as the very worst of the electoral systems on offer. I argued that in 1999 on the European elections when I was shadow Home Secretary against Jack Straw. He won the vote by a much reduced majority, but I noticed that only one Labour Back-Bencher ever spoke on the Floor of the House in favour of that proposition. I regard the proposal for a 15-year term with no prospect of re-election as ludicrous. I do not see how a Member elected in such a way would be remotely accountable to the public who had elected him.
It was suggested yesterday in the debate, and again today, that the cash-for-peerages investigations makes it essential that this House is changed. I hope that that argument is not accepted, as I do not see the logic of it. If—and it is an “if”—there has been dishonesty, you root out the dishonesty and see that it is investigated, and, if necessary, prosecuted. The law is clear. The issue should not be used as some kind of smokescreen. If we wish to reinforce our defences, we should underline those defences by a system of an independent Appointments Commission.
I will vote for an appointed House, partly because of the manifold defects in the Government’s proposals, partly because of the failure to properly address the real question of the reform of Parliament, but partly also because of the merits of this House in holding the Government to account. Before that advantage is thrown away, the public deserve a better plan than has so far been set out in the House of Commons last week or by the Government’s White Paper.
My Lords, there have been moments in this debate when the words of Edmund in “King Lear” rang in my ears:
“Fine word ‘legitimate’ … Now, gods, stand up for bastards”.
This debate has to be about how to improve government in Britain. It cannot be a rearguard action in defence of the House of Lords as it is. That would be an irrelevant response to the House of Commons’ strongly expressed preference for an all-elected second Chamber. It should be seen as an opportunity to construct a second Chamber that is a strong, secure and indispensable buttress of democracy and accountability in the 21st century.
The background to this debate, and to all the debates that we have had about constitutional reform in the past decade, is the central problem of the need to strengthen the capability of our constitutional provisions and for Parliament, in particular, to check the power of the Executive. That process began in 1997 with devolution, with the entrenchment of human rights powers and bringing the courts into their safeguard, and with the opening up of government provided for by freedom of information. Today, we are discussing where the next steps lead.
We have to acknowledge that the principal defect in our parliamentary democracy is the unchecked power of the Prime Minister, who, with the slightest dexterity, is capable through his use of patronage of holding the House of Commons in his hand. That cannot be the sole repository of authority to check our Executive, which is why this provides a real opportunity to construct a role for a second Chamber—a Senate—that has the authority of direct election and is not the creature of the Government, particularly the Prime Minister. Reform of this House will in my judgment not be achieved by a mere tinkering with its composition. It needs more than reconstruction and making a bow in the direction of the electorate. This Chamber requires the full authority and the right, which flows from having been elected, to say no to the Prime Minister. As it stands, this House is seen as part of the problem of patronage, not as part of the solution.
I was much impressed by the arguments put forward by the noble and learned Lords, Lord Irvine of Lairg and Lord Howe of Aberavon, about the excellence of this House today in the discharge of its duties. Few who know anything about the way in which this House works would quarrel with the idea that wisdom, experience, tenacity and devotion to duty ameliorate our legislation. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, spoke of how 40 per cent of the amendments produced by this House are accepted by the Government. That is a true achievement but, alas, it is not enough.
Last week, we heard a magnificent debate in the Chamber in which the renewal of control orders made under the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005 was considered. Some 10 powerful and cumulatively effective speeches, made without repetition, demolished the Government’s case, but the sadness is that, at the end of the debate, the Government marched on. We heard a feeble speech from the Front Bench on behalf of the Government, while the eloquence, perception and experience of the House did nothing to redirect their policy. That is the challenge that we must face.
There is no serious objection of principle to a second elected House having true authority. The primacy of one elected House over the other is not obvious in any constitution that I have observed. The business of government is so complex, the layers so deep and the extent so wide that surely it makes sense to consider the differentiation of roles and the possibility that this House could take on the task of holding the Government to account using some of the powers that the Commons does not exercise. I am talking about the use of the prerogative, appointments, treaty making and so forth—matters that neither House tackles in an effective way today.
My consideration about what is required to effect this change is that a reformed House should have real power; that Ministers should not be drawn from it, but should be accountable to it; that it should be small and therefore by its nature distinguished, a place for which there is a competition to serve; and that re-election should certainly be possible to hold the Members of the elected second Chamber to periodic account. I advocate some consideration being given to the issue that properly exercises many of those who have contributed to this debate: how to import into the deliberations the expertise and knowledge that come from high-level experience. It would be open to an elected House with the powers that I have described to establish an advisory council of state with just such members serving on a continuing basis. That might complement the input from citizens’ panels, which people have considered, into the decision-making process of government.
This process of change will not be comfortable. If it is honestly conducted, it will not be comfortable for either House. There is much to be said for the contribution made by my noble friend Lord McNally in opening the debate from these Benches, asking for a “glide path to reform” to enable wider considerations than the mere question of percentages of election to be debated. But what is clear is that the Commons vote has compelled us not to tinker with the structure of Parliament, but to rethink its powers and its purpose.
My Lords, when I first arrived in this House in 1976, the hereditary Peers did not enjoy the pariah status that they seem to have acquired today, but I always felt that I did not have any proper democratic legitimacy. It was for that reason that I did not stand or put my name forward in 1999. Returning here as an elected hereditary Peer, albeit elected by a rather small and eccentric constituency, gives me a sort of quasi-democratic feeling. In my view, however, it is not enough. Like the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, I think that we should have a 100 per cent elected Chamber. That is the proper way forward, and a second best would be an 80:20 split. I shall vote accordingly. If we believe in democracy, we should certainly practise it and at least refrain from pontificating about it around the world and imposing it on some countries that never have enjoyed it and never will.
The question is: how do we get there? Surely the answer is that we should have indirect elections. But first, and turning to the White Paper, let us consider the size. The White Paper suggests that we should come down to 540 Members, but that still seems to be far too many. It is more than twice as many as in any other second Chamber in the world. India has a population of 1 billion people, but the second Chamber, the Rajya Sabha, comprises 245 Members. I start from my original submission to the 1999 royal commission of the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham: I should have thought that 300 Members would be more than adequate, divided 25 per cent from the regions and 75 per cent from sectoral interests. I believe that that takes in the suggestion made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine, to incorporate expertise; he is quite right. We certainly have that today. Sitting on the Cross Benches, I am surrounded by an impressive, in fact an overwhelming, amount of expertise.
However, that experience can also be achieved by indirect election. The sectoral groups should include the law, commerce, defence, financial services, medicine, academia and, of course, the churches. This is a random selection, which can be refined and made good by a royal commission set up expressly for that purpose. It would certainly comply with the suggestion made by my noble friend Lord Williamson that it would keep the expertise and independence in place. Like many noble Lords, I believe that such a Chamber should be called a Senate; in other words, a chamber of wise men. What is more, the suggestion that I have made would take party politics out of this wise Senate. Above all, it would preserve the supremacy of the House of Commons.
Unfortunately, judging by the tenor of the speeches made both today and yesterday, none of this is likely to happen. That is a pity. In some ways the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, is right to say that the White Paper is a bit of a dog’s breakfast and we really need to start again from scratch and do it properly. That would constitute a real process of reform, which could conform to stage two of the famous Irvine/Cranborne solemn undertaking. When that happens, I will go quietly and happily. However, in view of the likely impasse—electoral demand, change of Prime Minister—I suggest that it is all going to take a very long time. Indeed, some of us may well have expired before it happens. I await my fate.
My Lords, in last week’s debate in the other place, Sir Gerald Kaufman said of the White Paper, no doubt with a degree of hyperbole:
“This is an utterly irresponsible way to create a new House of Parliament from scratch. After 800 years of the other Chamber’s evolution, the Government basically want to abolish it and to start anew”.—[Official Report, Commons, 7/3/07; col. 1533.]
Yesterday in this Chamber, the noble Lord, Lord Cunningham, spoke of the danger of changing fundamentally the constitution of this country. Earlier today, a former Cabinet Secretary, the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, spoke of a profound and fundamental change being proposed—a leap into the unknown. When such warnings are laid alongside many other words of warning, not least from the former Lord Chancellor—who has now, one hopes, irreversibly broken his Trappist vow in the Chamber—they need to be weighed very carefully. Previous speakers have subjected to scrutiny the claim that the legitimacy of this House and its Members could only be provided by at least a substantial elected presence. When the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor introduced the debate, I felt that he was rather restrained in his deployment of that argument; he spoke of the need for a democratic element or a democratic connection.
I find the arguments against the fundamental hybridity in the House persuasive. I accept that there is a degree of hybridity at the moment, but that seems quite different from introducing into this House people who are elected in ways that parallel the election of Members of the other House. That would introduce the principle of hybridity in a wholly new way. No doubt with traditional British good sense, it could be made to work after a fashion, provided that the electoral process really did generate Members of quality, although there are strong questions about whether that would happen in practice. Along with the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery, I suspect that more radical changes would be needed if one were to get through the process of election people of the quality that we require here.
Any fundamental hybridity between elected and appointed Members seems to carry a substantial danger of instability, for reasons that have been widely advanced. Senior figures argue that, once an elected element has been introduced, the pressure would be there to increase the elected proportion. I think that that is the real message of the vote in the other place last week. Once you start, where do you stop? In one sense, they drew the logical conclusion.
I agree that this House needs a democratic connection but believe that that is best achieved by attending to its relationship with the elected House rather than by muddying the waters of our own House. As has been said, do we really think that electing somebody for 15 years, with no prospect of re-election, provides any form of accountability at all? I professionally believe in acts of faith, but that seems to be an act of faith beyond anything that I have attempted so far in my life.
As I read the debate in the other place in Hansard, I sensed the feeling that all was not well with our democracy as a whole. But rather than being fundamentally a problem for this House, the problem surely lies primarily with the inability of the other place to lead in the exercise of a democratic restraint on an overpowerful Government and Executive.
In a previous incarnation, I was a chemist. I was taught the basic rule that when there are a number of variables in a situation, one should not change them all at the same time. The priorities, it seems to me, should be to bed down effectively the major and substantial constitutional changes that the Government have already made. Most of these are still in their early days, as the nature of the campaign for the Scottish Parliament illustrates well enough at present.
Then there is the need to improve the relationship between the Government and Parliament, not least with the office of the Prime Minister. I do not dispute that there are also issues that need to be attended to in this House, but I suspect that what is needed are more modest proposals than those in the White Paper, let alone those expressed in the other place last week.
Aspects of the White Paper are beginning to generate a significant consensus. In a persuasive contribution yesterday, the noble Lord, Lord Steel, identified three areas in which the working of this House could be addressed. Changes do not have to be comprehensive to be appropriately radical. The changes consequent on the Supreme Court have been agreed on their merits. Other changes, including, if desired, the gradual removal of the remaining hereditary Peers, could also be considered on their merits.
I include here the question of religious representation. I agreed fully with the speeches yesterday by my friend the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford and the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York, but neither argued simply for the status quo. The case for having religious representation in a revising and deliberative Chamber in the UK Parliament can be made more powerfully today than it could 20 or 30 years ago, but that needs to be broadened, both ecumenically and in relation to other faith communities. In its submission to the Wakeham commission nearly 10 years ago, the Church of England said:
“A reformed second Chamber…must be seen to take full account of the nation’s growing ethnic and cultural diversity”,
including different religious traditions. If that was true 10 years ago, it is even truer now. I believe that this is urgently required, but it implies some reduction in the number of Bishops on these Benches.
In conclusion, there are two basic priorities before us. First, we must address the problem of what Lord Hailsham termed the developing elective dictatorship in our country. If it was that then, it is much worse now. That is mainly, although not exclusively, a matter for the other place. Secondly, we need to broaden this House to be a more representative forum for the whole host of professional bodies, communities and interest groups, including regionally based bodies and people of many types of expertise who exist in our wider society. I continue to believe that, with proper checks and balances, this will best be achieved at the present time with an all-appointed House, aided by a properly constituted Appointments Commission.
My Lords, this will be one of those speeches where more people will be listening at the end than at the beginning—a very unusual thing. I have to finish my speech as close to 2.30 as I can, which will take a tremendous effort of will.
I worked for many years in universities. In university settings, people are fond of saying, “This must change in the outside world”, “That must change in the outside world”, “This institution must change”, “That organisation must change”. But if you ask people in universities to change themselves, they come over all conservative. In the light of Mr Cameron’s leadership, that is conservative with a small “c”. In other words, they are very reluctant to change. I know, because I tried to change a university. Then people say, “Leave us alone. We are doing a good job; we are all right as we are”. That is the same argument that is used in schools by teachers who do not want to change, as well as in hospitals by doctors and nurses who do not want to change. I detect a very strong residue of that feeling in the speeches that I have heard yesterday and today in your Lordships' House.
I have been in your Lordships' House for only a meagre amount of time, during which I have come very much to appreciate its qualities. But it seems patent and obvious that this is the time to reform and that your Lordships' House must embrace reform. Only a very small proportion of the population in surveys supports a fully appointed House, and there was a clear mandate for change from the Commons.
It has been amusing listening to the different formulations of proportions that people want. I can only state my case: I am clear in my own mind that as a matter of principle, not tactics, an 80 per cent elected and 20 per cent appointed House would be the best option for reform. There are three reasons for that. First, it would preserve the independent measure of expertise of which so many noble Lords have spoken. I am not persuaded by the argument of my noble and learned friend Lord Irvine that everybody in the House of Lords needs to be an expert. Twenty per cent of experts is surely enough—you need a lot of generalists in a House to discuss the range of issues that we face. Secondly, a 20 per cent appointed House would help to protect against dominance of both Houses by a single party, an obvious risk with a 100 per cent elected House. Thirdly, it would at least mute the possibility of this House increasingly questioning the primacy of the Commons, which would be inevitable if the House was 100 per cent elected. For me, 80 per cent elected and 20 per cent appointed is the best option.
It is also obvious, however, that mode of election is only one aspect of the changes that the House of Lords must embrace. Many noble Lords have spoken about these other issues. I shall briefly mention three. First, the most important thing to avoid is replacing one set of appointees with another. I am not convinced by the method of a partially open list that is suggested in the White Paper. If there is to be a list system at all, there should be a completely open list of the sort that is used in, for example, some Scandinavian regional elections. Secondly, there must be a strong regional component. I am not convinced that the White Paper’s proposal of using the European Parliament constituencies is good enough. Thirdly—
That is it.
My Lords, this may be a convenient moment to adjourn the debate. I beg to move that the debate be adjourned until after the Third Reading of the Government Spending (Website) Bill.
Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.