My Lords, I have to disappoint noble Lords as I have found that there is something to say. One matter has hardly been discussed at all during our deliberations. Some noble Lords have commented on how the powers of this place may have to change if an elected element is introduced, but I have not heard many suggestions as to the respects in which the powers would or should change. Indeed a large number of noble Lords seem just to assume that, if an elected element were introduced, things would stay more or less as they were, with the primacy of the House of Commons remaining secure. I do not think that there is the slightest chance of that happening, and those who believe it really are living in cloud-cuckoo-land. A 100 per cent elected House, with as good a democratic mandate as the Commons, would feel itself to be and would be its equal.
From time to time, the Government have hinted that the powers of a wholly or partly elected House should be cut. Noble Lords will remember how the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor made a most extraordinary speech on April Fool’s Day last year in which he made comments to the effect that the powers of a House which had a democratic mandate ought to be cut. It would be nonsensical to do anything of the sort. Far from there being a case for a reformed House having fewer powers, the only really strong argument for making the House “more legitimate”, in the words of Jack Straw, is the need for it to play a larger role, exercising more powers—powers that the people would be reluctant to give a second Chamber if it did not have some democratic legitimacy. It is a pound to a penny that a wholly elected House would demand and eventually win more powers, for such a House would not have just some democratic legitimacy, but would be quite as democratic and legitimate as the other place.
We all agree that this House does a good job as a revising Chamber, but I am rather tired of being told that we add value to the legislative process, as if that is all that we are about. Surely the most important power in the hands of this House is not the power to revise legislation, but the power to block legislation for a meaningful period to make the Commons think again and alert the public and media to what is going on. Most important of all, of course, is the power to veto legislation to prolong the life of a Parliament. If Parliament were to go for an elected House, the perfect opportunity would arise for us to build on those powers, to better protect the fundamental liberties and rights of citizens, and for Parliament as a whole to be a better check on the Executive.
In one obvious respect, the powers of this House are inadequate. When the 1911 Act was passed, it had the consent of both Houses. The House of Lords accepted a new constitutional settlement limiting its powers. But in 1949 the Attlee Government introduced a Bill to amend the Parliament Act and to reduce the Lords' delaying power, and forced it through without the Lords' consent by use of the Parliament Act. It seems strange to us that there was no legal challenge to what the Government did, but there was not. On the face of it, it seems that today a Government determined to neuter the second Chamber could reduce its delaying power to six months, three months or, for that matter, seven days. That matter really should be addressed without delay. The noble Lord, Lord Richard, suggested yesterday that certain matters could be the subject of a concordat between the two Houses; and why not start with an agreement that there should be no more changes to the Parliament Act?
So, where does all that leave us so far as the Motions before the House are concerned? First of all, it is ridiculous to contemplate having elections to this place without recognising that its new legitimacy would have to be reflected in new powers. Secondly, I do not think we should give the Government any encouragement to bring forward a Bill providing for a wholly or partially elected House when it is plain that any such Bill would provide for the worst possible system of election.
Mr Straw’s preferred plan may now be a dead duck, but if he had his way, 30 per cent of the membership would have come here because their names had been put on a party list and then sent forward to the Appointments Commission; 50 per cent would have arrived here because they had been put on another party list. In short, the whole 80 per cent would have owed their places in the Lords to their party bosses. A 100 per cent-elected House would be little different from a 100 per cent-appointed House, but rather worse because those who had in effect been appointed would not have had to pass scrutiny by an appointments commission.
Mr Straw knew what he was doing when he decided on this fake election procedure. He did it before when he forced on us the regional list system for elections to the European Parliament, with the result, judging by Gallup polls, that nine out of 10 voters do not have a clue who their MEPs are; and he tells us in the White Paper why he wants those elected to this House to rival MEPs in anonymity. The voter, says the White Paper, should not be encouraged to vote for an individual rather than a party, nor should he be encouraged to spread his votes among the parties and individual candidates, because in that way people standing for election might have a high public profile and be able to speak with authority. Under those proposals, it would be far better to get people in to the House who probably would not even be known to the people they were supposed to represent. What a come-down from the democratic second Chamber that Labour promised in 1997.
I am in favour of a largely elected House, but it should be properly and democratically elected and it should have new powers to reflect its new status. I am not in favour of fake democracy, so I cannot possibly vote for any of the Motions providing for an elected element to enter the House, and I shall abstain on those. Until the Government address this matter properly, as regards powers and a proper system of election, and because at the moment our present system works remarkably well, I shall vote for a nominated House.
My Lords, when I am asked what it is like to be in the Lords, I reply that, as occupational therapy goes, it beats basket weaving. Having listened to most of the speeches in this debate and the thrust of many of the arguments, I am now not so sure—basket weaving suddenly seems quite attractive.
Much is made about the quality of debates in your Lordships’ House. I congratulate the other place on coming down, at long last, in favour of an elected upper Chamber. Of course, one would hope that this reforming zeal would be extended to demanding an overhaul of the House of Commons, but, short of a miracle, that is most unlikely in the foreseeable future; 2111 AD might be a date to hope for.
In the course of this two-day debate, the overwhelming majority of speeches have been replete with arguments for maintaining the status quo and very few voices have been raised in support of the principle of a wholly or mainly elected Chamber. As usual on these occasions, it is the House speaking to itself, as the noble Lord, Lord Watson, said. With the exception of the three opening speeches and a few others, most speakers have dismissed the Commons vote last week but, more importantly, they have disregarded public opinion on the matter. As I said on 10 January 2002, when we discussed the previous White Paper, 54 per cent of the public wanted a majority-elected House with only 21 per cent wanting a mainly appointed one. That ratio remains fairly constant.
As the noble Lord, Lord Desai, said, most speeches have been conservative, complacent, self-congratulatory and lacking in self-criticism. Much is made of the quality of debates in your Lordships’ House. This one, I feel, will prove to be an exception. As Jackie Ashley forcefully argued in yesterday’s Guardian, the context has changed dramatically. Too much hyperbole is used in exalting the virtues of this House.
An up-to-date audit of the operations of this House would have to take account of the following facts. First, attendance and the contribution to the work of its committees are very patchy. Probably fewer than 200 Peers are fully active, with some commendable exceptions, and that is largely true of the “people’s Peers”, while Cross-Benchers as a group have very low voting records. Secondly, some of the “celebrity” life Peers created since 1997, who nominally take the Labour Whip, rarely attend.
Thirdly, the Conservatives have great difficulty in holding up their numbers. On 26 February, for example, during the Report stage of the Mental Health Bill, the first amendment was carried with, among others, 99 Conservatives voting, as was the second with 89 Conservatives voting, but the third—a Conservative amendment, it should be noted—was lost by three votes because the Conservatives could muster only 58 of their number. It was at 6.51 pm and dinner clearly, as always, was the priority.
Fourthly, there is the question of expertise available to the House which nurtures the quality of its debates. As debates go, of course they rarely receive any media publicity. However, these days, regretfully, the Lords, along with the Commons, form part of the Westminster turn-off so far as the public are concerned. As in this debate, we largely talk to ourselves and specialist interest groups.
As for our much-vaunted expertise, that, too, is overdrawn. As I said in 2002, it is highly overrated. Given the average age of Members of the House, which approaches 70 years, the expertise tends to be outdated, especially in these days of very rapid change and innovation. I take myself as an example. As an erstwhile professor, I have not regularly taught students for more than 20 years. As an ex-vice-chancellor, retired for eight years, I would not be abreast of the numerous changes that will have taken place in tertiary education over that period. I think that that would be true of any other former vice-chancellor in your Lordships’ House, and I should be surprised if it were not true of most others, whatever their career specialisation. Legislators and legislation need the benefit of up-to-date expertise.
The time has come—indeed, it is well past—for reform of this Chamber, which will put it on a wholly elected basis. The idea of the Prime Minister using the royal prerogative to nominate up to 10 life Peers in any one Parliament, as Mr Blair has promulgated quite out of the blue, should be seen as the anachronism that it is. The “people’s Peers” experiment has not worked. These innovations, far from refreshing and revitalising the image of the House of Lords, have merely exacerbated the problem. I will, somewhat reluctantly, vote for an 80:20 elected:appointed ratio, but I will vote enthusiastically for the principle of a 100 per cent-elected Chamber.
There is still much detail to be thrashed out, particularly to avoid the discredited closed-list system, but the momentum of reform must be maintained. The leavening of kindred spirits, such as the noble Lords, Lord Desai, Lord Richard, Lord Plant and Lord Hoyle, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Whitaker and Lady Quin, on the Labour Benches, together with the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, on the Conservative Benches, plus most of my noble friends, has persuaded me to continue the occupational therapy here and to eschew the basket weaving.
My Lords, conscious of the time pressures on anyone speaking three-fifths of the way through an extremely long debate, I shall not refer to the White Paper, so ably dissected by a number of noble Lords. Instead, I shall concentrate on trying to knock on the head the myths and misconceptions about the House that keep resurfacing. I suppose that we are stuck for evermore with the public image of elderly, moustachioed Peers, sitting hour after hour clad in red robes every working day. The caricature is too valuable for cartoonists to jettison easily, even though some elected hereditary Peers may never have worn robes in their lives.
As the noble Lord, Lord Lawson, reminded us yesterday, it is not just cartoonists who misrepresent the House. A week ago today, a respected broadsheet slated us as,
“a body of mostly white, unelected men of an average age touching 70”.
The noble Lord, Lord Lawson, was too polite to name and shame the organ in question, but I can reveal that it could be considered pink in more senses than one. Although it is true that we are, on average, 18 years older than MPs, as the noble Lord, Lord Soley, pointed out yesterday, both ethnic minorities and the disabled are better represented here than in the House of Commons and women are almost as well represented. Moreover, we are a great deal younger than the French Senate and a lot less male-dominated, yet one hears few calls for a complete revamp of the French Senate. Our age pattern gives us one fortuitous advantage over the other place which will persist for a few more years: as a higher proportion of us were born before or during World War II, a high proportion of us will have served in one or other of the armed services and in a great many cases will have seen action; therefore, we are better placed than the House of Commons to make informed judgments on defence matters.
A more important and damaging allegation is that we, unelected individuals, exercise power over ordinary people and can single-handedly control or alter their lives. On 28 February the Guardian columnist Jonathan Freedland said that,
that is, Peers—
“have the power to change the laws of this land”.
I am sorry to say that that was echoed yesterday by the noble Lord, Lord Richard, for whom I have always had great respect. Of course, the reality is that not a single proposal that emanates from this House, not even a correction of a minor drafting error to a government Bill, gets anywhere unless the elected Chamber endorses it, which is fair enough, even though it means that some extremely worthwhile measures fall by the wayside, as there is always pressure on the parliamentary timetable and Commons legislation must always take priority.
Our only power is the brief power of delay. As a former Labour Cabinet Minister, Frank Dobson, wrote in the Independent on 7 March,
“the House of Commons always gets its way, providing it can tolerate delay”.
He went on to say that that would no longer apply if the Lords were elected. That point was powerfully enlarged on yesterday in a magnificent speech by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, later backed up by, among others, the noble Lords, Lord Lawson and Lord Forsyth. It cannot be expressed often enough that, although the House of Lords can make life extremely difficult for the Executive when necessary, it has absolutely no unilateral powers over anyone else, nor would it ever wish to have.
The next most important myth that needs challenging is, unfortunately, very widespread: that elections to this House would give ordinary people more control over the legislators and hence over legislation. That is not so, as the noble Baroness, Lady Shephard, said yesterday and the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester pointed out today. Once a Peer has been elected for a single, non-renewable term of 10, 12 or 15 years, he would be a free agent, fettered only by his conscience. Without the possibility of reselection, there could be no deselection and he would be as free as a second-term American president to ignore the wishes of his constituents, however “constituents” might be defined. Of course, the Government could opt instead for the recreation of 1930s corporatism, as unwittingly recommended by my noble friend Lord Montgomery of Alamein, but I do not think that that is a good idea.
I freely confess that I have changed my mind since we last debated this matter at length, when I broadly supported the proposal by the noble Lord, Lord Richard, for a 60 per cent elected element. However, that was a while ago; since then we have had more time to ponder the contradictions of a hybrid House. Above all, we have had seven years to observe how extremely well the reformed House works, with its much fairer political balance, the instinctive co-operation between those of different political and philosophical persuasions and the persistence of an admirable degree of independence, even among those who take the party Whip. Why spoil that?
One thing has not turned out as forecast: in 1999, it was widely predicted that independents would always hold the balance of power, but in practice only very rarely do Cross-Bench votes determine the outcome of a Division. Those who hold the balance of power are without question the Liberal Democrats. When the Liberal Democrats support Labour, the Government almost always win; when they support the Conservatives, the Opposition usually win, if they turn out in sufficient numbers. A House elected under some form of PR would not weaken the power effectively held by the Liberal Democrats; on the contrary, it would considerably strengthen it. Is that really what the Government and the Conservative Front Bench want?
My Lords, I was somewhat disappointed by the White Paper, not so much because of its internal inconsistencies, of which there are many, but because it is so timid. The fault is not that it is too radical but that it is not radical enough. Its root problem is that it is essentially concerned only with composition, and that is the wrong way round. A reform driven by a consideration of function, role and purpose could have produced a much more radical set of proposals than one driven purely by considerations of composition. It would have been better to start with what we do reasonably well—I say reasonably well because we could always do things better—which is scrutiny and revision. It should have concentrated on that, seen how it could be improved and strengthened and looked at the real challenges of pre- and post-legislative scrutiny. That is the challenge that a modern legislature should address rather than the lesser order issue of composition. That approach would have led to a much more comprehensive reform that would have had to cover organisation, structure and process and, at the end of the day, would have addressed the arguments about composition. That would have been a fit-for-purpose way of addressing the problem. We should have focused on how a second Chamber can add more value to the process of legislating and how it can add value to the public life of our country.
However, in Chapter 6 of the White Paper the Government usefully set down a series of seven principles that they believe should underpin a reformed House of Lords, whatever its composition. It is worth reading them out: primacy of the House of Commons; complementarity of the House of Lords—by which it means revision and scrutiny—a more legitimate House of Lords; no overall majority for any party; a non-party-political element; a more representative House of Lords; and continuity of membership. It would be enormously helpful if my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer could confirm that the Government remain committed to those principles and that any detailed proposals will be argued from them. That would be a very important statement for the Government to make now about their intentions.
The White Paper argues:
“The primacy of the Commons rests on three clear factors. First, election of its members as the direct representatives of the people ... Second is the Commons’ power to grant or withhold supply ... [and] Third, the principle of the primacy of the Commons is enshrined in the Parliament Acts”.
If we look at the Parliament Acts and how they came about, we find that justification for the limited power of veto that the Lords now have and of the special treatment of money Bills rests squarely on the distinction that the House of Lords is not elected and the House of Commons is. Make the House of Lords, or a second Chamber, elected and the justification for the restrictions imposed by the Parliament Acts falls away. British constitutional history shows that the primacy of the House of Commons is based on its unique claim within Parliament to democratic legitimacy. Remove that unique claim and you will certainly get change in the relationship between the two Houses and endanger the supremacy of the House of Commons.
I want to touch on two other aspects of an elected second Chamber: the electoral system and the time of elections. If elections were to take place by some form of proportional representation, that would not just introduce a distinctive basis of election for the second Chamber, it would open up a very real, important and divisive debate on which electoral system produces the most representative Chamber and the most representative politician.
We know the Liberal Democrats’ answer to that. They are open and frank in saying that proportional representation produces a fairer and more representative system for a Parliament than first past the post. So the argument is bound to be that a second Chamber based on proportional representation would be more representative than the first-past-the-post elected House of Commons.
There is already proportional representation in the European Parliament, the Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly for Wales, the Northern Ireland Assembly and in Scottish local government. We are fast heading towards the stage where first past the post for the House of Commons will be the anomaly. How stable and secure would that be?
The White Paper favours holding the elections at the same time as the European elections. That opens up an argument about new and eroding mandates. Imagine a Government going through mid-term unpopularity and faced with a newly elected second Chamber that is elected on what some would claim is a more representative basis. In those circumstances, is it likely that such an emboldened and confident second Chamber would content itself merely with scrutiny and revision? Of course not. It would start to challenge the Commons, arguing, as other noble Lords have stated today, that one elected politician is just as good as—in some cases, perhaps better than—another elected politician. In those circumstances, we get either paralysis or another constitutional crisis.
My argument—and my argument in previous debates on House of Lords reform—has always been based on the relationship between the two Houses and the need to maintain the supremacy of the House of Commons. Given that, I am not in the business of saving the House of Commons from itself, but I can argue for scrutiny and that the reform should be based on principle.
I want reform. I want thoroughgoing, comprehensive, coherent reform. Above all, I want reform that maintains the power and supremacy of the House of Commons. I fear that the White Paper fails to deliver on all those objectives.
My Lords, when, for three separate periods over a number of years, I was part of the usual channels in another place, it was my duty to visit your Lordships’ House frequently, which I greatly enjoyed. I prided myself on understanding the ways of your Lordships’ House, its traditions and its foibles. Little did I realise until I came here, less than two years ago, the depth of my ignorance and how imperfectly I understood the elegant subtleties of your Lordships’ House.
My noble and learned friend Lord Howe of Aberavon observed earlier how little Members of the other place understand your Lordships’ House. He is right. Why should they? Their priorities lie entirely elsewhere. In a sense, we are like Bertie Wooster’s aunts: aunt baying to aunt,
“like mastodons … across the primeval swamp”.
Perhaps like the historian, FW Maitland, who was accused of seeing medieval England through a mist of moots and witans, my former colleagues in the other place looking along the Corridor see through a prism of coronets and ermine, with a wholesome contempt for the great and the good and the privileged—not parliamentary privilege, of course, which is sacrosanct in the other place. Noble Lords here are exasperated by the wilful, even disrespectful, reluctance of the other place to acknowledge our wisdom, experience, expertise, independence, diversity and modesty.
Some of my former colleagues are, even today, ageist, which is certainly not politically correct and, in some circumstances, is illegal. I suppose that it was ever thus. The noble Baroness, Lady Symons, in her remarkable speech, suggested an all-party committee of both Houses to take matters forward. I do not normally favour setting up ever more committees to take decisions, but I believe that on this occasion it is an excellent suggestion. Indeed, the more such committees there are, the better. The Government are seeking consensus and I hope that one may emerge. These things are always relative.
The case against an elected or predominantly elected House has been analysed in the White Paper and powerfully argued, especially by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, my noble and learned friend Lord Howe, my noble friend Lord Lawson, and others, so I shall not repeat their arguments. Suffice it to say that no system of election could be devised that would deliver the gender, racial, religious and other aspects of diversity that we have in your Lordships’ House—far more so than is or ever could be the case in the other place. That can be achieved only by the Appointments Commission.
The Australian Constitution of 1901 stipulated that each state should have the same number of senators, irrespective of population. The intention was that senators would represent the interests of states in a body where the most populous states could not dominate the less populous. In practice, the Senate was quickly taken over by the principal party machines—a condition that has prevailed to this day. A wholly, or 80 per cent elected, second Chamber here would undergo the same experience. From the late 1970s to the early 1990s, the Conservatives would have had the upper hand in elections. From the mid-1990s until recently, it would have been the Labour Party. The assumption that an election could not deliver a single-party majority in the Lords is clearly false. Elections are unpredictable. My right honourable and learned friend—he is a great friend—Ken Clarke in another place spoke of an idealised Chamber in which Members would be immune from the Whips. Pigs might fly, but I do not think that they will.
No doubt the world would not come to an end if there was a single-party majority in the second Chamber but, as the White Paper recognises, the conventions of this place whereby your Lordships’ existing powers are not used to bring the Government to a halt and cause gridlock would need to be enshrined in statute—in effect, a written constitution, on which we are far from agreeing. If a second Chamber were controlled by the same party as the other place, we would have produced an elective dictatorship. If it were controlled by the Opposition, there would be a high risk of gridlock. Neither would be the end of the world, but they would hardly be an improvement on what we have now. Nor is it what people want.
In recent years, the House of Commons has ceded substantial power to Brussels, Strasbourg, Edinburgh and Cardiff. Students of Tudor and Stuart history of my generation were advised to read Wallace Notestein’s learned tract The Winning of the Initiative by the House of Commons. Future students may read a tract about the present era entitled, “The Losing of the Initiative by the House of Commons”. Power is indeed finite, as the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, said. It is a zero-sum game. Some see creating an elected second Chamber as a way of checking the overweening power of the Executive, but surely if primacy means anything, that is the job of the other place, not of a revising and deliberative Chamber. The noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, deplored, as I do, the new procedure of programming all legislation in the other place—what we used to call the guillotine. However, MPs do not have to vote for these measures. Perhaps tomorrow night’s rebellion will give government Back-Benchers the appetite for a little more independence. The solution to an overmighty Executive lies in the other place. That is what primacy is about.
Like other former Members of the other place, I never had any correspondence about House of Lords reform. Jack Straw referred in the other place to,
“the pent-up feeling for devolution”.—[Official Report, Commons, 6/3/07; col. 1399.].
He was talking about the situation prior to the devolution legislation. There is no such pent-up demand for an elected House of Lords today; in fact, quite the reverse. Consensus lies in creating a statutory Appointments Commission, charged with appointing Peers from all walks of life, all regions—Owen Paterson in the other place pointed out the preponderance of the south-east—all faiths, all ethnic minorities and all age groups, and ending the system of by-elections for hereditary Peers. We have been asked to consider a massive constitutional change, about which few details, such as functions and methods of election and so on, are apparent, as the Government concede. The noble Lord, Lord Cunningham, said that we are being asked to sign a blank cheque. All the White Paper offers us for our blank cheque is a pig in a poke.
Since 1999, our Chamber has been characterised by independence and diversity, where all parties are represented but none has a majority, and all agree that it is performing well—as well, some say, as it ever has in history. We should let your Lordships’ House continue to evolve, with a statutory Appointments Commission, as envisaged in the White Paper and as described by the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, and others, and we should revisit the matter in years to come if the present and envisaged arrangements, which are very new, seem unsatisfactory. There is no hurry.
My Lords, like the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, last night, I hope that the observations of a relative newcomer to the House will not seem out of place and that they may add value. I draw encouragement from the statement of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor that no one should feel inhibited about expressing their views. I would be content for mine to be seen as the contribution of a rising star amid this galaxy of heavyweights. I can hope only that my star will not be snuffed out too precipitately as a result of the discussions on which we are embarked.
I associate myself with the sentiments expressed by the noble Lord, Lord James of Blackheath, in his maiden speech shortly after my own, on 21 November 2006. He said that it had come as a revelation to him to witness at first hand,
“the wealth of experience, the depth of knowledge and the fierce independence at work in this Chamber, which are almost certainly beyond the recognition and appreciation of the wider British public”.
A leitmotif running through this debate has been the extent to which the work and the working of your Lordships’ House are neither understood nor appreciated. The noble Lord, Lord James, went on to say:
“It would be a tragedy if the public discovered what they had had only by losing it”.—[Official Report, 21/11/06; col. 270.]
I speak only as I find and I hope that I will not be considered to be too self-serving and complacent in making these observations. As will appear, I am not wholly uncritical of the working of the House and believe that changes could usefully be made.
I had always entertained a measure of scepticism about the cliché that the level of debate was superior in your Lordships’ House to that in another place. Perhaps that scepticism would have been justified in the dog-days of the House identified by the White Paper when only a fraction of your Lordships’ predecessors attended on a regular basis. But since I arrived, I have been awed by the level of expertise, the analytical prowess and the forensic command evident in your Lordships’ House, which is so devoid of the kind of political knockabout with which we are so familiar in another place. I do not believe that that can be attributed solely to my accession to the House. More than once I have attended a debate with the thought that I might make an intervention, only to abandon the idea rapidly on recognising that I was in the presence of people who knew 10,000 times more about the subject than I did.
Some debates have been among the best seminars that I have ever attended. I say “seminars” because I have sometimes wondered what difference they made. It has occurred to me that there could be merit in our recording our view in a resolution that is slightly less bland than is customary in your Lordships’ House, which need not be confrontational. The Government may wish tomorrow that we had recorded our view with slightly greater emphasis at the end of our recent debate on the renewal of the Trident missile system.
However, on the matter in hand, there is a problem of legitimacy. To the bien pensants who consider themselves to be of a generally progressive disposition, there is something faintly disreputable about the House of Lords. One detected that in the reaction to one’s own appointment in certain quarters: “Not really to be condoned, but perhaps, since it’s you”. I think this stems from the association with aristocracy and the hereditary principle, but this is surely anachronistic with the renaissance of your Lordships’ House following the 1999 Act, since when, by common consent, it has worked with unparalleled effectiveness. It is also specious, as many speakers have shown, to say that legitimacy comes only from election. Indeed, the most significant thing to come out of the debate over these two days is the destruction of the argument for election as the only basis of legitimacy, along with the lack of knowledge of this place and the absence of demand for reform, as attested by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford and other speakers.
That is not to say that there should be no change. The noble Lord, Lord Steel, and others have suggested some basic changes, but not the kind that will be offered in Motions 2 to 7 tomorrow. I believe that your Lordships’ House is in many ways more democratic than the other place. In the absence of the stranglehold of party discipline, the organs of civil society have much more genuine access to the legislative process. The problem of legitimacy is much more one of perception than reality. The remedy is much more one of education—rather than election—about how the House is composed and how it works. It is said that public opinion wants an elected House, but I am not aware that any attempt has ever been made to engender a proper understanding of these things. However, severance of the link with the peerage probably would make a difference to how things are perceived.
I am not so much in favour of appointment as against elections, at least of the kind proposed—in geographical constituencies from party lists, however open. Indeed, I would not feel able to vote for an elected element if it was to be elected on such a basis. The idea that this will confer legitimacy is laughable when one considers the regard in which the other place is held. Such elections will simply produce a cardboard replica of the other place, a House full of party hacks good only for political knockabout and devoid of the expertise and analytical mode of operation that make this House so fit for purpose as a revising Chamber.
A number of other arguments against election need to be considered. It is said that election will alter the balance of power between the Houses. Though much is made of this, I do not think that it is as strong an argument as is commonly supposed. Election of the upper House may give rise to tension and have a destabilising effect, but it cannot actually alter the balance of power except in so far as the other place allows. On the other hand, I am certain that election of Members to this House on the basis of geographical constituencies will bring them into conflict with the representative role of Members of the other place. We have heard about this from noble Lords who are familiar with the Scottish situation. Finally, there is what I might call the “fourth XI” problem, to which the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, drew our attention in his intervention in the debate on the Queen’s Speech and to which other noble Lords have alluded. That goes to the very heart of the issue of quality and fitness for purpose.
However, I am anxious to be of help in moving towards a consensus, and I think that I can be. If elections were to be based on constituencies reflecting the different sectors of civil society—the arts, sport, medicine, the law, trades unions, education, the voluntary sector, the women’s movement, disability, black and ethnic minority communities, the different faiths and so forth—it would be possible to combine the requirement for expertise with that of election. Such systems are usually dismissed on the grounds of complexity and impracticability, but there are precedents in other countries, and as I see it they offer the only basis for consensus between those who want a method of recruitment to the second Chamber that maximises expertise and those who want a House whose composition is determined by election.
It therefore behoves us, I believe, to try a little harder. I understand the difficulties. Other noble Lords, led by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, have their own lists of constituencies, but if the Government were to come up with a scheme and consult on it, and all our different ideas were to be pooled, I cannot believe that it would be beyond the wit of man to arrive at a scheme that commanded general acceptance. I would be happy to submit my ideas, and no doubt other noble Lords will have theirs. If the proposals have flaws, as no doubt they will, I hope that that will be a stimulus to improve them rather than a reason to reject them out of hand.
My Lords, as I imagine did many noble Lords last Wednesday evening, I sensed the boot of history targeting my posterior. The depression was slightly lifted, however, when I analysed the contributions to the debate in the Commons, because it was quite clear that MPs were voting not so much for a specific proposal as uniting behind a slogan of “election”, or rather, “elections good, appointment bad”, which was more the mood of the House. I was further encouraged when I analysed the votes, because although I was disappointed that the vote for appointment was down, it was significant to note that in the Conservative Party the majority against had narrowed from 28 to 23, while in the Labour Party the majority had grown from 6 against an all-appointed House to 84. I have direct anecdotal evidence that a lot of Labour MPs were very concerned that Labour should not be seen as the only party in favour of appointment, bearing in mind that the two other major parties have in their manifesto a House of Lords that is 80 per cent or 100 per cent elected.
While mindful of the admonition of the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York at close of play last night that we should not keep talking about cash for honours, the publicity surrounding events over the past year is, to put it mildly, not conducive to a dispassionate examination of the merits of an appointments system. But let us be quite clear: the country could not survive without appointments. The whole infrastructure of our civil society depends on people from whichever party making appointments and, by and large, people accepting them. Many bodies are being set up to monitor this and make sure that it is done fairly. We have very nearly got it right. To allude for the last time to events that allegedly took place, it is clear that the Appointments Commission blocked something happening. The commission was doing its job and I am quite content for it to be more transparent still. That is a true reform of the House of Lords. To abolish it and replace it with a second Chamber with no name which will be wholly elected is not reform; it is abolition. It is a major constitutional step. It is like someone going to the doctor with a sore throat or a head cold and being prescribed decapitation.
I was further encouraged when I looked at those who voted for 80 per cent election. Surprisingly, that option did not have a majority among Labour MPs—I concede that the majority against was narrow at five votes, but it was still a majority—or in the Conservative Party, despite the fact that it was official Conservative policy. Assuming, with the greatest respect to the Liberal Democrats, that one of those two parties will form the next Government, they might have some difficulty convincing their members that it would be a good idea to pursue an 80 per cent or 100 per cent elected House.
I have news for my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor: I wish to offer him a consensus—not unanimity, but consensus. I am mindful of the admonition of the Leader of the House in the other place, Jack Straw, who said we should not let the best be the enemy of the good. What I propose is exactly what other people here have referred to, including the noble Lord, Lord Steel, and what Ben Chapman, the MP for Wirral South, referred to in the House of Commons. We should abolish the hereditary by-elections or remove the hereditaries, baptising them immediately as life Peers on their own merit, with the involvement of a transparent statutory Appointments Commission. In addition to what the noble Lord, Lord Goodlad, said, it would probably be sensible to have the same procedure as the House of Commons for removal for misdemeanour. I would also be happy with a proposal that allowed people to retire or be deemed to have retired if they were not here for more than, say, five days a year. That would be a package; it may not be revolutionary to some in the House of Commons, but it would represent a House of Lords reform.
Here I must take issue with the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne. This would be a legitimate second-stage reform, as envisaged by the previous Lord Chancellor, my noble and learned friend Lord Irvine, when he said that the 92 existing hereditaries would remain until the second stage. It would surely be perverse for this House, of all Houses, which has consistently voted by a majority of three to one in favour of a completely appointed House, to say that an all-appointed House is not a legitimate second-stage reform. It is subconsciously saying that we will not really be reformed until we are all elected, which is not what this House thinks.
If we have elections, we will undoubtedly affect the primacy of the House of Commons, as the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, said yesterday. It is all very well for Jack Straw to say that, if necessary, its primacy will be put in statute. At the end of the day, the people decide. If, after all this trumpeting about a huge reform, which started with the Reform Act 1832 and the end of privilege and continued through to the end of fox hunting, we suddenly produce a closed, partially closed or partially open list system, where one elects somebody for 15 years and cannot get rid of them, the public will say, “No, that is not what we thought you meant by ‘elected’ when you asked us whether we would like an elected House of Lords”. I am reminded of the tag from Horace, which I will translate:
“The mountains are in labour and produce a ridiculous mouse”.
That is really what the proposal amounts to. The noble Lord, Lord Livsey of Talgarth, observed that an elected House would be more accountable, but, by definition, it will be no different from an appointed House. If you are elected for 15 years and cannot be deselected, you are totally unaccountable, but we have lost the advantages that appointment gives us. The advantages are set out quite clearly, so I need not take up the time of the House with them. We need only to read pages 30 and 31 of the White Paper. Paragraph 7.2 states that the simplest way to ensure that the principles of composition that we are all looking for are met is appointment. Paragraph 7.3 states that appointment would help ensure that we reflect the diverse population of the United Kingdom. The only drawback of appointment, in the words of the White Paper, is its alleged illegitimacy. I think that that point has been dealt with sufficiently. I am not one of those who think that “unelected” is a term of abuse. I do not want to live in a society where, for example, judges are elected and presumably vying with each other for the approval of the Sun and the Daily Mail through the severity of their sentencing policy.
I think that the public are expecting something different. They do not necessarily understand how the House of Lords works simply because it does not get the publicity that the House of Commons does—in many ways, quite rightly. However, it is surely perverse, at a time when we have just reached what has been spoken of as a historic agreement—the Cunningham report—on how both Houses should work, suddenly to put that in danger, as the noble Lord, Lord Cunningham, referring to paragraph 61 of the report, pointed out yesterday, by altering the possibility of the primacy of the Commons being challenged.
I have been in this House for just under 10 years but, previously, I used to present a political programme on television for about eight years which looked at the work of the House of Commons, so I have a little knowledge of the other place as well. It strikes me that it is daft to talk about complementarity of Chambers if they never talk to each other. We have a situation where one end is in total, blissful ignorance of what the other does, and that applies, to be fair, in both directions—we are as bad as the House of Commons. Surely that is the target that we must address. We must get Parliament as a whole working together, with the respective skills of the Lords and the Commons complementing each other and producing better government than we have at the moment.
My Lords, my purpose today is to seek an undertaking from the Government that, if any Bill is sent up to your Lordships' House to create a wholly elected Chamber, such a Bill will contain a specific provision to repeal the Parliament Act 1911. Without such an undertaking, your Lordships' House should not concur with the wish of another place for a wholly elected House.
It can be implied, and I would do so, that the repeal of the Parliament Act 1911 took place with the passage of the House of Lords Act 1999, which removed the hereditary Peers from your Lordships' House.
I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Kingsland for his legal erudition on this matter. I draw your Lordships’ attention to section 80 of Bennion’s Statutory Interpretation, which describes the doctrine of implied repeal:
“Where a later enactment does not expressly amend (whether textually or indirectly) an earlier enactment which it has power to override, but the provisions of the later enactment are inconsistent with those of the earlier, the later by implication amends the earlier so far as is necessary to remove the inconsistency between them”.
In his commentary on the code, Bennion states that:
“If a later Act cannot stand with an earlier, Parliament (though it has not said so) is taken to intend an amendment of the earlier. This is a logical necessity, since two inconsistent texts cannot both be valid without contravening the principle of contradiction. If the entirety of the earlier Act is inconsistent, the effect amounts to a repeal of it”.
The inconsistency between the Parliament Act 1911 and the House of Lords Act 1999 is evident from examination of the recitals to the 1911 Act, which clearly describe the intention of the Parliament Act. It was, as we all know, to restrict,
“the existing powers of the House of Lords”.
Shall we ask ourselves what the motive was behind that intent? The record seems to show that the motivation and raison d’être of the Parliament Act 1911 arose from the then hereditary nature of your Lordships' House. Commending the Parliament Bill to the House of Commons on its Second Reading on 2 March 1911, the Liberal Prime Minister, Mr Asquith, said:
“Take the hereditary principle. What can we get out of it? Hon. Gentlemen opposite have got a great deal out of it . . . a working instrument to frustrate and nullify the functions of this House when there is a Liberal Government in power . . . That is what the right hon. Gentleman”—
he was referring to Mr Balfour, the leader of the Conservative Opposition—“gets out of it”.
Then the Prime Minister spelled out the motive for the Parliament Bill. Speaking of the hereditary principle, he said:
“Let it not be our master. So say we. It is because it has been our master . . . because it enslaves and fetters the free action of this House, that we have put these proposals before the House and we mean to carry them into law".—[Official Report, Commons, 2/3/1911; col. 584.]
Winston Churchill, campaigning for the Parliament Bill around the country, asked:
“Why should their children govern our children? Why should the sons and the grandsons and the great grandsons have legislative functions?”.
He said he hoped that the Bill would be,
“fatal to the hereditary House of Lords”.
The recitals to the Parliament Act 1911 make it clear that the offence complained of—in other words, insufficient respect from your Lordships' House for the elected House—was an offence committed by an hereditary House of Lords. That offence, against what we now in common parlance call the primacy of the House of Commons—the phrase has been used many times in this debate—was to be remedied, as we know, by strict time limits on our delaying power, a blanket disqualification of your Lordships' House in public finance, and the vouchsafing of all fiscal authority to another place, so that with regard to all money Bills we could look but not touch. In effect, the Parliament Act 1911 ultimately gave power to another place to override decisions of your Lordships.
We know that the House of Lords Act 1999 made this House not hereditary. According to the then Leader of the House, the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, it made it “more democratic, more legitimate”. Thus it can be argued that according to the doctrine of implied repeal, that made the Parliament Act 1911 obsolete. So either the 1911 Act has already been repealed by virtue of its inconsistency with the later Act of 1999, or else it should be repeated in any future Act that puts our House on to an elected basis.
The 1911 Act sought a House of Lords constructed on a “popular, not hereditary basis”. We are now not hereditary. It is of course arguable whether we are popular; I would say that we are, but it is debatable. It is certain, however, that the creation of a new elected House, being both popular and not hereditary, will render the 1911 Act redundant. That is why I urge every noble Lord considering voting for an elected House tomorrow to insist before they vote on an undertaking from the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor that any Act which comes before us to create an elected House will contain a specific provision to repeal that most iconic of all Acts of Parliament, the Parliament Act 1911.
My Lords, some noble Lords may think that I am lowering the tone of this wonderful debate if I confine my remarks, as I shall, to my special subject: the cost of reform. That is not the sole reason why I oppose election to this House, but it does seem to be relevant that what we are considering is not merely a folly but an extremely expensive folly.
Some noble Lords may believe that democracy—if I may stretch that word to apply to the White Paper proposal—is a pearl beyond price and that I am just one of those damned economists who know the price of everything and the value of nothing. It is always difficult to argue with absolutists but I shall make just one point to them. There is one reason and one reason only why electing the Lords is so fashionable at the moment, and that is the so-called cash-for-honours affair. I rather agree with the remarks of the right reverend Primate the Archbishop of York last night, that we should be chary of going into that subject. However, I do not think that I will trespass against that warning if I say that, last year, the three main political parties together spent £98 million. That is rather less than my estimate of the annual cost of 100 per cent election to your Lordships’ House. In other words, we could, if we wanted to solve that problem, simply give the money to the parties. Then we would not then have to worry about changing this admirable House.
Other noble Lords, however, will not take the absolutist view but the more usual view. I see the noble Lord, Lord Turnbull, sitting there; as a past Permanent Secretary of the Treasury, he will certainly agree with this. With most goods in public life, it is not a question of being able to pay for them whatever they cost; but if you choose to have one thing, you cannot have another thing. The Government face a budget constraint. So, to put it quite simply, if reforming this House is going to cost a lot of money, that is going to mean fewer teachers, nurses, doctors, soldiers and so on. That seems a common-sense view. It does matter what this costs.
When I did my estimates, I did not do it to prove anything particular but to fill a gap in the White Paper. The White Paper provides no costings for its proposals, on the grounds that
“It is difficult to assess the overall cost of any reform to the House of Lords until the final shape of reform is known”.
That is true—it is obviously true as far as it goes. But my suspicious mind could not help thinking that it was a jolly convenient truth for the Government since the cost would rather mitigate against their arguments. It was possible, after sitting down for a while, to make some reasonable estimates. I have produced a costing on the basis of such assumptions and estimates.
The cost of each election to this House is £30 million. If you want the source for that, it is the White Paper. Each elected Member of this House eventually replaces an appointed Member, and I suggest that each elected Member will cost about two-thirds of what a Member of the House of Commons costs, to reflect their lesser constituency duties. I suggest a pension of £20,000 a year is paid to life Peers who agree to retire, to compensate them in part for the pensions they have not been able to provide for themselves since Members of this House are not paid. That is floated in the White Paper. Extra accommodation is made available in my estimates at a rather conservative rate of one extra workstation for each elected Peer, so they can have someone who keeps in touch with their constituents.
Those, I hasten to add, are conservative estimates—they do not, for example, provide for any pay for appointed Peers during the transitional period when the elected Members are going to be paid—but they nevertheless produce monstrous results. Over the 15-year transitional period to an elected House, the extra costs will exceed £1 billion for a 50 per cent elected House, and £2 billion for a 100 per cent elected House. Two billion pounds represents a pile of £10 notes a mile and a half high.
Having produced these costings, I had rather hoped that the Government would respond by entering into a proper debate. I was therefore—how shall I put this?—a trifle disappointed at the reaction of Mr Straw when my costings were raised by Mr David Clelland in another place. Mr Straw, the Leader of the House, said:
“Lord Lipsey’s estimate is absolute utter balderdash and nonsense … It cannot be the case that a partly elected other place would cost £1 billion when the total cost of this place … is £300 million”.—[Official Report, Commons, 7/3/07; col. 1554.]
Absolute utter balderdash and nonsense—moi?
Mr Straw’s first error was in the costing of the House of Commons. How would he know—he’s only the Leader of the place. He said that the figure was £300 million; in fact, for the latest year it is £468.8 million. For that, see the Written Answer from the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie of Luton, to a Written Question from the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, on 28 June 2006 at cols. WA 168-70. But that is only the minor error. The major error is that he compared my costing for a full 15-year period with the annual cost of the House of Commons.
As a long-term friend and admirer of Mr Straw, it pains me to say what I now have to say: that he was talking absolute utter balderdash and nonsense. Mr Clelland pointed that out to him but apology came there none. I am sorry to say this of an old friend, but Mr Straw misled the House. In my knowledge of the other place, which is less than that of many other Members of this place, Ministers who mislead the House are expected to apologise; but I am long enough in the tooth not to have had high expectations that he would do so. Who would want to admit to making a howler that would make any schoolboy blush to the roots?
I do not even ask him to apologise for misleading the House. I will be quite satisfied if he does something else: let him now publish the Government’s best estimate of the cost, saying where his assumptions differ from mine. Let him level with the electorate and see then if his proposals retain their support.
I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, said earlier in the debate, that this matter cannot be settled by pledges in manifestos which voters barely read; it can be settled only in the way that major constitutional issues are generally settled in this democratic era, in the way that devolution was settled and Europe was eventually settled, and in the way that the Government once proposed to settle voting reform—by a referendum in which every voter has his or her right to be heard. During such a referendum voters would learn more about the proposed change and about the virtues of this House, and far more than Mr Straw chose to disclose about the cost of what he is proposing. I am confident that they would then reject it, as I trust your Lordships will reject it tomorrow.
My Lords, we have had a marvellous debate both today and yesterday. I apologise to noble Lords who spoke when I was not in the Chamber as I was hosting a function in the Cholmondeley Room and could not get here.
I agree with my noble friend Lord Waddington that by now everything must have been said. Nearly everything probably has been said, which is why I asked to speak on the second day. I wanted everything to have been said so that I could change the tempo for a moment and talk about what the House of Lords means to me, to all of you and, indeed, to the public at large. Unlike most noble Lords, I speak about the House of Lords twice a week, and have done so for years. I speak to Conservative constituencies, to Rotary clubs, where I am very popular, and to Soroptimist clubs. I do not even charge. I talk about what we are and what we do for this country. Wherever I go, people say that if they have any complaints at all about Parliament, they are about the other place, not this place.
When the House of Lords reform debate was initiated a few years ago, I sat on the Conservative Front Bench, next to my noble friend Lord Strathclyde, and cried my eyes out. Nobody could understand why. I told all those around me that I had hay fever—as if you could have hay fever in November. The truth is that I loved this place from the day I came in right up until now. It represents the best of British history and tradition and a job well done. Every time that we interfere with it, we take away a little bit of something that is valuable.
I became a government Whip within about six weeks of coming into the House. Before that I was chairman of the London Conservatives, so I knew what it was to be bossy. Life Peers ran away from me if they knew that I expected them to vote. But asking a hereditary Peer to vote was an entirely different thing if he did not think it was right for his country. They used to say, “It may be good for the Tory Party but my family have supported this country for years and years and I intend to continue to do so. I do not intend to vote as you wish just because you are telling me off”. I used to reply, “Then stay at home; just don’t come”. That was the very best that I could hope for.
I wondered afterwards why it was that history, tradition and all these things meant so much to me. I have explained it once before in the House so I shall not do so again in detail. However, my grandparents were immigrants. When they came to this country there was no such thing as benefits. They had to work for every single thing that they had. They were not well off and neither were my parents, but the one thing that they gained was a love of Britain. That has stayed with us and my children right the way through.
I am not a dinosaur. I am certainly not saying that there cannot be change of some sort or another. However, it grieved me greatly when we lost so many of our hereditary brethren. I hope that if we go for an all-appointed Chamber—which I shall support—all the remaining hereditary Peers will be made life Peers.
The Commons walked blindly into an accident. They thought that a vote for an all-elected Chamber would be a tactical move. However, yesterday I heard many noble Lords on the other side of the House say, “Nobody on this side is listening to what the Commons said”. The Commons could never in a million years have intended to produce the rubbish that it came up with. It is not possible. Never mind the general feeling, we should consider the individual feeling of a constituency MP. Why would he want another MP—representing a bigger area than himself with more people having elected him—in his part of the woods? He would not. The Commons has not thought the matter through. But this House thinks everything through. The bottom line is that we get legislation coming in from the other place which has not been looked at. Whole swathes of it have not even had the pages opened, if you ask me. They just have the guillotining, which many noble Lords have mentioned, and consequently they are not doing their job. Now, they are trying to stop us doing our job by making us just like them. It just will not do, and I am not prepared to stand by while it is happening. Too much has already happened to our constitution on our watch. It is time to say, “No further”.
We do not want an elected Chamber. We would lose, as so many other noble Lords have said, the abilities of people such as all those vice-chancellors, Bishops and Law Lords who have come here. They—the great and the good—are not going to stand for election. I am sure that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, realises that they are not going to stand. I would love to have stood years ago if I had been selected for the other place; but not now. Good heavens above, I would be one of the first out the door if I had to stand for election.
I beg noble Lords to please think very carefully when they vote tomorrow. Yesterday, a noble Lord said that probably everyone had made up their mind. They may very well have done; but one has no idea what one’s children and grandchildren will say in years to come and we have lost the jewel in the parliamentary crown. They may ask, “What were you doing when that happened?”. We amend, and we are a great revising Chamber. I cannot remember who said today that it is not such a great Chamber. It is a great Chamber. There are all those amendments that we make and send to the Commons; they keep 40 per cent of them. Where would they have been without us? Think very carefully before you cast your vote tomorrow.
My Lords, that is a very difficult act to follow. The noble Lord, Lord Grocott, if he would desist for one minute from his conversation, said some 25 hours ago:
“I recommend to the House … that it would greatly assist the speed of the debate if Members did not deploy arguments that had previously been made”.—[Official Report, 12/3/07; col. 451.]
He recognised that that was a principle that has never been applied in either House down the centuries. I am speaking just after number 80, so I am somewhere in the 80s as a batsman. Applying the Grocott test—that nothing that I say will have been used by way of argument anywhere—is really pretty tough. I do not claim that. I shall treat his injunction as an injunction to be brief, which I will be.
The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor told us that we are to take note of the White Paper. I think that that drives us to ask ourselves: is this House currently an effective Chamber, and do we find in the White Paper a recipe for a better and more effective Chamber via either the hybrid route or the wholly elected route? There can be only one answer to that question. The White Paper does not even attempt to show a superiority in the House that would result. That attempt has not been made.
Although I have been here close on 10 years, that is a newcomer by the standards here. But this House strikes me as extraordinarily impressive and efficient in five areas. I take first the point that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon, talked about yesterday regarding an effective brake or check on the power of the other place. He produced figures on the number of occasions in recent years where we have called on the other House to think again. It is an impressive figure. We also have a pretty good record of success—about 40 per cent—in making those calls. So as a brake on the other House, this House is efficient.
It seems to me that we also do a very thorough job of examining legislation. I say that having just come off the sixth day in Committee, with the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, on the Legal Services Bill. That was six days spent in Committee on the detail of one Bill about the legal profession. It is very impressive.
Then there is the examination of European legislation and initiatives. We have a European Union Select Committee with six sub-committees; I have had the honour to be on the Select Committee and one of the sub-committees. It is recognised that the work produced by the House of Lords committee structure is the best in Europe. There is no match for it anywhere, and parliamentarians around Europe will acknowledge that they read our reports. We do a much bigger job on that front than the other place.
I do not need to say anything about discussion of broad policy issues at all, as the discussions here are of the highest possible quality. I remember the first time that that was brought home to me, when I came into a short debate after dinner one night that was about Indonesia. Nobody spoke who had not been in the country in the previous six months. Everyone was some form of expert or was highly knowledgeable about that country. More recently, I have sat in on debates on assisted dying and palliative care, and noted the quality of the contributions. You had people who ran hospices, nurses, many doctors and surgeons—a terrific range of experience. An interesting footnote to that is that noble Baronesses were in the majority throughout the most recent debate on palliative care. We talk about a male prerogative but, in that area on that evening, they had the place to themselves and were all incredibly knowledgeable and articulate.
My final example is probing the Executive by questions. I do not think that our Written and Oral Questions are in any way below the level of the other place. We are a very satisfactory thorn in the side of government.
I shall pass on to hybridity, the concept of which in this debate is not only dead but decomposing; there are really no proponents for it. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, came up with one fatal objection yesterday which I entirely agree with:
“No Member should be able to claim for his opinion or vote greater legitimacy than another”.—[Official Report, 12/3/07; col. 477.]
It would have to be an absolutely equal Chamber. Imagine having first-class and second-class Members. It would completely destroy the harmony and friendship of this place and would be a dreadful retrograde step.
That takes us to the other alternative, the wholly elected House. What happens? The Bishops vanish, as does the wealth of experience that we have from the Cross Benches and the other parliamentarians here chosen for their knowledge and ability to contribute to big issues. Also, you have an uncertain system of a list or some other method of finding your new Members. At first sight, the wholly elected new Chamber looks as though it means what it says—that its Members are all wholly elected, so you have a duplicate of the House of Commons down the Corridor. A friend said to me, “They can’t mean that. That is like turkeys voting for Christmas”. I said, “They don’t mean it at all. They intend to put that elected Chamber into chains immediately”. Restrictions will have to go into the primary legislation; they cannot be left to subsequent consent and dialogue between the two Houses, both with equal legitimacy and elected by the people, with the new House agreeing to be inferior in various respects. The chains would have to appear, which would limit the power of the new House. It could not be allowed to destroy the primacy of the other Chamber. It would have to be made clear to voters that there were two Chambers—that the first-class one where power resides is the old House of Commons, and that the new one is a reviewing, subordinate Chamber and does not have the power of the Commons.
What lies behind the whole argument is the concept of legitimacy—the feeling that you cannot have a part of a legislature that has not been put there by popular vote. Other noble Lords have discussed this, so I shall be brief. My view is that a vote is not the sole source of legitimacy; we also have, in law, customary law. You find out what the customary law is by examining the evidence on long-standing usage, a source of law which is well recognised in all the books. Applying a similar doctrine of usage and given the position that it has occupied down the centuries, we can say that the House of Lords—alongside the House of Commons, co-operating or sometimes in conflict with it in producing legislation—has an unchallengeable claim to be legitimate.
The House of Lords Act 1999 and every other Act today state:
“Be it enacted by the Queen’s most Excellent Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons, in this present Parliament assembled, and by the authority of the same, as follows”.
The legitimacy of both Houses is formally recorded in every Bill that comes out of this House. There is no reason to believe that that sole source of legitimacy of the House of Lords is the vote of the populace. The word legitimacy turns out to be an Alice-in-Wonderland word—it means what I say it is going to mean. That then depends on the question: who is to be master?
My Lords, I intend to continue to argue, perhaps uniquely in both Houses, that we should not discard a unicameral solution. I intend to argue for a referendum on whatever we press forward with and to suggest that if we are going to have an unelected element here, it should not be based on the present make-up of Cross Benchers. Finally, I shall suggest that we should not be too dogmatic in turning down a number of options merely because we have one preferred option at the moment. Tempting though it would be to sit down, having made those points, I should provide a little more by way of explanation.
None of the excitements of the past few weeks has changed my view that the best outcome would be to go for a unicameral House, and I am sorry that the other place did not consider that more fully. Were there to be one House, it would require many more resources than the Commons has now. The additional burden of scrutiny would require more staff, Members to spend much more time here than at the moment and the close link between the legislature and the Executive, despite the excellent work of the Select Committees, would have to be reviewed again.
My suspicion is that the Commons in their voting last week wanted to remain the primary House, but did not want to have to bother with the detail of scrutiny. I support unicameralism because I am determined to defend the primacy of the Commons and I believe that it is inconceivable, as many Peers argued yesterday and today, that should either of the two options that the Commons voted for last week be followed through, the primacy of the Commons would be unchallenged. After the votes last week, there were cheers, no doubt partly from those who foresaw the demise of this place. They should have been aware that they were also cheering the end of their primacy. However well the legislation is drafted, the Commons’ role will not remain unchallenged if there should be an elected House of Lords or an elected element within it.
We have heard eloquent arguments that there should be wider consultations, particularly with the Back-Benchers when seeking agreement on this subject. I wish to make a broader point that there needs to be more than just agreement with Back-Benchers. We need to have a referendum on this key constitutional issue. I know that my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor was quite hard on that issue earlier in response to a Question from my noble friend Lord Barnett. However, my noble and learned friend said that one of the compelling reasons for that was that we made big changes in 1999 which did not require a referendum. Absolutely—but in 1999 we were acting on a very specific proposal from the 1997 manifesto. Whatever you say about what we put in the 2005 manifesto, it cannot be described as specific.
I do not accept that a statement in a manifesto that something will be done, unspecified as to precisely what is intended, gives a democratic mandate to whatever follows. That would have been taken as an endorsement of any decision of the Commons last week, whether it was for a unicameral, wholly elected, wholly appointed Chamber or any point in between. There does not seem to be a consensus here and still less is there a consensus in the country. This is a major constitutional issue and at the end of the day it should be the people, not the people’s representatives, who have the final say. I would suggest that a further White paper be put to the people for their agreement rather than to assume that these two Houses have an absolute right to change the constitution of the country as they see fit.
However, we must accept that there has been a change as a result of what the Commons did last week. Despite the clear fact that the consequences have not been well worked out—perhaps not worked out at all—it remains true that the view that election is necessary to ensure legitimacy has been supported by many, even if we disagree with it, and we ignore that view at our peril.
I should like to say a word about some of the options that were considered in the Commons: the White Paper option of a 50:50 split and the 80:20 option. I know that this will cause controversy but I dispute the notion that there has to be a block of unelected Cross-Benchers in the new political, elected House, if that is what we end up with. They are undoubtedly excellent in their knowledge and expertise and they are a real and important addition to this House, but, if this is to be a political House, we must take account of the fact that they have what might euphemistically be termed “political form”.
I hope that noble Lords will forgive me for generalising—there are of course exceptions—but the fact is that the Cross-Benchers are usually small “c” conservatives with pronounced pro-establishment prejudices. If a progressive Government, aided and abetted by a progressive opposition party, sought to build into the newly reformed House an anti-progressive, unelected block, that would ensure that a democratic vote in the country for progressive policies would have to clear an unnecessarily high hurdle in the second Chamber to succeed. That is simply unacceptable. If there is to be an appointed element, much more imaginative ways of finding those Members must be sought and found.
Wherever we end up, there is, I suspect, a long way to go. As the person responsible for manoeuvring the Scottish Labour Party towards a more proportional system for the Scottish Parliament, I view with some interest the prospects of getting an agreed electoral system for a reformed Chamber through either House, never mind both. Indeed, my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor might reflect that, as a first stage, it may be easier to get the agreement of the people than the agreement of both Houses here. That is roughly what happened with the Scotland Act and it was an extremely effective way of doing things.
Finally, I advise this House to acknowledge that there has been a change and that there is change on the agenda. That is the case as never before. I doubt whether there is any perfect solution, but we should not be too dogmatic in rejecting out of hand all possible ways forward.
My Lords, I agree entirely with all Peers who, yesterday and today, expressed fundamental disagreement with the vote last week to abolish the House of Lords. I could not believe that the Commons would go on such a rampage of destruction with only a minority having the wit to realise that if the Commons vote sustains, they will destroy themselves, too.
In the “Today” programme last Thursday, which reported the Commons vote, someone—probably John Humphrys—said something to the effect that in this debate we would all speak from self-interest. But that is not what I and the overwhelming majority of your Lordships are doing at all. Everyone knows that, whatever happens, it will be years before fundamental changes are brought about. By that time, I and many of my colleagues here will be long gone. What motivates us is not self-interest but deep concern for our country and its good governance.
It is very telling that the senior staff and officers who guide and monitor us and are responsible for the inner workings of the parliamentary machine in both Houses, are as horrified as we are at what is proposed. They are not motivated by self-interest either. It is not the loss of their jobs that worries them; those jobs will go on. What upsets them is the invaluable expertise and experience that will be lost forever from these red Benches if this proposal goes through. As has been mentioned, we have in this House Privy Counsellors, Commanders in Chief, Secretaries-General of NATO, Secretaries of State, top academicians and medical doctors, but they would never stand for election. Earlier today, one noble Lord said, “I don’t see why we shouldn’t have them”, but no one would fight an election again if they had been in the other House, and no one who had reached the higher echelons, as I described, would stand for election either.
I can assure your Lordships that when you stand for election you need to have a party behind you, so bang go all the independents whom we value so much in this House. A great many people would stand for election, saying, “This sounds good; 15 years without being challenged, 15 years with a large salary and 15 years with a large number of people to work for me. And it doesn’t matter because I need never turn up, I need never do any work, but once I am in, I am in”. I would rather have the Members we have now by a long chalk.
A result of having independent Peers in the House means that three or four top experts take part in every debate. I have been in the Commons and I have been in the Lords and far more erudite, knowledgeable and relevant speeches are made here than ever are made in the other place. The country needs those people, especially the Cross-Benchers whom I value hugely. We cannot afford to lose them but we shall if the Commons have their way.
There is no public demand whatever for the proposed changes. If the public knew more about what we do and how we do it, there would be a very strong public demand for things to be left as they are. If the public knew how much extra tax they would be charged for an all-elected House, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, they would picket the Treasury in droves. Extra taxation for a better health service, for better schooling, for better roads and for better transport is one thing, but extra taxation for a far worse House of Lords is quite another.
Elected representatives, as I know very well, have to spend lots of time answering between 40 and 60 letters every day; they have to visit schools, factories, old people’s homes and they have to attend constituency surgeries and functions as well as coping with the problems of their constituents. At the moment, this House does a lot of scrutiny which the House of Commons—the elected representatives—do not do at all. Any elected representatives who replace us will have to do all those things. How will Bills be scrutinised then? There will also be much duplication of effort. Constituents take their problems to their MPs and they write them letters. For every letter that comes in and for every visit to a surgery, action is taken and letters go to Ministers, to local authorities and to anyone else who can possibly help a constituent. MPs of all shades of opinion are very punctilious in what they try to do for their constituents. If the Members here also have constituents, how on earth will the people who replace us do what we do now, which often is the lion's share of ensuring that Bills are good when they are passed?
There are so many arguments against what is proposed. Some will say that the strongest argument is that the power of the House of Commons would be severely lessened. I am strongly in favour in our democratic system and of leaving power with the clearly elected House. Laws will not pass as they do now, with one Chamber almost always proposing the laws and this House checking them carefully and suggesting amendments to improve them, which the Commons can then accept or reject. We say, “Okay, we are not elected, you are”, but we will not say that if this House is also elected. The Commons will be challenged by a new elected House. I believe in the Commons keeping its primacy and the Lords keeping its wisdom. Why deprive both and inflict constitutional chaos on us all?
My Lords, a proposition has been mooted in some quarters, particularly in chapter 10 of the White Paper, regarding getting rid of the 92 hereditary Peers. It is that Peers’ elections should be abolished. It is seen in some quarters as a kindly means of finally abolishing the last vestiges of the hereditary principle while retaining for their remaining lives the services of the present hereditary Peers, not all of whom are totally useless or “half-witted old duffers”, which I understand is how one Member of another place recently described your Lordships—all your Lordships, I understand.
I have to declare an interest not only as a hereditary Peer but also as a member of the Hereditary Peers Association. There is no way that I can support the abolition of Peers’ elections. We were elected in 1999 by our colleagues who were kicked out of this House in a cavalier and sometimes spiteful manner. To support the abolition of the only chance they or their heirs and successors have of ever again becoming Members of this House seems to me to be tantamount to saying, “I’m all right Jack and to hell with you lot”, and I cannot do it. It just sticks in my gullet. I know that some of my elected colleagues think as I do, and I shall be very interested to hear what any of them who have not already spoken have to say about the matter.
Having said that, I think Peers’ elections in their present form are rather a farce, but they could be improved by one or two simple measures. At the election held last week, there were 43 candidates and 41 electors. It should not be difficult to devise a method of weeding out the candidates. The Hereditary Peers Association might be able to help, or party organisations, such as, for the Conservatives, the ACP, might do it. Then again, we might revert to simple first-past-the-post voting, which even someone as thick as me can understand, instead of the alternative vote system—I know the Liberals would not like that. Finally, I think the electorate should be all the Peers in the party, life and hereditary. I know that I supported hereditary Peers only as the electorate in 1999, but, hindsight being a wonderful thing, I now believe that I was wrong and that election by all their Peers would give successful candidates greater what is nowadays, I am sorry to say, called “legitimacy”, although I do not think that is a correct use of the word. Perhaps “gravitas” might be better. I was so glad to hear the noble Lord, Lord Neill of Bladen, questioning the use of that term. All Members of this House are legitimate, regardless of how they got here, because they are all here in accordance with whatever the law under which they were appointed or elected, as the case may be. I do not believe one can be more or less legitimate: either one is legitimate or one is not.
However, at the end of the day, if any substantial reform of this House takes place, whether it is to make it a wholly or mainly elected House or a wholly or mainly appointed House, we, the 92, will have to go, because the basis on which our continued presence in this House rests is to ensure a second stage to the reform of this House, which was begun in 1999 with no idea of what shape it was to take beyond a wholesale cull of hereditary Peers. We are here until the legislation to implement that reform, with dates when it will come into force, has received Royal Assent. Until then, we shall remain. Peers’ elections should continue, and we shall fight tooth and nail against any attempt to remove us before then. I shall vote for the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, tomorrow.
My Lords, so much of what I was going to say has already been said, so, as the 91st speaker in this debate, I shall be brief. In his House of Commons speech on Tuesday of last week Kenneth Clarke said that the House of Commons “has lost its powers” and the House of Lords that restrained it “in exercising its powers”. In reality, the House of Lords does not use its full powers because Members realise the dominant position of being elected. That is our situation.
In the event, hybridity or a partially elected House is not a solution. Such a House of Lords would have two categories. Not only will the elected element quite naturally feel superior, but they will also demand the staff and the pay required to keep in contact with their electors. They will be full-time Members. In such a situation, with the elected Members of the House of Lords being dominant as well as having electoral legitimacy, they will be rivals to the House of Commons. On occasion, there will be deadlock. At present when the House of Lords differs from the House of Commons there are negotiations and a solution is normally found. It is getting a little more difficult, but a conclusion is reached.
If a new House of Lords makes use of its elected Members and amends legislation in defiance of the House of Commons the use of the Parliament Acts is threatened. What if a number of amendments to different pieces of legislation are passed? Are the Parliament Acts to be used again and again on each Division? The Parliament Acts are such a major piece of legislation that it takes months to get the procedure through. If you have a number of such procedures, what happens to Parliament as a whole? These matters need to be considered.
As this House is constituted we could oppose the House of Commons in a determined way. What we have now is a sensible understanding of the role of the two Houses. It is important to keep it that way. As Alan Williams said in the House of Commons, the House of Lords has muscle but,
“it just does not use it”.—[Official Report, 6/3/07; col. 1428.]
With an elected element that muscle will be exercised. And it can be exercised in a very high way. Such a House will be able to do all sorts of things, and it will be a proper rival to the House of Commons in a way that this House of Lords is not. There will be problems for the whole of Parliament.
Then there is the position of the Cross-Benchers who occupy an important part of the House. Subject to election, such useful Members of the House will, even if they wish to stand, find it very difficult to be elected. The loss of such a body of expertise and experience acquired before coming to this House would be a most serious loss, as my noble friend mentioned. The range of expertise that was illustrated by my noble and learned friend Lord Irvine of Lairg is of great parliamentary value. One of our enormous advantages is that people come from all sorts of areas which most of us know little about, but which add to the kind of debates we have here.
If this House were to be 80 per cent elected, let alone 100 per cent elected, the Government could have a clear majority in both Houses. The increase in their power would move our democracy to an even greater dominance by the Executive. As my noble friend Lord Cunningham said yesterday, with a partially elected House the elected would be claiming legitimacy and the other part could not. So we would not just have a division but a hierarchy in which so many people who contribute greatly to our debate, our discussions and our conclusions would not have anything like that kind of role in the future.
The House of Lords has a vital role. The Government need to win the argument in the Lords rather than use their pressure in the Commons. This increasing pressure has, as the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, so rightly said, been bringing the power of the House of Commons into decline. Very sad it is that since the departure of the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, from the House of Commons, that decline has got worse and worse. For those of us who had a very high opinion of the House of Commons, that is a matter of great sadness.
When it comes to speaking, the elected Members could claim priority and there would not be the present giving way at Questions, which is a feature of our procedure. We operate in a very sensible way. We do not have a predominance of one kind of Member or another. People get up and give way to each other even in Question Time. In such a situation, the Speaker may be called on to decide who is to be called: an issue that will bring about a fundamental change in her role. It will come rather closer to that of the Speaker in the House of Commons. Given the way in which we and the Speaker have operated, that would be a considerable loss to us all.
In this Parliament, there is no place for a partly elected House of Lords. We either have a wholly elected Chamber, with the inevitable battle between the two Houses, or we continue with the present arrangement which, like so much of our unwritten constitution, may not be defended in every detail but it works and continues to work.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord and I defer to his wisdom and experience. Indeed, he gave an introduction better than I could produce to my speech.
The Gods appear to have ordained for their pleasure that these debates and votes should ensue during the Ides of March. Auguries are not as propitious as some noble Lords might wish. But it will all take quite a bit of time—not because of delay for the sake of delay but delay to get it right. In that sense, stand-off between the Houses has not arisen and, as I see it, there is no particular anxiety that it should.
The assumption is that our unwritten constitution is to be retained. That is about the only assurance that I want from the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor. That assurance goes to the root of one of the main arguments. If that is retained, the extant working relationship between the two Houses under the Parliament Act as implemented in amity by convention cannot be improved by any proposed option, other than option one. No justification is produced for improvement of that working relationship, which goes to the essence of the main argument.
The electorate—we do not have any PR in this House, as far as I am aware—has very little interest in this political power struggle generated by the White Paper, which is not a White Paper, at the behest of government. The noble Lord, Lord Williamson of Horton, referred to it as a struggle for power and the authority to use it. All that one can know about the electorate is that in an opinion the other day, 72 per cent took the view that the House as constituted was doing a pretty good job. This could only favour a wholly appointed House under option one. A hybrid House is no compromise; it was simply a Trojan horse that was stuck there to try to secure some agreement as an aid to going forward to stage two. I am afraid that the horse collapsed. In fact, I am rather glad it did. A hybrid House would engender conflict between the Houses. Even more than that, it would destroy the ethos of your Lordships’ House, to no advantage at all, and would involve the appointment of a disciplined Speaker along the lines of the Speaker in another place. Our whole ethos about giving way and not dominating, to which the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, referred, would go. Such an appointment would be the end of it. Therefore, on any showing, this is the worst possible option. It is even worse than a wholly elected Chamber.
As I understand it, the speech of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, acknowledged the status of the hereditaries under the Cranborne deal, and appeared to seek in the wake of this debate and vote a fresh start in the discussion on the reform of the House and what was in the best interests of the nation and both Houses under our excellent unwritten constitution, without the pale of doctrinal political pre-emption. Those are my words. They are not the words that he used; that is how I interpreted his feeling about the matter. If that is his feeling, I wholly endorse it. The speeches of the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, my noble friend Lord Wakeham and my noble and learned friend Lord Howe were in favour of a wholly appointed House, for the reasons given by them. The context was given by the speeches of the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, and other noble Lords.
Only one other matter remains for me to discuss. It has already been discussed so well that it would be a shame to try to improve on it. The speeches made this morning by the noble Baroness, Lady Symons of Vernham Dean, and my noble friend Lord Higgins set out the essence of the problem that most Back-Benchers, like me, have in this House. I am very grateful to them for the way in which they put it.
My Lords, following the surprising votes in the House of Commons last week, we are not really any more dealing with House of Lords reform; we are dealing with House of Lords abolition. In a fully elected or even a largely elected upper House, there is no room for life Peers. A life peerage will become just an honour and, as paragraph 9.36 of the White Paper states:
“The automatic link between the peerage and membership of the House of Lords should therefore come to an end”.
The House of Lords would need to be renamed as the upper House or Senate. What seems to have been overlooked is that the fundamental reform of the House of Lords was effectively achieved with the House of Lords Act 1999, which ended the in-built Conservative majority and gave control of the House to the life peerage. That is of great significance because in principle, and in spite of recent bad publicity, life Peers are by definition achievers in their respective fields of experience. That experience and expertise are available to the House in the scrutiny of new legislation. There is an absence of political ambition that inevitably would be part of an elected or partially elected Chamber.
The present House of Lords works extremely well. It is a unique reservoir of expertise and experience. The variety, depth and quality of this experience has been spoken of by many noble Lords in this debate, but it was masterfully also researched by the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, in his paper, Towards a Peerless Future. I congratulate the noble Lord and strongly recommend his paper. It should be required reading, particularly for Members of the House of Commons and the media.
In the present House, no single party has a majority and there are some 200 independent Cross-Benchers. The House acknowledges and poses no threat to the primacy of the elected House of Commons. But, surprisingly, as many have pointed out, the House of Commons seems to think that its primacy would still be respected by a fully or partially elected upper House, which is of course nonsense. As many noble Lords have noted, the present House is also a real bargain for the nation. Because we get paid only expenses when we attend, the House of Lords costs a quarter of the cost of the House of Commons. A partially or fully elected upper House would expect to be paid and would therefore cost as much as or more than the existing House of Commons.
The main criticism of the present House of Lords is its lack of democratic legitimacy. Those who believe that this can be reconciled only by the election of Members will not be satisfied until that is achieved. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Lawson of Blaby, explained yesterday and as others have mentioned, a case can a made that, as the House of Commons is the predominant, democratically elected Chamber, the upper House should be seen as an advisory rather than a legislative body. It should be composed of selected representatives of the widest possible interests and social and geographical spread who can monitor the work of the elected House and, when appropriate, ask it to think again. This essentially is what the House of Lords is now.
The existing House also has responsibility for the historical background that it has inherited. The House is generally accepted as being a long-stop guardian of our unwritten constitution. To be made a life Peer does, I imagine and hope, still carry with it a sense of duty to the state. On appointment, the new Peer is granted by the Queen the right to,
“have hold and possess a seat, place and voice in the Parliaments and Public Assemblies and Councils of Us Our heirs and successors within Our United Kingdom”.
While I believe that the basic role and structure of the House of Lords should not be changed, there are, as the noble Lord, Lord Steel, said in his speech yesterday, three areas where reform can be considered. First, should service in the House of Lords be subject to a time limit of, say, 15 years or to an age limit of, say, 80? That should be a matter for the Lords themselves to decide. If such a limit were to be introduced, it should be accompanied by an emeritus rule whereby someone playing a very positive role when due to retire could by a vote of all Peers be granted an extension of, say, up to five years.
Secondly, there is the question of the Appointments Commission. I support the views of my noble friend Lord Armstrong of Ilminster. I believe that the commission should be composed exclusively of existing Members of both Houses as follows. There should be one Member from each of the three parties in the House of Commons and one Member from each of the three parties in the House of Lords, plus two Cross-Benchers. They should select their chairman from among themselves. It is difficult to have outside members of the commission. They would be compromised if they themselves had ambitions to become life Peers. The commission’s brief should be closely defined and agreed by both Houses, and should seek to appoint expertise and experience from the broadest of disciplines and geographical and social backgrounds. The commission should ensure that there is a balance between the political parties and that no party has a majority. But it is important that its brief should not discourage the continuing appointment of former Cabinet Ministers and other Members of the House of Commons. There are currently 142 former Ministers in your Lordships’ House and their contribution is of great value.
Thirdly, I come to the question of the remaining hereditary Peers. I have had the good fortune to be one of them, but I am afraid that we are an anomaly and I believe that we should retire or be retired gracefully. However, because of the history, the House via the Appointments Commission should in future accept an agreed number of hereditary Peers who would be proposed to the commission on the basis of their individual expertise and experience. This would go some way towards preserving a very important link with history.
My Lords, the White Paper, of which we are only being asked to take note, makes no real attempt to explain why the change to an elected House while retaining our current roles would lead to better governance, scrutiny and decision-making. It does not do so because the change probably will not bring about that result. Indeed, a persuasive case can be made for saying that the result will be a move in the other direction. Neither does the White Paper seek to address the implications of a move to an elected House for the relationship between your Lordships’ House and the other place and for the working relationship between Members of your Lordships’ House and Members of the other place. It does not address that issue because to have done so might have jeopardised the likelihood of getting a majority on an elected option in the other place, which was, after all, the name of the game, not improving or even maintaining the quality of governance of the United Kingdom.
I am not prepared to vote for a change of this constitutional significance—namely, to an elected or partially elected House—when those who want the change are not prepared to put all their cards on the table and tell the full story about the changes that they are seeking to achieve and the benefits that they believe will accrue, and why. That could have been done. After all, the White Paper referred to elected Chambers in other countries and how they work, albeit totally ignoring among other things the impact of our party-political culture in this country, which is highly adversarial and rarely consensual.
The position now is that, as the full story slowly emerges about the intentions, changes and implications arising from the votes in the other place, views may change on whether this should or should not be an elected House, or the extent to which it should be elected. But it will be too late to reconsider, because the argument will be that the decision on composition has already been made in the other place and cannot be reopened. If the view is that the powers of your Lordships’ House should be strengthened so that the other place cannot pass either some or all of its legislation without the agreement of this House, then of course this would have to be an elected House. If it is not proposed to increase the virtually non-existent powers of your Lordships’ House in relation to the other place, and instead to leave it as a revising Chamber able to take a second look at proposed legislation but not able to prevent the other place from getting its own way or to make legislative decisions of its own that do not have the support of the Commons, it is difficult to see how that role is enhanced as opposed to weakened by having a House that in composition and make-up would very likely be close to a clone of the other place.
Your Lordships’ House has influence, not power, but that influence arises in significant part precisely because our composition and make-up is totally different from the other place’s, and not simply from the fact that the Government of the day cannot automatically get their legislation through unamended immediately on a whipped vote. Perhaps what will emerge on role and powers is somewhere in between the two positions that I have mentioned, in which case, and depending on what emerges, there could be a strong argument that that would both improve governance and demand a change to an elected or partially elected House. However, it is just not credible to argue that if your Lordships’ House is elected, it will not change anything in relation to powers and working relationships with the other place. To vote now for your Lordships' House to be elected or partially elected is to vote for a major change without knowing what the constitutional significance, implications and intentions of that decision will be.
An elected or significantly elected House of Lords will be as party political in its approach and outlook as the other place. If the Government of the day have a majority in this House because the House is elected on a similar basis to the other place, this House will rubber-stamp what the other place has done and the revising role will diminish considerably. If the Government of the day do not have a majority in this House and the House is an elected body, then party-political considerations will be the predominant, if not the only, factor in determining the approach of whichever parties are in government or opposition at the time, rather than a view that the role of your Lordships' House is primarily that of a revising Chamber inviting at times the other place to reconsider its view.
The result will be that the Government of the day find that this House insists on its amendments much more frequently and on many more Bills, since the restraint of being a non-elected body and thus giving way to the elected body will have gone, and the Parliament Act, with its associated delays, will have to be invoked on a regular basis. For a year or 18 months prior to the likely date of a general election, the Government of the day will find it very difficult to get any legislation through and in this area will effectively be powerless.
Whether or not one regards consistent and regular blocking and delaying of legislation as a plus or a minus in the context of effective governance will no doubt be influenced by whether one is a supporter of whatever party is in government at the time or a supporter of whatever parties are in opposition. However, to suggest, as the White Paper does, that, if your Lordships' House was an elected body, that would not change existing conventions and working relationships between the two Houses is, to say the least, optimistic.
An elected House would also mean the end of the direct link between a single Member of Parliament and his or her constituents. If your Lordships' House is elected, every elector will have at least two people in Parliament who have been elected to represent them. There are arguments for and against such a development, but it would be a major change, and one on which the White Paper chooses not to dwell.
The argument that this will be no different from the current situation between Members of Parliament and Members of the European Parliament is without substance. MPs and MEPs have totally different responsibilities and operate in totally different legislatures. We are talking about a situation in which two or more people, quite possibly from different political parties, will represent constituents and be involved in considering the same legislation, each able to raise issues with and ask questions of the same Ministers on behalf of those constituents.
That bears out the point that we are being invited to vote for something very different from what we have now, against a background of silence and secrecy or ignorance about the likely and intended ramifications and constitutional implications. That is no basis for making major constitutional change. While I recognise that the other place will probably force through its intentions without regard to the likely views of your Lordships' House, I would not wish to be in a position of having voted for a probably irreversible significant change in one area—an elected or partially elected House—in the absence of any agreement or understanding about what that decision would mean for the surely not unimportant consideration of its impact on improving the quality of governance and decision-making and law-making in this country.
My Lords, the vote in the other place last week did not come as a great surprise to me, but it makes most of the White Paper irrelevant. I sensed that the result was inevitable, given the way in which the Prime Minister has treated the constitution and this House. Furthermore, we seem to have forgotten that four years ago in the other place, the 80 per cent elected option was defeated by only three votes, and the calls for an elected Chamber have since increased. However, the Government do not like the 100 per cent elected option which received such a thumping majority last week. It was the result they wanted least.
This debate has been fascinating for anyone who is interested in human nature and our inherent desire to retain control over what we have. I have listened on numerous occasions to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor telling us to abide by the will of the other place. It is elected—we are not. It has primacy—until it does not suit us. What a different speech he gave yesterday as he tried to put clear water between their decision, the Government’s preferred solution and how we might vote tomorrow. It was a joy to listen to. I hope that the noble and learned Lord will continue his new independent spirit for some time to come.
In the White Paper, there is no criticism of the way in which we perform our function and no argument as to why this House should be reformed, except that it should be. It is all the weaker for that. I remember well having my ear bent as a Minister and having to defend the role of this House to fellow Ministers in another place after we had suffered another defeat or given way to the strength of opinion here. Some of those Ministers are now in this House, and having understood the work that we do, have made impassioned speeches in its defence. I welcome their Damascene conversion and only wish that I could have been a brighter light to them in the past. However, it is inevitable that an unelected Chamber, amending one’s legislation, will always rankle with Ministers in another place.
We were told in 1999 that stage 2 reform would be comprehensive, was inevitable and would happen quickly, which is why elections to replace deceased hereditary Peers did not really matter. Interestingly, yesterday and today, we have heard from those same noble Lords that this House is doing a valuable job: we work hard and conscientiously; we improve the quality of Parliament and have a high standard of debate; and we complement the House of Commons and are the paragon of what a second Chamber should be. Many have argued that they are,
“fully convinced that the country possessed a legislative which answered all the good purposes of legislation”.
Actually, those were the words of the Duke of Wellington in 1830 as he tried to stop the Reform Bill. One of the reasons for opposition to it was that the wrong type of person would be elected to Parliament and distinguished experts would no longer find a place. Nothing has changed but the speakers, and the fears of the Duke were as unfounded as the fears expressed yesterday and today.
Similarly, the arguments used in this debate for staying as we are are exactly those used by many hereditary Peers in 1999 when they were so ungraciously ejected from this Chamber. Some, though I fully agree not all, had worked long, hard, conscientiously and, if we want to discuss costs, with considerably less expense allowance than we receive eight years later. The role of this House has not changed since then and, although the composition is slightly different, it is doing neither a better nor worse job. I also believe that the votes against the Government would not have been much different if the 1999 reforms had not taken place. In this respect, there is little difference in my mind between a Peer recently appointed by the Prime Minister for whatever reason and the descendent of a Peer appointed by King James II of Scotland.
My preferred option for reform would be to look at both Houses together, but that is not the proposition before us. We are discussing only reform of this House, so I must focus on that. Logically, there are two options that would work satisfactorily in the long term: a wholly appointed House or a wholly elected Chamber. I remain of the opinion that I had in 1999—namely, that this House is doing a good job—but I believe also that it can and should do a better one. To do that, it needs to change its composition. For the sake of good governance in the UK, it should hold the other place to account. That might at least induce some badly needed reform at that end.
As has been said, the genie is out of the bottle. So is the Labour Party going to be true to its manifestos, as the noble Lord, Lord Richard, asked? As he knows better than me, his party has changed its mind on numerous issues. It would not surprise me if it changed it again on this.
As a nation, we are encouraging, and in some cases forcing, democracy on other countries around the world, but we seem to be scared of allowing it here. I welcome in principle the vote in another place, but there is a mass of devils in the detail which need to be got right in the next stage, otherwise the Government will succeed in their aim of neutering the role of the second Chamber. I plead with my noble friend Lord Strathclyde not to enter into any side deal, as was done in 1998, because that restricted debate here and the way we operated to an almost untenable extent.
The consequences, both expected and unexpected, of a change of this magnitude will be huge, and include the reform of the Parliament Acts. Does the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor agree with many of us that this should be the subject of a referendum?
The key question for me is what consistencies there should be if we had an elected House. I should like to see an electoral system based on the Senate in the USA, whereby each state has two members, whether it is Delaware or California. The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, seems to have forgotten that there has been devolution. Although I have 16 elected representatives in Parliament, like many in rural areas I am still suffering an odd type of democratic deficit. My nearest of seven MEPs is 4.5 hours drive away, which is equivalent to someone in London having a representative in York or Lancaster. The nearest of my eight MSPs is 1.5 hours away, but my MP is locally based. It is not surprising, therefore, that he does so much constituency work.
I believe that we should go back to something like the old county system of the 1980s, before the local government reforms, and each area should elect two Members to serve here. To use the existing local government boundaries would continue the urban domination and, in my case, the nearest Member would undoubtedly be in Inverness, some 2.5 hours drive away. Reform of this House offers a great opportunity to strengthen and in some cases restore the link between the people and Parliament.
I ask the noble and learned Lord to look at paragraphs 9.33 to 9.35 of the White Paper, restricting former Members of the House of Lords in standing as MPs. Can he explain why what is sauce for the goose is not also sauce for the gander? I rather agree with those paragraphs, but surely it should work both ways.
We shall never reach unanimity on this subject but, if there is to be any reform, it must lead to a strong second Chamber. The other place has seen a lot of its power seep away to Brussels, Edinburgh and Cardiff and is not doing the work that it should. What it needs is to be challenged and only an elected second Chamber with sufficient powers—and that is my caveat to my support for that principle—can do that effectively.
My Lords, it has been a pretty impressive two days of debate, and I venture into this debate with some hesitation, not least because I still regard myself as a comparatively new kid on the block. I was one of the first wave of 15 Peers selected by the newly established Lords Appointments Commission, the first samples of a new breed—introduced, it is hard to believe, only six years ago. However, one of the things that has prompted me to say something is that I have had the privilege—the advantage, indeed—of having been, in the role of a politically interested spouse, an observer, over more years than I care to remember, of just how both Houses and their inhabitants operate and behave.
I have one very simple, not new, but important point to make—that this House is very different from the other place. The inhabitants are different, too, and we behave differently. Why? It is because we have different functions to perform. That difference is very easily explained: it is in the Parliament Act. The noble Lord, Lord Saatchi, called for its repeal before further changes and, of course, he is right about that, because it is the other place, the elected House that takes the final decisions and has the last word. I suspect that not one of us, in either House, really wants to change that.
The Houses themselves have been changing. Membership of the other place, for example, has become more and more dominated by professional politicians with considerably less experience than previously in the outside world of successful achievements in other careers and professions. So, increasingly, it has been more and more important to offer them advice, from very different points of view—independent advice, based upon a range of expertise and experience unparalleled in any other legislature in the world.
I am constantly amazed—indeed humbled—when I contemplate the diverse expertise of the colleagues who were appointed with me: people like Lord Chan, so sadly no longer with us, who brought regional as well as ethnic diversity—a Chinaman from Merseyside—as well as a very distinctive medical expertise; or my noble friend Lady Finlay of Llandaff, who will address us later this evening, who brings from Wales her own immensely energetic and knowledgeable blend of academic and medical skills; or my noble friend Lord Hannay—by no means the only one of his kind, but with hugely impressive international insights.
To take much more recent examples, my noble friends Lord Low and Lord Bilimoria have already spoken today and are taking an active role in your Lordships’ House. Last, but not least, my noble friend Lord Ramsbotham is the winner of this year’s Channel 4 award for campaigning parliamentarian of the year for his outstanding contribution to debates and Bills on penal reform. Then there is the other, even wider, diversity of colleagues who have arrived here by other well tried routes including the political parties, of course, and the right reverend Prelates with their connectedness, as they put it, with both our national traditions and every corner of your Lordships’ country.
Two consequences of that diversity are worth emphasising. First, there is an increasing number of women Peers; a higher proportion of life Peers than MPs are women. They have been able to make contributions based upon their extensive practical experience of NGOs, as well as their professional lives and backgrounds. Secondly, there is the unique contribution that continues to be made by our legal fraternity. Their role today is even more valuable, as other noble Lords have said, with so many Bills being passed on to us by the other place with most of their clauses wholly unexamined. I have often voiced the view, perhaps partly to tease my noble kinsman, that the world contains far too many lawyers. That is certainly not the case in your Lordships’ House. I have vividly in mind an early experience of the domestic violence Bill in Committee, in which the late Lord Donaldson would from time to time question whether a particular clause would be interpreted by the courts in the way that everyone—including the two noble Baronesses leading for the Government and Opposition—had assumed. The effect was electric and, almost without exception, appropriate changes were made to the Bill before Report stage.
Perhaps most significant for me in today’s House is that all our votes have the same weight and are as good as each other. That was not the position before 1999, with its built-in hereditary Tory majority. Until then, it was easy for critics to separate the so-called sheep from the goats—the hereditaries from the rest—and so discount the results accordingly. That does not happen today. For me, that is the most striking thing about this House: the extent to which we are able, and do, work together as partners in a common cause, regardless of our origins.
That priceless pattern of mutual respect, that invaluable parity of esteem—if I may borrow a phrase from the long-running education debate—would be fatally damaged by the introduction of a totally different tranche of elected members. They would not hesitate—or if they did for a moment or two, the media would not—to claim their elected status as conferring extra so-called legitimacy upon them, thus discounting our own contributions. This House would once again be divided, with its authority correspondingly diminished, and we should have lost all the ground gained since 1999.
Thus far, I have tried to underline the benefits, as they appear to me, of the present system of appointing Members of this House. It is notable, as other noble Lords have observed, that the so-called “cash for peerages” mischief only came to light because of the work of the commission established in this very context. That underlines how perverse it is to exploit that scandal as an excuse for replacing us all with elected Members. But, given the vital role it played, your Lordships should certainly have no difficulty in agreeing that the commission has more than earned its right to be given statutory status.
It follows that I regard as totally misconceived the notion so casually commended in the first Division in the other place: the replacement of this House by a second, entirely elected, Chamber. That strikes me as so thoughtless and reckless a proposal as to destroy entirely the credibility of any of the other alternatives. Accordingly, I shall vote for an entirely nominated Chamber, and against all the alternatives.
My Lords, I am 40th in a list of 70. We have reached the stage of the debate where everything that can be said has been said, but not everyone has said it. Therefore I shall give my explanation of my vote.
My vote is simply for an all-appointed Chamber, with safeguards, including the Appointments Commission. I shall do so not just on the principle that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it—I do not suggest that there is no room for improvement, and noble Lords in earlier contributions have made suggestions for that—but essentially because an elected Chamber, the alternative to an appointed Chamber, has far greater disadvantages than the current arrangement.
I stand amazed at my own consistency. To protect myself I looked up my vote in the equivalent position in February 2003, and note that I again voted for an all-appointed Chamber and for nothing else. At least I protect my back on that. I also recognise that, following last week’s vote in the other place, there has been a fundamental change in the political context. The change since the vote in February 2003 has presumably been influenced by the change of membership after the last election, with new Members influenced by their first experience of ping-pong and consequent late hours, but also by the current allegations of cash for honours.
Some say that the final majority for an all-elected Chamber was due to deliberate sabotage by those favouring no change—but that is not so clear. We cannot be sure of the motives of those who voted so overwhelmingly for an all-elected Chamber. It is surely quite a respectable position to hold that the only logical alternative to 100 per cent appointed is 100 per cent elected, and that hybrid solutions, of whatever balance, are inherently unstable and will not last.
Indeed, last week’s vote marked a major change from our usual pattern of constitutional development, broadening down from precedent to precedent. I suspect that many in that overwhelming majority ignored the subtle interrelationship between the component parts of our constitution, as well as the many unintended consequences that follow; not only the step on the road to disestablishment of the Church of England, but also a major step on the road to a written constitution, with a constitutional court and judges appointed for their perceived political leanings.
In a perfect world, there should perhaps have been a constitutional convention, looking not only at the relationship between the two Houses but also at that between Westminster and the devolved Administrations, as well as reform of the other place itself. But that comprehensive approach is not the way we do constitutions in this country, however compelling the case may be for that convention. To suggest it now would be considered as just another delaying tactic. In my judgment the debate last week ignored the argument that if we seek such a radical change we cannot limit the exercise; we cannot fail to look in the mirror and see the need for reform of the other Chamber as well.
What should be the guiding principles of reform? Fundamental should be the aim of preserving the best of your Lordships’ House today, after the 1999 reforms, as a deliberative and revising Chamber, with opportunities for second thoughts for Government and Opposition. It is one of our key constitutional checks and balances. This House is an expert Chamber, a point very well made by the noble Baroness, Lady Howe. We are also a less partisan Chamber.
Mr Straw argued that the reforms would preserve the primacy of the other place. That can surely only be partly true. Yes, the other place will elect the Prime Minister and retain the power of the purse, but elections are bound to create a second Chamber that is more assertive and more likely to challenge the other place.
What, then, are the claimed advantages of a wholly or partially elected Chamber? These include that the second Chamber will be more legitimate and more accountable. That legitimacy will depend on the level of participation at elections. If few vote, the legitimacy will be correspondingly reduced. Further, if there is PR on a party list in large constituencies, on the European election model, there will be only limited accountability to the electorate. A totally elected Chamber will lose part of its expertise. The noble Baroness, Lady Howe, gave a litany of those on the Cross Benches who make a substantial contribution. Even if, as seems unlikely, many senior figures from the professions are prepared to take a party label to get into a wholly elected second Chamber, it is even more unlikely that they will be selected at party caucuses or selected high enough on the party lists to be elected. We saw an illustration of the idea that new elections would draw on a totally different reservoir of talent in the elections to the Welsh Assembly.
Again, if there is, say, a 12-year term, how will that make those in the elected Chamber more accountable? What sanctions will there be if they fail to attend or attend only fitfully? What happens if they switch parties? What accountability is there at the end of their 12-year term when they do not have to face the electorate again? Even with open lists, there will not be much transparency. Even if the lists are open, it will be difficult in multi-Member constituencies for the electorate really to know the candidates and to move the position of those candidates in the list. The real choice will again be left to the ever-reducing selectorate of the political parties. So, much will depend on the process of selection and the voting system. I am very sceptical of the claims for greater legitimacy and greater accountability.
Obviously, any solution is a matter of balance and there is no perfect balance of all the relevant factors. One hundred per cent elected ignores the very special contribution that Cross-Benchers make to the quality of debate. Today’s debate is surely only the starting point of what promises to be a long march and a long process with several votes along the way. Like the vote in the other place, tomorrow’s vote will be only an expression of opinion on the ideal solutions. Later there may have to be compromise. Then I and others may have seriously to consider voting for the less attractive option of 80:20. For now, I shall vote only for option one—an all-appointed Chamber as amended.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, talked of the starting point. I suggest to your Lordships that my great-grandfather was probably only at a middle point when he talked to Lord Salisbury in the late 1880s, knowing and accepting that the then House of Lords was not legitimate. They talked about the fact that we could not go on having a hereditary House.
Listening to the speeches I was irresistibly reminded of the late and blessed Lord Longford, who many years ago wrote a book totally appropriately called, Humility. We are in danger of showing Lord Longford’s humility, which is called saying how wonderful we are. I have heard speech after speech saying how wonderful we are. In 1911 the last-ditchers led by Lord Willoughby de Broke also said how wonderful they were and how well the—
My Lords, I do not think that we went that far; there was not a queue of noble Lords.
I then come to the question of why I am here. Many will say that they can see no possible valid reason; but the reason I am here, which is the same for my noble friends Lord Lucas and Lord Caithness, and the other hereditary Peers, was to make sure that there was not a completely appointed House. That is why Lord Cranborne did his deal; to make sure that there could be no fully appointed House. We should therefore not be going down the line of having a fully appointed House. I remember my noble friend Lord Ferrers at the time pointing out that when we went, the next people on the line would be the life Peers, and they all said, “No, no, it will pass by on the other side”. Now what has happened? Lo and behold, the life Peers are also facing an element of chop. They are actually finding it much less pleasant than even we did, which is why they have all been taking on what I could call the Longford role.
We have been talking a lot about Commons supremacy. Of course the Commons has supremacy. The Prime Minister can be Prime Minister only if he commands a majority in the House of Commons. In around 1340, your Lordships’ House decided that it did not want to be involved in taxing subtenants, and said to the king, “No, we are not going to have anything to do with taxing, thank you very much. If you want to go and beat up the French with longbows on the Continent, get our subtenants to volunteer to pay for it properly, rather than asking us to tell them to pay for it”. That is why the Commons has supremacy in taxation.
Furthermore, there are the Parliament Acts. I enter a slight caveat on the Parliament Act, because I believe that in the Law Lords’ judgment on the then Hunting Bill there is a very slight caveat that messing about with this House against its will may not be Parliament Act-able. I am sure that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor will be able to correct me if I am wrong on that, but I am pretty certain that it is there, so we have to be careful about that. That is the only place. There is obviously the extension of the life of the Commons.
We do have a written constitution; everything that we know about the constitution is written down somewhere. It is just not all written on one piece of paper. We cannot write it on one piece of paper—well, we could—because of precedent and no Parliament being able to bind its successor. We have a written constitution.
I therefore come down in favour of a hybrid House because, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, said, this House has been hybrid for 800 years. Hybridity is present here. We elected Peers, as one likes to say as a joke, are one source; the appointed majority are another; there are Law Lords and there are Bishops, all of whom come through a different process of arrival. There is nothing new in hybridity. Before, in the days of hereditary peerage, there were the Scots elected peerage on one side and the Irish on another, and before that there were the abbots and the Bishops of the church. There is nothing new in hybridity.
I strongly feel that we should be able to allow people in some way to appoint Peers for a bit. That is what it is. It is not election; it is people appointing a Peer. The suggestion of the semi-open list is anathema. That is far worse than anything else that has been contemplated. That is the worst of all methods of election. If we have Peers appointed by a process of election, the argument made by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, and others, that they cannot be accountable, falls away. If you carry that argument to its logical conclusion, Members of the House of Commons who are elected and say that they are not going to stand at the next election immediately lose their legitimacy. They do not; some people are not going to stand again, and it does not stop them being legitimate.
The bane of Parliament is the over-control of parties, so we would have to devise—now is not the time for me to go into it—a system whereby the election of people was more divorced from parties. If you do that, you will see the continuation of the process. The House now uses its powers much more frequently. I am open to correction but I believe that, since 1999, this House has defeated the Government on opposed resolutions about 800 times, and the Government have accepted about 400 of those. I am in danger of changing my name to Lord Longford, but we are doing a better job than we did when composition was completely illegitimate.
I want this House to have arguments with the House of Commons; I want it to make life difficult for government. If we have an elected element, we will be able to do that. It is not right that a king’s Government can always get the business that they want. I do not suggest that we go back to when Pitt proposed both the abolition of the slave trade and a reform Bill—I think that it was 1788—and lost both of them; those are major government Bills. However, it is not necessary that every Government should get through everything written in their manifesto, which may be out of date five minutes later. We must make law-passing more difficult for Governments, not easier. I hope that we will be much more inclined to go back to a balanced Whig constitution, which is what my forebears fought for in 1688.
My Lords, I think that I bat at 99, a number I associate with sweet confectionary. The century will soon be up.
I feel that I must respect—and I do—the strong democratic urge now manifest in another place, but respect alone is insufficient reason for this House to set off on a journey into the unknown, a journey with as yet no clarity at all about the ultimate destination.
There are many conceivable designs for a parliament and few obvious rights and wrongs—one Chamber or two, or different combinations of function, powers, composition and accountability. Our constitutional architecture has evolved. Even if, starting from here, we would not set out to invent it, the current parliamentary system has many advantages. The national will, when it makes one of its periodic shifts, can produce decisive single-party Governments in the first Chamber, with a powerful following wind for reform. That is a strength. On the other hand, the strengths of this largely appointed House are its bedrock of experience and expertise, and its independence of spirit. As such, this House is a counterweight to the growing professionalisation of politics—to the narrowing of experience evident in all parties in the first Chamber. It is a counterweight too to the inevitable conformity born of party discipline.
As almost everyone has said, this House is essentially an advisory body, a revising Chamber. It has few powers. Its advice can be ignored, even if invariably it is not. If we wished, we could continue to tinker with the existing model to make it work even more effectively. It appears to be common ground that we need an appointments system which vouchsafes that the best possible candidates are appointed to this House on all Benches. Secondly, even if as individuals some hereditary Peers clearly deserve to be here on personal merit—I hope some will remain—there can be no possible justification for the continuation of the hereditary principle, if the rationale for membership of this House is expertise and merit.
Thirdly, I cannot see the justification for the bloc appointment to this House of members of the established church. We are now resoundingly a multi-faith society, and increasingly a society of no faith. If we are to refine and improve the existing system, we would need a balanced representation of faith and conviction, and we need such voices to take their places among the Cross-Benchers, not on special Benches of their own.
Fourthly and finally, I would be content if a truly advisory and appointed House, deepening and extending its expertise and capability, had reduced powers to delay legislation. However, after last week’s vote, any thought of improving the present model may be pie in the sky; but if the principle of largely or wholly elected membership of the second Chamber proves paramount, we must surely stop, pause and think.
We should proceed no further unless and until there is a clear, comprehensive and coherent proposition on the table, covering not just the composition but the functions, powers and accountability of both Houses of Parliament. At that point, we will need a persuasive case explaining why a new parliamentary system will perform more effectively than the old—why it will produce better governance of the United Kingdom.
If such an argument is made in the future, and if it is compelling, I may place my vote for fundamental constitutional reform. In the mean time, and in the complete absence of any such argument, I shall vote only for the continuation of a system which, even if it can be improved, is of considerable constitutional merit.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Birt, for doing the count so that I know I am number 100 on the speakers list. I count with my noble friend Lord Goodhart that, out of the previous 20 speakers, only three were, like me, in favour of a wholly or mainly elected House. I was beginning to feel a bit lonely until the splendid speech of the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, for which I thank him very much.
Noble Lords may think that this two-day debate on our future is long enough, but it is a mere hors d’œuvre in comparison with the meal our predecessors made of the Parliament Bill in 1911. I revisited the splendid account of the passage of that Bill that summer contained in the biography of Asquith by my old boss, Roy Jenkins, to see what we could learn for the historic challenge that we face 96 years on. He wrote:
“The Lords turned distastefully to the Parliament Bill in the last week of May, and proceeded after a three-day debate to give it a Second Reading without a Division. But it was made clear that this emollient attitude was only a prelude to severe amendment in Committee. Knowledge of the exact severity of the amendments, however, was not available until after a Whitsun Recess lengthened to include the Coronation”.
There was no danger of burnout through overwork in those days. Roy Jenkins’s account continued:
“The Lords returned to the Parliament Bill on June 28th and proceeded in six committee days to make a massacre of the Government’s intentions”.
The King then made it clear that he was prepared to create as many new Peers as were necessary; Asquith had a list of 249 “men of liberal conviction” in his pocket, and,
“from this point the battle became an internal one within the Unionist party”.
The battle continued and the final Division was taken at 10.30 pm on 10 August, when the House decided not to insist on its amendments. Most Unionists abstained. The Parliament Act became law and the King left London to join the Duke of Devonshire’s shooting party at Bolton Abbey.
What can we learn from that? Listen to Roy Jenkins’s devastating analysis of the tactics of Lansdowne, the Unionist leader in the Lords:
“He neither dug in for resistance à outrance nor prepared himself for retreat. He merely decided to stay where he was for as long as he could in the hope that delay might shift the dispute onto slightly different ground and enable the powers of the Lords to be preserved. He started on a course which six months later was to lead him into a position of humiliating weakness”.
Substitute “composition” for “powers” in that passage and that is precisely the position today. The House of Commons has spoken loud and clear. We now know that this House will inevitably become wholly or mainly elected. We in this place can either accept the primacy of the Commons in its decision and argue and engage constructively with it, or we can forget 1911, turn ourselves, and force the Commons to ram through with the Parliament Act, as it will, a blueprint for a reformed Chamber on which we will have had little or no say.
I want us to preserve the best of our traditions and pass on to a democratic Chamber all we can of the independence of thought, expertise, rational debate and painstaking process of revision and scrutiny that I have valued more with each of the seven years that I have been in this place. Although I will vote for both options, there is a good case for preferring the 80 per cent elected and 20 per cent appointed option to a wholly elected House, but only on the basis that all party-political appointments end and all new independent or Cross-Bench Peers are appointed by a totally independent statutory commission.
Either way, the timing and method of elections to this House must be carefully planned to give the maximum freedom to individual voters to choose which candidates they prefer—women, rather than men, for example. We want a system that is achievable, whereby well known Members of this House, for example the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, could be elected without official party backing. To ensure a reasonable turnout without making elections to this House a sideshow of a general election to the other place, I propose a “Super Thursday” election day in June every five years, with elections to the second Chamber, the European Parliament and local councils—the local council elections having been moved from May.
If 20 per cent of the membership of our House continued to be appointed, we could still ensure, as the right reverend prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford put it,
“that the many voices of the faiths and the Churches are heard in this place”.
He was right to say:
“Many voices, including some crucial religious ones, need to be heard in the shaping of our public life”.—[Official Report, 12/3/07; cols. 475-76.]
However, we should not take the word “crucial” too literally. If a fully reformed House ends with about 100 appointed Members, as it would, there could not be room for even 16 Bishops from a single faith established in only one of the four nations of the United Kingdom. Of course, the statutory Appointments Commission will need to ensure that the Church of England is properly represented along with the many other Christian denominations. Lately, there has been talk that anti-Semitism is again rearing its ugly head in our country. What a boon it would be to have the Chief Rabbi or an equally authoritative voice of Judaism in our House. A statutory commission should work hard also to let more Hindu and Muslim voices be heard—and I do not believe that we have a single Sikh. I was encouraged, in church last Sunday, to make these points by a retired occupant of the Bishops’ Bench.
If we want to work towards a smooth transition to a mainly elected House, personal Prime Ministerial patronage must stop. The Government’s White Paper argues against it; three out of every five Peers—366 out of 614 in this House—have been appointed under Mr Blair. That is enough of a legacy for anyone. We die off steadily at about 20 a year—six so far in 2007—so a smooth transition to a House elected by thirds every five years is manageable without compulsory redundancies, but only as long as there are no new appointments. If Mr Blair drew up a resignation Honours List, after all, it could look pretty odd. Would it include post-dated peerages, pending possible prosecutions? No, the Prime Minister should abide by the decision of the House of Commons.
I return to the words of my mentor Roy Jenkins. He praised Asquith’s moulding of events from 1909 to 1911, which, he said,
“amounted to a masterly display of political nerve and patient determination. Compared with Lansdowne’s sullen lack of foresight or Balfour’s casual indecisiveness, his leadership was outstanding”.
That is what the forces of reform need today. The leadership of all three parties is on our side. We have a clear vote in the House of Commons behind us and we will win. The only question for your Lordships’ House is whether, after what amounts to a two-day cry of pain—that is what this debate really is—we will roll up our sleeves and get on with what we do best: revising, scrutinising and improving the 2008 or 2009 Parliament Bill when it comes from the Commons. In that way, we can really shape our future. But, if we spit into the political wind, as in 1911, we will fail our Parliament and our people.
My Lords, at this stage of the debate, when everything that might be said has been said and probably will be said again, I start by saying that I agree with the right honourable Member for Blackburn, the Leader of the House of Commons, that, in order to resolve the current debate about the composition of the second Chamber, we must seek compromise. We need to do that because it matters to the country that there is general support for constitutional change of this kind. Equally, we need to be clear that compromise is not necessarily achieved by triangulation. Triangulation can achieve something quite different which is not compromise at all.
In the debate in another place, the right honourable Member for Manchester Gorton, unlike his neighbour, the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, disparaged most of his Members of the European Parliament—I had the good fortune to be one between 1999 and 2004. But he was not entirely wrong on everything; he rightly commented that there are only three logical ways to get us from where we are now—that is, to abolish the second Chamber, to have an all-elected Chamber or to have an all-nominated Chamber.
Despite the few remarks that I heard earlier this evening, I believe that unicameralism is now, rightly, off the agenda. The proper choice in principle, I believe, is between a nominated or appointed Chamber, for each of which I can see perfectly respectable arguments. Of course, both cannot be the best answer or, indeed, the answer that we achieve.
As part of the background to this constitutional debate, one of the givens, put forward by both the Government and the other place, is that the powers of the House of Commons will remain as they are now vis-à-vis this House; but in a paraphrase of the celebrated words of Mandy Rice-Davies, “They would, wouldn’t they?”. Of course, as we are a revising and amending Chamber, I think that one is at least allowed to raise the possibility of questioning that. No doubt, that will be the position at the start, possibly entrenched by statute and convention, but, over time, it is inevitable that that may change, and it certainly would change with an elected Chamber. After all, conventions and the Parliament Acts have strengthened the House of Commons on the back of popular support and, if there were a change of allegiance in that popular support, it could be reversed.
During my 10 years, over a 15-year period, in the European Parliament, I have seen that elected Chamber flex its muscles. Incrementally and inexorably, it has acquired more political power in the system of EU governance. I believe that any election to this place will get that process under way, but I am not sure that that would be a bad thing. After all, why not? Parliament not the House of Commons is sovereign in this country, and it is politics that has given the House of Commons its current pre-eminence. For my part, I see no sacramental significance in that position. Times can change things and that might even strengthen Parliament. It is all a matter of “Events, dear boy”.
It is possible to envisage membership of an elected second Chamber becoming a more and more attractive option than membership of the House of Commons, dominated by the party Whips and shackled down by constituency duties. In my own case, many years ago I was approached by a Conservative constituency chairman about a safe seat, where I would have been a strong candidate for nomination. But he said to me, “If you go forward, you must make it clear that you would renounce the peerage you would inherit on your father’s death”. I thought about that and I declined. I think that, on balance, that has been one of the best decisions that I have made in my life. I have had a much more rewarding and, I hope, constructive life as a result.
However, in the case of an elected Chamber, we do not know enough about the constituencies proposed or the relationship that constituents might expect with those who represent them. When I was a Member of the European Parliament, my constituency in north-west England was the size of a small country. On that scale, it is absolutely impossible to enlarge the traditional relationship that exists between a Member of the House of Commons and his constituents. If we are to have constituencies and election, how will the relationship between the electors and the elected work? We need to know that kind of answer.
Equally, having exercised a dual mandate, it seems to me that politicians with constituents conduct politics very differently from the way those without constituents do. It is a case of oil and water, and, as is well known, the two do not go well together. Therefore, I believe that any significant hybridity will erode the effectiveness of the second Chamber.
Mention has also been made of conflict between elected representatives in the same or overlapping constituencies. I can vouch for that from first-hand experience. It is especially bad with those in one’s own party. I speak with feeling about that as an ex-leader of five Conservative Members of the European Parliament in north-west England between 1999 and 2004, which was not a happy time to be a Tory Euro-politician.
I do not believe that the current round of debate about reforming the second Chamber of our Parliament will bring any form of closure. There is no “best answer”, and all change inevitably brings loss as well as gain. The composition and character of Parliament have always depended, as they do now and will in the future, on circumstances. Indeed, I feel a bit like an observer of the massed armies locked together in a titanic struggle on the Western Front in the first half of 1918. Many have forgotten how and why we got there, but in front of us a massive conflict is raging and it is now in intellectual stalemate in the nation as a whole. Neither side can mount a knockout breakthrough, but, at some point, it will come.
We need a lot more concrete material to work with and think about, and we need to move the debate away from generalisations, which I believe are one of the causes of this stalemate, to specifics, which I suspect will be the way to break it. In the mean time, I shall vote, as I did on the previous occasion, in a spirit of compromise for both the wholly elected second Chamber and the wholly nominated House, and I shall eschew the third way—the hybrid options, which offer something quite different and not a compromise at all.
My Lords, I have enjoyed the privilege of serving in your Lordships’ House for almost 10 years. During that time, I have witnessed some pretty significant events, many of which have revolved around reform of the composition of this House. The most significant was of course the removal of the bulk of our hereditary colleagues in November 1999. That was a somewhat sad but entirely inevitable development. The same may well be true of the eventual outcome of today’s debate.
My right honourable friend the Leader in another place has, on more than one occasion, cautioned us not to allow the best to be the enemy of the good. As a former film producer, I know that to be very good advice. But do we really know what the “best” might look like, and can anyone claim that what is being offered genuinely qualifies as “good”, as opposed to a somewhat empty symbolic gesture?
I have been very fortunate over the past few years, as chairman of a Hansard Society commission, in having the opportunity to take a look at a whole range of possibilities for parliamentary reform. For me, this debate is critical because it helps to highlight the fact that the electorate of this country are being encouraged to believe that, in some magical way, changes in the composition of this House will, of themselves, create a more effective form of democratic legitimacy and therefore better governance.
That is seriously idle thinking. It leaves me wondering what last week’s voting figures would have looked like had the successful Motion been accompanied by a simultaneous commitment to a 500-seat House of Commons. Here is a very sensible development that most constitutional experts have been advocating for as long as I can remember. However, if noble Lords find that concept too ambitious, how about tying reform of the second Chamber to a package of changes designed to ensure that all new legislation is carefully and competently scrutinised before finding its way to this House?
This is no ploy. My motive is not to wreck, hinder or delay reform—quite the opposite. But I want to put the optimum amount of pressure on another place to reform and improve its own structures and working practices. I cannot be the only person who feels that there is something myopic in the willingness of Members of another place to debate, with no apparent embarrassment, the future of this House while remaining reluctant to analyse critically the future of their own.
In truth, I have been fairly shaken by the degree of ignorance, or possibly just intellectual apathy, that has characterised the reporting of events leading to today’s debate. The media, with a few honourable exceptions, have failed to grasp the fact that any successful reform of this Chamber can be of value only as part of a well thought through commitment to significantly improved legislative practice across the whole of Parliament. And that should not just happen within Parliament; there must also be a commitment towards a significantly improved and far more responsive relationship between the electorate and their elected representatives.
To pretend that an effective legislature, equipped to deal with the enormous challenges of the 21st century, is, as if by osmosis, going to emerge somehow from the uprooting of this Chamber is simply a fantasy. I fully expect that I shall eventually pick up my P45 and leave this place. I have no especial problem with that, although like that national treasure, the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, I shall greatly miss this place.
The concept of an elected Chamber, in whatever form is finally agreed, is one that I do not in principle resile from, although clearly its precise form and function will have to be thrashed out over time. But before I go I intend to use all my remaining energy to ensure that the message gets out to the electorate to remain extremely wary of what the late Lord Hailsham described as a shift towards an elective dictatorship. The long-term future of Parliament is far too important to be reduced to a sideshow, over-influenced by allegations regarding the so-called cash-for-peerages scandal.
A lot of very sensible things have been said during the debate. I hope that people are listening, because if this House holds its nerve the result could be a clear commitment to parliamentary or perhaps even constitutional reform as a whole. An improved form of parliamentary democracy should be the natural consequence of a coherent series of proposals, set out in the form of either an informed referendum or transparent commitments from each of the major parties in their manifestos at the next election. At that point, and only at that point, could we all leave this place with entirely clear consciences. In the mean time, I shall vote for a fully appointed Chamber in the hope of achieving my eventual ambition.
My Lords, many noble Lords, in particular my noble and learned friend Lord Howe of Aberavon and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, have already fully and persuasively argued the case for an all-appointed House. They have explained the merits and the advantages of an appointed House in relation to its role, which is different from that of the other place. It is not a matter of how good or how much better we are; this House is different and has a different job. The noble and learned Lords have highlighted the difficulties arising from a hybrid House and the fundamental change in the long-established relationship between your Lordships’ House and the other place that would be created by a wholly or largely elected House, to say nothing of the false accountability of Members here being elected, by courtesy of a party list, for 15 years with no need to seek re-election.
At this stage of the debate, I shall not try your Lordships by repeating all the arguments, save to say that I entirely agree with what has been said. I am sure that my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth, who has already done so much to promote the cause of an appointed House, will comprehensively address towards the end of the debate the issues that have been raised.
If in 2007 we were starting with a blank sheet of paper, we would not create this House, but that is not what we are doing. Some seek to change the arrangements at which we have arrived after 700 or 800 years of history and constitutional development. We are where we are. My noble friend Lord Strathclyde referred to the preservation of the ethos of the House, something for which the hereditary peerage can claim credit. The original life appointees to the House were wise enough to accept it and we who came much later were fortunate enough to inherit and benefit from it. The retention of the 92 current elected hereditary Peers as life Peers in a wholly appointed House would ensure that continuity and link between the old House of Lords and the reformed House. The notion that the manner of our working could easily, if at all, be transferred to a House formed by a totally different process is optimistic, as is the notion that the supremacy of the House of Commons could be maintained in the face of a wholly, or largely, elected House.
The advocates of election seek a strengthened House with greater power, but that argument has to be at odds with Commons primacy. Equally unrealistic is the idea that the same conventions as those to which we currently subscribe could or should apply, a point made yesterday very eloquently and clearly by the noble Lord, Lord Cunningham of Felling. He emphasised that the recommendation in his committee’s report was on the basis of the current composition. In opening the debate, and while not supporting any one particular option, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, said:
“This process of scrutiny and change is effected in the main without significant delay and without gridlock between the two Houses. It is a beneficial part of our constitution. From time to time, the process is attended by tensions between the two Houses, but the conventions are observed. Legislation is amended by your Lordships’ House and the Government get their business”.—[Official Report, 12/3/07; col. 453.]
We should be under no illusions that the media coverage of the whole so-called cash-for-peerages affair has been damaging, but in this debate, as we were reminded by the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York, we should be careful not to be influenced by matters that have not yet led to any charges being brought or indeed, if they were brought, by the outcome of any trial.
In any event, any problem about the process of recommendation for appointment is well on its way to being solved and could be solved by the statutory Appointments Commission. I believe that that commission has the potential to contribute a significant measure of reform to an appointed House. If created, not only could it consider the possible appointments from the point of view of probity and integrity—whoever’s nominations they may be—but it should be appointed and approved by both Houses of Parliament. It should be charged with guidelines approved by Parliament, and only capable of being changed by Parliament; it should be charged with ensuring the relevant ethnic, gender and regional balance of the House to ensure a mix of expertise and experience and to guarantee that no party obtained an overall majority; and it should crucially maintain a strong independent element, which currently forms our Cross Benches.
We are also told that there is consensus between the major parties for reform. There may be consensus among the party leadership for a largely elected or wholly elected House, and no doubt noble Lords opposite have examined the votes of their colleagues in another place. The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, said yesterday that Conservative Members of Parliament had voted against every option. But he will also have noted that more voted for appointment than any other option. I hope that tomorrow in this House there will be a large vote from this side of the Chamber for a wholly appointed House. We have a free vote, but my party still advocates as its policy an 80 per cent elected House. I say in all humility to the Front Bench: how can we be expected to support a policy of which a majority disapproves and which, I suggest, originated as a not very well thought out reaction to an earlier White Paper? Had there at that time been a willingness to ensure fair treatment of the 92 hereditary Peers, the issue might well have been resolved; there is certainly a very good chance that we would have had a statutory Appointments Commission in place. Perhaps it was a lost opportunity that we shall live to regret.
The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor also said yesterday:
“This is an issue beyond party politics”.—[Official Report, 12/3/07; col. 452.]
Matters of this kind are too important to be decided on a purely party basis. There should be consensus in Parliament for a change to a system that is generally conceded to work well. It should be in the interests of Parliament and of the country. I appeal to the Front Benches, and particularly to the Front Bench of my party, to listen to the views that have been expressed and, in future discussions, which I am sure there will be, to listen to the voice of the parliamentary party as a whole and to the Back Benches. I shall vote for the option of a wholly appointed House and against all the other options.
My Lords, we were all perhaps a little stunned by the votes in the House of Commons last week, but we should not have been too surprised by the massive support for an elected second Chamber because, day after day, MPs, like everyone else, have been reading the extraordinary reports of the cash-for-honours inquiry at No. 10, which have inevitably discredited the option of Peers appointed by the Prime Minister, although that should not put out of court appointments by an independent statutory Appointments Commission. I do not think that we should be too rattled by the massive Commons votes, although they led the Times to lead its front page, a trifle prematurely, with the headline “Farewell to the Lords”, reporting that MPs had decided by a huge majority to end over 700 years of parliamentary history.
We have plenty of time and should say what we believe is right. I am in favour of arguing for the retention of the status quo, not for ever, but for the foreseeable future. The public seem reasonably satisfied with what we do and, as at present constituted, this House seems to work pretty well. We should bear in mind the fact that the move for reform is being orchestrated by professional politicians and nothing has been said to the public, who may think that Parliament should spend its time on matters of much greater concern to them. It would be inconceivable that in a country such as the United States major changes in the constitution could be discussed without the fullest consultation with the states and the nation as a whole.
Last week, there were votes in the Commons for the eviction of the 92 elected hereditary Peers, of whom I have the privilege to be one. We should be grateful to those noble Lords who have suggested that we should be transformed into life Peers or allowed to stay without replacements by by-elections so that one by one we gradually fade into the sunset.
The White Paper says that the primacy of the House of Commons should remain in any reform of this House and that this House should be a complement to the Commons. However, it also says that the issue of legitimacy goes to the heart of the question of reform and that it is increasingly difficult to justify a second Chamber where there is no elected element. In this context, it is worth pointing out something that no one seems to have mentioned, which is that between 50 and 80 per cent of our legislation is now produced not in Westminster, but in Brussels by the European Commission, which has no democratic legitimacy at all, while its one member from the United Kingdom is appointed by the Prime Minister. In the light of that, the issue of democratic legitimacy is a good deal less important than the White Paper suggests.
The real value of this House is the contribution of individuals from all parts of the House, not only to the scrutiny of such legislation as is left to us by Brussels, but also in putting forward views based on long experience and special knowledge. I believe that, ideally, party politics should be left to the House of Commons and that all Members of this House should speak and vote as individuals. That is probably too much to expect at present, but the more party discipline and whipping can be reduced, the better it will be.
During my 23 years in this House, I have taken part in a good number of inquiries by Select Committees, usually sub-committees of the European Union Committee and the Science and Technology Committee. I was continually impressed by the way in which noble Lords who belong to political parties left their political prejudices at the door and took part in the work of the committees as individuals. Those committees, reflecting individual views free from the control of the Whips, are by general consent one of the most useful aspects of the work of this House.
Most of us when looking back on our time in the House will surely think that the most significant moments came from individual contributions, not least in this remarkable debate. The least attractive memories are of votes determined by massive whipping. One of the most dispiriting aspects of our deliberations is the sight of long lines of Peers entering the Chamber to vote, often without having listened to the debate or being aware of the issues at stake, simply responding to being whipped like sheep being driven towards the dipping tank.
I am opposed to the Government’s proposal that any election to a reformed House of Lords should be conducted by a partially open regional list system, as that would mean that votes could be cast only for parties. Voters should be able to vote for individuals. A hybrid House on the lines proposed in the White Paper would never work and I do not believe that election would produce a good input into the House. The noble Lord, Lord Lawson, was right when he pointed out that we should probably attract only third-rate candidates.
Therefore, all in all, I think that we should vote against the proposals in the White paper and for an appointed House. The more things can be left as they are, the better.
Lord Steinberg: My Lords, no! No! No! This is not a White Paper, it is a bit of straw. This is not a bad Bill, nor a dreadful Bill, but a terrible Bill. It is designed to destroy democracy, cancel history, destroy heritage and remove freedom of choice. What is wrong with patronage? It has held this country together for hundreds of years, and most of us sitting in this House are beneficiaries of patronage in one form or another. I have been in this House for 20 years less than the noble Lord, Lord Moran, but I agree with most of what he said. I know that many noble Lords have heard time and again the comment that if it is not broken, you do not need to fix it. In my three years in the House, I have been amazed by the length and breadth of knowledge imparted by fellow Peers. I am proud to be a Member of the House of Lords, and I believe that all noble Lords are. In her speech, my noble friend Lady Miller, who is sitting in front of me, typified everything that I feel about the House, and she has been here much longer than me.
The noble Lord, Lord Oakeshott, who is not in his place, spoke about the established church and the introduction of representatives of other faith groups. As a proud Jew, I am happy that the 24 bishops of the established church sit in this House, but I would be even more proud if the Chief Rabbi were able to join us and give us the benefit of his wisdom. The greatest brains in industry, the military—the air force, the Army and the Navy—and the law, including former Law Lords and Lord Chief Justices, add kudos to the House, and I do not understand why the Government want to destroy something that has stood the test of time for so many years. Many illustrious former politicians who have served their country well have been put into the House of Lords to give it the benefit of their experience.
In my few remarks, I want to elaborate on why I believe that we should vote for an unchanged House, and I hope my arguments will fall on sympathetic ears and bear fruit. It appears to me that the Government do not know what they want. If the House will pardon the analogy on the first day of Cheltenham, it sounds like a seven-runner horse race with options. The mere fact that Members have been given seven different options—seven different runners—suggests that the Government do not really know what they want to do, and that is no great surprise to us on these Benches. On page 16 of the White Paper, noble Lords will note that there was a free vote in 2003. It says:
“As the tables below indicate, no clear consensus could be found”.
Perhaps that is why we have been presented with so many different options.
The House of Lords considers itself to be a revising Chamber that looks carefully at government legislation. Where appropriate, it makes adjustments to the wording of many clauses and, in some cases, actively opposes the wishes of Parliament. Were it not for the House of Lords, we would not have the kind of democracy for which we all wish and hope. Without it some of us might think that we have a benign dictatorship, and with government as it is today, it is no idle thought that in time without a proper representative House of Lords that could happen.
Do noble Lords not think that there may be another reason why we are being faced with this so-called reform? Maybe the Government do not like losing occasionally. When I was in the gambling business I did not like losing occasionally, but I did not try to change the law so that I did not lose. Perhaps the Government these past 10 years have not been used to losing and now that they are, they do not like it. However, that is only a thought.
Having heard that the House of Commons wants to eliminate us, we must all be concerned that we send the right message to the House of Commons and to the country that ours is a great House that keeps the Government of whatever colour in check whenever necessary. We do not automatically vote against the Government through a fit of pique, but we do where we think the legislation is wrong or incorrectly written.
One of the things that impressed me the most is the way the House of Lords carefully deciphers every word in the production of a Bill. How do we, as threatened Members of the House of Lords, resist? I say that we should all vote for a purely appointed House, and that we do not follow the route of all the other options because they will destroy the status quo. I am a great believer in the status quo, democracy and history. I believe that this House will vote showing its wish to preserve democracy and history. I encourage noble Lords to vote with me.
My Lords, it has been a fascinating debate, with every possible shade of opinion expressed. When lower down the batting order—I think that I am speaker No. 106—you are faced with the situation that allegedly confronted a Minister who, in an aside to his civil servant, said: “What can I say? Everything that can possibly be said on this subject has already been said”. To which the Sir Humphrey reply was, as has already been mentioned by my noble friend Lord Anderson, “But not by everyone”. I hope I will not fit the “everyone”, and I will endeavour to follow the Chief Whip’s advice and avoid reiteration. That is probably an impossible objective.
My noble and learned friend Lord Falconer in his opening address invited us to accept at face value the other place’s decision. Normally I would be willing to accept his recommendations, but I find this proposition difficult to accept once you examine the voting record of last Wednesday’s decisions. When the tectonic plates of the other place started to shift last week, the tide went out, leaving Motions calling for “a fully appointed House”, a 20 per cent elected, 40 per cent, 50 per cent or 60 per cent elected, like stranded whales on a deserted beach. When the tide came back it delivered a veritable tsunami of votes for a fully elected House. I might have been prepared to accept that decision at face value if it had not come to light that a number of those who voted for a fully appointed second Chamber also voted for a fully elected second Chamber. You could say that they believed in the polar extremes, but you cannot blame me for having a scintilla of scepticism on the matter.
I next want to address the allegations of a democratic deficit. The British Parliament has evolved over hundreds of years to its present state, not in a logical straight line—going through a civil war, that would have been difficult—with a constitutional monarchy now and a link between church and state. It is a curious hybrid that works. Does it work perfectly? No, I doubt that it does. But it recognises in the final analysis the primacy of the other place. Of course if you put it under some kind of microscope and examine the constitutional parts you can identify an unelected, unaccountable second Chamber, but the democratic whole is greater than the sum of the parts, because the role of our House is to scrutinise and revise, not to challenge the primacy of the other place. As no party has an absolute majority as a result of previous reforms, it is a role which recent history shows the House performs well.
A fully elected second Chamber will inevitably challenge the current conventions and impinge on the primacy of the other place, creating an unintended democratic deficit. I do not want to comment on the current situation about allegations on the appointment of Peers, except to say that the current Appointments Commission instituted by this Government successfully challenged the validity of some nominations.
I will support a fully appointed second Chamber, recognising that that will mean the removal of the remaining hereditaries, but I would support their conversion to life Peers, although sometimes the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, stretches that generosity. He did say that he was “the grit”. However, I feel that we cannot totally ignore the tide of change. Despite the view of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, that it is dead in the water—I hope that he is wrong—I would be prepared to vote for a 50 per cent hybrid. I believe that would retain many of the strengths of our current Chamber—its richness and diversity—and combine experience with a new elected element. Inevitably, we would have to redefine the conventions with that kind of hybrid Chamber to ensure that the primacy of the Commons was not challenged.
If noble Lords do not like much in the White Paper—and I gather from some of the contributions we have heard during this lengthy debate that many do not—I believe the point made that in going for the best you can sometimes end up with the worst. So I think that this House has to accept that at some point in this democratic process, there will be a need to compromise. If we are asking the other place to listen, then we have to heed that advice.
As my noble friend Lord Anderson said, this is going to be a long process. There are many other aspects that we will need to look at. For example, the size of the House will have to be addressed, probably over a period of time. As a number of noble Lords have said, we are in a 21st century multi-faith society. I have no desire to see the abolition of the church’s representation, but we need a more ecumenical representation than we currently have.
Unlike one comment I heard, it would be unwise if we sought to somehow say that this Chamber had the right to challenge the validity of the Parliament Acts in a situation where there has been a genuine attempt to reach consensus between the two Houses.
My Lords, I shall try not to burden the House with a lengthy repetition of all the arguments so eloquently put by noble Lords on all sides. I was particularly impressed by the excellent speeches of the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, with whom I was in complete agreement, and that of my noble friend Lady Miller, by which I was deeply moved.
Of one thing I am certain: in a country of our size there is no public demand for yet more expensive elected politicians, particularly if the method of their election will deliberately have made them remote from those they are supposed to represent.
Mr Straw presented his White Paper as offering an important opportunity to reform Parliament to serve the people better, and stated that his approach, a hybrid House, represented the best chance to move forward gradually and by seeking to build consensus around some of the key issues.
However, as was correctly remarked by Sir Patrick Cormack last Wednesday, Members of another place have not endorsed the approach recommended by Mr Straw; rather they have voted to abolish your Lordships’ House and replace it with something completely different.
It is notable that some 70 of those who voted for the all-elected option also voted for an all-appointed Chamber. I wonder which of the two completely conflicting options they really support. In such circumstances, it is unacceptable that use of the Parliament Acts has already been threatened, although I doubt that they could or that it was ever envisaged that they would be used by another place to abolish your Lordships' House in its present form.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Nicholls of Birkenhead, and the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Hale of Richmond, at the time of the petition to the Appellate Committee in connection with the Hunting Bill, both held that, by accepting a Bill to prolong the maximum life of a Parliament beyond five years, Parliament was also disabled from using that procedure to remove the exception. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Steyn, expressed himself as being deeply troubled about assenting to the suggestion of the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General that the 1949 Act could be used to change the composition of your Lordships’ House or to abolish it.
Leaving aside the legal arguments, it is frequently argued that the introduction of a substantial elected element into your Lordships' House would enhance its legitimacy. Legitimacy does not derive only from the ballot box and I firmly believe that a second Chamber constituted on either of the bases approved last week by another place would be an unworthy and ineffective successor to your Lordships’ House. Its authority would be further diminished if the suggestion that Ministers of the Crown could not sit in this place were to be implemented.
In a democracy, power must ultimately reside with the people, but the people need protection against the untrammelled use of executive power by a Government using a large majority in another place. Your Lordships’ House in its present form provides such protection. It is also widely recognised for the successful role that it plays in scrutinising and improving legislation—something that the other place does rather little of nowadays.
In a federal state, there is a logical basis for two elected Chambers in a bicameral system. Despite the Government’s untenable and deeply flawed devolution settlements, we remain basically a unitary state. The noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie, has persuaded me that we are no longer a pure unitary state and Scotland has always retained its special features, such as its own legal and education systems, but we are still, I think, closer to being a unitary state. We have a 100 per cent democratic system because the will of the elected House prevails. We cannot be more than 100 per cent democratic. To introduce directly elected Members to this place, especially under a list system—which is, in effect, another method of political appointment—would not enhance its ability to scrutinise and improve legislation and require the Government of the day to reconsider.
I lived in Japan for 11 years and thus have observed the Japanese political process at close quarters. The White Paper mentions the Japanese second Chamber, the Sangiin, which has a perfectly good English name: the House of Councillors. The White Paper does not mention that the Japanese upper House, which is wholly elected but possesses restricted powers, enjoys little respect among the people and is regarded by many as being completely superfluous. It was created by the post-war Government under the American occupation to replace the previous House of Peers, which was part-hereditary, part-appointed and modelled on your Lordships' House.
My view is that a good way forward might have been to construct a Chamber representative of the new estates of the realm: the CBI, the TUC, teachers and doctors. If the Church of England can decide who should represent it in your Lordships' House, so can those other bodies. There will be a need for a standing commission to determine which bodies should be entitled to select or elect Members and which should not. Unfortunately, that option is not one to be put your Lordships' House tomorrow, however much merit it may have.
I was lucky enough to be returned to this place through the much derided hereditary by-election system, which has been described by some noble Lords as ludicrous and absurd. The system of by-elections should be improved, as proposed by the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun. It is illogical that, at present, life Peers are entitled to vote in by-elections only to fill vacancies in the Deputy Speakers’ list; they should also be entitled to vote in by-elections in their own party lists. Having crossed a narrow bridge myself, I do not want to be complicit in drawing it up to prevent others from crossing it in future.
Of course, it is impossible to defend the hereditary principle in democratic terms, but if being elected is the sole criterion of democratic legitimacy, to be elected by anybody is better than to be elected by nobody. I was elected by an electorate of 48 people, which is not many, but I suppose that that makes me 16 times more legitimate than the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester. However, I learned yesterday that the noble Lord is the only dairy farmer on the Labour Benches, which shows that the hereditary principle has provided a valuable resource to the Benches opposite.
I also take this opportunity to welcome back to these Benches my noble friend Lord Cathcart. Last week, I received a letter from the Local Government Information Unit and the new Local Government Network urging me to speak in favour of reserved seats for local government in a reformed House. My noble friend has served as a district councillor for Breckland district in Norfolk for 10 years, so I shall be able to reply to the local government bodies that the recent by-election has helped them in achieving their aim.
I shall be supporting the Motion in the name of my noble friend Lord Trefgarne because I believe that all of the other options will produce a less good House than the present one. I cannot support any of the elected options because they introduce hybridity between those who represent electors and those who do not and because they envisage a bad system of election which I think is not democratic or representative.
My Lords, I am always glad to follow the noble Viscount, who puts his views clearly. I am glad that he mentioned the Far East, as I shall. This is a minimal intervention and has to be a subjective one, as one who speaks as an independent and non-party individual. The last time that I took part in a debate on this subject, I seem to recall that I somewhat rashly suggested that life Peers, such as me, might have to consider the date of their 75th birthday to be their sell-by or retirement date in a reformed House. However, my next birthday brings me too close to that date for comfort so, for the record, I would now like to withdraw that rather short-sighted proposal.
I strongly support those who said that they wanted a statutory Appointments Commission in place for an all-appointed Chamber to be selected when it comes to the vote on Wednesday. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor said, when referring to the two Houses, that we were “different” from the other place and other parts of the legislature. I entirely agree. Does the noble and learned Lord also agree that a fully elected Chamber would make us indistinguishable on most accounts from Members of the other place, with the exception of those of us who sit on these independent Benches?
I have sat in your Lordships’ House for the past 36 years. I am extremely grateful for the chance to have worked here, off and on, since 1971 and, at the same time, been allowed to maintain my outside commitments. I recall—as can perhaps only the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, and one or two others—what happens when there is a majority in this House different from the one in the House of Commons. If we have an elected Chamber, that is a possibility. Matters of principle, such as nationalisation, renationalisation and denationalisation, made the work of this House almost impossible and nearly brought it to its knees. Night after night, amendments were made. It was redone and rehashed and I really despaired and wondered—I had come from business to this House—what sort of place this was going to be, because it seemed to be getting nowhere. That was a huge setback to British industry and was all a result of the political process that we had to deal with at the time.
I am bound to say that, apart from many changes that have occurred since, I am left with the impression—perhaps as a result of my outside business activity—that the political world within the Palace of Westminster can, on occasion, be dangerously out of touch with reality. The forthcoming Climate Change and Sustainable Energy Bill might prove to be a case in point.
It is essential that any new blood that is appointed in the future brings not only expertise but experience of the world outside politics. MPs these days seem to be drawn mainly from local political backgrounds that have been part of their lives from a very early age. There is nothing wrong with that, but to fill our reformed House with these same people on a party ticket, who may have reached their sell-by dates, rather like me in the other place, could lead to disaster. The party managers will be very happy because it makes their job nice and easy, but will the general public will happy about it? I doubt it.
Finally, a fully appointed reformed House of Lords will be much more economical than a fully elected Chamber. It is important that the present arrangement of reimbursing expenses is used rather than a salary, because it allows us to come when we have something to say, and to be able to carry on with our outside activities to keep us up to date with what is going on in the real world. This would allow those Members with outside interests to continue them and to be good Members of this House if they were appointed, because they could work with two hats on.
The noble Viscount mentioned his experience in the Far East. Many years ago—I think it was in the late 1970s—I was in China. Because my wife speaks at least six dialects, we did not have a language problem as most people do in that country. The question of Hong Kong and democracy came up. I asked some people, whom I do not want to quote because it was off the record, why they were so against democracy. They gave a very simple answer. “Why do you in the West, who have a choice of all types of political system, choose democracy?”. I said, “Well, it’s obvious, isn’t it?”. However, they said, “What is the point of having democracy, which elects people who are good only at politics? We need people who can get things done”. I was rather taken aback by that, but that is very much the way in which things happen in the East. Whether we like it or not, authoritarian-type Governments get things done. We only have to look at Shanghai to see that.
I am very pleased and privileged to have been, and still be, a Member of this House, although for how much longer we do not know. Nevertheless, it has been a privilege to take part in the history of its making, as we are indeed making it tonight and in the months and possibly years ahead.
My Lords, somewhat different interpretations of the state of play between the two Houses have emerged from the Commons debate—the defeat of 50:50 and the vote for a wholly elected second Chamber. Forty-six Commons Back-Bench Members spoke. The majority, including the abolitionists, either concentrated their opening arguments on the unstoppable growth in the power of the Executive, which has been enforced by party discipline, or made executive power a strongly supporting argument. Throughout the debate, rebellious unease came through. The 46 were frustrated by their own inability to do much about the woes of Parliament, such as the disengagement of the public, because Commons reform was not on offer. As they analysed the position of this House, there was somewhat ritual praise for it. The praise was qualified, sometimes highly so, and there was disappointment.
The majority’s conclusion, reached from differing perceptions, centred on the proposition that this House cannot meet the needs of Parliament. The most telling criticism was that although this House has appropriate powers, it does not use them because it lacks the confidence to do so. They gave a sort of shopping list of what was needed. First, they argued that much greater power to hold the Executive to account was needed. No doubt some had Iraq in mind, some ID cards, and some Europe. Secondly, they argued for more and better scrutiny of legislation, not only as it goes through Parliament but before and after—both pre- and post-legislative scrutiny. The Commons provided no time for this. A second Chamber had the time, but this House does not do this job effectively. That was their argument. It was not developed out of any misunderstanding of what this House does. Thirdly, they argued for greater public-body accountability. The proliferation of executive bodies that derive their ration of legitimacy from elected Secretaries of State demand time and diligence. The Commons cannot deliver; it has no time to do so. An elected second Chamber could deliver if it were peopled by those who enjoy the rough and tumble of politics. Experts, however valuable in their advisory role, are no longer the compelling need of the day. The message of the vote was therefore that the present constitutional settlement is not delivering. A new settlement is needed. All else is subordinate: primacy, legitimacy, the views of the electorate, practical difficulties with the methods of election, and the transition period. We can debate these matters for as long as we like—they will need to be debated—but they will remain of limited interest to those whose objective continues to be a wholly elected Chamber.
The majority’s message was delivered primarily to the two Front Benches in both Houses, both of which were in disarray, and to this House, more in a spirit of empirical disenchantment than in any search for legitimacy. The 46 in the majority wanted a settlement that worked, as they saw it, politically. Given the possibility of a wholly elected second Chamber, it might be as well for the cross-party group, if and when it meets, to assess how many Members of the Commons are already planning to stand for second-Chamber election. That would provide a good indication of the troubles ahead. The chance to get their own back on the Government of the day might be too tempting to miss, as would reviving flagging democracy. Perhaps that is why some suggested having no Ministers in the second Chamber.
This Back-Bench dissatisfaction is a highly risky route to major constitutional change. It smacks of a last-chance-saloon shoot-out. However, if the drawbridge was down, instead of being at least half-way up, would it be impossible to reach consensus? I suppose not. If this House were reformed and its work reviewed to make it robust and appropriate within the conventions, it could meet the perceived need for the full scrutiny of legislation, both before and after its passage, for the full evaluation of secondary legislation, and for ensuring the public accountability of executive bodies—NDPBs. It is still—just—an option. However, would this House have the will and the way to do the necessary job? I will leave it there. Being an optimist, and believing that this House could rise to the challenge, I will vote for the continuance of a fully appointed House of Lords.
My Lords, at this stage in the debate, I, like my noble friend Lord Trenchard, am very conscious of the strictures about repetition enjoined by the Captain of the Gentlemen- at-Arms before the debate began yesterday afternoon. The great constitutional issues have been extensively aired by minds more experienced and able than mine. I therefore hope that the House will forgive me if what follows appears to be a trifle parochial. I comfort myself with the thought that these proposals will eventually have to work, or not, at the worm’s eye level.
First, what are our functions to be? I share the view of many other noble Lords that functions should come first and form should follow. Indeed, it is the Government’s obsession with form that has mudded the waters and confused the whole debate on this matter. So far, I have heard no clear answer to the function question, other than the rather woolly idea that we should do what we do now, but do it better. This I take to be the meaning of paragraph 1.2 of the White Paper, which states:
“It should be a complement to the Commons, having a different kind of membership and providing a distinct voice in scrutinising and revising legislation”.
Why, under these proposals, will we do this task better? The Government’s answer is that there will be an element, perhaps a large element, of democratic accountability. For us to undertake what the Government see as the Chamber’s new role seems to me to be a proposition of dubious validity. I leave aside the incontrovertible fact that at present there is no real public demand for more paid politicians and elections. Among the chattering classes there may be, but in the country at large there certainly is not. More fundamental is the potentially negative impact on what this House already does rather successfully; namely, pretty effective scrutiny and revision of legislation. On that, I draw on my personal experience.
I have just had the privilege of leading for my party on two substantial pieces of legislation, both of which began their passage through this House; that is, the Companies Act and the Charities Act. These Acts cover issues that are of great importance to the well-being of the country, but they are not for the most part politically controversial. In this House, we—when I say “we” I do not mean just my party: I mean the Liberal Democrats, Government Back-Benchers and Cross-Benchers—were able to subject each Bill to lengthy and detailed scrutiny, covering such specialist issues as the role of company secretaries and company law, and the use of permanent endowment in charity law.
To the Government’s credit, they listened to the arguments deployed and made several hundred changes to those two Bills which, by common consent, improved the quality of the legislation. By contrast, when these Bills went on their parliamentary progress to the other place, two features immediately became apparent. First, there was extensive use of programming Motions—guillotines, timetables, call them what you will—which meant that large chunks of both Bills were never discussed. Such limited Committee stage debate as there was focused predominantly on the political aspects of the Bill; for example, public benefit for private schools and hospitals in the Charities Bill and directors’ duties in the Companies Bill.
That is not—I repeat, not—a criticism. Elected politicians quite properly respond very sensitively to the day-to-day concerns of the electorate. Moreover, they want to discuss and be seen to be discussing issues that have visibility and will resonate with the media, pressure groups or the voter. So, in this brave new world of a wholly or overwhelmingly elected House, who do the Government think will undertake the unglamorous but nevertheless essential work of scrutiny? No one in the saloon bar of the Dog and Duck will have the least care about the role of company secretaries or permanent endowment. But there are really important issues of public policy to be addressed and to be resolved. To do so successfully needs a lot of time.
My second question to the Government is: again in this brave new world, how will they avoid the House of Lords becoming a pale reflection of the House of Commons? Having a single long term of office is the answer in the White Paper, which is fair enough. But single long terms immediately underline the element of democratic accountability, which is the major argument for reform in the first place.
I said that I agreed with the argument that function should come before form. Function needs to be addressed first not here but in the House of Commons where the Executive has run away with the ball. In our increasingly presidential system, the power of the Executive in the House of Commons, in those famous words, “has increased, is increasing and ought to be diminished”. The reality of the situation was revealed in the remark made during a speech in a debate in the other place last week that a Labour Member of Parliament who opposed the abolition of jury trial did not have to vote against the proposal and thus incur the wrath of his Whips because he knew the House of Lords would do the job for him.
I see no attempt in these proposals to address these subtle and difficult issues. There is possibly only a desire on the part of the Government to be seen to be doing something, anything, even if the hybridity, which is apparently the Government’s preferred outcome, is a clear recipe for instability with its in-built two classes of Members. And if there is not a desire to be seen to be doing something, it may be even worse—possibly a reaction to the increasing assertiveness of this House in recent years. This Government have no more real wish to weaken the Executive’s grip than any of their predecessors—rather the reverse.
The Government cannot have it both ways. So while I will of course listen carefully to the closing speeches, my present intention is to vote, first, for the continuation of a fully appointed House, broadly doing what it does now but with reforms, including much more transparent methods of appointment, and acting, albeit imperfectly, as a constitutional long stop; and, secondly, if this is not to be on offer, for a fully elected House which should be given the statutory powers necessary to provide an effective counterbalance and check to the elected dictatorship implicit in the present House of Commons structure. If a degree of legislative gridlock ensues, it will probably show that the brave new world of democratic accountability is working.
My final word on this subject to the Government Front Bench is to venture to suggest that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor should keep firmly in his mind the advice contained in the Hilaire Belloc quotation from Cautionary Tales:
“And always keep a-hold of Nurse
For fear of finding something worse”.
My Lords, most Members of your Lordships’ House, including me, believe that a system that got us here must be pretty good. Where I differ from most other Members is that I believe that election would be an even better system. I start from a very simple and basic proposition. In a democracy the legislature should be elected by the people; that means the whole legislature, not just one House, and it means being elected by the whole electorate, not by special interest groups, as suggested by the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard. Any departure from that proposition needs to be justified by very strong arguments indeed.
Most Members of your Lordships’ House want an appointment system, but appointment by party leaders has been discredited by recent events and, in any event, gives far too much opportunity for patronage. Appointment by an Appointments Commission, however impeccable its integrity, may be okay for the appointment of a limited number of Cross-Benchers, but would be absolutely wrong for the appointment of political Members. How could we justify having a quango of perhaps a dozen members having power to appoint all or most Members of one House of Parliament?
We on all party Benches are politicians. We should earn the right to sit here by standing for election, which, after all, is what politicians are for. We have heard objections to election to membership. Some noble Lords say that it would damage the primacy of the House of Commons. That primacy is based on three pillars: first, on the control by the House of Commons of the supply of money, a rule applied for centuries which no one would suggest should now be changed; secondly, on the Parliament Act, which enables the House of Commons to legislate without the consent of your Lordships’ House; and, thirdly, on the rule that the Government must have the confidence of only the House of Commons to remain in office. None of those three pillars would be removed or to any extent weakened by giving people the right to vote for membership of your Lordships’ House. As the noble Baroness, Lady Quin, pointed out yesterday, a reformed upper House could not seize powers for itself. An elected House would and should enable your Lordships’ House to exercise the power it already has, but to exercise it more effectively. That for me is the main purpose of the proposed reform. Such a House could, for example, make more use of its power to block secondary legislation if it thought that it was being used in an inappropriate way or needed amendment.
It has been argued that there would be a decline in the quality of the Members; I do not believe that. Membership of an elected upper House would remain an honour and a privilege. It would continue to attract people who had finished their career in the House of Commons but wished to remain involved in national politics. It would attract people who have held senior positions in local government and want to move on to the national scene. And it would attract people like me, who have tried and failed to get into the House of Commons. These are all groups which already make up a large proportion of Members of your Lordships’ House and who, I believe, would not be put off by the need to fight an election.
There would be some loss of expertise among appointed Cross-Benchers. I recognise that this expertise has value, though any such appointments should be time-limited because, as my noble friend Lord Smith of Clifton pointed out, expertise has a use-by date. I am therefore happy to retain 20 per cent as appointed Members in a reformed House, not all of them as experts but also to fill other gaps in the membership. Indeed, an 80:20 split would be my first preference.
Your Lordships’ House is not just a revising Chamber; it also has an important role, along with the judiciary and the media, in resisting the abuse of power by the Executive. Since the departure of most hereditaries in 1999, your Lordships’ House has done a more effective job than was the case previously, and I believe that it will do a better job still if it has the legitimacy which comes from an 80 per cent or 100 per cent elected membership.
There is a serious fault in your Lordships’ House, one which, frankly, has been displayed during our debate of the past two days: it is too inward-looking. I would like to remind noble Lords how we appear to many outsiders by quoting a passage from the speech of John Bercow in the House of Commons last Tuesday. He said,
“although some peers work exceptionally hard and frequently demonstrate great expertise, the most vociferous voices in support of the excellence of the existing House of Lords are existing Members of the House of Lords. On the principle that no one should be judge in his own cause, we should not attach much weight to that kind of special pleading”.—[Official Report, Commons, 6/3/07; cols. 1477-78.]
I have no illusion about the outcome of tomorrow’s votes, but noble Lords should not have the illusion that they can veto reforms of your Lordships’ House for ever. Since 1999 the House has largely ceased to be constituted on a hereditary basis. This satisfies the first half of the preamble to the Parliament Act 1911. I still hope that the second half of the preamble, constitution of the second Chamber on a popular basis, will be completed in time for the centenary of the Parliament Act, and I mean the Parliament Act 1911 not the Parliament Act 1949.
My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, but, I am afraid, I remain convinced of the view, put to me yesterday evening, that there is really not a great deal to be added after the notable speech of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg. I am proud to say that he is one of a growing number of my ex-students who are to be found on all sides of the House, some of them in strange nooks and crannies, but they grow. Among them, he is perhaps the most remarkable. I am sure everyone would agree that we should be grateful to him for breaking a silence which has too long enclosed him when sitting on the Benches of this House in recent days.
Perhaps I may make two preliminary remarks. First, I do not share the view that has infiltrated some speeches that we should in some way speak or vote tactically on this issue. The speeches and votes in this House are not part of the negotiations which no doubt will come; they are the basis on which negotiations, if they come, will take place. I urge noble Lords to decide on their view and to vote on that view, whatever it is. Secondly, I have to admit to a personal disappointment that there is not an option for a unicameral solution. A great deal of useful work has been done in various reports and papers, but all of it on the basis that we should remain bicameral. That may be right, but work should be done on the possibility of a unicameral solution. Mention is made in the White Paper of various countries with single-Chamber Governments—Portugal and New Zealand—but no reference is made to, or discussion had of, the profound debates that went on in New Zealand from 1950 onwards and which, above all, have taken place in Sweden. However, I accept that it is not a practical matter to discuss tonight. If we wanted unicameralism we could have it, but it would require a vast change in the procedures and structure of the other place.
It is a slight irony that, just when the majority in the other place is demanding reconstruction of this House, on 1 November it adopted a small step towards that reconstruction of its proceedings by introducing a so-called Special Standing Committee system for programmed Bills—just the sort of direction one would move in if one were thinking of a unicameral solution.
The debate in the other place, as I read it, concentrated on the second Chamber and on what was called its “lack of democratic legitimacy”. That is based on a profound error because democratic legitimacy for the first Chamber, which in the end controls and puts through government programmes, must rest upon election. But a second Chamber is justified and legitimate if its procedures and composition are suitable and appropriate for the job that it has to do. After 30 years in this House it is my view, as it is that of many other noble Lords, that this House does a reasonably good job in revising and scrutinising the Executive and their legislation, and—I add this having some years ago been a member—in its committees for scrutinising European legislation, which is fast becoming a major part of our statute book. If that is right, there is no case for imposing by way of a mantra the same test on the second House as is imposed on the first. The first House has primacy and no one disagrees with that, while the second House must be composed and have procedures in place suitable for revision and scrutiny.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, I pray in aid of this argument the honourable Member for Swansea West, the Father of the House of Commons. He said that there was no doubt at all that the primacy of the House of Commons was agreed, but if this type of proposal went through, that form of primacy would eventually disappear. He has rightly suggested that over the longer term, an elected or partially elected upper House would come into conflict with the first Chamber. Of course that is very likely, and to say that it just will not happen and then to sit back and vote for a completely elected second Chamber seems rather astonishing. He also suggested that hybridity was not a solution but an interim step towards the final aim of making the second Chamber wholly elected. Indeed, the 80:20 solution seems the worst of all in the longer term.
In my submission, a large majority of the other place hastened to its vote for a totally elected second Chamber on the basis of a false test of legitimacy for a second Chamber. That completely eradicates any logic in the position. I do not say that in defiance of the other place; it is an argument. The noble Lord, Lord McNally, said that there was plenty of noise coming from another place. I do not want noise; I want to engage in an argument.
In comparative terms, what has been voted for in the other House is a parallel to the Italian Senate. I bow to nobody in my passionate love of all things Italian, but the one thing my Italian friends would tell us not to have is anything like their Senate.
In conclusion, the argument becomes this: the test of legitimacy for a second Chamber is very specific and was misunderstood; the proposals for either a hybrid or a fully elected House will, in the longer term, contribute to constitutional and political chaos. The argument has not been answered in the debates so far. On that basis, it is our right and our duty to ask the first Chamber to look at the matter again and, from that basis, commence negotiations for a solution.
My Lords, I arrived in your Lordships' House 10 years ago. Like 58 other people nominated before me, I had been Chairman of Ways and Means. I hope that in the future those who subsequently serve that great office in the other place, whether they be men or women, will be able to follow us into your Lordships' House to serve the nation to the best of their ability and that their skills, particularly their impartiality, will be available to Parliament.
There is a certain irony about the timing of this debate. It was in March 1649 that England became a republic; at the time, interestingly, there was not much public opposition or significant support for any other form of government. It was on 19 March that your Lordships' House was abolished, only to be restored in 1657 when Parliament agreed to the creation of the other House, with its own Cromwellian peerage—an early issue of “Oliver’s cronies”.
Noble Lords on all sides have said that the issue boils down to the so-called legitimacy created by popular election, which I would like briefly to examine. I live in Bedfordshire and have close associations with Northamptonshire. In neither county can I find any great desire to change things in your Lordships' House. A wider poll from Populus found that 75 per cent of those questioned believed that the Lords should remain a mainly appointed House because—and this is what happens when you go out into the counties you know well—they value our independence. That is what Joe Public values—the independence of mind, thought and action of your Lordships' House.
The votes in the other place warrant close attention—I suppose I think that because I was used to counting the results of the votes there. It is sad to note that the Irish Members were unable to vote on this great issue. Why is poor Ireland always left on the sidelines? To have those key votes on the day of the Irish election reflects badly on the management of the Commons. Leaving that aside, significant numbers of Members turned out. Some 565 voted on that occasion out of a total of 642—a turnout of 88 per cent, which I think is pretty good. But fewer than 60 per cent voted for the option which had the biggest majority of 113. I draw attention to that figure because in constitutions across the world, major constitutional change, particularly in south and south-east Asia, which I know particularly well, always requires a two-thirds majority. That figure is some way away from being two-thirds. Given also the strange dimension of tactical voting, mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Wedderburn—it appears that 57 Members managed to vote for both a fully elected House and a fully appointed House—the legitimacy of the majority is highly questionable.
As one would expect, the debate on 6 March was introduced by the Leader of the House and the shadow Leader, whose speeches contained the key policies of their party. I suspect that many noble Lords have read them. I have listened to a great many speeches in the other place and, on an issue of this importance, they are probably the most incompetent, incoherent speeches to listen to. The leader faced intervention after intervention, but the speech of Chris Mullin MP encapsulated everything. He asked:
“Is that not the nub of the problem? An elected House or a part-elected House would be used to undermine the legitimacy of this House”.—[Official Report, Commons, 6/3/07; col. 1392.]
Mr Mullin had at col. 1391 quoted the remarks of my noble friend Lord Kingsland on the Police and Justice Bill, from which it could be inferred that this legitimacy could be challenged. The Leader of the House said that that was a key issue but that they would get round it. That is what we heard in yesterday’s opening speeches. We were told that our leaders say exactly the same thing; they all somehow believe that they can put fetters on democracy, but you cannot. If Parliament decides to vote in an elected Chamber and you unleash democracy, you unleash competition.
I do not know how many of your Lordships have been in local government where control changes, or in a highly marginal seat with numerous recounts, but it has been my privilege to experience both. The excitement, the passion, the anger and the fervour are such that in both experiences, you do not accommodate the other side. That is exactly what will happen when this House, elected, gets into a row with the other place. That would be a great tragedy. Sadly, none of those who are deeply involved in this and who make up the leadership on the Government Benches, my Benches and in another place have been through that experience, which will be a great problem for the future.
If there is to be an elected House, our leaders will have to think about two questions. First, since Back-Benchers across the two major parties here and in the other place disagree with their leaders, how will our views be properly considered? The noble Baroness, Lady Symons of Vernham Dean, raised this issue in some detail this morning. She was right, and she needs an answer like the rest of us. Secondly, what choice will the British people really get when all three leaders of political parties put an almost identical message in their manifestos? If Parliament and the people believe that our constitution requires dramatic change, you need to consult the people. After all, we were all to be consulted and to vote on the proposed European constitution. If Europe, barely 50 years old, demands that it should have a vote on a change of constitution, how much more does this House, with its experience and longevity, deserve it?
My Lords, before I came into the House in 1997, I was a trade union official. I was initially an appointed officer with a job for life. Noble Lords opposite then changed the rules and, because I had some power and influence, I had periodically to submit myself to my members for re-election. It was always an unnerving experience, but the Conservatives were right; I have said that on a number of occasions since. It changed me, too.
Therefore, when I came here, not only did I find the absence of accountability odd; over time, I held to the principle that it is wrong. Why? Contrary to my noble friend Lord Rosser—who is not in his place, but who said earlier that we have influence but not power—I believe that we have power as well as influence. I had not been in this House very long before I saw that power wielded very effectively by the hereditary Peers. The Labour Government had the largest-ever majority in 1997 and an unambiguous manifesto commitment to reform the House of Lords. The manifesto stated that,
“the right of hereditary peers to sit and vote in the House of Lords will be ended by statute”.
We have had two general elections since then but, nearly 10 years on, a substantial block of hereditary Peers is still here, and I am very fond of many of them. However, we all know why they are still here. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, the Lord Chancellor when we were dealing with 1998-99 Lords reform Bill, had to reach an agreement to retain the more than 90 hereditary Peers who are still with us, otherwise he would have lost the Bill and other elements of the Government’s programme would possibly have been sabotaged too. If that is not power, I do not know what is.
We should acknowledge not only that we scrutinise, revise and amend legislation but that an increasing amount of important primary legislation starts its life here in this House. The noble Lord, Lord Wedderburn, did not mention it—it may be the passage of 30 years—but an increasing amount of primary legislation is starting in this House, moved by and involving people who have no mandate and are non-elected. We can also promote Private Members’ Bills. The assisted dying Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Joffe, was mentioned earlier as an example of the fine work that we do. Regardless of its merits or otherwise, assisted dying is a highly controversial social issue which divides people and communities. However, it was promoted here without any mandate whatever and without any reference to the people.
The primary qualification for anyone who seeks to legislate on behalf of the people of this country must be that they have been chosen by the people of this country. Ultimately, the right to vote remains the most potent protection for the individual against the powerful. Improving our efficiency and performance and minimising cost are important, but the principles which I have just enunciated are paramount.
I therefore welcome the Commons’s decisions last week, notwithstanding the efforts of the wreckers there. I also welcome much of the White Paper but, like others, I find parts of it unacceptable and would wish to amend it in a number of ways. For example, the parties must be required to make greater efforts to find people of greater breadth of experience, with specific expertise and from differing backgrounds, than we are seeing enter the Commons. If we are to have elections for this House, great effort should be made to try to change the way in which people are selected in the first instance and the way in which people are involved in their selection. I favour primaries. I pay tribute to the Conservatives for their recent efforts to look at innovative procedures for finding a wider and more varied range of candidates. Regrettably, we have not been doing as much on my side as I would wish to see, but I hope that, when elections arise, we spend some time trying to address that problem, which has been raised by many Peers in this debate.
I grew angry during the debate as I heard different objections raised, but I have contained myself in the belief that many of those objections can be addressed satisfactorily if there is the will and the desire among the parties involved. It will unquestionably take time, but, contrary to what the previous speaker said, it is heartening that we have for the first time seen a meeting of minds. A change has taken place within a week of what happened in the Commons. Spokespeople on the Front Bench are for the first time speaking on this subject in a way which they have not done previously. That is a step in the right direction and I hope that Members on these Benches will be willing to give them their support.
I regret that the Lord Chancellor is not here to hear me, because I conclude with two questions for him, but I am sure that my noble friend the Chief Whip will pass them on to him. What are the prospects of securing consensus on many of the issues which have been raised in this debate? I look particularly to the leaders on the Benches opposite. My second question is more specific. I am in favour of elections, as noble Lords will have gathered, and support the view that codification of our conventions will be needed. I served on the first committee of the noble Lord, Lord Cunningham, when codification was passed over very quickly, particularly by the late, loved Lord Carter, who was strongly against it. I note that the latest report, too, spends little time on it. As codification has not been attempted thus far, can it be done?
My Lords, after 44 years in this House I find myself in a state of great excitement and enthusiasm because of what has happened in the past day or so. I often wonder where this excitement might come from. When I first came here, I came as an independent unionist Peer, and I have always felt that I was independent and believed in the union. The great advantage of having been here for 44 years is that you can say the same thing that you said 44 years ago, and no one here will remember it.
When I came in to the House, I found that we were to sit on the Benches opposite—but nobody showed me where to sit, so I sat down in the front, because I thought that the important people were at the back. Then I was told politely that I should not be there because I was not a right reverend Prelate—but I was then told that I could sit in any place in the House that I wanted, and that the House was a unified animal. Over the 44 years, I found that I was expendable—that I was not environmentally friendly. I realised, too, that I was getting excited because I was perhaps an ethnic minority group, which is terribly popular. But there was one thing that this House did for me: it taught me that you can talk to people.
I go back to 1968, when all of this began, and I was asked to do a bit of work as a researcher on the future of the House of Lords. Your Lordships may remember that at that time Willie Whitelaw came here; we always called him Willie—everybody needed one. He suggested for the first time that the Peers might elect some of their own Members, as the Scottish Peers had. The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, was totally against that. I should remind the House that the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, has been here since 1945 and is without doubt the best Foreign Secretary and one of the best Ministers that we have ever had.
Then we moved on a bit. Of course, at that time the idea was that hereditary Peers should be allowed to sit but not vote, because it was all about the numbers game and voting. As time went on, we came to 1997 and then to 1999. In 1968 it was said that the hereditary principle should go, and in 1999 we all accepted it. But that was not the problem; the problem was the way in which it was done. However, one great thing came out of it. Even if I am environmentally unfriendly, there is one bit that I have so enjoyed in all this—when the noble and learned Lord the then Lord Chancellor, who was always going on about hereditary Peers and elected hereditary Peers under various Acts, made a statement in 1999 that,
“the hereditary Peers who remain will have greater authority because they will have been elected ... A nice element of the compromise is that to stand in an election will be a novel experience for the 75”.—[Official Report, 30/3/99; col. 207.]
Your Lordships should understand that the term hereditary Peers refers to all those who are entitled to inherit a peerage. It is used in this House to describe people who are actually elected hereditary Peers or, in some cases, appointed hereditary Peers. It is not 92 in total—there are 92 who are elected, including the two statutory office holders, but another 12 are appointed. Four are appointed from these Benches, all of whom had been Leaders of this House.
I give this only by way of a background, but I am proud to have been here—and I wanted to be properly elected, as I believed in those days that we should have a fully elected Chamber. I still believe that that should be an objective. The question is how it gets achieved. It will not get achieved through this strange piece of paper that we have been given, which is a form of Green Paper. It might have been called a White Paper, but in previous times White Papers, as I was told by one of my noble colleagues, were very useful. After you read them, if you put a rubber band round them and soaked them in water, they made very good firelighters in the winter. This White Paper is short on information and data, which is why I decided to write my own.
I wrote my own and sent it out to as many people as I could, but the system here would not allow me to make major use of the photocopying machine. I typed it all myself—and the biggest worry was licking the envelopes, when I cut my tongue. That is why I look forward to an elected Chamber, if I could stand for election, because we might have proper back-up and facilities.
What is going to happen? The excitement now is that we are in a very strong position to make some forthright and positive proposals. Parliament is both Houses—the upper House and the lower House. The weakness of the system at the moment is the other place, which is dominated by the Executive, who have too much power that is misused and who misrepresent the situation and, for selfish political reasons, promote things that they should not. We should get together with the other place and strengthen the right and position of the individual Member of Parliament to represent his constituency and his own thoughts and feelings. We should refuse to accept any legislation that has not passed a scrutiny commission on leaving the House of Commons. The time-wasting and the extra cost in this place are enormous.
What happens if we decide suddenly to be elected? Noble Lords will notice in my White Paper that, if one is negative, everybody starts to become a mutual admiration society or self-preservation society and that the turkeys do not vote for Christmas. On the other side, you can look at this House and ask what it is made of—who knows what it is made of—but let me tell you what would happen if we got rid of it. First, 187 former Members of Parliament, who have served their country well and who were elected at one time, would walk out the door. Then, 189 privy counsellors would go—but the Government want to get rid of privy counsellors anyway, or so I am told. That would get rid of some parts of the newly elected Chamber. Then, 46 QCs would go, along with a range of legal people; the Law Lords would probably mostly go. As for the vicars—I am sorry, the right reverend Prelates—they might go, too.
The knowledge at the base is quite considerable, and I take only one example—the subject of defence. In this House we have four or five former Chiefs of the Defence Staff, which is quite a lot. We have six former Secretaries of State or Ministers of Defence, two former secretary-generals of NATO and another 40 former Ministers in the Ministry of Defence. More than that, more than 170 noble Lords have served in the Armed Forces and know what it is like to have bad boots. They remember when the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders went to Korea in their shorts because they did not have time to get winter clothes. So we have a large knowledge of defence. I will not go through the whole lot, but I could do that with every single department. There is a wonderful base of knowledge here and, if we lose all that knowledge and experience, we will not be able to get it back.
Therefore, we have a solution. We should sit down with the House of Commons. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, in that regard. He should not be surprised to hear that one thing I did when I first came here and got attacked for being a hereditary Peer was to say, “When I was a temporary shop steward in the Transport and General Workers' Union, and about to suffer from asbestosis, I remembered the words of my uncle, Stafford Cripps”. Or I could have said, “I am a chinless wonder hereditary merchant-banking Peer who ought to be put down, because I am environmentally unfriendly”.
In this House, we are more representative than anybody else. If noble Lords look at my paper they will find that in the regions there are more Members of the House of Lords than Members of the House of Commons. We have more women and ethnic-minority groups and more of Jewish faith. It is an amazing place which could not have been created other than by accident—and I hope that the accident continues.
My Lords, I propose to call on a thus far unmentioned quality of this House—its fortitude. As speaker number 60 in the speakers list today, I am reminded of a colleague of mine who came to the Court of Appeal from Manchester many years ago. He was last in the list and, after a very long day, the presiding judge said, “This had better be short, Mr Smith”, to which he replied, pulling out his railway ticket, “I agree; this is a cheap day return”. So I shall keep it brief.
Constitutional reform usually occurs because of great events. It is most unusual for it to occur in what we can call quieter times. We are in such a time. We have had constitutional change: devolution, the dispatch of most hereditary Peers, and the Constitutional Reform Act, creating a Supreme Court and the independent appointment of judges. There is no reason why Parliament itself should not be the subject at least of review with a view to reform. But that is Parliament, not just the House of Lords. Reform means change for the better. Both Houses of Parliament act together to serve the public, so any reform must be shown to be, first, necessary and, secondly, likely to be effective, better to serve the public.
When we look at our parliamentary system, no one can seriously challenge the bicameralism entrenched in our constitution. A single Chamber would quickly become dictatorial; two Chambers, with their mutual respect and tension, should better serve the nation. Nobody can doubt that the House of Commons has primacy; it is the elected Chamber. The Parliament Acts ensure that primacy and the Salisbury convention makes it work. The question is therefore: why, if the House of Commons has primacy and is the engine of parliamentary democracy, do we turn to consider reform of the secondary Chamber first? That is extremely difficult to follow.
Without comment, I ask these questions of the other place. Is it holding the Executive fully to account? Is its committee system properly serving investigation and the need for accountability for all forms of unelected government? Are its present structure and stature among the people commensurate with its constitutional responsibility? Is it attracting the best quality of candidates to be Members of Parliament? Is it, above all, influencing the affairs of the nation so that there is a third element in the public debate of this country, beyond the Executive and the media? When I hear the answer “Yes” to those questions, I shall say that it does not need reform. If I hear too many noes, I ask “Why not?”. The House of Commons cannot currently plausibly argue that it is achieving the constitutional and democratic objectives that I have outlined. Its reform is necessary.
What of the secondary Chamber—us? I shall talk not about civil liberties but about British constitutional freedoms: the removal of the ouster clause in the terrorism legislation; the rejection of the abolition of jury trial in certain contexts; and our regular debates on our Armed Forces, with specialist input from some Members of this House. Who could honestly and objectively say that this House has not served the public in the eight years since 1999?
Reform, yes. Stop people coming. Reduce the number of people in the House. Give us fixed periods to serve as appointed Members. There is plenty to be looked at. But if asked on your Lordships’ behalf whether we are effective, I challenge anybody to say that we have not been in recent times. Is reform necessary? Why? When will it happen, how will it occur and what effect will it have on the dynamics between the two Houses? These are unknowns.
Is it therefore appropriate that we should start our constitutional reform debate at the end, with the composition and election of the secondary Chamber, without starting at the beginning? What is the elected House doing for our nation? I issue this not as a rhetorical challenge, but as an invitation to both Houses—the other in particular—to remember their constitutional and democratic duty to the country. That kind of change requires time, reason and focus; it requires both Houses to ensure that the change, which is properly to be called reform, will benefit us all. Can we abide the prospect, over the next parliamentary Session or two, of Bills about our election and composition? Is there nothing more important in our constitutional debate than that? Is it not appropriate for each party here present in Parliament to put constitutional reform into the public debate, by way of a royal commission, a constitutional assembly or whatever it takes—not by newspaper opinion poll, but by rational debate?
If, at the end of that, reform is necessary, I shall gladly look to it and determine whether I think it appropriate. This particular proposal is appropriate neither in its timing nor in its necessity. My noble and learned friend Lord Irvine of Lairg demolished the proposal yesterday with relentless logic. He was right. A better proposal may yet come, and we can look at it. But this is not the way to reform the British constitution.
My Lords, in the wake of that splendid speech it will take some agility on my part to adjust what I was about to say. I declare an interest as an elected hereditary Peer. That interest is perhaps not exactly what some people think it is. We were not put here to perpetuate either our own membership or the present composition of the House of Lords. We were put here to ensure, as far as we could, that what came after us was no worse than what is here now and, God willing, a good deal better. If we can achieve that, and do so in my absence, I, for one, shall go on my way rejoicing.
I think that the noble Lord, Lord Brennan, would agree with me that a significant shortcoming of the White Paper is its title, House of Lords: Reform. To say that the House of Lords is to be reformed is rather like saying that your friend’s leg is going to be operated on. The operation is on your friend; in this case, it is on the Houses of Parliament, a single constitutional body. We must therefore look at both ends of the Corridor. In support of the noble Lord, Lord Brennan, the noble Baroness, Lady Symons of Vernham Dean, my noble friend Lord Higgins and others, I say that you must look at what Parliament was invented for: to protect the governed from the Government. The Executive of the time was the King. Protection was offered to a relatively small section of society, because the Members of Parliament were representative of a relatively small section of society. With the universal franchise, however, the duty has extended to protect all the people of this country.
As the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York so succinctly put it, we are here, as is the other place, to protect the freedom of the individual and all that goes with it. Up to the arrival of King George I, the Executive were out there and we were in here. Then the Hanoverian dynasty arrived, speaking German. It was necessary to have English speakers to conduct the King’s business and we started, for the first time, to have Ministers in Parliament; they got a foothold in the body that was actually provided to control them. Now, if you count both Ministers and PPSs, there are roughly 100 members of the Executive in the other place, which is supposed to be the most powerful instrument for the control of the Executive.
This chimes exactly with what the noble Lord, Lord Brennan, said; it is why the House of Commons is becoming consistently less able to do its job. The noble Lord cited two prime examples of it letting things through that were a threat to the liberty of the individual, and which this House stopped. It is clear that, as long as the constitution of the other place remains as it is, our function is to balance the weakness of that place with a strength of our own.
The great pity of the present development is that we are being encouraged to think of this as some sort of competition between the House of Lords and the House of Commons for primacy. We are speaking to each other as if we did not share an interest. That is because there are so many members of the Executive in the other place. The other place and this place should be allies in the face of the threat to the population of an overmighty Government. It is essential, between now and the next stage, that that communication should start.
A good beginning could be made by my noble friends on the Front Bench and the noble Lords on the Front Bench opposite and on my right in seeing that the cross-party group is not merely seized of the opinions of those who sit behind them but is capable of representing them, which means some change in its composition. That is if the cross-party group is to have an effective role; if it is not, what it does must be discounted and set aside firmly. The weaker the House of Commons is, the stronger this House must be.
That almost brings to an end what I wanted to say, except to add that I would like to see the request made of the Government by the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, answered. I would like to see the Government’s costing of what they propose specified and defended—and, if possible, to see it go before the Audit Commission. I do not think that the general public have a clue with regard to either what this is about or what it costs. We have to put that right.
My Lords, many of your Lordships have rightly pointed out that it is pretty silly to reform your Lordships’ House before sorting out the House of Commons. After all, some 40 per cent of the electorate do not see the point in voting even in general elections any more, and modern Governments are formed by only some 40 per cent of the 60 per cent who bother to vote, or 24 per cent of the electorate. That 24 per cent has to vote for the whole of the Government’s manifesto, which typically contains around 150 commitments. So it is hard to understand how modern Governments have the nerve to believe that their administrative programmes have the support of the British people. That does not stop them, of course.
I am sure your Lordships would be disappointed if I did not point out that democracy in this country is now quite a bit sicker than that, thanks to the folly of our membership of the European Union. The former German president, Roman Herzog, has recently announced that 84 per cent of all national laws in Germany between 1999 and 2004 were imposed under the EU system of government. There is not much reason to suppose that the percentage is very different here, but so far the Government have only admitted that a majority of all law affecting our commerce and industry “originates in Brussels”—which is bad enough. The British Chambers of Commerce are somewhat less coy, and calculate that 72 per cent of the cost of regulation affecting business is imposed by Brussels.
Whichever way you look at it, it is probably safe to say that a majority of our national law is now imposed by our membership of the European Union under its unique system of making laws, which is the very antithesis of our democracy. Let us not forget that EU law is proposed in secret by the unelected Commission, negotiated in secret by the unelected Committee of Permanent Representatives, or COREPER, and decided in secret by the Council of Ministers, where the UK Government are now reduced to some 8 per cent of the vote. That law is agreed by the EU Parliament, after which it has to be rubber-stamped by the House of Commons and your Lordships’ House. It is then executed by the Commission. If necessary, the Luxembourg Court of so-called Justice can be relied upon to confirm the process of integration, and there is no appeal against its judgments.
I say that this system is the antithesis of our democracy because, as I have reminded your Lordships more than once, the central principle of our democracy is that the British people should elect and dismiss those who make their laws. They no longer do, not by miles. Twenty-four per cent of them elect a Government who boast 8 per cent of the votes in the Council of Ministers that imposes most of their law. No wonder so many of them cannot see the point of voting in general elections, or that they hold politicians and our political system in such low esteem. How right they are.
I suppose I should also remind your Lordships in this debate of the big idea that gave birth to the fateful project of European integration, to which its devotees still cling: that nation states were responsible for the carnage of the two World Wars and for the long history of bloodshed in Europe, so the nation states, with their tiresome and unreliable democracies, had to be emasculated and diluted into a new form of supranational Government run by a commission of technocrats. Hence the Commission’s continuing monopoly on proposing legislation and executing it once it has been through the Brussels system.
I accept that that idea was honourable enough after the last war, but it has gone wrong and it is getting worse. “The project”, as it is known in Brussels, was supposed to reach its fulfilment in the recent EU constitution. That was legally killed by the French and Dutch people in referendums, but the Eurocrats are not letting a small matter like that get in their way. They are surreptitiously putting most of the constitution into place, using clauses in existing treaties, illegally, to do so. One of those clauses is Article 308—to which I have drawn your Lordships’ attention before—which allows the EU to take power only,
“in the course of the operation of the common market”.
That clause was in the original 1957 Treaty of Rome, and was designed to permit small tariff adjustments and so on in the emerging Common Market. Now this article is being used to pass a whole string of powers to Brussels, and Her Majesty’s Government—
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. I am sure at this stage in the debate we would all be interested to know which of the options before the House the noble Lord thinks would improve the situation he is describing—somewhat inaccurately, I submit.
If I am not interrupted, I may end quicker.
This article is being used to pass a whole string of powers to Brussels. For instance, there is the Charter of Fundamental Rights, a vast new human rights law, which Keith Vaz said would have no more force than the Beano and the Prime Minister assured us would not become justiciable in the Luxembourg court, yet the Commission has ordained that all new law must respect it, and the Luxembourg court adheres to all its judgments. Other powers being taken by Brussels under Article 308 include the control of civil contingencies, a massive new EU propaganda campaign, the co-ordination of social security systems and the prevention and management of terrorism—hardly the operation of a Common Market.
The existing Article 308 is not the only flagrantly illegal basis for the constitution’s advance. On 23 March 2006 the Commission President, Mr Barroso, wrote to the redoubtable Daniel Hannon MEP with the glad tidings that the EU’s External Action Service, or Foreign Office, is being set up under Article III-296(3) of the treaty establishing a constitution for Europe—which does not exist. The EU defence agency and space programme suffer from similar illegitimacy. In fact, it seems that the Eurocrats may baulk at thus legalising only four initiatives in the failed constitution. Three of them will probably go into a technical little treaty, with which of course it will not be worth troubling the people in a referendum. Those three are the revised weighting of votes in the Council, the longer term of office for the Council President and creating the EU’s new Foreign Secretary. Very boring, my Lords.
I thought your Lordships would appreciate that.
That will leave them with only one ambition, the big one: the new legal personality for the EU, superior to that of the nation states. The EU becomes a country, able to sign treaties and declare war, and thus reaches the goal of that big idea born more than 50 years ago.
I submit that it is against that background that the future of your Lordships’ House should be considered. First, the United Kingdom should retrieve its democracy from the clutches of the corrupt octopus in Brussels. Then we should consider how the House of Commons, which once again will be making our law, can better hold the Executive of the day to account. Only when we have done that should we turn our attention to the role and composition of the second Chamber. In the mean time, it would be folly not to leave your Lordships’ House as it is.
My Lords, on Second Reading of the reform Bill in 1998 I said that the best way forward would be to look at Parliament as a whole in the light of the devolution process in the United Kingdom and even taking into account the role of the European Parliament, of which I was once an elected Member. I argued that the House of Commons was as ripe for reform as was the House of Lords and that we should look at the powers and functions of both Chambers before deciding on their composition.
Consistency is, I hope, my strong point so I was heartened that many of your Lordships said much the same thing in this debate, in spite of the fact that the White Paper does not give us the opportunity to take that wider view. What we have at present, as the result of hundreds of years of history and continuity, and some more recent attempts at modernisation, is what the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, succinctly described yesterday as,
“a unicameral system masquerading as a bicameral system”.—[Official Report, 12/3/07; col. 559.]
It seems strange that, as the Mother of Parliaments, we cannot find a solution to our bicameral dilemma when so many other countries have. When winding up, I hope that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor will be able to tell us which systems in other countries, particularly some of the new democracies of central and eastern Europe, have been looked at in the process of deciding the future of the House of Lords.
It is interesting that relatively few countries around the world other than Commonwealth countries have chosen to follow the Westminster model. Most have a presidential system on the lines of the French system, which was most famously copied by the United States. Perhaps we should catch up with the de facto situation here and convert, or at least consider converting, to the presidential alternative. Then we could be looking at a senate and assembly or congress, with the checks and balances that they imply, as some speakers advocated. But that may be too radical.
At the previous opportunity we had to vote on the composition of the House of Lords, like my noble friend Lord Strathclyde and a number of other hereditary Peers, I voted in favour of a 100 per cent elected House with a fallback position of 80 per cent elected and a 20 per cent topping up to ensure the necessary breadth of expertise. I intend to do the same tomorrow although I listened with great interest to the arguments that were advanced. I am particularly conscious that we need to ensure the diversity represented in your Lordships’ House, particularly in respect of the religious representation. Our Bishops’ Benches provide a very valuable dimension to our deliberations, apart from leading us in prayers each day. The disappearance of that element would be a retrograde step even if that representation should be wider.
However, in view of the House of Commons vote last week, and in spite of the White Paper recommendations, my solution for a 100 per cent elected House of Lords is to advocate indirect elections. I realise that the Wakeham commission discounted this, in part at least, and that the White Paper considers only one form of indirect elections. Yesterday my noble friend Lord James of Blackheath put the justification extremely well so I shall not repeat all the arguments, although he reached a different conclusion to mine. If electoral colleges were set up to elect their own distinguished representatives, doctors, nurses, lawyers, architects, academics, local authorities and so on could each form an electoral college, not forgetting the churches or, indeed, the hereditary Peers, who at present have a separate electoral college, which seems to work rather well. Elections do not have to be direct to make them democratic. That system would enable a period of years to be set on the service of Members so elected and would have many other flexible advantages. I hope that, whatever the result of tomorrow’s vote, there will be an opportunity for that to be considered.
I have not heard too many noble Lords discuss the name of our House. My view is that a change from calling ourselves the House of Lords is essential. If the real thing—in other words, the hereditary Peers—is not allowed to sit here any more, it is absurd to create hundreds more Peers of the realm, albeit only for life. This also means that the House of Commons as a title would seem an anachronism. My suggestion is to fall back on the alternative, which is frequently used even now, of an upper House and a lower House. Naturally, this House would be the upper House, but we would all be Members of Parliament.
During the debate many of your Lordships admitted that, as recently appointed Peers, or as former Members of another place, where they may have given long service, they came here with a certain prejudice and misconceived idea of how the House of Lords operated. Perhaps your Lordships will therefore forgive me if, as a result of my mere 22 years here, I draw attention to two things mentioned again and again in the debate which rather irritate me. One is the suggestion that the pre-reform House of Lords was supine during a Conservative Government and superactive against a Labour Government. Having served as a Minister for seven years during successive Conservative Governments, I assure your Lordships from personal experience and observation that the House of Lords always comes into its own when there is a huge majority in the House of Commons and the Government of the day is able to steam-roller its legislation through at that end. Secondly, it has been said that a House of Lords composed of a hybrid mixture of life and hereditary Peers is somehow less effective than a wholly appointed House.
Hereditary Peers did their public duty in an entirely admirable way. Those who did not turn up, and were criticised for that, were at least cost effective. The noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, will appreciate that. My view is that the Government’s concession over the 92 hereditary Peers came about when they suddenly realised that without many of the hereditaries who chaired Select Committees and held key functions in your Lordships’ House, the place would collapse or degenerate into chaos.
If, as has been said, the number of government defeats and the vast quantity of amendments to government legislation is so much higher during a Labour Government, I suggest, in the concise wording of the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, that this is because too much ill judged and badly prepared legislation has been foisted upon us.
I hope that tomorrow we shall go for a change that will benefit not only this House and this Parliament but also the country.
My Lords, like other speakers in this debate, I spent a happy couple of hours at the weekend reading the Hansard reports of the debate in the other place last Tuesday and Wednesday. I was surprised to find that there were some remarkable omissions from the Ministers’ speeches. A number of Ministers spoke, and a lot of questions remained unanswered. My noble friend Lord Lipsey clearly hit a raw nerve by drawing attention to the astronomical cost—more than £2 billion over 15 years—of creating a 100 per cent elected House. The Leader of the House of Commons described my noble friend’s calculation as “utter balderdash and nonsense”, but he declined to put forward any figures of his own, so I support the call made by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, for the Government to publish the figures.
There is a lack of any evidence that the public has a desire radically to change the role or composition of this place. Indeed, a number of MPs made the point that they had not received a single representation from a constituent on this subject in all the time that they had been in the House of Commons. Others referred to opinion polls that report 70 per cent satisfaction with what we do here. That is despite the pathetic refusal of much of the media to take seriously what we do here. I agree completely with my noble friend Lord MacKenzie of Culkein, who said that the habit that the media has of only publishing pictures of your Lordships in their robes at State Opening gives a totally false impression of what we do.
The third omission last week was a lack of evidence that a wholly or partly elected House of Lords would do a better job than we do now. I draw your Lordships’ attention to the speech by Robert Marshall-Andrews MP, who said that he had changed his mind twice, from being a unicameralist in 1999 to supporting a substantially elected second Chamber in 2003, to supporting the status quo now. He said:
“I asked myself if, in the past 15 years, professional politicians, especially from the Labour and Conservative parties, had been elected to the second Chamber on a list system, the House of Lords would have set its face against the Criminal Justice (Mode of Trial) Bill and the Criminal Justice (Mode of Trial) (No. 2) Bill, and whether it would have opposed the removal of the right to elect for trial by jury. My view is that it would not have done so”.—[Official Report, Commons, 7/3/07; col. 1582.]
He changed his vote on that basis.
A fourth omission from the debate was any serious criticism of how this House deals with government legislation. The situation has changed significantly in the nearly eight years that I have been here. There is a balanced membership where no one party has more than 30 per cent of the total membership, the Government still lose votes and the Commons is asked to reconsider legislation, sometimes two or three times, but in the end the elected Chamber has its way. The contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, on the Police and Justice Bill on 7 November has been widely quoted. A few minutes ago, the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, quoted the exchange between Jack Straw and Chris Mullin at the beginning of the debate. In agreeing with Mr Mullin that the nub of the problem is that an elected or part-elected House would be used to undermine the legitimacy of the House of Commons, Mr Straw rather gave the game away. You will look in vain, my Lords, for any suggestion that the Government have a solution to that.
If there were a new constitutional settlement, not only between the two Chambers but also between Parliament and the Executive, possibly with no Ministers at all in this House, there could be some logic in establishing a wholly elected second Chamber. In those circumstances, it would be unimaginable that an elected House would be content with the very limited powers that we are content to exercise here now. For Members in the other place to argue, as some did last week, that you could indefinitely maintain the existing powers of the House of Commons, reinforced by the absolute control of supply and the back-up powers of the Parliament Acts if there were a wholly or predominantly elected second Chamber, is just fantasy.
What happens now? Much is being made of the votes in the Commons last Wednesday, but they are a long way short of demonstrating that there is a consensus, even in the other place. The 80 per cent elected option was supported by less than half the Members in the House, and an analysis of the Division list on the final vote, on 100 per cent election, shows some interesting tactical voting, as my noble friend Lady Symons pointed out earlier.
Like other speakers, I cannot believe that any Prime Minister, whether Gordon Brown or David Cameron, would want to clog up the parliamentary timetable for a measure that has no popular support, is wholly unnecessary, will weaken the effectiveness of this House and threatens the constitutional settlement and conventions between the two Houses. Indeed, I am reliably told that Mr Cameron told Conservative Peers at a dinner the other day that Lords reform was a priority for his third term.
Yet Mr Straw clearly believes that he has a sufficiently cosy relationship with the Front Benches of the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties to press on with the issue, possibly by publishing a draft Bill. I find it curious that the usual channels in this House seem to have been drawn into this too, given what appears from our two-day debate to be the almost overwhelming hostility in all parts of the House to the Government’s White Paper. Our debate has indicated that the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, speaks for very few on his Benches apart from himself, as the excellent intervention yesterday by the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth of Drumlean, demonstrated. Even the noble Lord, Lord McNally, has some serious doubters among his troops.
I make it clear that I do not favour the status quo, and I want to see this issue finally settled. It can be done by a simple Bill that acknowledges that heredity should not be a criterion for membership of this House, by abolishing the by-elections. I would not, however, support the expulsion of the 92, as it would be simplest for them to remain in this House as de facto life Peers. There should also be a provision relating to disqualification following a serious criminal conviction. Our rules should be the same as those of the Commons on this matter.
I would like to see the establishment of an Appointments Commission on a statutory basis. I go along with the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, that those who serve on the existing non-statutory commission deserve our thanks. They were responsible for blocking four controversial appointments last year, and their role could certainly be enhanced in ways that not only reduce the scale of party political patronage but achieve cultural diversity and the representation of the entire country in a way that elections on party lists could never do. We may hear more about that from the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, who will follow me.
Such a Bill, if one is introduced, would demonstrate that there is a broad consensus in this House on what should happen next. Most of us believe that we have been given undertakings by the Prime Minister and by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor that this House would be part of the consensus that would be a necessary precondition for reform to proceed. I hope that my noble and learned friend can confirm that that is the case, and that there is no question of the Parliament Act being used to force through a Bill against the wishes of this House and the spirit of that consensus.
Like most other Peers, I intend to vote tomorrow for the all-appointed option and against all the other options.
My Lords, in a powerful speech yesterday the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, said that the Government had lost control of the train and were heading for the station of a 100 per cent elected House. The situation is far worse and certainly more complicated than that. Elections are a means to an end. Arguments over whether we have a 50 or 100 per cent elected House, or the type of electoral system to use, are about which train to catch not where we are going. It is not clear why we are setting off, there is no agreement on which vehicle to use, and—most importantly of all in terms of the constitution of the UK—we have no idea where we are going.
The reasons for embarking on the journey are largely asserted, not proved, and no one has clearly identified the consequences of election for our constitutional arrangements. It is not just a case of the relationship between the two Chambers but how that fits with the type of constitution that we wish to have for this nation. The debate has tended to revolve around means—in effect, everyone’s pet scheme for reform—and not about ends. We have the debate completely back to front.
Of course we must listen to the other place, but we are entitled to ask it and the Government what their ultimate constitutional goal is. Perhaps the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor will tell us precisely what type of constitution the Government seek to create for the United Kingdom, how that fits with recent constitutional changes, and how the election of a second Chamber contributes to that goal.
Why are we setting out on this journey? We are told that it is necessary for reasons of democracy and legitimacy. That is asserted as though it is a self-evident truth, but it is no such thing. There is a perfectly valid case to the contrary, yet hardly anyone in the other place or this House has sought to develop an intellectually coherent case for election. My right honourable friend Oliver Letwin tried to do so in the other place last week by arguing that the debate on Lords reform was one of the principle of election versus the principle of what works. That is a false dichotomy. At no point did he mention the principle of accountability as the basis for retaining an appointed second Chamber. That is fundamental to the argument.
Election is at the heart of democracy. It is the means by which, in a representative democracy, the people choose who is to govern them. Elections through the House of Commons confirm legitimacy to form a Government. One body—the party in government—is responsible for public policy. The electors not only choose it but can remove it; they know whom to hold to account. There is a core accountability at the heart of the political system.
What happens if this House is elected? The rationale for existing constraints falls. That does not mean that the second Chamber will be coequal with the first, but it will be difficult if not impossible, as the noble Lord, Lord Plant, conceded yesterday, to resist the demands of elected Members for considerably more powers than the existing House. What would be the basis for denying the claims? Existing conventions certainly could not survive under the weight of the claims—the other place could do nothing about that—and nor for that matter could the Parliament Acts.
The potential, therefore, is to undermine not strengthen accountability. If two Houses disagree, they may confer and do deals, as happens in other systems, usually behind closed doors, but who then is responsible for the outcome? Who do electors hold to account for a policy that is not part of the governing party's programme? A blurring of accountability lessens the hold of electors over those they elect. Election becomes a process and not a control. It is not simply a case of maintaining the primacy of the other place; it is about maintaining the accountability of government to the people.
However, would not election, as Jack Straw claims, enhance legitimacy? Legitimacy is derived from an acceptance that people are qualified to carry out the tasks ascribed to them. The current House attracts high approval ratings and the independence of the House is seen as a public good. That good is potentially threatened by a method of election that places excessive power in the hands of parties.
Would election add value to the legislative process? Oliver Heald in the other place argued that experience is not confined to this House. He noted that MPs are experienced in many fields. What he failed to take into account is that MPs have to operate in a highly partisan environment. Members of this House are able to utilise their experience and expertise through constructive engagement, where that expertise influences outcomes and is not washed out by the hegemony of the governing party. Elections alter the terms of trade. They are fundamentally political; regardless of label, they involve competition and having to make a pitch. The dynamic of election will drive out the very things that are seen as the strengths of this House and which voters, according to the polls, wish to retain.
Will not election address other problems identified with this House? The noble Lord, Lord Hoyle, wants a more diverse membership. Has he forgotten that as an MP he was elected to a House of white, middle-class males? Appointment is the most effective and efficient way of providing greater diversity. What about Members who rarely attend? That is an argument for providing for permanent leave of absence, not a scheme of one-term election, whereby, once elected, one could disappear for 15 years.
Is election not essential to rid the system of tainted patronage? The cash-for-honours scandal arose because the system worked, as has been mentioned. Some nominees were blocked. This is not to make a case for the status quo, but it is to point the way forward. Creating a statutory independent Appointments Commission, one that imposes high-quality, transparent thresholds, is as much a legitimate option as transferring power to an unfettered party leadership deciding rankings in a party list.
Reform and election are not synonymous. There are various reforms on the agenda that can help to deliver more effectively the benefits that the public associate with this House. Election threatens, not enhances, those benefits and, as I suggested, it throws into question the fundamentals of our political system. Electing a second Chamber would contribute to an increasingly fragmented constitutional framework. We may need a fundamental review of our constitution before we walk blind into what could prove to be a disaster.
I am for reform of this House but not for election. I support the reforms identified yesterday by the noble Lord, Lord Steel. Tomorrow, a Bill will be introduced to provide for the creation of a statutory independent Appointments Commission, to close off the by-election procedure, to provide for permanent leave of absence, and to deal with Members convicted of serious criminal offences. Closing off the by-election does not remove existing hereditary Peers, nor does it prevent hereditary Peers coming into the House in the future; several already sit as life Peers. Indeed, more may come in on merit rather than waiting for someone to die, as is the case at present.
These are the sort of reforms embodied in option 1, which accepts the case for reform but not for election. The wording of option 1—and option 1 alone—reflects precisely my view. I shall, therefore, vote for the all-appointed option and against all the others.
My Lords, I shall be mercifully brief. My speech can be classified more as a question. The noble Baroness, Lady Symons, made an outstanding speech and she effectively demolished the case for hybridity in the reform of your Lordships’ House. She correctly stated that the choice was between a fully elected Chamber and a fully appointed Chamber.
The other place voted for a fully elected Chamber and we have been told by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor that we must take that vote seriously; and I am sure that he is right. So I, at least, hear the early turnings of the tumbrel wheels for this House and the noble Lord, Lord Low, said he rather regretted that his brief stay might be snuffed out. The noble Lord, Lord Gordon, wistfully told us that he felt the boot of history on his posterior. What I want to ask the Lord Chancellor is: how is that boot to be applied? Will the 743 Members of this House be removed in a “big bang” piece of legislation, which would presumably have to be enforced by the Parliament Act, given all the speeches today? Several Peers have indicated that there would be some difficulty in using the Parliament in that sort of legislation. The noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, mentioned that in his speech. Or will the change happen by more of an “Eric”— a “little-by-little”—approach; a sort of incremental, natural wastage approach? That may take a long time, given that younger and younger Members come here. Or will there be—let us not call it a bribe—a golden goodbye or a sort of bung if noble Lords agree to go quietly at some point in the future? Or will there be some other method? I do not know. It could be any random method of first in, last out or last in, first out. The Government must have had an options paper on this sort of procedure.
Assuming that there will be a Bill, how will the Government present it to the House? How will they get rid of the existing life Peers and hereditary Peers? How will it happen? That is what I should like to hear from the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor when he replies to the debate. If the tumbrels are rolling, when are they going to get here and who will be in them?
My Lords, I am only here because the reform of this House had started. It is an honour to be here as a “people’s Peer”, as the press dubbed us.
After I contributed recently to Radio 4, a member of staff in the other place wrote to me saying:
“I was so pleased to hear you defend the Lords and point out the cavalier way in which members of the House of Commons treat debates on legislation, and divisions. I have been shocked at how Members go through the Aye or Noe lobbies time after time without any idea of what they are voting for. They have been known to complain at elements of the very legislation they have passed!”.
These MPs are selected behind closed doors by constituency party members, devoid of public scrutiny. Will the same be applied to candidates here?
So, yes, reform: abandon the hereditary principle, ensure that non-contributors do not remain, establish a strong independent Appointments Commission to oversee all nominations both to the Cross Benches and the party Benches, and ensure that the House reflects the civil flanks across society; even pay us for the work that we do. Reform and election are not synonymous, as the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, said.
This debate is of such constitutional magnitude that it behoves everyone to vote individually according to their conscience. The Straw report stated that there would be a free vote. I quote:
“Free votes are exactly that—free”.
To help the interpretation of the votes cast tomorrow, I ask each party Bench to give, in turn, a clear statement in their summing up on whether a Whip is in place on their Benches and, if so, to disclose it. Peers are not lobby-fodder. We cannot acquiesce to decreasing the expertise, wisdom and intellectual rigour in Parliament. This House is the guardian of the unwritten constitution.
Anyone who has not read Michael Portillo’s article in the Sunday Times or heard or read the speeches of the noble and learned Lords, Lord Irvine of Lairg and Lord Howe of Aberavon, or those of the noble Lords, Lord Puttnam and Lord Brennan, and, lastly but by no means least, the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, or the outstanding speeches of the noble Baronesses, Lady Boothroyd and Lady Symons of Vernham Dean, should read them before they vote.
My Lords, I am a people’s Peer. I filled in an application form, went for an interview and got the job. Apparently, 5,000 people applied for it.
I must disappoint my friends and some other people who might be listening by questioning the idea of a 100 per cent-elected House and the idea that voting is more legitimate or more democratic. But let me deal with the fact that people will say, “Well, he would say that, wouldn’t he? He’s in the House and he’s arguing for it”. If there is a 100 per cent-elected House, I will not miss dashing down from Scotland to speak for three minutes; I will not miss the ridicule in the press; I will not miss the responsibility; and I can do different things with the time.
The fact is that, as the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, pointed out, voting is a tool of democracy, not democracy itself. Democracy is the balance between debate and choice, represented by the two halves of Parliament—on the one hand, the elected House and, on the other, this House, where we debate and can revise.
As a six-foot black man, I know that I, as with fellow members of my community, would stand less chance of being elected to the House than I would have of being here under the current method, and the statistics bear me out. There are more black people in the House of Lords than in the House of Commons. Those are the facts.
As the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, pointed out—it is important to make this point—the fact that we have people of some age and experience in the House of Lords is to be respected, not abused. I am 44 years old. I hope I have the debating skills that I have witnessed during the course of this debate when I am the age of some Members of this House. Those who argue about the anachronistic rituals in this House and then fly off to Africa to watch the Masai Mara dance make me laugh. It is just tradition. I have no problem with tradition; I have a problem with bigotry, poverty, ignorance and slack thinking. This House deserves better than to vote with fashion, without reason. That is not democracy; that is capitulation.
My Lords, today’s New York Times headlines its report:
“British Lords Defend Their Seats, Like Junkyard Bulldogs”.
This is some junkyard and some bulldogs. During the debate, I have listened to 115 speeches and read a number of others. The prevailing atmosphere seems to be one of complacency and self-congratulation. With a few notable exceptions—especially the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, and my noble friend Lord Smith of Clifton—most speakers seem to be echoing Dr Pangloss:
“All is for the best in the best of all possible worlds”.
For them, the only cloud in the sky is the failure of MPs to appreciate just how wonderful this House is.
I suggest that our mood should be one of frustration. Unlike most of the other speakers, from the Front Benches as well as from the Back Benches, I have spent many hours on the Front Benches in the Commons, arguing with Ministers that their Lordships’ House is doing an excellent job in improving, revising and amending legislation. From the opposition Front Benches in the Commons I have been able to say that the job that this House does is excellent. But, of course, Conservative and Labour Ministers dismiss all the solid work done in this House as worthless because the House is unelected—I have heard that refrain so often from Ministers that it is ingrained in my memory. That surely is the core of the problem that we should address in this House.
The reason why MPs, even very senior MPs, do not understand and appreciate the quality of the work that is done here is that they do not need to know. They believe that when the chips are down, we do not matter. Unfamiliarity breeds contempt and contempt breeds unfamiliarity. I shall illustrate the point. When amendments to a Bill from this House return to the Commons, the Government of the day may accept some minor changes, but almost invariably, except in the end-of-Session ping-pong, they will use their built-in majority to revert to the original drafting. The Lords amendments are voted down and replaced. Then a small reasons committee is constituted and meets immediately in a room behind the Speaker’s Chair. The Government have a majority on that committee. The Minister pulls out of his pocket a succinct list of reasons why the Government do not like the Lords’ improvements—of course written before any debate—which sometimes is little more than a bland, “We are right; they are wrong”, and then they vote. In a matter of a few minutes, the whole Bill will have been kicked back along the Corridor with the added insult of totally inadequate reasoning—a rejection of all the hard work that is so rightly celebrated in this House.
On one famous occasion, the then Secretary of State for Transport, Mr John MacGregor, as he was then, was bulldozing through the Commons the ill fated Conservative privatisation of the railways. The reasons committee that evening took rather longer than usual. One of my Liberal Democrat colleagues, now the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, discovered that the chairmanship of the committee was debatable. He and a Labour MP on that committee held the committee in session long enough for your Lordships’ House to resume, to realise that your Lordships would not receive the Bill that evening and to go home. An extra 24 hours was all that elapsed as a result, but at least the point was made. The Government have now altered the rules and the reasons committee now has to accept the chairmanship of the Minister of the Crown responsible.
That is why we should be frustrated. All the valuable work that is done here—which has been rightly referred to in speech after speech over the past two days and which impressed me with its quality for many years before I came to this House—has little long-term benefit because the government majority in the other place can always dismiss it as being based on illegitimacy.
My Lords, the noble Lord suggests that we should entirely alter the form and format of this House not because it would produce a better result, but because it would be more acceptable to Ministers in another place who do not understand what we do. Would it not be better and simpler if Ministers in another place learnt a little more about what we do?
My Lords, the noble Viscount had his chance during the debate, and I am coming to that point. I will make specific reference to other participants in the debate that will answer his point. My analysis has been endorsed by some speakers in this debate who nevertheless seem all too satisfied with the relative impotence of this House. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon, and the noble Lord, Lord MacGregor of Pulham Market, held high office in previous Governments—most notably, they were Leaders of the House of Commons. Yet both stated in no uncertain terms during this debate that they then knew little of the work of your Lordships and they implied that, frankly, they cared even less. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, referred to his attitude as being one of utmost condescension. It did not matter to them precisely because, as with that example of rail privatisation, they could claim democratic legitimacy and this House could not. That is the point. We may be frustrated, and that should be our reaction to this situation, but we should be optimistic as well. Despite anecdotal stories of public distrust—
My Lords, the noble Lord referred to the reasons committee. I sometimes accepted amendments from the House of Lords when I was a Minister. The reasons committee was debating a crucial element in the Railways Bill, which surely demonstrates that the primacy of the House of Commons was maintained. No one in this House has questioned the primacy of the House of Commons.
My Lords, the noble Lord underlines my point. The reasons committee never comes back to this House with a full and detailed reaction to the views expressed here. I have long experience of that under successive Governments. Despite the anecdotal stories of public distrust of democracy that speakers have indulged in, there is clear and consistent evidence that a large majority of the public want us to be given the legitimacy that will enable us to be more effective. Recent polls have shown large majorities in favour of a predominantly or wholly elected House. The Hansard Society poll showed 82 per cent in favour, with only 6 per cent wanting an all-appointed House. There are few government policies that receive the support of 82 per cent of the electorate. Even more significantly, among those who considered that they understood and appreciated the work done in this House, the figure rose to 92 per cent. They were evenly balanced between—
My Lords, a substantial number of people take part in these polls and they are carefully balanced to get a proper sample. They are likely to be a more accurate reflection of opinion in the country than the one-person opinion polls that have been represented as being very effective illustrations of the public mood by a number of Peers during this debate. A further poll today has reinforced the public’s support for this reform, specifically endorsing the votes of MPs last week. There was no mucking about, no attempt to put a trick question; there was just a straight question: do you support the views expressed by MPs? We should rejoice that the public want us to be more effective, and not simply prophesy doom. We should be optimistic that we can achieve this now that the Commons have voted to give us that opportunity.
The debate in the Commons last week and the debate here this week have naturally revolved around the alleged challenge to the primacy of the Commons. Here I want to expand on the point made by my noble friend Lord Goodhart. We should be clear that primacy depends on five different elements: first, the direct election of all MPs, all at the same time in a general election; secondly, the need for the Government of the day to gain and retain their confidence; thirdly, the presence of the Prime Minister and most senior Ministers in the Commons; fourthly, the sole responsibility for supply and expenditure; and, finally, the longstop of the Parliament Acts.
That is a more accurate description than the oversimplified description given a few minutes ago by the noble Lord, Lord Norton. None of it could be changed without the express agreement of both Houses of Parliament. The doom-mongers who told us that any elections to this House would automatically turn that all upside down are living in a fantasy world. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, who spoke so eloquently yesterday about the need to emphasise the primacy of the Commons. Surely it is wrong to suggest that that primacy relies simply and solely on the electoral mandate. As Mr Jack Straw and the White Paper made clear, the relationship between the two Chambers in Parliaments all over the democratic world varies enormously. It is quite unrelated to whether they are, or which are, elected.
Primacy is more immediately significant in this debate. The royal commission, the Joint Committee on House of Lords Reform and the Joint Committee on Conventions have all reiterated its vital significance. In the report of the last, we said:
“We were instructed to accept the primacy of the House of Commons. None of our witnesses has questioned it, and neither do we”.
In that report, we debunked the myth that somehow increasing the influence and effectiveness of your Lordships’ House necessarily reduces the power of the other place. This is no zero-sum game. By giving enhanced credibility and democratic legitimacy to this House, we will strengthen Parliament as a whole in its prime responsibility—to check the overmighty Executive. As the noble Baroness, Lady Quin, said so eloquently last night, we should not seek to be the rival or replica of the Commons; we should seek to be complementary—
My Lords, I apologise for interrupting. I ask the noble Lord to relate his rhetoric to the problem of how and why the fact that he objects to certain procedural problems, which have not been referred to massively in this debate, should support his conclusion for a wholly elected Chamber. I cannot follow him.
My Lords, if the noble Lord reads my speech in Hansard tomorrow, he will see that I am trying to follow a consistent theme, which is not helped when entirely irrelevant interventions are made.
Some Members of this House, and even more of the other place, have used primacy of the Commons as shorthand for primacy of the Executive. It is not the same thing. Before the 2005 general election, a distinguished group of Labour Peers produced a report advocating greater subservience of the Lords to the wishes of the majority in the Commons—that is, to the Government of the day. The group was led by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, and included the noble Lords, Lord Campbell-Savours, Lord Hogg and Lord Tomlinson. They were insistent that your Lordships’ House should be more sensitive to the views of MPs, especially when they were backed by manifesto commitments.
We should recall that all three major parties were committed in their 2005 general election manifestos to democratic and representative membership of this House. It is true that the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats were more specific than Labour, but surely some speakers have been disingenuous in suggesting that the Labour promise meant retaining the status quo. I also note that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon, said in the 2003 debate that,
“the role of this House, the second Chamber, is—and we must never forget this—to respect the right of the Commons to decide”.—[Official Report, 21/1/03; col. 577.]
How, then, will all those champions of Commons primacy and a manifesto commitment vote tomorrow, now that the House of Commons has voted so decisively for reform? Even more important, how will they and other Members respond to the opportunity for pre-legislative scrutiny of a draft Bill and then of a Bill? If this House gives the impression that it is fighting a last-ditch rearguard action to preserve the status quo with foot-dragging filibustering, so vividly described last night by the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, we will be in big trouble.
My noble friend Lord McNally said yesterday that,
“the status quo, or anything close to it, is simply not an option”.—[Official Report, 12/3/07; col. 462.]
Defiance of the Commons will lead us down a very dangerous path and make us miss the chance to negotiate from relative strength. The vote in the Commons last week for our abolition should surely be an alarm bell: 163 MPs voted for a single-chamber Parliament. If Members here do not recognise that we have a responsibility to respond positively and constructively, not only do we risk our good reputation with the public, but the number of MPs seeking our abolition will grow.
Nothing would delight the abolitionists more than months of delaying tactics in your Lordships’ House. Those Peers who value our bicameral system—I am one of them—should think carefully about the trap that has been set. Instead, after a century of indecision, we should be pressing the Government to get on with the job. We must have an assurance from Ministers that there will be no further nominees to this House, even from an outgoing or incoming Prime Minister, in the mean time. We must give no excuse to drag feet in that direction.
I have campaigned throughout my political career for a more powerful bicameral Parliament holding the Executive to account and, thus, for a second Chamber that can match the quality of its work with the legitimacy required to make it truly effective. To that end, when the last attempt at reform collapsed, I convened a small cross-party group of reformers in the other place, comprising the late Robin Cook, Mr Kenneth Clarke, Dr Tony Wright, Sir George Young and me.
Two years ago, we produced a report and a draft Bill under the title, Breaking the Deadlock. We all had similar ambitions for this, your Lordships’ House, but obviously we had to compromise on our individual hobby horses. In the Commons debate last week, Mr Clarke referred to our group as “stout reformers”. He speaks for himself in that respect. We were supported by 28 other leading members of both Houses, including former leaders of both the Labour and Conservative parties.
I pay tribute to the work of Mr Jack Straw and that of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, not least because they have built on that cross-party consensus and the draft Bill and have sought to expand that consensus on the way forward. I am happy to offer them the draft Bill as a starting point. It meets many of the objections and concerns expressed by many Members of your Lordships' House in this debate. For example, with a third of the Members elected on each occasion, there is no danger of individual or collective challenge to the electoral mandate of Members of the House of Commons. Secondly, with the single transferable vote and multi-member constituencies, we can avoid the party patronage of the list system and give the real choice to the voter. That system offers the chance of genuine independents being elected.
Next, we can guarantee that no one party ever has an overall majority in this, your Lordships’ House—or, if it was renamed, the Senate. It would achieve a better regional spread. At present, two-thirds of the Peers appointed since 1997 come from London and the south-east. Any system that we proposed would ensure a much better spread. If there are to be any appointees, our draft Bill will make specific provision for a totally independent Appointments Commission.
Incidentally, we also sought to reduce the size of this House. Given that only 25 per cent of the current membership asks 87 per cent of the questions and makes 76 per cent of the speeches and interventions, there is clearly room for a bit of slimming down. I am not going to deal with cost. I will have a private seminar with the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, later, but his figures are balderdash—I have been through them.
What happened last week was only the beginning of the process. We should have no doubt that that process has started. Those speakers who believe that nothing happened last week are daydreaming. The choice now is not between doing nothing and doing the absolute minimum; it is between a predominately elected and a fully elected House. In the Commons debate last week, my honourable friend John Thurso—the only MP to have previously served in your Lordships’ House, as he did with great dedication and distinction as Viscount Thurso—summarised the position. No one can accuse him of misunderstanding what we do in this House. Given his experience in counteracting what is usually a one-way street in this direction, he speaks with special wisdom. He concluded:
“It is unthinkable that our great democracy should continue to live in a time warp of heredity and patronage. It is time to reform. It is time to put our trust in the people, and it is time, frankly, for a stronger Parliament”.—[Official Report, Commons, 6/3/07; col. 1451.]
My Lords, I had a short conversation with a colleague of mine on the Front Bench the other day. I explained to him that the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, had asked me to wind up this debate after hearing 130 speakers. I asked my noble friend what I should tell him. He said, “Tell him you’ve got flu”. I did not have the courage.
We have heard an astonishingly large number of fine speeches in the course of this debate. I cannot think of a single speech that has not demonstrated at least a degree of perspicacity. Many have stimulated the intellect, and some have stirred the emotions. I am thinking particularly of the speeches of the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, and my noble friend Lady Miller of Hendon.
I should say right from the start that, unlike the Liberal Democrats, the Opposition are having a free vote. I have said enough.
I shall try to refer to as many of your Lordships who have intervened as possible but, for reasons which I hope noble Lords will agree are entirely understandable, I will not be able to refer to everyone. A number of speakers wondered whether another place really understood the implications of what they voted for on the grounds that no rational political organisation would vote for a diminution of its powers. I remember particularly the noble Lord, Lord Lea of Crondall, making that point in a very vivid manner. I have read the debate in another place. I thought that quite a large number of Members were very clear about the consequences of a vote for a fully elected or a mainly elected House. Not all of them wanted those consequences, but my impression was that they, by and large, knew exactly what they were doing.
Whether I am right or wrong, it is plain that it is impossible to divorce composition from powers. The greatest flaw in the Government’s White Paper is its attempt to do that. The White Paper says that the powers that your Lordships have are the powers that we ought to have, but that, in addition, we ought to be elected.
There is no doubt that if we become an elected House this will have profound implications for the powers that we exercise, even if one assumes that the powers that we have now will remain. That point was made very well by the Joint Committee on Conventions at paragraph 61, which states:
“Our conclusions apply only to present circumstances. If the Lords acquired an electoral mandate, then in our view their role as the revising chamber, and their relationship with the Commons, would inevitably be called into question, codified or not”.
My noble friend Lord Saatchi referred to the Parliament Act 1911. My advice to my noble friend on the question of implied repeal was somewhat more nuanced than my noble friend suggested, although I yield to no one in my respect for his fertile imagination. But perhaps it is worth just looking—at the risk of imposing a degree of tedium on your Lordships—at the preamble to the Parliament Act 1911, which states:
“Whereas it is expedient that provision should be made for regulating the relations between the two Houses of Parliament:
And whereas it is intended to substitute for the House of Lords as it at present exists a Second Chamber constituted on a popular instead of hereditary basis, but such substitution cannot be immediately brought into operation:
And whereas provision will require hereafter to be made by Parliament in a measure effecting such substitution for limiting and defining the powers of the new Second Chamber, but it is expedient to make such provision as in this Act appears for restricting the existing powers of the House of Lords’.
The legislative intention at that time is clear. First, it had—because it could not at that time create a popular House—to do something about the political situation it faced. Hence, the Parliament Act, which was an Act of expediency. It is absolutely clear from this preamble that if and when your Lordships’ House became a democratically elected House, the relationship between the two Houses would have to be reviewed. That is clear. So, given the fact that composition and powers are intimately linked, if we were to be popularly elected, what will the new constitutional settlement be between another place and your Lordships’ House? That is ineluctably the crucial question we have to face; and until we have an answer to it, I really do not see, either in logic or in politics, how we can take the matter much further.
My noble friend Lord St John of Fawsley quoted Bagehot, a writer with whom he owned up to having at least a passing acquaintanceship. My noble friend said that Bagehot recommended that constitutional change should be conducted carefully, slowly and by agreement. How I wish, as the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, said, that the Government had heeded that advice on previous occasions; a failure no better illustrated than with respect to House of Lords reform. To adopt an apt image conjured up by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, the Government have embarked on a long and hazard-infested voyage, but have neglected to take with them the appropriate navigational equipment.
We understand from the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor that, before any move is made towards reform of the system of selection for your Lordships’ House, there must be consensus. By that I understand that it is to be consensus not only between the political parties, but also between the Houses. The noble and learned Lord has proposed, and my noble friend Lord Strathclyde has welcomed, that the cross-party talks that have been taking place over the past few months be reconvened in the light of the debates in both Houses in order to consider what moves ought to be made next. The noble Baroness, Lady Symons, and my noble friend Lord Higgins both, rightly, pointed out that there was a degree of controversy in both Houses about the appropriate route to take and that therefore either the views of a selection of Back-Benchers should be represented at these cross-party talks or committees of both Houses should be established to advance discussions because, since we are on a free vote, clearly what each individual Peer believes is crucial to the achievement of consensus.
I want to ask the noble and learned Lord, when he replies, if he would kindly address this matter. I am not at all clear how he sees these cross-party talks developing. Quite apart from the question of the membership of this forum, what result does the noble and learned Lord expect to emerge? Does he expect, for example, to produce a new White Paper in the light of these discussions and in the light of the deliberations of the cross-party committee? I think that the noble and learned Lord has got the point and I am most grateful.
The noble Lord, Lord Williamson, rightly emphasised that the vote which took place in the other place was an indicative vote. He went on to say that we cannot predict what view Members of another place will take about the whole question of election until they are presented with a specific proposal. He said that answers to detailed questions were an essential precondition of any discussions about the merits of an elected House.
The details are extremely challenging for your Lordships’ House and another place. Many of your Lordships spoke in much detail and with much wisdom about systems of election. In the time that I have, I cannot possibly reflect all the sophistication of the lines of argument; so I shall select a few points which I think are most germane to the question of an elected House.
It is widely accepted that any electoral system that produces a low turnout will be wholly counterproductive. That point was made particularly well by the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, but by others too. Here is a real difficulty: an election to your Lordships' House is not like an election to another place. We are not going to present the electorate with a mandate for power. When there is a general election, the parties compete, there is a competition of mandates and everybody understands that if the party they vote for wins, that mandate will be at the heart of government. In your Lordships' House, we will be asking people to vote for a House which has the power to delay legislation for one year at the most. That is not a very inspiring message to deliver to the electorate.
We have some practical experience of this, as it is one of the problems that the European Parliament has had. It does not have a mandate; the political mandate in the Community is developed by the Commission under the control of the Council of Ministers. The European Parliament is simply there to democratise the process to the extent that it can. That is also not a very inspiring message to take to the electorate. If we are to have an electoral system, it has to inspire.
I think that all your Lordships will also agree that the electoral system we choose must not be a clone of the electoral system in another place. If we simply reproduce what is in another place, we will provide no control over the Executive.
A more controversial question was whether the elected Members should also be accountable to the electorate. My noble friend Lady Shephard made this point particularly powerfully in attacking the notion that elections should be for one term of 15 years only. She is absolutely right that that system does not produce accountability. I think I am right in saying that the idea of the 15-year single mandate came from a committee chaired by my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern. Its purpose was to engage the public in selection to the Lords without undermining the independence of the elected Peer. My noble friend Lord Wakeham put it very well when he described it as a system of appointment but by the people, not by the Appointments Commission. In a characteristically deft aphorism, the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, said that that meant that as a Member, one had nothing to hope and nothing to fear. Although I accept that accountability is absent, this system, in my submission, gets closest to providing the kind of independence that your Lordships enjoy at the moment.
The controversies about the method of election will be endless. I shall not enter into them except to say that I was glad to hear the list system widely deplored. It is a disastrous system. Whatever other system we choose, be it first-past-the-post or some form of proportional representation, it must be based on constituencies. When should the election be? My own preference, unlike that of the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, would be for it not to be on the same day as the general election.
We had a very interesting discussion about transitional arrangements, in which my noble friend Lord Ferrers played a prominent part. A number of your Lordships mentioned various dilemmas about cash for peerages, but my noble friend concentrated on the cost of dismissing Peers rather than appointing them. The costs by his calculations were colossal. One might summarise his observations as the cost of “disappeers”.
My Lords, I apologise for that; it is getting late.
My final observation is about a hybrid House. I share what I think is the view of the vast majority of your Lordships, that distinguishing between elected and appointed political peers will not work; but I am more optimistic about distinguishing between political Peers and Cross-Benchers. I would be very reluctant to see the Cross-Bench element in your Lordships' House go. I was particularly struck today by yet another remarkable speech by the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York, who seems to be making a remarkable contribution to the role of the church in public life. He quite rightly reminded us that the principle of equality in our constitution is derived from Christianity and that the church had a vital role, therefore, in ensuring that democracy and freedom were upheld in our society. I would be most reluctant to support any arrangement which involved the departure of the Bishops from your Lordships' House.
What is the problem that these proposals are trying to solve? It is not a problem of legitimacy, because it is quite clear, given the existing powers, that your Lordships' House is a legitimate House. As my noble friend Lord Lawson said, elections are not a pre-condition for legitimacy. Many examples that he gave established that principle firmly. The Government provide in their White Paper a 50:50 solution which is expressly predicated on the principle that elected and appointed Peers have equal legitimacy; so the Government themselves accept that appointed Peers are legitimate, at least in the text of the White Paper. None of my noble friends and other noble Lords who had been in another place could produce any evidence that a single constituent had ever written to them complaining about the legitimacy of your Lordships' House. Your Lordships' House is legitimate because it is respected; and it is respected because of the quality of its work. That is the basis of our legitimacy.
The issue that we face tonight is complicated, or perhaps informed, by one matter that forms the basis of the speech given by my noble friend Lord Waddington. I am coming to the conclusion of my remarks. As your Lordships know, as long as the majority political party can control its Members in another place through the Whips, the Executive can do in effect what they like. There is a very good constitutional reason for this, the Government of the day have to deliver their electoral mandate, as they have—if you like—a contract with the electorate.
The problem is that another place has two functions. First, it has to keep the Government in power and, secondly, it has to keep the Government under control. These two objectives are incompatible. The fact of the matter is that, almost invariably—indeed, I believe invariably—the desire to keep the Government in power always trumps the responsibility to keep the Government under control.
This is a problem that goes way beyond patronage—because at the heart of our constitution is the integration of the Executive and another place. I find it very difficult to see my way around that problem. My noble and learned friend Lord Howe said that it was the responsibility of another place to control the Executive. If my analysis of the constitution is correct, however, another place is plainly incapable of keeping the Executive under control. Of course, it can create Select Committees and do all sorts of things, but that will be nibbling at the edges of Executive control.
The consequences are quite dangerous for our constitution, as many of your Lordships have experienced who have taken an interest in recent anti-terrorist and criminal justice legislation. The control of the Executive is increasingly the responsibility of the courts; and, as a result, the judges are being drawn, whether they like it or not, into politics. Therefore, we must find some way in which to take the obligations off the shoulders of the judges—another, political, way in which to control the Executive.
That is where the future role of your Lordships' House may well lie; and that is the argument for election. However, I have absolutely no idea whether this matter is of any concern to the Government. We need to know what the Government’s constitutional objectives are before we start what will be a very steep climb to achieve a form of election that is appropriate.
My Lords, I shall vote with the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde.
My Lords, the noble Lord makes very great speeches with which I often agree, but I find it very hard to discern what he is recommending to his own Members, let alone to the rest of us. Do I understand him to say that the Government have the cart before the horse? In that case I would very much agree with him, in the sense that they should get the objectives of a new House first before deciding on the composition. If that is what he is saying—and I appreciate that he is trying very hard not to disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde—I would be interested to hear.
My Lords, I do not accept that I am disagreeing with the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde; but the noble Lord’s analysis is correct. I think that the Government do have the cart before the horse, and they need to reverse the order.
My Lords, I said in my opening remarks that this would prove to be an historic debate, and so it has proved. We have heard about 130 speakers over nearly 19 hours. I think that I am the only person who has heard all 130 speakers—with the exception of my noble friend Lord Brooke, for which I apologise.
The contributions from noble Lords on all sides of the House have been thoughtful, considered and in keeping with the importance of this issue both for Parliament and the country as a whole. As the noble Lord, Lord St John of Fawsley, said yesterday, if anyone had doubts about the value of this House, they would have been allayed by listening to this debate.
I am grateful to the House for the manner in which the debate has been conducted. It has been, and will be seen as, a testament to the best qualities of this House; qualities on which any reform package would seek to build. We will remember this debate, for example, for the return and speech of my noble and learned friend Lord Irvine, the speech of my noble friend Lord Richard, the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, and the speech of my noble friend Lady Symons.
In a debate with so many interesting and well informed speakers, it would be impossible to list them all or to respond to all the points raised, but noble Lords should be reassured that we have listened to all sides of the debate and will reflect carefully on what has been said here over the past two days. There have been considerable disagreements, but also an encouraging amount of agreement between the speakers on many of the key issues surrounding this difficult matter. There was, most notably, broad agreement for a statutory Appointments Commission, which almost all those in favour of either an all-appointed or hybrid House supported. There was also broad, if not unanimous, agreement that the work that this House does currently is good and adds value to the legislative process.
My noble friend Lord Elder and the noble Lord, Lord Wedderburn of Charlton, were rare voices in calling for a unicameral Parliament. There was general, although not universal, recognition that the remaining retained places for hereditary Peers should cease, many arguing for it to be done by stopping the system of by-elections. The noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun of Abernethy, the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, and the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, were notable exceptions to this aspect of the consensus. The noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, reminded us that we agreed to the keeping of the hereditaries until stage 2 was in place. We agreed that in the White Paper and stand by it.
There was also agreement that the reforms of 1999 have made this House more effective. When I hear, from all sides, how much of an improvement that reform is now held to be, I hope that I am permitted a wry smile when I remember how it was opposed at the time. I am glad to see that the wisdom of the approach taken by my noble and learned friend Lord Irvine and the Viscount Cranborne, as he then was, has proved justified.
Our debate over the past two days has seen a large number of different points. Perhaps I can best respond by trying to group them into a number of important areas. First, many noble Lords discussed the effect on the debate of the votes in the House of Commons for an 80 and 100 per cent elected House. The noble Lord, Lord McNally, described it as “the thunder of reform”. The noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, said, “the game has changed”. The noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, suggested a vote here for 50:50 might be a signal to the other place that there could be common ground between the two Houses. The noble Lord, Lord Roper, said that the vote might have made the White Paper a little less white. The noble Lord, Lord Hoyle, said that we cannot ignore it.
The noble Lord, Lord Trimble, said that the vote in the Commons did not decide anything. He is correct. No decision has yet been made on the composition of this House, not least because this House has not yet had its say. The votes in the Commons should affect neither our views being expressed nor how we vote. The effect of the Commons votes, however, means that after we have debated the issue we must decide whether there is enough common ground to seek, in discussion, a way forward. We must also consider how we can do that, and remember that the process must involve mutual respect for both Houses’ views.
Much of the debate over the past two days considered the role of this House. Again, there was broad, if not universal, agreement, that this House should be a revising Chamber, helping the Commons to hold the Executive to account, and asking the Executive to think again on some issues from time to time. Much praise was rightly given to the excellent report of the Joint Committee chaired by my noble friend Lord Cunningham. Many, like my noble friend Lord Tomlinson, felt that the Joint Committee’s report sets the current benchmark for how the powers of the current House should be exercised in relation to the Commons. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, said that the current House performs its vital role “impeccably”. The noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe—I apologise again to him for not being in the Chamber when he made his remarks—said that the Lords have both power and influence.
This House does a good job, one that has been praised here and in the other place. I thought at the beginning of this debate, and I still do, that the current role of this House is the right one, and that the current conventions underpinning the relationship between the two Houses are the right ones. I sensed broad support for that approach across the House. If we can agree on that, and I believe that this debate has shown that there is broad consensus here, it cannot be beyond our abilities to conceive of a system, if reform takes place, where the current relationship between the two Houses is broadly maintained and the current conventions are broadly kept in place to govern that relationship. Our argument is that this House needs greater legitimacy to sustain its present position in our constitution. Those who oppose an element of election claim that the House’s present position is entirely sustainable and that any election will destabilise Parliament, leading to demands for increased powers from the Lords.
There were some telling interventions by the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe. The noble and learned Lord told us that when he was the Leader of the other place he treated his opposite number in this House with, in his own words, “the utmost condescension”. I wondered whether things had changed at all with his relationship with the current Leader of the Conservative Party.
That brings me on to my third point about the effect of the changes in composition on the relationship between the two Houses. It has been suggested by many speakers, probably the majority, that introducing an elected element would automatically lead to this House seeking more power, gaining more power or exercising its current powers more assertively. The noble Lords, Lord Waddington, Lord Armstrong of Ilminster, Lord Trefgarne, Lord Watson of Richmond and Lord Fowler, the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, and my noble friend Lord Lea of Crondall all made that point. The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, said that an elected senate would use its powers more, which he thought would be a good thing, enabling the House to make a more effective contribution to the work of Parliament. The noble Lord, Lord Williamson, speaking from the Cross Benches, thought that “power would accrue” to a reformed House.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford—whom I am delighted to see in his place, representing the whole of the established Church of England, on which I congratulate him—said that belief in election, along with the powers as they currently are, is a “delusion”. The noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, and my noble friend Lord MacKenzie of Culkein went further and suggested that an elected House of Lords would want to exercise more powers than the current House even theoretically has. The noble Lord, Lord Northbrook, wanted the House to have more powers anyway, I think even in the absence of elections. My noble friend Lord Sheldon suggested that the effect would be to lead to increased, even routine, use of the Parliament Acts.
I suspect that those views, which are obviously widely shared throughout the House, are the pivot around which the debate eddied and flowed over the past two days, and I have three things to say with regard to them. First, while I completely accept that a substantial elected element requires us to revisit the conventions, it does not of itself lead to the undermining of Commons primacy. There may well be a demand for more power, and the conventions we currently have may well come under strain and might have to be further developed in the light of changing circumstances. That, however, is not the same as a rejection of Commons primacy.
Several noble Lords referred to legitimacy coming from fitness for purpose. That principle applies also in the context of elections. Elections are for a purpose. We elect Members of the Commons to form a Government and to hold them to account. We elect Members of the European Parliament to consider and determine European legislation. We elect local councillors to exercise local powers. We elect Members of devolved Assemblies to exercise devolved powers. And we would elect Members of the Lords to exercise powers of scrutiny and revision.
An electoral mandate is not open-ended; even Governments do not claim that. Yes, there would have to be changes in the conventions and in the way the two Houses work together, but the fundamentals would remain unchanged. The Commons would still form the Government, the Commons would still control supply and the Commons would still be able to use the Parliament Acts. Further, as my noble friend Lady Quin suggested, it would not be for this House to decide unilaterally that it could take further powers.
Secondly, as I suggested, there is broad agreement that the House of Lords does a good job now and that its powers and the relationship with the Commons are in about the right place. The Government believe that further reform is necessary to ensure that any lack of legitimacy does not lead to the undermining of the respect and seriousness in which the views of this House are held. More legitimacy does not mean the same legitimacy as the Commons, as my noble friend Lord Whitty rightly said.
Thirdly, as many noble Lords suggested, a more assertive House is not necessarily a bad thing. Indeed, as many noble Lords have hoped for, a more assertive House could strengthen Parliament. I agree with that. A reformed House of Lords could be more assertive without challenging Commons primacy, even if both Houses will in the future have to look afresh at the mechanisms for underpinning that primacy.
I took note of the comments of those who referred to the conclusions of the Joint Committee—that the present conventions would hold only given the present composition of the House. The Government have already said they accept that changes to the composition of the Lords would call the current conventions into question, and that having brought forward those proposals for reform, there would inevitably have to be debate and evaluation about how the conventions might evolve. But there is a difference between looking at the conventions that underpin the House’s actions and looking at the fundamentals of the relationship between the two Houses. A more assertive House of Lords would strengthen Parliament as a whole by helping the Commons to hold the Executive to account. It should not and would not undermine the supremacy of the Commons just through election, particularly of only an element of the House.
A majority of noble Lords spoke in favour of a fully appointed House. Many praised the speeches of the noble and learned Lords, Lord Irvine of Lairg and Lord Howe—two outstanding speeches in favour of an appointed House. They made a strong case for a fully appointed House—a reform and a change from the status quo, for the reasons that I have touched on, but something that would be similar to the House we have today. There is much to be said for a fully appointed House. It can deliver much of what we want from a second Chamber. However, the one thing that it cannot deliver is democratic legitimacy. That is the Government’s view, the view of the other place and the view of three important cross-party reports on Lords reform.
Some noble Lords cited the views of the public on this. Some, like the noble Baroness, Lady Shephard, told us that their postbags were empty of letters on Lords reform. Some, like the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, referred to polls on the public’s view of Lords reform. Both fail to indicate the right course on this. Neither polls nor postbags determine the decisions. Parliament, and in particular our House, because it is the Lords, but also the Commons, have to make a judgment on what they think the right course on constitutional reform is. Without democratic legitimacy—
My Lords, the question of constitutional reform was rightly raised. The objection was made in several speeches that without further constitutional reform any greater legitimacy for this House would raise enormous problems. In several speeches in recent months the Chancellor of the Exchequer spoke of the need for a new constitutional settlement. Does the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor see further reform of this House as part of a broader scheme of constitutional reform which might indeed lead to a new constitutional settlement of the sort which the Chancellor of the Exchequer so often speaks about?
My Lords, I hope that the noble Lord will forgive me if I address Lords reform at the moment rather than a broader constitutional issue. Without democratic legitimacy, this House will be vulnerable to the argument that, because it is unelected, its views can be ignored or marginalised. They could be ignored or marginalised in the way, with characteristic candour, the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, described. The noble Lord basically told us that he ignored the Lords for all of the 10 miraculous years that he was a Cabinet Minister. Why did he do that? He did it because—
Because he was a Tory.
Not because he was a Tory, my Lords, but because the House was not elected. Without some degree of democratic legitimacy, this House will be vulnerable to the argument that, because it is unelected, wholly or in part, its views can be ignored or marginalised. That will inevitably lead to the effectiveness of this House being eroded. When noble Lords such as Lord MacKenzie of Culkein, Lord Rodgers, Lord Steinberg, Lord Lawson, Lord Tomlinson and Lord Forsyth, the noble Baroness, Lady Knight of Collingtree, and others ask what the benefit of an elected element in this House would be, my answer is that it would give this House democratic legitimacy and make it stronger.
My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord for his approach and for the spirit of his speech tonight, which in itself has been a major contribution to reaching a consensus. Could he answer the question that I asked him about whether the Prime Minister’s pledge, that the Parliament Acts would not be resorted to in any attempt to impose reforms, still stands?
My Lords, I am not sure to what the noble Lord is referring when he refers to the pledge. We are at a stage that is a long time before legislation. The Prime Minister, the Leader of the other place and I have said that we genuinely seek consensus. The search for consensus includes agreement not only between the parties but between the two Houses. With respect to the noble Lord, his question is utterly premature.
The House as constituted does a good job but, as my noble friend Lord Whitty said, we need to raise our eyes sometimes from what it feels and looks like here in the House to what it feels and looks like to those outside. I agree with him that it is increasingly difficult for those outside and for the Commons to accept a wholly appointed body with the sort of powers that this House exercises.
What sort of Chamber do we want to be? I have heard so many persuasive arguments in favour of the work that we do now and the role that we play now. For myself, I want a sustainable role as a revising Chamber. We can, with increasing confidence and authority, keep the consensus about our scrutinising, revising and delaying role, while changing the context that my noble and learned friend Lord Irvine referred to. Furthermore, the argument in principle for a wholly or partially elected House has been supported by a number of Peers, such as the noble Baronesses, Lady Whitaker and Lady Quin, and my noble friends Lord Hoyle and Lord Dubs.
Some have argued that there is no need for elections to be held to this place because of the limited powers of this House. The noble Lord, Lord Monson, who is in his place, made that point. However, this House is powerful. It has a significant and vital role in making the laws that govern this country. I am pleased that this House often compels the other place to do things that it would rather not do. I am sure that, away from the heated debate, the other place is sometimes pleased about it too. The debate in this House has been marked by the relative absence of the argument that democracy is right in principle for a legislative Chamber, but it is surely a powerful argument. Those who make the laws should do so with the consent of those who are subject to those laws. I believe that that is right, and I believe that the Commons think that it is right. If possible, we should reflect that in our arrangements.
Arguments were made for and against a hybrid House. The most powerful speech in favour was made by my noble friend Lord Richard. Many have argued that a hybrid House will not work, including my noble friend Lady Symons and the noble Lords, Lord Higgins and Lord Armstrong of Ilminster. The noble Lord, Lord Neill of Bladen, described the idea, somewhat graphically, as dead and decomposing. Some, such as the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, and the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, dislike the idea because they believe that there would be competition between the different kinds of Members. The noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, said that he feared a them-and-us culture in a hybrid House.
Several noble Lords were concerned that a hybrid House would be inherently unstable and lead, eventually and inevitably, to a wholly elected House. For example, the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell, having said that he did not favour a substantially elected element, argued that the problem was that once the unelected element began regularly to swing the vote against the elected element we would eventually arrive at a wholly elected House. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester made a similar point.
One of the defenders of hybridity was the noble Lord, Lord Soley, who made a speech late last night, and so was insufficiently recognised for it. He argued that a number of other countries such as India and France had hybrid Houses but had not drifted towards fully elected Chambers. Others pointed out the value that a hybrid House could bring. Many identified the benefits of having Cross-Benchers and Bishops in a reformed House with an elected element. That is only possible in a hybrid House. Many noble Lords made the point that the conventions of this House and the manner in which it conducts its business now are signs that all Members will be treated equally in a reformed House. My noble friend Lord Giddens spoke in favour of a hybrid House.
Several noble Lords suggested that the House had always been hybrid, including the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick. I was intrigued by the reference by the noble Lord, Lord Haskel, to the same argument against hybridity having been mounted in 1958, when the life Peers were introduced. Those of us who have been here with both hereditary and life Peers have not found the problem. A hybrid House could combine the best of what we have—expertise, experience, non-party membership—with the benefits of election. It allows greater diversity and to make the reforms we need if our work is to continue to be respected outside this House.
The vote for an all-elected second Chamber in the Commons was highly significant, as the noble Lords, Lord McNally, Lord Lucas and Lord Wallace of Saltaire, pointed out. It shows an appetite in the other place for significant and far-reaching reform. I have already set out the arguments in this place for having a democratic element in this House. Some of the consequences of a fully elected House of Lords have been pointed out by many noble Lords in the debate—no Bishops, no Cross Benches, a lack of expertise, more clashes with the Commons, more appetite for exercising power and for getting more power.
The noble Baroness, Lady Knight of Collingtree, was concerned that the distracting effect of constituency responsibilities on elected Members would mean that the House would not have the time to undertake its proper function of scrutiny. Although entertaining, she slightly overstated the case. We do not propose that elected Members undertake the sort of constituency business that she referred to, and the electoral system that we proposed was designed to minimise the temptation on them to indulge themselves in that way.
My Lords, I am somewhat at a loss, given what the noble and learned Lord has said, to know why anyone would want to vote for people who would not take any part in constituency business. Are we going to knock on doors and say, “Vote for me. I’ll be very good at revising legislation, but I’m not interested in your bypass, your local hospital or any of those things. Don’t bother to write to me—I won’t reply”? How realistic is that? It is not the real world. Who will actually vote? Will this not bring the system into disrepute?
My Lords, noble Lords must form a view on whether people think it would be worth voting representatives to a House such as this that did valuable work such as we do. I think that they would be interested in electing people to a House like this.
The next step is for this House to cast its votes tomorrow. The noble Lord, Lord Cunningham of Felling, asked the Government to listen carefully and take very serious note of the views of this House. We will. Once we have the views of this House, as my right honourable friend the Leader of the House of Commons has said, the cross-party group will be reconvened to discuss the next steps. The point has been very powerfully made by my noble friend Lady Symons of Vernham Dean and the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, that the cross-party group does not necessarily represent the views of the parties as a whole. I cannot give an answer now, but we need to consider what the noble Baroness has said, and I hope that we can give an answer fairly soon.
There has been much to provide encouragement in the past two days’ debate for those who wish to find consensus. As my noble friend Lord Whitty said, we must build on the work done by the Cunningham committee in setting out the conventions to see how they would apply and how they would need to be modified for a wholly or largely elected body.
There are various other issues that I do not intend to deal with, because it is getting late and I have been speaking for 26 marvellous moments. In his opening remarks, the noble Lord, Lord McNally, said that this was not the end of a process but the beginning. That is right. Over the coming weeks and months we will work with our colleagues in the other parties to listen to the views of both Houses, to build on the work that we have already done, to consider this important issue further and to try to establish a clear way forward on reform of this House.
The noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, whose excellent report is the key reference work for much of this debate, said that the Government were right to try to seek consensus. I hope that all noble Lords will agree that, whatever the result of tomorrow’s votes, we would be right to try to continue to do so. It is for this House to make its voice heard when it votes tomorrow; but when it has done so, then taking those views together with those of the Commons expressed last week, we will have to try to take this issue forward. We will respect the views of the other place and this House in seeking to take this opportunity for reform and improvement. I believe that there is an opportunity here for progress. It is the responsibility of us all to seize it.